SPASH boys basketball team enters season with different cast
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
After losing four starters from last season, the Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) boys basketball team has a new look under first-year head coach Jon Krull.
The Panthers had their run of three consecutive WIAA Division 1 State Titles come to an end last season a win short of reaching the State Tournament, while Scott Anderson resigned as the team’s head coach following the season, with former assistant coach Krull taking over the program.
SPASH is off to a 1-1 start so far this season, heading into its matchup at home against Bay Port at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30.
“We’re a new team obviously, but a lot of these guys have been part of this program, and they know what our standards are and the type of basketball that we play,” said Krull. “So it’s just finding new roles for some of those guys, and blending in as a team.
“That’s going to take a little time, and hopefully we don’t catch too many bumps in the road,” he said. “We’re going to play good teams, so we’re going to have to figure it out pretty quick.”
The Panthers lost two-time All-State guard and two-time Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) Player of the Year Drew Blair, along with Second Team All-WVC forward Andrew Erdman, and Honorable Mention All-WVC guards Drew Cullen and Brennan Mueller from last year’s team that finished 20-6 after a 57-42 loss to eventual State Champion Oshkosh North in a WIAA Division 1 Sectional Final.
Among the returnees who saw playing time last season are 6-2 senior guard Darren Zwicker (2.3 points per game last season), 6-1 senior guard Nolan Blair (2.9 points) and 6-2 junior guard Evan Vollendorf (4.9 points), who might be back Friday against Bay Port after he missed the first two games this season due to an injury.
Senior 6-3 center Elliot Eron, 6-2 senior forward Joe Bergquist and 6-3 senior guard Adam Willoughby have joined Zwicker and Nolan Blair in the starting lineup so far this season, while 6-2 senior guard Travis Johnson will be re-evaluated next week after he suffered a wrist injury in the season opener.
“We’ve got six seniors, and a lot of them have been part of this program for a while,” said Krull. “So we’re definitely going to lean on most of them, if not all of them.
“We have a good group of kids, we just need to learn how to be in our specific roles, of not role players, but leaders of the team,” he said. “And once we do that, I think we’ll be a pretty tough out.”
Also contributing off the bench are 6-2 junior forward Austin Beyer, 6-2 junior guard Brenden Klish, 5-9 junior guard Steffen James, 6-2 freshman point guard James Jacobs and 6-1 freshman guard Nate Streveler, along with 6-0 junior guard Christian Zarazua and 6-5 sophomore center Izaak Eppinger.
“We’re going to be a different team than we normally have been,” said Krull. “We don’t have the 6-7s and 6-6s, and we’ve had (NCAA) Division 1 and II athletes this last six years.
“So we just have to be more balanced,” he said. “And we can be a really good team if we become more of a balanced team and find the level of play where we need to be.”
SPASH opened this season with a 60-46 win at Rhinelander Friday, Nov. 23, and then lost 60-48 at home to De Pere Tuesday, Nov. 27.
The Panthers will be back at home this Friday to take on Bay Port, and then will travel to play at Chippewa Falls Saturday, Dec. 8, before they return home for their WVC opener against Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln at 7:45 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14.
Last season, SPASH won its sixth consecutive Conference Title, as it went 11-1 to finish ahead of Marshfield (8-4), Merrill (7-5), Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln (7-5), D.C. Everest (7-5), Wausau East (1-11) and Wausau West (1-11).
“It’s going to be a pretty balanced conference,” said Krull. “Merrill and D.C. Everest may be picked higher in the conference; they have good, veteran crews that have played a lot of minutes.
“But nobody’s really huge, and it’ll be interesting, who can catch fire and go on some stretches of consecutive wins,” he said. “I don’t see anyone really pulling away with the conference this year, and I think it’s up for grabs for anyone.”
A starter on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point men’s basketball back-to-back NCAA Division III National Championship teams in 2004 and 2005 before he spent eight seasons as an assistant coach for Anderson at SPASH, Krull said he is looking forward to his first season as a head coach, and that the Panthers’ goals will begin with competing in each game, at a game-to-game level.
“And then we always have our same goals,” said Krull. “The first one is conference, and then on to Regionals and Sectionals, and so forth.
“And those goals won’t change, based off of what teams we have,” he said. “But our daily goal is to compete, get better in practice, and that carries over into being able to compete in games.”