By PATRICK SLACK
To say this year’s Pierz boys basketball team will have a different look would be a bit of an understatement.
Gone from last year’s 21-8 team are a dozen graduates, including a pair of 1,000-point scorers and the top rebounder in school history.
In are a new head coach, Matt Poepping, and a handful of experienced returners from last year’s sub-section finalist squad.
“We have high expectations for this team,” Poepping said. “Losing two 1,000-point scorers isn’t easy, but it gives other players a chance to step up and fill their shoes.”
“We are fortunate to have a great group of seniors and we hope they lead the way and our underclassmen jump on board,” he said. “We have a number of seniors that have varsity experience so we expect to have a successful season.”
Leading the returning seniors will be four with starting experience, including forwards Jess Kasper and Cullin Carter and guards Ben Boser and Josh Templin.
Also expected to be in the mix for increased playing time are seniors Mitch Bednar (center), T.J. Hoheisel (guard/forward) and Jon Fuhrman (guard) and juniors Matt Athman (center) and Noah Thomsen (guard), with several sophomores and freshmen also vying to contribute.
Several strong teams are coming back in the Central Minnesota Conference (CMC), Poepping said, with reigning CMC and Class A state champion Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa leading the pack.
“We expect it to be a very competitive conference schedule,” Poepping said. “Our section is really good with a number of teams that can make a run in the playoffs.” “Litchfield and Melrose are the teams to beat in a lot of people’s opinions,” he said. “We have games throughout the year against section opponents so it will be a measuring stick to see where we sit.”
Graduating from last year’s team were Ian Engen, Ben Huffman, Caleb Janson, Tyler Kieffer, Robby Kowalzek, Michael Marshik, Logan Meyer, Kevin Mitchell, Cole Reardon, Dylan Smieja, Devaunte Stumpf and Preston Weber.
Seniors this year include Kasper, Boser, Templin, Carter, Fuhrman, Bednar, Hoheisel and Elias Schomer.
Pierz opens the season at Foley, Dec. 4, with its home opener against Paynesville Area, Dec. 7.