High school basketball season is supposed to be upon us, but like all winter sports, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed its start.
Area coaches are hopeful they'll be able to reunite with their teams later this month and games could start being played in January. When high school basketball returns in Minnesota, the Hiawatha Valley League will be one of the deepest and toughest conferences in the state. There are high-level players and great coaches who will do whatever it takes to guide their teams to victory.
With the uncertainty as to when the season will start, the Post Bulletin decided to preview the season in a bit of a different manner.
Nine of the 11 HVL coaches participated in a preseason poll. They couldn't rank their own team, and they were asked to name a Preseason Player of the Year and a five-man Preseason All-HVL Team.
A first-place vote was worth 10 points, a second-place vote was worth nine points and so on all the way down to a 10th-place vote which was worth just one point.
The votes were recorded. The points were tallied. Here are the results.
Bring on basketball season. Soon. Please.
HVL COACHES PRESEASON POLL
1. STEWARTVILLE, 78 POINTS (6 FIRST-PLACE VOTES)
2019-20 record: 25-6 overall, 13-2 in HVL
The skinny: Six of the nine coaches believe that Will Tschetter and the Stewartville Tigers will be the top dogs in the HVL. Tschetter is one of the most dominant players in Stewartville's history, and he's part of the University of Michigan's No. 1-ranked recruiting class. Senior point guard Nolan Stier is a force to be reckoned with, as well. Tschetter was a unanimous vote for the HVL's Preseason Player of the Year, and seven of the nine coaches voted Stier as a Preseason All-HVL selection. The supporting cast will be a big question this year, but if junior Bode Mayer can take another step, Stewartville will be in line for a special season.
Coach Adam Girtman says: "I think we got a taste of it last year where we were getting every team’s best shot. We got a lot of junk defenses. Being able to handle and experience that last year should help us this year. We got a bunch of our scoring back from last year and our young guys have improved, so I think we’ll have a good squad this year. But perimeter defense would probably be our biggest weakness. Last year, Bradon Holschlag locked down the other team’s best guard, night in and night out. He did a phenomenal job. I think we’ll be looking for that defensive presence."
2. BYRON, 75 POINTS (3 FIRST-PLACE VOTES)
2019-20 record: 16-12, 7-8 in HVL play
The skinny: Ahjany Lee has blown up and received multiple high-level college offers, but senior point guard Jake Braaten is the straw that stirs the drink for the Bears. Byron played a lot of young guys over the past few years, and now it's their time to shine. The Bears are deep and talented. If the Bears want to win it all, they'll need Lee and Braaten to play at a high level. Byron's star duo were both selected by the coaches to the Preseason All-HVL team.
Coach Kyle Finney says: “Anybody in our conference can knock you out. We have to give our A-game every night and see what happens. We’ve had a youthful group for a long time, and now the youth have become seasoned veterans. The target is now on their backs and we have to see how we’ll respond to it. Now you’re old and you have to rely on the experience that you’ve gained over the last few years and hope that it all comes to fruition. We’ve put a lot of trust into those kids when they were young, and now it’s their opportunity. I know these kids have been really looking forward to this year.”
3. LAKE CITY, 63 POINTS
2019-20 record: 24-4, 14-0 in HVL play
The skinny: Nate Heise, Jake Wohlers and Reid Gastner are gone, but Lake City coach Greg Berge still believes his Tigers can compete. Justin Wohlers, a 6-foot-6 junior, is a two-year starter, and Carson Matzke was the sixth man last year. Both of those guys will return. Even though no team lost more than Lake City, the Tigers still got plenty of respect from opposing coaches. No one voted them lower than fourth.
Coach Greg Berge said: "I really like this team. It’s a fun group. It’ll be one of the youngest teams that I’ve ever coached at the varsity level. But we have a lot of young talent. I think we’ll have a chance to be a team that competes with everyone and could sneak up on teams that think we lost a lot. Justin Wohlers can really score. That's a big piece to have back. He might surprise people this year with his ability to get to the rim and facilitate the offense. Carson Matzke is back as our sixth man. He’s a good player who’s really athletic. We’ll have a couple of freshmen and sophomores who could start or play a lot. We’ve had good luck with our freshmen being ready for this over the years. They’ve played a lot of basketball and they’ll be ready. But they’re young and when you play young kids, there’s a learning curve, but they compete and they’re skilled and they’re athletic."
4. KASSON-MANTORVILLE, 51 POINTS
2019-20 record: 11-16, 5-10 in HVL play
The skinny: Senior Jace Bigelow had a really good summer and fall on the AAU Circuit, and he's geared up for a big-time senior year. Five of the nine coaches voted Bigelow to the Preseason All-HVL team. But Jordan Klepel, Jake Hallstorm, Jack Kremers and Kyler Kujath are some pieces that the KoMets' staff is fired up about. Hallstorm could be a breakout player to watch. The 6-foot-3, bruising wing can shoot it and get to the basket at will. K-M won four games two years ago and 11 games last season. The KoMets think a big breakout could be in the mix. And the opposing coaches are generally pretty high on the KoMets.
