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Prep Boys Basketball Preview Capsules

Section 7AAA CLOQUET LUMBERJACKS Coach: Steve Battaglia, second season Conference: Lake Superior 2005-06 record: 12-16, 7-5 Key returnees: Senior G Andy Kochniff, junior F Andy Erkilla, junior G Mike Campbell and junior G Ryan Lindstrom all start...

Section 7AAA

CLOQUET LUMBERJACKS

Coach: Steve Battaglia, second season

Conference: Lake Superior

2005-06 record: 12-16, 7-5

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Key returnees: Senior G Andy Kochniff, junior F Andy Erkilla, junior G Mike Campbell and junior G Ryan Lindstrom all started at times last season.

Key game: Superior visits Jan. 26 for the first of two meetings.

Outlook: Battaglia did a nice job in his first season but will be tested this year by limited height and depth. None of the four returnees are taller than 6-foot-1. The Lumberjacks were just 1-6 in games decided by six points or less last season, so they need to learn to win the close games in order to contend.

DULUTH CENTRAL TROJANS

Coach: Tom Pearson, 13th season

Conference: Lake Superior

2005-06 record: 11-14, 9-3

Key returnees: Senior F Trevon Taylor (17 points per game) and senior G Noah Pauley (8 ppg) are three-year starters.

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Key game: The Trojans host Duluth Denfeld on Feb. 20 in the renewal of their crosstown rivalry.

Outlook: Pearson begins his final season as coach with an experienced group, albeit few in number. The Trojans typically play tough defense and run a patient offense, something that keeps them close against tough opposition. Pearson, a member of the 1986 state tournament team as a senior, may not have the horses for a similar run this time.

DULUTH DENFELD HUNTERS

Coach: Jeff Nace, 14th season

Conference: Lake Superior

2005-06 record: 10-17, 6-6

Key returnees: G Steve Birman, C Trent Biese, G Cory Schleret and G Antonio Bautista are four of the nine seniors on the roster.

Key game: Duluth East stops at the Denfeld gym Jan. 23.

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Outlook: Last season could be termed a growing year for the Hunters. Nace expects this year's squad to be more competitive. The team has good ballhandling with Birman and good height in the 6-6 Biese. Since the section is essentially up for grabs, Denfeld has a chance to make a run.

DULUTH EAST GREYHOUNDS

Coach: Chuck Tolo, sixth season

Conference: Independent

2005-06 record: 29-3

Key returnees: Senior G Sean Mayberry (10 ppg, 7.5 assists per game, 2.5 steals per game) and senior F Ryan Shea started for the Section 7AAA champions.

Key game: When eighth-ranked Osseo comes to East on Feb. 10, it will end a seven-game road trip for the Greyhounds.

Outlook: For the second time in five seasons, the Greyhounds must replace one of the state's all-time leading scorers. Cory Johnson (2,960 career points) is at Iowa State, meaning East must find other scoring options. Shea and Mayberry are good starting points, but don't expect another appearance in the Class AAA title game.

GRAND RAPIDS THUNDERHAWKS

Coach: Dan Elhard, fifth season

Conference: Independent

2005-06 record: 19-10

Key returnees: Senior F Brandon Moberg (5.9 ppg, 1.7 apg), senior G Zak Kruse, senior G Ryan Gibeau and senior G Nate Drobnick all were role players last season.

Key game: A Jan. 26 home game against Duluth East will play a key role in section seedings.

Outlook: The Thunderhawks lost a talented group of seniors, leaving this season's fortunes up in the air. Seven more seniors take their spot. Height is a bonus, with four players 6-4 or taller, and quickness on the perimeter is another strength. But a 22-point loss to Superior could signal concerns.

HERMANTOWN HAWKS

Coach: Mike Sweeney, 11th season

Conference: Lake Superior

2005-06 record: 12-15, 6-7

Key returnees: None.

