Overhaul on the court
Even if coach Colby Swanson wanted to downplay the turnover of talent on Blue Earth Area’s boys basketball team, the numbers would not allow him to do so.
“We lost five senior starters,” Swanson said, declaring in one statement just how different the Buccaneers will look when they take the hardwood for the first time in the 2016-17 season on Dec. 1.
Alan Davids, Bailey Olson, Brandon Olson, Chandler Kienitz and Tyler Hannaman were all part of the starting five when Swanson made his debut as BEA’s head coach in 2015.
And now, of course, all five are graduated, leaving the maroon and gold with an entirely fresh set of first-stringers, not to mention a heavy-duty shuffling of bench roles.
The change is significant, Swanson admitted, and there is no getting around that. But for a team that has lost 21 of its last 25 games, went 0-12 on the road last season and has not advanced past more than one round of playoffs since 2009-10, change may also not be a bad thing.
“For us, this year, we’re aiming to be a lot better in January and February,” Swanson said. “Last season, we weren’t able to knock someone off, and it’d be nice to take some of those upsets maybe three or four times this year.”
And Swanson thinks the Bucs may very well have what it takes to do that. A familiar corps of multi-sport athletes who played behind he departed quintet of seniors reinforces that thought.
“Two guys returning with the most experience are juniors Jacob Vaske and Blake Barnett,” Swanson said. “Then we’ve got three seniors that’ll see a lot of time in Chris Sanders, Collin Bell and Logan Jahnke.”
With the exception of Bell, all of those returning contributors made starting appearances for the BEA football team, but that did not stop the group from engaging in plenty of offseason preparation, according to Swanson.
“We established a good base over the summer,” the coach said. “All of them have put in lots of time.”
For the Bucs, who look to erase memories of a 1-11 start to their 2015-16 season, “practice makes perfect” is the obvious motto of preparation, although some improved ball skills from the team’s point men sure would not hurt, either.
“Hopefully our guard play will carry us,” Swanson said. “We don’t have a lot of size again, but we’ve got three primary ball handlers in Blake, Logan and Chris who can help.”
Barnett, in particular, could be one of BEA’s central playmakers, if Swanson’s expectations hold true.
“He started the last few games of the summer,” Swanson said, “and we’re expecting Blake to do some big things this year.”
A possible decline in area competition, no matter how slight it may be, could work in BEA’s favor as well. In preparing for the season, of course, Swanson said the maroon and gold must size up opponents the same as they have always done, but any turnover in other teams could be worth following.
“We still have good area teams but not as good,” Swanson said. “Maybe six of our games last year were against top-tier competition. This year, Waseca lost their best player, and then you’ve got St. Peter and Fairmont, who should be solid.”
Before focusing in on the Wasecas and St. Peters of the schedule, though, Swanson said the Buccaneers are eyeing their own game plan, working to improve everything from transition scoring to general defense.
“Because of our lack of size, we want to work on rebounding,” he noted. “We always want to do better at taking care of the basketball, too.”
That goes for Swanson and assistant coaches Nate Carr, Joe Strukel and Randy Kuechenmeister, as well as everyone the projected starters to other returning Bucs like Chris Jenkins, Joe Ritter, Mason Mauris, Seth Becker, Jared Kennedy, Bobby Lindsey and Jacob Dikken.
And it represents just one of many steps forward for a team embracing the unignorable changes it has endured.