2021-22 Winter Preview: Bolivar Boys Basketball

By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

Few programs around the Ozarks will have higher expectations than the Bolivar Liberators.

Entering Robby Hoegh’s 20th season with the program – 14 of which have come as head coach – Bolivar returns four starters from last year’s Class 5 runner-up team that finished 16-13. It was the program’s third Final Four run in the last seven seasons.

“One of the things that made this run so much fun is that we got to host the quarterfinal game and even the sectional game at Rolla was just so incredible,” said Hoegh. “Those to me are moments which are hard to quantify in terms of impact they have, not just on the players but the community and especially younger players (elementary, middle school). We say all the time to plant trees whose shade you may never enjoy. We would be remiss to not provide a lot of credit to our 2020 seniors for our run last year. Those guys really helped instill some character in our guys that was so necessary in handling the season we had last year.”

“It’s hard to believe we are able to make that run had it not been for the 2015, 2016, and 2017 teams, many of these kids were in the stands watching those games and defining moments of those seasons. They felt what the players were feeling–they dreamed about it themselves. We want to be a program of passion and dreamers. Winning is certainly not easy and to be in position to win sacrifice is necessary, but having a vision can keep players going even when they don’t feel like it.”

The vision for this year’s group will be a state championship and there’s more than enough returning to get it done, led by junior D1 prospect Kyle Pock.

Pock returns after averaging 24.2 points and 10 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 forward is also coming off of a huge summer with the same MOKAN Elite program that has produced current NBA stars like Trae Young and Michael Porter Jr.

He’s heard from several mid-major and even some Power 5 programs, currently holding offers from Missouri State and SEMO.

“You know it has been a really fun fall; there has been a lot of traffic to Polk County,” said Hoegh. “Kyle has made Bolivar a little bit bigger on the Missouri map. He has done this through a lot of hard work.

“But to me, still, what it comes down to is how Kyle makes his teammates feel and the way he eagerly accepts coaching. We had to move Kyle to point guard last year, and as you know there is a lot of responsibility with that position. The point guard is responsible for the entire team’s production. His size in combination with his handle is obviously impressive, but at the end of the day it is the trust he has with his teammates that makes him the most dangerous.”

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Rejoining Pock in the starting lineup is a trio of seniors in 6-foot-8 Lukas Gabani, 6-foot-7 Josh Bowes and 6-foot-2 Cooper Cribbs.

Bowes is back after averaging 12 points and four rebounds, Gabani averaged nine points and six rebounds and Cribbs added six points and four rebounds, also knocking down 35 3-point field goals.

“We expect a lot out of each of those seniors,” said Hoegh. “Obviously, Kyle stirs the drink, but in district games against Hillcrest and Rolla, Kyle was our third leading scorer. When defenses contort their entire game plan to Kyle, we believe Josh, Lukas, and Cooper have the skills and confidence to make plays.”

Hoegh is also excited about several newcomers that could see roles this winter.

Seniors Aidan Mauck (6-2) and Deacon Sharp (6-3), as well as juniors Jack Larimore, Mason Wilson (6-6) and Kaden Griswold (6-4) will provide depth and even more size to complement an already huge roster.

Sophomore Trenton Patke is also in line to see varsity minutes.

“We feel like we have several guys that are going to be able to contribute,” said Hoegh. “Like every year we are thinking of ways to replace production and contributions that were left due to graduation. Jace Krueger, Bo Banner, and Luke Meents were fantastic and critical to our team last year.”

Bolivar’s quest for another Final Four will come following yet another brutal schedule that includes four district champions in Classes 5-6, something that has become a staple of the program.

“The only way to build resilience is to face setbacks so no question our schedule built that up,” said Hoegh. “Our deal has always been let’s make sure we do things that will work against the best teams in the state. Playing the best teams in the state throughout our schedule ensures we have to figure those things out.

“The biggest challenge every year is just fighting to be who we were meant to be. We are Bolivar, we have to bring our juice. We can’t collectively or individually attempt to be someone or something we are not. Our program is built on love not angst. Our schedule is going to be a great test. The Ozark Conference is tough as nails and the non-conference opponents we play are incredible programs with tremendous coaches. If we collectively hold each other accountable for giving our very best to the season, we feel strongly it will be rewarding and we can be happy knowing we put all we had into one another and the pursuit.”

Bolivar will open the 2021-22 season on Dec. 1 at the Willard Basketball Classic. The Libs will play their home opener on Dec. 10 against Lebanon.

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