Key game: It probably won't have a bearing on the conference title, but when rival Proctor comes to town (Dec. 19) it's usually a fun matchup.

Outlook: The Hawks lost seven seniors and will scramble to develop experience in the early portion of the season. The roster is still full of upperclassmen, however, so all is not lost.

HIBBING BLUEJACKETS

Coach: Joel McDonald, eighth season

Conference: Iron Range

2005-06 record: 6-21, 3-5

Key returnees: All five starters are back: senior F Richard Holleque (11.0, 9.5 rpg), junior G Jay Cary (17.6 ppg, 5 rpg), junior G Matt Erickson (9.3 ppg), senior G Alan Tinderholm and junior F Eric Edmonds.

Key game: It's the annual father-son meeting when Bob McDonald's Chisholm team comes to Hibbing on Feb. 13.

Outlook: The Bluejackets are loaded with a deep junior class, many of whom saw action last season. This team also might outquick opponents, though McDonald fears other teams might be more physical. With good scorers in Cary and Holleque, topping last season's mark shouldn't be a problem.

Section 7AA

DEER RIVER WARRIORS

Coach: Mark Morrison, seventh season

Conference: Northern Lakes

2005-06 record: 13-13

Key returnees: Senior F Jordan Kaczor, junior C Alex Kaczor, junior G Aaron Morrison and sophomore Gs Tyler Erzar and Keith Deegan.

Key game: The Warriors open their conference slate tonight at Hill City.

Outlook: A good-shooting team looking for some experience at point guard. The 6-5 Alex Kaczor gives the Warriors a presence inside, but the team's defense needs to improve as Deer River found out in a 34-point opening loss to Pequot Lakes.

DULUTH MARSHALL HILLTOPPERS

Coach: Todd Clark, 10th season

Conference: Lake Superior

2005-06 record: 18-11, 5-4

Key returnees: Junior G Doug Frey (12.3 ppg, 3.7 apg), senior G Pete Carlson (6.3 ppg) and senior F Devin Zenner (6 ppg) hope to keep the Hilltoppers' successful run going.

Key game: Esko's visit Feb. 13 should be a barometer whether or not the Hilltoppers are ready for the playoffs.

Outlook: Frey should be the latest go-to player for the Hilltoppers, who graduated 1,200-point scorer Ryan Miller. But he'll need help for Marshall to continue its average of 20 wins per season the last five years. Clark, one of the best tacticians in the area, likely will devise a way to keep his team in the mix.

ESKO ESKOMOS

Coach: Mike Devney, eighth season

Conference: Polar League

2005-06 record: 22-6, 9-0

Key returnees: Three seniors -- C Bob Brungardt, F Kevin Rengo and F Kyle Hall -- along with junior G Scott Lindquist lead the way.

Key game: Duluth Marshall (Feb. 13 on the road) ended Esko's season in the 7AA playoffs last season.

Outlook: The Eskomos, winners of 17 straight conference games, are always at the forefront of the Polar League and the section. A difficult schedule, including six games against 7AAA opponents, keeps the Eskomos sharp.

EVELETH-GILBERT GOLDEN BEARS

Coach: Kyle Thoreson, 17th season

Conferences: Iron Range, Arrowhead

2005-06 record: 3-24, 0-8

Key returnees: Guard Jack Stavenger is the lone holdover after six seniors graduated.

Key game: Getting off to a good start is essential in the conference, though a Dec. 15 home game against Mesabi East will be a challenge.

Outlook: The first step for the Golden Bears is to put last season behind them, which with a fresh cast of characters shouldn't be hard. The team's nucleus is a group of six juniors. The problem is none is taller than 6-0.

GREENWAY RAIDERS

Coach: Paul Koplitz, fifth season

Conferences: Iron Range, Northern Lakes

2005-06 record: 5-21, 1-5

Key returnees: Seniors F Dylan Burich, F Garret Wright, G Joe Swan and G Derek Henderson hope to improve the Raiders' fortunes.

