Heartland Lutheran coach Lloyd Wagnitz has a lot of holes to fill in his lineup.
The Red Hornets lost six seniors, including four starters, from last year’s 17-7 team. Senior Isac Splattstoesser is the lone returning starter this year.
“The cupboard is not completely bare,” Wagnitz said. “We have some shooters. Jon Simonson and Grant Suchanek, both their brothers graduated last year, so they know the system very well.”
And that system hasn’t changed much, although Wagnitz said the Red Hornets may have to slow it down a bit and run a few more half-court sets this year.
“We’ll have to work on our rebounding,” Wagnitz said. “That’s going to be a struggle for us for a while. We’ll work on our boxing out. We’ll be working on our defense a lot this year and see where it goes from there.”
Heartland Lutheran’s inside game may suffer for a while until 6-foot-5 junior Zack Blase returns to the court. Blase’ contracted a case of mononucleosis the first week of practice and a couple of days later had his appendix taken out.
Blase came in two or three times a week during the summer to work on his game with Wagnitz.
“Now he can drive to the hoop, he can shoot outside, he can play post, he has a little baby hook so he’s developed the complete package,” Wagnitz said. “Zack worked very hard this summer. He’s improved his game inside and out. He’ll be a big benefit for us, and Isac does a great job.
“We have a freshman or two who could see some time before the year is out on the varsity level once they learn what’s going on. That looks very promising.”
Splattstoesser, a three-year letter winner for the Red Hornets, will have to provide some much-needed leadership. Wagnitz said Splattstoesser is ready to take on that role.
“He understands that he’s the leader out there,” Wagnitz said. “He’s grown a little bit this year so we’re excited about that. He’s very good on the offensive end as far as directing the team, driving to the hoop. He fits right in with what we want.”
Seniors Jacob Stinson and Josh Sugita will also see playing time along with Noah Messersmith, who will miss the first week or so of the season with an elbow injury.
The Red Hornets will open the season Thursday by hosting Spalding/Spalding Academy.
“Spalding is going to be a handful,” Wagnitz said. “They gave us quite a game last year and they have most everybody back. I anticipate them having a good season again.”
Fullerton, Humphrey St. Francis and Lindsay Holy Family have joined the Goldenrod Conference. Wagnitz said he doesn’t know a lot about those teams, but he does know quite a bit about Goldenrod Conference favorite Burwell.
“They’re probably the top contender for the conference title,” Wagnitz said. “They’re going to be at least as good if not better than last year.”
Wagnitz is hoping the Red Hornets will improve as the season goes along.
“We’re just going to work hard and try to continue to improve each game and see where it leads us,” Wagnitz said.