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Monarch boys will put young team on the floor

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

Thomas More Prep-Marian High School boys' basketball coach Joe Hertel said his sophomore class is a strong one for basketball. There are multiple players he can envision being "very good varsity players" in the future.

The problem is, he said, they aren't ready now. But they will have to be with graduation, previous injuries and sickness depleting his varsity lineup.

"It's not going to be easy for the young guys," Hertel said. "It's going to be a little bit of a baptism by fire for them. I'm hoping for them to get their feet wet and see if they can't figure this varsity game out. I know they will eventually, but I'd just kind of like it to be sooner than later."

The Monarchs have seven upperclassmen on their roster, and three of those -- senior forward Anthony Walters (shoulder), junior forward Ryan Mayorga (knee) and junior center Adam Schibi (elbow) -- are injured. The rest of the varsity lineup is composed of sophomores.

Those underclassmen will receive their first test against Kearney, Neb., in the first round of the Hays City Shoot-Out at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Hays Middle School gym.

"(Kearney's players) are going to be tough, hard-nosed, quick, aggressive defenders," Hertel said. "... They are all going to be able to shoot the long ball. They are going to scrap and dig and get after you. It's not going to be easy."

Between injuries and the graduation of eight seniors off last year's 12-10 team, the Monarchs will be missing 88 percent of the total minutes from a year ago.

"There is no denying that we are very young," Hertel said. "Not just young, but inexperienced overall."

Hertel said his experienced players will perform critical roles with this year's squad.

"I'm going to try my dangest to never allow there to be a situation where there isn't at least one or two seniors on the floor," he said. "We need their leadership, but you never know what will happen with fouls or injuries."

Senior point guard Shane immerman, the team's top returnee, will play the most pivotal part.

Zimmerman averaged just 3.1 points and 1.9 assists per game last season, but Hertel said his leadership is the most important aspect of his game.

"For the lack of a better word, he is the poise, he is the heart, he is the pulse of this year's team," Hertel said. "We need him to steady the ship, and he's capable of doing that."

Besides Zimmerman, the only starters Hertel has decided upon are senior forward Kade Megaffin and senior guard Tanner Unrein.

Megaffin played just 96 minutes last season, but he averaged 1.6 points per game, shooting 54.5 percent from the field.

"Going out for football his senior year made him considerably tougher than he was last year, and all those things will serve him well," Hertel said.

Unrein played only 21 minutes all of last season, and he's also recovering from a broken collarbone suffered early in the football season.

"He sometimes winces and has some pain, but he's been a trouper as far as practicing hard and giving us what he can," Hertel said.

Schibi is out for the season. Hertel said Mayorga could be out for a while with his knee injury, and it's unclear when Walters will return after re-aggravating his shoulder injury suffered during football season.

That leaves Megaffin to play power forward, junior power forward Jordan Gottschalk to transition to center, and sophomore forwards Matt Mindrup, Cameron Fouts and Ryan Schippers to provide minutes down low.

"It has kind of hit us from all directions, but you do what you can do and put some other people in that spot and see if you can't get them up to speed," Hertel said.

With so many underclassmen, Hertel said he has had to devote more of the practice time to instruction and less to conditioning. Combine that with recent illness rampaging through the team and injuries, and he said his team could be underprepared conditioning-wise for the season.

"We've got a tournament where you don't have time to make adjustments between games," Hertel said. "It's just back-to-back-to-back, so if anything, you had better play yourself into shape."

If anything, Hertel said these early-season tests will be valuable learning experiences for his squad.

"That kind of puts you behind the 8 ball at the beginning, but you've got to do what you've got to do," he said. "I try not to make excuses for injuries but, instead, try to present it to the younger players as a great opportunity."