Key game: Greenway's lone IRC win the last two years came against Eveleth-Gilbert, which visits Dec. 19.

Outlook: There's no paucity of seniors with seven on the varsity. Burich, at 6-5, gives the team inside height. If the Raiders can contend in either conference, it would a rags-to-riches tale for a team that didn't win a game two years ago.

INTERNATIONAL FALLS BRONCOS

Coach: Josh Koenig, second season

Conferences: Iron Range, Arrowhead

2005-06 record: 19-8, 3-4

Key returnees: Senior G DeAngelo Brackins (25.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 6.2 apg, 3.7 spg), junior F Josh Stougard (10.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.5 apg), junior G Matt MacKenzie (9.3 ppg) and junior G Josh Mastin (5.0 ppg) are the key cogs.

Key game: Virginia travels to the Nation's Icebox for a Feb. 6 game.

Outlook: This is a quick team, led by the do-everything Brackins. The 5-11 senior was an All-Area first-team pick last season. Points, such as the 88 that the Broncos scored in their opener, should not be a problem. Bench strength remains a question.

MESABI EAST GIANTS

Coach: Jeremy Fleming, second season

Conferences: Iron Range, Arrowhead

2005-06 record: 15-12, 6-3

Key returnees: Senior G Justin Peyla, senior G Kai LeMoine, senior F John St. Lawrence, senior F Jake Whiting and sophomore G Justin Kangas give the Giants lots of experience.

Key game: Virginia comes to Aurora on Dec. 19.

Outlook: The Giants might be the surprise of both conferences. Quickness in guard play and the height of St. Lawrence (6-4½) and Whiting (6-4) is a potent double weapon. Mesabi East goes eight deep, and could deep into the playoffs if it improves its on-court communication.

MOOSE LAKE-WILLOW RIVER REBELS

Coach: Scott Hendricks, third season

Conference: Polar League

2005-06 record: 13-14, 7-3

Key returnees: Senior F Joe Bednar and junior G Jimmy Mach started a year ago, while sophomore F Nate Zuk, sophomore C Taylor Davis, junior G Travis Wagers and sophomore G Joey Boharty all lended a hand.

Key game: The Rebels lost to Barnum at the buzzer in their opener; they get a chance at payback Jan. 12 at home.

Outlook: Hendricks returns after a year away and two years after guiding the Rebels to the state tournament. The Rebels have speed, aggressiveness and enough talent to be competitive despite starting 0-3. The team's slow start might be attributable to the football team's long season.

PROCTOR RAILS

Coach: Ken Knox, sixth season

Conference: Lake Superior

2005-06 record: 3-23, 2-9

Key returnees: Senior Deke Crandall (18 ppg), a three-year starter, senior G Al Parrent and senior F Jeremy Boyer head up the attack.

Key game: The conference season opens up Tuesday with a home game against Superior.

Outlook: Crandall scored 23 as the Rails beat Chisholm in their opener, ending a 10-game losing streak. Bettering last season's mark shouldn't be a problem, but it may be a slow climb up the conference ladder.

TWO HARBORS AGATES

Coach: Jamie Otterblad, first season

Conferences: Polar League

2005-06 record: 0-26, 0-9

Key returnees: Seniors Dave Gomes, Dan Higgs and Shannon Larson hope to end a long losing streak soon.

Key game: The next one. Ending the losing streak is imperative.

Outlook: Otterblad's first group is young and inexperienced. The plan is to build for the future. Moving to the Polar League should help with that.

VIRGINIA BLUE DEVILS

Coach: Rich Odell, 16th season

Conferences: Iron Range

2005-06 record: 27-2, 10-0

Key returnees: None.

Key game: Grand Rapids (Jan. 13 at home) handed Virginia its lone regular-season loss last season.

