By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In his 20 years as a head coach, John Schaefer has had the type of career that most dream of. But, entering his third season at Rogersville, there’s one theme on his team’s mind.
The Wildcats have seen their season go one step further in each season under Schaefer, following up an Elite Eight run with last year’s Final Four bid. A historic end to a great season.
“The Final Four is always a goal for everyone’s program and we were fortunate enough to get to experience last year,” said Schaefer. “The community we have at LR is super supportive for all of its programs and for us to get to the Final 4 was a way to say thank you for all you do for us. I think it sparked back our community’s interest for basketball that was once one of the strongest in Southwest Missouri.
“For me personally, it was my fourth trip to the Final Four and it meant a lot to be able to get there in just my second year here at LR which helps build the growth and the culture of our program, and its expectations. I got to watch a great group of young men transform, mature and be successful in something they worked so hard to obtain. That’s the best part of my job.”
That trip ended with a pair of losses to eventual state champion Grandview and Ladue Horton Watkins. And now, with three starters and nine total letterwinners back, Rogersville is hungry to make a return trip to the Final Four behind a talented cast.
Senior Cade Blevins is back as Rogersville’s returning leader in scoring (12.2 points) and rebounding (4.6 rebounds). At 6-foot-5 and one of the area’s top athletes, his game has earned him an invite to last summer’s NCAA Regional Camp, as well as interest from Division One and Division Two programs.
“Cade will be an impact player that can change the outcome of games,” said Schaefer. “He has a very high ceiling in which he will continue to improve and become stronger in his skills, and that will open a lot of doors for him in the college ranks. He will be surrounded by some great skilled kids with now a lot of experience, which will take the load off him at times that Luke didn’t always have those options. It will be a different dynamic, but one that I’m excited to coach.”
He’s joined by returning starters Josh Linehan and Kannon Gipson.
Linehan is a senior guard that shot 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3, averaging 9.3 points and 2.7 rebounds. His backcourt mate will be the junior, Gipson, who after a solid sophomore season and great offseason, could end up developing into one of the area’s top guards.
“Kannon went from being a little kid to a 6-foot-1 skilled guard that can beat you from the outside,” said Schaefer. “He will be our point guard and yes, I think he will be one of the best guards in southwest Missouri before he graduates.”
Rogersville will also have a few of the best kept secrets in the Ozarks.
Senior Sam Englemeyer is healthy after missing nearly all of last season with an injury. The 6-foot-8 post will be joined in the paint by classmate 6-foot-6 forward Andrew Sell and Addy Miller, giving Rogersville a potentially huge frontline yet again with some reversibility.
Seniors Zach Bergmann and Ty DeLap, as well as sophomore JJ O’Neil will also figure into the rotation.
While they’re not the same names as last year, Schaefer believes they’re more than ready to make an impact.
“They’re guys with great talent and experience, as well as good students and people,” said Schaefer. “They all are capable of large contributions to our team. They had limited minutes due to injuries or the guys in front of them last year. This year they will be able to make their mark on LR basketball.
“Sam gives us something most teams don’t have; a 6-foot-8 presence that can make open shots from the perimeter as well as take up space in the paint with his length. With him being healthy and the addition of Andrew Sell – who came on strong late last season – actually makes us a bigger lineup than we were last year. JJ O’Neil will be a sophomore who is very athletic and has a knack for getting to the rim. He will be getting a lot of minutes from his performance in the off-season.”
There will certainly be a target on their back after winning the Big 8 and making a Final Four run, but Rogersville will continue to be the hunter and not the hunted.
The Cats still feel the bite of back-to-back season-ending losses to Grandview and the feeling of not playing their best basketball in those games. Redemption will play a factor throughout this season and as new faces get acclimated to new roles, this can again be a team that’s a threat to make it back to JQH Arena.
“The hardest thing for transitioning from JV to varsity for us is learning our match-up defense and understanding your role with the other players,” said Schaefer. “And let’s not forget the hostile environments of big game atmospheres. That is learned through experience only.
“Going back to the Final Four is our number one goal. The talk started before we left the locker room at the state championships. #unfinishedbusiness”
Rogersville will open the 2019-20 season on Nov. 26 at Parkview. The Wildcats home-opener will come on Dec. 10 against defending Class 2 state champion Greenwood.