Pirate Basketball Preview

The following preview is featured as a WEB EXTRA for the Lake County Leader website (www.leaderadvertiser.com).  The article incorporates input from coaches, but draws substantially upon observations made over previous season(s) of several of the players who comprise the 2009-10 Polson basketball teams.   It was felt that providing  a few  savory appetizers for area basketball fans would help whet the appetite for the upcoming roundball season, and it is with these considerations in mind that the following comments are offered.

Additional area boys basketball surveys can be viewed in the Lake County Leader (Th. 3 Dec 2009), B1,7

Preseason Boys Basketball Preview:  2009-10 Polson Pirates
by John Heglie for the Leader

photos courtesy of  Mike Humphrey (www.mikehumphrey.net) – unless otherwise specified

Divisional Challenge Game

Last season the Polson Pirates finished third in their conference regular season (5-5 conf, 11-11 overall).  Highlights included a narrow sweep of Columbia Falls, but several games on both sides of the ledger happened to be barn burners that weren’t decided until the waning moments.   At divisional the Pirates successfully advanced through the first two rounds, squeezing by the higher seeded Libby by a mere point to make the championship, where the Columbia Falls Wildcats came out on top as division champs.   That loss opened the door for a challenge game in which Whitefish usurped the Pirates for the right to go to state, the balance being ever so close to tipping in Polson’s favor had the shot by Waylon Michel in the waning seconds been able to split the net instead of rim out.

Divisional ChampionshipThe Pirates graduated three significant contributors from their roster last season. Two time all-conference honorable mention forward/guard Craig Bagnell (144 pts, 86 reb, 9th in conference for rebounds),  who provided leadership on the court over the course of several seasons, now plays football for the University of Mary in North Dakota.  The others were guard Waylon Michel (160 pts, 6th in 3-pt fg, 10th in steals) and Ryan Kelley (99 pts, 82 reb), an all-conference honorable mention selection his junior year who just missed making the TOP TEN in rebounding.

The services of a pair of would-be senior guards will also not be available for the upcoming basketball season.  The first is Joe Andrews, who will be involved in a training regimen this winter to better prepare for opportunities to play football at the collegiate level.  The other is soccer all-state/all-conference striker Peter Hanson, seldom utilized last season, who is focusing his efforts toward conditioning to better prepare for playing soccer this spring as well as at the collegiate level.   Pirate fans will have to await until the latter part of the season for the return of a pair of juniors integral to the competitiveness of the Pirates last winter who are on the mend from their particular set of ailments.  One is  6-3 forward/guard Louis Mohr, a TOP TEN producer from behind the arc (8th in 3-pt fg) as well as an influential component at both ends of the floor.   The other is 5-8 guard Sheldon Fisher, who came on the latter part of the season as a defensive nemesis as well as contributed at the offensive end.

With the dawn of a new season on the horizon, the varsity roster for the 2009-10 Pirates looks to be a competitive bunch.  Foremost among them will be a pair of all-conference 2nd-team selections who were among the TOP TEN in multiple categories in the Northwestern A.

Boys Basketball - Kyle BagnellOne of those is 6-3 junior Kyle Bagnell ( 2nd in 3-pt fg, 5th in total pts, 6th in ft%, tied 7th in fg%, 8th in rebounds).  Bagnell was a significant factor at both ends of the floor last season, and it is anticipated that he will be just as integral to the success of the Pirates this season as well.

Boys Basketball - Tim RauschThe other is 6-0 senior Tim Rausch (4th in 2-pt fg, 7th in total pts, tied 7th in fg%, 10th in rebounds), a full throttle player on the basketball court much like he is on the football field.  Rausch is not bashful about wading into the thick of things and has a knack for exploiting seams in the narrowest of confines.  Diligent about protecting a ball in his possession, watching him drive the lane between defenders on his way to the basket is almost like watching a transformer reconfigure as he uncoils to release his shot.

Boys Basketball - Derrick RatheA lineman during football season, 6-3 senior Derrick Rathe knows how to move bodies around to create space under the basket. While a greater degree of finesse will need to be exercised during the many physical aspects of the game, opponents who go shoulder-to-shoulder with Rathe after a rebound or loose ball should not be surprised if they find themselves redirected toward a different quadrant of the basketball court.

The Pirates will be looking for significant contributions from a number of second-year players:

Boys Basketball - Vince DiGiallonardoSophomore 6-0 guard Vince DiGiallonardo has good ball handling skills that supplement his quickness.  DiGiallonardo was perfect from the free throw line on only limited opportunities last season, a trend one hopes he will continue as floor opportunities present themselves.

Boys Basketball - Ian LambeerSophomore 6-2 forward Ian Laimbeer showed promise in games at the JV and Varsity level as a freshman, and some of his playmaking this past Fall on the football field suggest he could make strategic contributions during his floor time on the hardwood.

Sophomore 6-3 Cody Fischer has good height and was among the leading scorers his freshman year.  If Fischer starts splitting the net with a measure of consistency similar to the finesse he displays on the golf course, he could sink some crucial points in strategic situations.

New to the purple and gold is 6-5 sophomore Tyler Krell, a transfer from Charlo who bolsters the Pirates with some added height to counter some of the challenges in the post posed around the conference.  The level of his effectiveness may require a period of adjustment as he adapts from Class C to Class A ball, but a summer AAU regimen may smooth that transition.

The junior varsity roster is comprised of a broad array of talented players, several of whom it is anticipated will be called upon to make contributions at the varsity level as the season unfolds.

Seeking to make up for lost time after missing last season due to injury will be 6-4 junior Dale Big Sam, who will provide an additional presence in the post.

Sophomore 5-9 guard Justin Hoel is a tenacious player who is quick with his feet, aspects which garnered him playing time as a freshman at the JV level toward the end of last season.

Sophomore 6-1 Jonathan Murphy has a long stride to complement his vertical elevation, both of which provide one with that coveted edge in a game of inches.  The  level of conditioning which Murphy brings from the soccer pitch will serve him well in games run at an accelerated pace.

Other sophomores who were contributors last season in both scoring and defense as part of the frosh squad include 6-0 Marcus Brown, 5-7 Kienan Keniston and 5-8 Cade Komlofske.

Sophomore transfer student Casey Uses Arrow should provide a boost in situational roles once new hardwood strategies become more familiar.

A pair of freshmen elevated to the JV roster due to their broad range of capability include Zach Camel, who maintains poise under pressure situations, and Will Davey.

A promising group of incoming freshmen look to contribute to the basketball program over the years to come.  Among those newcomers are Hayden Congdon, Stan Ferraro, Quinn Harlan, Dylan Kelley, Sam Kinzle, Drew Kvam, James Larson, Isaih Matt, Taylor Pitts, Riley Sampson, Dan Sorrell and Eric Williamson.

Head varsity coach Brad Pluff takes over the reins of the Pirate boys basketball program.  High school standout and former Grizzly player J.R. Camel will head up the junior varsity, with Bob Hislop tasked to develop the freshman boys.

The Northwestern A conference has been relatively balanced over the past several years and as a consequence remains highly competitive to the extent that no team tends to dominate the conference as a whole.  One foresees similar trends continuing this season as each team vies to edge out the competition to achieve that precarious lead in the standings from week to week.  Where the Pirates will shake out in this process will be dependent upon fielding a consistent level of play tinged with a timely break now and then.   The sooner individual talents meld together as a team, the more competitive they will be as a whole.   Fans can look forward to a season filled with drama, one slated to keep the fingernails trimmed as well as one that occasionally might not be conducive for the faint of heart.

stats culled from nwmta website