Northwest coach Ryan Rathke is stressing the three T's this year: trust, togetherness and toughness.
“Trust means confidence,” Rathke said. “When you trust your teammates you have confidence in them – in their integrity and in their abilities. We need to not only have togetherness but we need to take it to the floor. Mental toughness and physical toughness will be needed as we march through the season.”
Northwest lost five seniors from last year's 12-10 team, but the Vikings have five lettermen with considerable varsity experience returning in seniors Alec Waters, Alex Larsen, Trevor Kraft, Zach Rouzee and Kyle Bockmann.
Waters is the most experienced player returning with three seasons of varsity play under his belt.
“Alec understands the game of basketball very well,” Rathke said. “He is an outstanding defensive player and has improved his perimeter shooting.”
Rouzee and Kraft have played quite a bit of varsity the past two years.
“Zach and Trevor improved their game this past summer” Rouzee said. “Zach has developed into a very good scorer and he anticipates so well on the defensive end. Trevor is an athletic post player and will be a force inside for us.”
Larsen and Bockmann will both see time at the guard position for the Vikings.
“Alex Larsen came on at the end of last season and played a lot of point guard for us,” Rathke said. “Alex has tremendous vision with very good ball handling skills and is a very good shooter. Kyle Bockmann played a little varsity last year. He's a pure shooter and a strong defender.”
Rathke said senior Austin Havranek has a great work ethic and will add depth on the perimeter for the Vikings.
The junior class will provide Northwest with some inside help in the 6-foot-4 Darrek McNelis, 6-4 Casey Dahlkoetter and 6-5 Garrett Koepp.
Rathke said all three played plenty of basketball in the off-season and will contribute at the varsity level this year.
“Darrek is a strong versatile athlete and will be able to play both on the inside and the perimeter,” Rathke said. “Casey is a post player that can score both inside and outside. Garrett is very good on the blocks and has good touch on the ball.”
Rathke said he feels good about the base he has to build a team with even though they lost all those seniors from a year ago.
“Alec, Alex, Zach and Trevor bring valuable experience to our team and were a big part of the conference championships we have won the past two years,” he said. “These four guys along with Kyle and Austin will provide the leadership we need to develop into a quality team.
“Our juniors Darrek, Casey and Garrett are ready for varsity competition. As we progress through the season we want to get better each week and grow together as a unified team.”
Rathke said the Vikings need to develop depth this year. To do that, the players who did not play varsity last year will have to step up and play at a high level.
Northwest opens its season Friday night by hosting Central City.
Rathke said Columbus Lakeview looks like the favorite in the western half of the Central Conference while Aurora and Holdrege would be at the top of the eastern half.
The Vikings have won the last two Central Conference Tournaments and would like to continue that streak.
“We want to head into the conference tournament with the goal of winning the championship again,” Rathke said. “The commitment of getting better each day will give us an opportunity for a district championship.”