Coach Nick Pocius said: "Our hope was that this year would be our catapulting season, with last year being the year that we made big strides. If things go right, I think we’re in the top half of the conference, looking to contend with Stewartville and Byron. I’d hope that we’re able to compete with them and that when teams compete with us, they see that we're an athletic, fast team that will really compete, and this year, is different because we can put the ball in the basket now."
5. GOODHUE, 50 POINTS
2019-20 record: 21-6, 9-5 HVL
The skinny: Will Opsahl, Adam Poncelet and Dayne Wojcik form a Big Three that could really do some damage this year for Goodhue. Opsahl and Poncelet are sweet-shooting guards, while Wojcik is a force on the interior. There was a clear divide amongst the coaches about who was the third-best team behind Stewartville and Byron. Goodhue was right in that mix with Kasson-Mantorville and Lake City. The Wildcats got three third-place votes, but they also got one ninth-place vote which dropped them down in the final rankings.
Coach Matt Halverson said: "I say this to everyone, but I genuinely think that southeastern Minnesota basketball, especially Three Rivers and the HVL, they’re so strong. This league is loaded. Those middle-sized schools are just churning out these athletes. As an opposing coach of some of these players, you’re happy when they graduate, but it just makes our basketball so much better when they’re here. It’s fun going against these featured kids.”
T-6. CANNON FALLS, 39 POINTS
2019-20 record: 17-10, 7-8 in HVL play
The skinny: Drew Otte, Rhett Schaefer and Luke Sjoquist are three absolute standouts that Cannon Falls will have to replace. That won't be easy. But Marcus Banks is ready to take on a bigger role, and he's a superb athlete capable of filling those big shoes. Josh Davisson is one of the most widely-respected coaches in the HVL. His Bombers are coming off a tremendous football season, and they're hoping to parlay that into success on the hardwood.
T-6. ROCHESTER LOURDES, 39 POINTS
2019-20 record: 15-12, 9-6 in HVL play
The skinny: Peyton Dunham is back and better than ever, and that's huge news for Lourdes as it adjusts to life without Colin Meade. The supporting cast will be a huge question mark, but Eric Larson is one of the brightest young coaches in the area. The Eagles are a huge wild card this year. One coach had the Eagles at third in the conference, while another voted them ninth. They truly could be in the mix with the top contenders.
8. PINE ISLAND, 35 POINTS
2019-20 record: 17-12, 8-7 in HVL play
The skinny: Pine Island showed how dangerous it can be when it upset Lake City in the Section 1AA tournament last year. The Panthers are extremely well-coached by Jim McNamara and they always play exceptionally hard. They'll have to replace some gritty seniors and maybe the most underrated player in the HVL last year (Carter O'Reilly). They still have plenty of respect from area coaches.
9. TRITON, 28 POINTS
2019-20 record: 6-19, 3-11 in HVL play
The skinny: Triton coach Zak Hanegraaf thinks that the Cobras could sneak up on some teams this year, but they're very much on the radar of some rival coaches. Two of them voted Triton to finish fifth in the HVL. But they still have work to do to get over the hump. A strong backcourt will anchor the Cobras. Haevan Quimby, Owen Petersohn and Braxton Munnikhuysen all have the ability to be double-digit scorers. Petersohn worked out with former Lake City star Nate Heise this summer as he tries to take his game to another level.
Coach Zak Hanegraaf said: “I’m hoping we can surprise people this year. We have a couple of guys who are busting their tails this season to be where they think they should be. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have three guys who average over 15 points per game. We’ve never been a basketball school, but this year could be the year that we make some noise. I feel like I finally have seven basketball players on my team, not just seven football players who are athletes. I have four or five guys that can shoot the '3' really, really well. I don’t want to be biased, but I think a lot of teams on our side have lost a lot of talent. I think we should compete on our side to be the HVL Blue champions."
10. ZUMBROTA-MAZEPPA, 26 POINTS
2019-20 record: 5-9, 11-15 in HVL play
The skinny: Do-it-all guard/forward Zach Hutton graduated so Zumbrota-Mazeppa will have to replace his 18 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. You don't just replace a 1,000-point scorer easily, so it could be a rebuilding year for Z-M in 2020-21. It'll need Willie Holm III and Tanner Gates to rise to the occasion.
11. KENYON-WANAMINGO, 11 POINTS
2019-20 record: 6-21, 0-14 in HVL play
The skinny: Kenyon-Wanamingo's leading scorer and all-HVL selection Tate Erlandson is gone, so the Knights will have to lean on Casey Wesbur, Laden Nerison and Trevor Steberg to fill in the gaps. K-W didn't win a conference game last year, and their record in the HVL since 2015 is 3-72.
PRESEASON ALL-HVL TEAM
Player of the Year: Will Tschetter, Stewartville (unanimous)
G Jake Braaten, Byron (unanimous)
G Nolan Stier, Stewartville (7 votes)
G Jace Bigelow, Kasson-Mantorville (5 votes)
F Will Tschetter, Stewartville (unanimous)
C Ahjany Lee, Byron (unanimous)
Just missed the cut: Justin Wohlers, Lake City (4 votes), Peyton Dunham, Lourdes (1 vote)