Outlook: It'll be tough to repeat the Blue Devils' success last season when they reached the section finals. The inside-outside loss of Ryan Ostendorf (25.4 ppg, 17.1 rpg) and Kyle Lawrence (18.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 3.1 spg) is a double blow. Odell starts over with a brand new team.

Section 7A

ALBROOK FALCONS

Coach: Damien Paulson, first season

Conference: St. Louis County

2005-06 record: 21-6, 5-1

Key returnees: Senior F Paul Williams is the lone holdover from the section champions.

Key game: AlBrook edged Chisholm in a section semifinal last year; the rematch is Jan. 19 at Chisholm.

Outlook: It's impossible for the Falcons to duplicate what they did a year ago by reaching their first state tournament with Cory Mountain (27.3 ppg, 2,030 career points) setting a state tournament record with a 51-point performance. Paulson takes over for Don Ranta and is sure to have a hard-working team.

BABBITT-EMBARRASS KNIGHTS

Coach: Jon Anderson, first season

Conference: St. Louis County

2005-06 record: 3-20, 1-6

Key returnees: F Tyler Blomberg, G Derek Seibert, C Joe Wagner, F Joe Krtinick and F Seth Bjornrud are senior starters.

Key game: On Feb. 2, the Knights head to Cotton to play one of the teams they defeated last season.

Outlook: The five seniors are athletic, quick and smart, according to Anderson. The Knights graduated only one player and use junior Brett Bjornrud as the sixth man.

BARNUM BOMBERS

Coach: Rich Newman, ninth season

Conference: Polar League

2005-06 record: 18-10, 10-6

Key returnees: Senior G Willie Carlson (18.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3 apg, 3 spg) and junior G Josh Earlywine (14 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5 apg) are the lone starting holdovers.

Key game: Barnum rallied to beat Moose Lake-Willow River 83-81 in its opener; can the Bombers do it again on the road Jan. 12?

Outlook: The Bombers lost three frontline players, but should be quick around the perimeter with Carlson (40 percent) leading the 3-point brigade. Barnum will need to play well inside and find a rebounder in order to contend with the top teams in the section.

CARLTON BULLDOGS

Coach: Mark Cool, third season

Conference: Polar League

2005-06 record: 13-13, 6-7

Key returnees: F Erik Aili is the lone senior.

Key game: The Bulldogs lost in double overtime to Barnum last season; they make a return trip Dec. 19.

Outlook: This is a young team that might see its best days next year when 10 juniors become seniors.

CHERRY TIGERS

Coach: Jeff Smerud, second season

Conferences: St. Louis County, Arrowhead

2005-06 record: 9-14, 1-5

Key returnees: The senior trio of C Josh Greenley (14.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg), F Matt Stenlund (12 ppg) and F-G Mickey Goerdt (9 ppg) will be counted on again.

Key game: The Tigers opened last season with a win over Bigfork; they try again tonight.

Outlook: A unique combination of speed and size (all starters over 6-1) will be the key for the Tigers. This middle-of-the-pack team needs to improve its guard play after two graduations.

CHISHOLM BLUESTREAKS

Coach: Bob McDonald, 46th season

Conference: Iron Range

2005-06 record: 17-13, 5-3

Key returnees: Senior G Alex Gornick (21.7 ppg, 3.5 spg), sophomore F Taylor Skoglund (7.1 ppg, 5 rpg) and junior C Mike Pessenda (6.4 ppg, 7 rpg) head up McDonald's 52nd year in coaching.

Key game: One of the several McDonald-McDonald matchups is Feb. 23 at home against Tom's Ely team.

Outlook: Health is a big concern for the Bluestreaks, who are minus Gornick after suffering a knee injury in football. Gornick, who is awaiting clearance to return, is not only a big scorer but an excellent defender as well. The 6-4 Pessenda and the 6-3 Skoglund, who has a broken finger, will have to carry the team inside.

