By Allen VanNess
Although head coach Mark Miller and his Rolla Bulldogs would have loved to have gone further after coming up short in the district championship game to Helias Catholic, it is hard to dispute the talent they had after finishing last season with a 24-3 record.
One obstacle the Bulldogs will have to overcome if they want to build on last season’s success is the loss of graduating seniors Zach Brown, Sam Marshall, Logan Short and Kobe Wands.
Along with being an all-conference, all-district selection multiple years, Wands was also a two-time all-state selection as well. Marshall, Brown and Short were all-district selections a year ago as well.
“You can’t replace guys like this,” said Miller of his graduating seniors. “You simply change who you are and develop into a new team. They provided the Rolla community a lot of fun, exciting basketball the last few years, and their leadership will be missed.”
Fortunately for Rolla, they return six lettermen from last year, led by 6’5” junior Nick Janke. Janke returns after starting all of last season and should provide quite a powerful presence inside.
“[Nick] is big, athletic, and, with a year of starting experience, he should be a consistency that this group is looking for,” Miller said.
The other five returning lettermen from a season ago include seniors Zac Burns and Brandon Cunningham, junior guard Josh Prichett and sophomores Alec Buhr and Blaize Klossner.
Burns and Cunningham come into their senior seasons after playing off the bench a year ago.
“Zac was Mr. Hustle a year ago and was usually the first off the bench,” Miller said. “He will be another good leader for this team. Brandon is as good of a shooter as there is from three-point range. He was a sharpshooter for the JV last year and, in limited time with varsity, hit 9 of his 13 three-point attempts.”
Prichett is a 6’4” guard who was usually first off the bench last season and will be looked upon this year to do a little bit of everything for the Bulldogs.
“Josh will provide a solid all-around game and will bring great leadership as well as a shooting and scoring ability that should be very strong,” said Miller.
Along with the upperclassmen returning, sophomores Buhr and Klossner are two more that look to see increased roles this season.
“Alec is one of those guys that has the ability to score it from anywhere and provides solid rebounding and defensive skills, while Blaize was a freshman point guard last year that starred on the JV team and provided some solid backup strength for Kobe Wands on the varsity club,” Miller said. “He is a tough-nosed kid that does the right thing.”
Even with all the lettermen returning, juniors Jake Grooms and Aaron Cunningham and sophomore Coby Martin will all be counted on to play strong support roles for the Bulldogs this season.
Undoubtedly, the Bulldogs lost a lot of talent, but they also have a lot of talent ready to step up even more this season, and Miller believes this team may catch many people by surprise.
“This team will be very different but will surprise a lot of people in how competitive they are,” said Miller. “They’re inexperienced in playing much varsity basketball together but have had a great deal of success together this offseason. Expectations by the Bulldog coaching staff are very high for this bunch.”
While Rolla will play high-pressure defense on both ends of the floor, they expect to be hard to defend because of how many scorers they have throughout their entire lineup.
“Shooting will definitely be a strength along with a good work ethic on defense and the board,” Miller said of his team. “Every guy up and down the lineup has the ability to score and score big. It will be a fun group to coach and should be a fun group of guys to cheer for. Above all, we hope to play with great character that represents ourselves, family, school and community well.”
Rolla begins their season on Nov. 19 in the Key Sport Shoot Out.