By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Last season was nearly everything John Schaefer could have asked for with the start to his Logan-Rogersville tenure.
They finished 24-6, went spotless through the COC-Small and captured the Class 4, District 9 Championship. One of the few improvements would have been a final four appearance, which the Wildcats fell one game shy of accomplishing. They fell to eventual Class 4 State Champion Grandview.
Schaefer admitted his first squad at Logan-Rogersville may have performed above expectations, but that is in no way a negative when it comes to expectations.
“I felt like we overachieved,” he said. “Maybe we won a few games we should not have at times, but that builds a bunch of confidence. That made it really easy for this year in terms of what is acceptable. Our main goal was to win a district and they did it.”
Schaefer is all too familiar with postseason basketball and, for that matter, replacing the talent it takes to get there. Four seniors graduated, including all-conference honorees Andrew Scott and Jackson VonBehren, but the Wildcats return three other starters and eight lettermen.
Look no further than reigning COC-Small Player of the Year Luke Vandersnick to find the gatekeeper for this season’s success. The 6’5” post turned in an All-State junior campaign with 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per night. He delivered the winning bucket in the Wildcats’ last win: a 44-43 affair against Carl Junction in the Class 4 sectionals.
He is already one of the best defenders in the area, but now the Wildcats could have more room to diversify how he is used.
“I’ve done this 20 years and he is a top guy for sure,” Schaefer said. “His game has changed a lot just in a year. He is big, fast, and his body control is good as I have seen. We used him a ton in the post last year but he can play the guard spot.”
With no other returning Wildcat averaging double figures in the stat sheet, there are buckets and boards up for grabs. Ryker Strong is back for his senior campaign and, at 6’3”, should bring length back to the starting lineup alongside 6’4” junior Cade Blevins.
Josh Linehan is also back after missing his entire sophomore season due to an ACL tear. The guard will likely serve as the sixth man.
Caleb Lowe and Drew Mack round out the batch of seniors. Lowe played the majority of his minutes off the bench last winter, while Mack will be competing in the program for the first time.
Guard play could be a question mark due to the inexperience of group. Sophomores Kanon Gipson, Addy Miller, and Zach Bergmann have all shown tremendous upside and could be key contributors moving forward. Now, Schaefer says it is just a matter of getting them varsity minutes and little more meat on the bones.
“We’ll have youthfulness in some kids that are taking over some big roles. They don’t quite yet have the experience they need.”
The bulk of the group has been able to compete together at The Courts in Springfield and returns have been positive. Schaefer expects a slow progression at the start of the year but won’t discount the Wildcats matching the success of last season.
“I think they have a great chance to do it again this year, and they know that. Just the experience of the guys who were there last year, that’ll go a long way as well.”