A year ago, the Ness City boys’ basketball team was held together by three seniors.
This year, those three key players are gone.
So far, though, the Eagles are continuing to fly high thanks to a duo that gives Ness City a solid inside-outside threat on the court.
That was no more evident than Friday night in the semifinals of the Purple & Gold Tournament in WaKeeney.
Senior Christian Scheopner and junior John Pfannenstiel guided the Eagles to a 66-37 blowout win over Stockton to reach Saturday night’s late title game against Almena-Northern Valley.
“This is a whole new starting lineup for us,” Pfannenstiel said. “Me and Scheop are the main people that played last year. We played a lot over the summer together, and we played growing up all the time. We’re finally just settling in and just calming down from the early season jitters and settling into what we know.”
The Eagles have settled in nicely indeed, and the start of Friday’s contest against the Tigers proved that point.
Pfannenstiel, the team’s floor general as the point guard, nailed a 3-pointer to start the game, then Scheopner scored three straight buckets for an eventual 9-0 lead.
“It’s huge,” Scheopner said. “We’re finally playing like we can and how we’re playing in practice. We’ve had a problem our first two games starting off slow. We need to keep pushing the tempo. With our press, we can force them to make bad passes and get a steal and get ahead on the break really fast and push them to make mistakes.”
The final points in the opening spurt came via a thunderous, two-handed dunk by Scheopner — who dominated the paint Friday night at 6-feet, 7 inches.
He finished with a game-high 23 points, and Pfannenstiel — a 6-foot guard — added 22. Their combined 45 points were more than Stockton could generate as an entire team.
“It’s pretty big for him and I to step up,” Pfannenstiel said. “We know we have to be leaders, with him being a senior and me being the point guard from last year. It’s really nice for me and him to lead this team.”
The Eagles are under the guidance of first-year head coach Brandt Rogers, who walked into a position that features a talented squad.
“It was a fortunate move for me, and the boys have accepted me,” Rogers said. “We’ve just been working and carrying through a nice summer. Everything has been going great now.”
What has made the start of the season easier on the Eagles — and tougher on opponents — was that they had three different leading scorers in their first three outings.
If it’s not Scheopner or Pfannenstiel leading the way, the Eagles have capable scorers in several others.
“Teams can key and key and key, but I don’t even know which one of our kids is going to be the leading scorer,” Rogers said. “It’s a good problem to have.”
“On most teams, if you’re not having a good night, then that’s probably going to mean you’re going to lose the game,” Pfannenstiel said. “But with us, Andres (Rios) can step up at any time, Christian and me. We can have different leading scorers on any night. It’s big for us to step up and lead the team.”
The Eagles lost high-flying Chandler Stiawalt, who signed for track at Wichita State University. But his absence hasn’t grounded Ness City, and Scheopner has proven he’s more than just a normal 6-7 big man inside.
His ability to jump and swat away shots is a crucial part of the Eagles’ defense, and he’s one of four players standing at least 6-4.
Scheopner even has nimble feet for a big man, holding down the top of the Eagles’ press on occasions. His long reach causes problems for team’s smaller guards, resulting in steals and dunks like Friday night.
“I have a lot of length, and I’m not as slow as most bigs,” Scheopner said. “We like to put all of our length up front because we’re a big team. I’m 6-7 on the roster, and we have a couple 6-4 guys, 6-3. So we have a lot of length and athleticism, and I like how our press is looking.”
In the half-court set offensively, Scheopner poses problems with his ability to move around, something Rogers said is a key asset.
“More than a basketball player, he’s such a great kid,” the coach said. “He really, really bought in to what I want him to do. If I tell him to sit down low, he’ll sit down low. If I tell him to roam around and shoot the open jump shot, he’ll roam around and shoot the open jump shot. He’s a very coachable kid. He just loves the game.”
Pfannenstiel has proven to be an accurate shooter from the outside in his second year at the point, and he possess and quick first step also.
“He really is,” Rogers said about Pfannenstiel being the floor general. “Tonight, he really talked to me about what he can do to be better, and he talked about not trying to take the game over but letting the game come to him. Tonight, the game came to him, and he saw the openings and made the moves. I was more impressed with the passes he threw tonight than the shots he made because I know he can shoot the ball. I want to see him really become a great passer.”
If he doesn’t finish at the rim, he’s finding one of his teammates to hit a shot.
“He’ll fake me out sometimes,” Scheopner said. “He’ll pull something off and get me the ball.”
Scheopner and Pfannenstiel have logged numerous minutes throughout their years together on the court. Both players said that’s been important.
“We went to a lot of tournaments this summer,” Pfannenstiel said. “Me and him were playing AAU ball on the same team. Our school team has played a lot together growing up, and we’re just like a family together. We know each other pretty well.”
“It’s crazy,” Scheopner said. “John puts in a lot of work, and we both grind really hard and have been playing summer ball together for forever. Just his outside shot is amazing. I can post up inside, and we’re a deadly combo. We’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Ness City lost in the first round of the Class 2A state tournament a year ago at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan. Getting back there won’t be easy, as the Eagles will be in the sub-state hosted by Central Plains.
“We’re really excited, and that’s our goal,” Pfannenstiel said about a return trip to state. “Our goal last year was to make it to state, and being young like me and him were, we didn’t have much expectations beyond that. Now we’ve been there and done that, and we’re looking forward to going farther this year.”
“It’s huge, and everybody around town wants us to get to state again,” Scheopner said. “That’s the main goal is to get back to Bramlage and just play.”