COOK COUNTY VIKINGS

Coach: Mitch Dorr, third season

Conference: Polar League

2005-06 record: 6-17, 2-10

Key returnees: Senior-heavy roster includes C Jonathan Ramey, G Andy Borud and F Brandon Donek.

Key game: Silver Bay drives up the shore Jan. 9.

Outlook: The Vikings have some good athletes and five seniors. But it's long way from 2-10 to contending in the Polar League.

COTTON CARDINALS

Coach: Brad Matuszak, third season

Conference: St. Louis County

2005-06 record: 15-9, 3-3

Key returnees: Sophomore C Kenny Schofield (17.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg), junior G Jimmy Radtke (12.4 ppg, 5.1 apg, 3.2 spg) and junior F Nick Stevenson (8 rpg) helped the Cardinals become the surprise team of the conference.

Key game: AlBrook scored 101 points in their meeting last season; the Cardinals will try to slow the Falcons down when they meet Feb. 23 in Cotton.

Outlook: Cotton is trying to replace the Williams brothers and their 44 points per game. That's not an easy task, though the 6-5 Schofield will do his part in the middle. Five seniors should help a depth problem.

CROMWELL CARDINALS

Coach: Bill Pocernich, 11th season

Conference: Polar League

2005-06 record: 22-5, 13-2

Key returnees: Senior F John Ammesmaki (16.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg), senior C Jordan Johnson (14.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and junior G Cody Hendrickson (6.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.1 apg) return from a 22-win season.

Key game: The Cardinals have to wait until the season finale (Feb. 26) to try and avenge a playoff loss to AlBrook.

Outlook: Ammesmaki and Johnson provide quality offensive play, and the Cardinals are used to playing with a winning attitude. Size, depth and athleticism are bonuses, but Pocernich is concerned that the football team's seemingly annual run to the Metrodome means the basketball team will get off to a slow start.

ELY TIMBERWOLVES

Coach: Tom McDonald, 17th season

Conference: Arrowhead

2005-06 record: 13-11, 5-4

Key returnees: Junior G Ben Povhe (10.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and junior G Pat Lekatz (7.4 ppg, 3.6 apg) should give the Timberwolves solid perimeter play.

Key game: A visit to International Falls on Jan. 30 could decide the conference champion.

Outlook: If losing the Northland's leading scorer, Eric McDonald (28.9 ppg), wasn't tough enough, Ely also may lose a pair of players for the season to injury.

FLOODWOOD POLAR BEARS

Coach: Chris Tommila, first season

Conference: Polar League

2005-06 record: 11-15, 3-10

Key returnees: Senior G Ben Scharnberg, senior F Dan Ruzynski and junior F Josh Tahja are the three returning starters.

Key game: The second of two Cromwell meetings is Feb. 8 at home.

Outlook: Scharnberg has a shooter's touch, but the Bears are low on backcourt experience. The Bears have above-average size inside with players 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 and 6-1 set to see significant playing time.

McGREGOR MERCURIES

Coach: Kris Rinta, third season

Conference: Polar League

2005-06 record: 9-15, 3-10

Key returnees: Senior G Jake Root is a 1,000-point scorer.

Key game: Tonight the Mercuries return to Floodwood, the site of where their season ended last season.

Outlook: With Root and five other seniors, the Mercuries are experienced enough to make a run at .500.

MOUNTAIN IRON-BUHL RANGERS

Coach: Luke Winans, 12th season

Conference: Arrowhead

2005-06 record: 19-6, 6-3

Key returnees: Senior G D.J. Winfield (17.3 ppg, 4.6 apg, 2.9 spg), sophomore G Steve Golobich (13.7 ppg, 82 3-pointers) and junior G Andy Nikolanci (7.6 ppg) have the Rangers back contending.

Key game: The preseason questions all will be answered by the time MIB closes the regular season at Nashwauk-Keewatin on Feb. 23.

Outlook: The Rangers seek their second state tournament appearance in three years. With their team speed, ball-hawking defense and with Winfield leading a transition game second to none, they likely will be around to play for a section title.

NASHWAUK-KEEWATIN SPARTANS

Coach: Josh Lamppa, fifth season

Conference: Northern Lakes

2005-06 record: 23-5, 8-0

Key returnees: None.

Key game: Cook knocked the Spartans out of the playoffs a year ago; the Little Gophers come to Nashwauk on Tuesday.

Outlook: The Spartans lost all five starters and their top three reserves to graduation. That means scoring will be down, leaving Nashwauk-Keewatin's hopes riding on its defense.

SILVER BAY MARINERS

Coach: Larry Otterblad, 27th season

Conference: Polar League

2005-06 record: 11-14, 4-6

Key returnees: Senior G Jon Michalski (10.5 ppg) and senior F Coal Goette (5.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg) are back but the rest of the frontline graduated.

Key game: It'll be Otterblad vs. Otterblad when the Mariners host Two Harbors on Jan. 12.

Outlook: The Mariners have their work cut out for them to replace 6-5 Steve Rohloff (17 ppg, 15 rpg) and 6-6 Jack Connor (14 ppg, 15 ppg). That height comes around once in a lifetime. Silver Bay will stress defense, though this team will no longer be the rebounding and shot-blocking terror it was last season.

TOWER-SOUDAN GOLDEN EAGLES

Coach: Jamie Quick, first season

Conferences: St. Louis County, Arrowhead

2005-06 record: 15-8, 7-1

Key returnees: Seniors Matt Bjorgo, Tucker Majerle and Ryan Potter (out last season with injury) provide the experience.

Key game: The Eagles visit nearby Ely on Dec. 19.

Outlook: The three seniors and junior Tyler Cramer give Tower-Soudan the requisite experience needed to contend. Jesse Quick (19 ppg, 9 rpg), and six other seniors, will be missed.

WRENSHALL WRENS

Coach: Joel Swanson, 13th season

Conference: Polar League

2005-06 record: 9-16, 5-9

Key returnees: F Aaron Mettling and G Chris Hansmann are the lone seniors.

Key game: The Wrens beat Cook County twice last season; they seek a three-peat tonight at home.Outlook: Young team might be a year away from contending.

Wisconsin

ASHLAND OREDOCKERS

Coach: Joe Brennan, fifth year

Conference: Lake Superior

2005-06 record: 16-6

Key returnees: Seniors Joe Brennan (9 ppg, 4 apg) and Roy Whitebird (9.5 ppg, 4 rpg) are the backcourt duo.

Key game: The Oredockers make their LSC debut at home Dec. 12 against Cloquet.

Outlook: Ashland lost seven seniors from last year's Lumberjack Conference runners-up. The Oredockers will count on the shooting and speed of their backcourt in their first year in the LSC.

NORTHWESTERN TIGERS

Coach: Dan Cowley, 11th season

Conference: Heart O' North

2005-06 record: 10-10

Key returnees: Senior G Kelsey Moreland (15.6 ppg, 3.2 apg) and senior G Saul Falter (11.5 ppg) are short and slight, but key a quick team.

Key game: Can the Tigers sweep Hayward when they make the trip south Feb. 1?

Outlook: Cowley has an athletic group, led by the backcourt, but a lack of height means rebounding could be a problem. Depth is in question as well.

SUPERIOR SPARTANS

Coach: Dave Kontny, fourth season

Conference: Lake Superior

2005-06 record: 12-9, 9-1

Key returnees: Senior G Bart Bailey, senior G Mike Johnsted and senior F Ben Lindberg return for the LSC champs.

Key game: Superior lost a two-point heartbreaker to Eau Claire Memorial last year; it hosts the Old Abes on Jan. 20.

Outlook: The Spartans are off to a strong start, posting 20-plus point victories in their first two games. Guard play should be superior, giving the Spartans a chance to defend in the LSC.

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