Norfolk Catholic boys basketball

The Norfolk Catholic boys basketball team has plenty of motivation from last season, a season that didn’t fulfill the Knights’ goals, but a key to success in 2021-22 will be managing the squad’s high expectations.

Norfolk Catholic finished 14-9 last year in coach Kevin Manzer’s third season with the Knights, and several of the players on the roster have been an integral part of the team for multiple years — making this the culmination of that preparation, a possibility that Manzer sees as a hazard.

“If you’re constantly focused on ‘we have a ton of potential,’ you might develop a ‘we’ve just got to show up’ mentality, that now, because we’ve already done the work, now it’s time to reap the reward,” Manzer said. “But nothing could be further from the truth. The instances where everybody expects you to be good can be dangerous years, because if you let up just a little bit or aren’t detail-oriented, and don’t have that eye of the tiger, you can already be content without having won anything.”

Seniors Ben Hammond, Brennen Kelley and Preston Burbach, along with junior Mason Timmerman, as well as sophomores Kade Pieper and Nolan Fennessy all return with starting experience for the Knights.

Some of the Knights have already experienced success during Norfolk Catholic’s state cross country championship, while others have been part of the Knights’ successful football season, but Manzer is cautioning his players about expecting to “show up and get ours for basketball.”

“Nobody is going to give us anything, and it’s going to be really, really hard every day,” Manzer said. “Our first team meeting is going to be about how a true winner accomplishes a win, reflects on it and then says, ‘Next.’ ”

“All of the wonderful accomplishments of fall sports are in the past right now, and people are going to double down on us and try to take everything we feel that we should have,” he said. “It’s going to be a fierce battle every night.”

Manzer and his staff — Tanner Miller, Derek Mickelson, Jared Jansen, Nick Beau and Mike Bamsey — also have high expectations for contributions from senior Eli Pfeifer, junior Karter Kerkman, sophomore Carter Janssen and freshman Max Hammond.

“The key to us being elite is going to be when our most experienced players leave the floor, for these guys to give the type of effort that we have zero dropoff,” Manzer said. “You may not be as talented, but for two minutes you go in and work as hard as you can because that’s your job.”

The Knights are eager to erase the disappointment of last season’s loss early in district play, which Manzer describes as something “we all hold with us, and that goes to our mind-set this season.”

“If you’re able to use it to drive you, then the idea that ‘winning is everything’ has everything to do with the small everyday choices we all have,” Manzer said. “Those choices are ultimately reflected on the scoreboard by the decisions we’ve made.”

One of the primary areas of emphasis for the Knights this season is running the floor, whether that’s pushing the ball in transition or getting back on defense.

“We want to get the ball down the floor fast enough that we don’t have to play five-on-five. That’s always been our goal, but too often last year we didn’t get the ball up the floor fast enough,” Manzer said. “Likewise, when we’re on defense, no matter what happens, we want to get five guys back and set in order to say to our opponent that every time you start a possession, you’re going five-on-five.”

The Knights also are working hard at rebounding, which involves not only drillwork in practice, but also the designation of a rebounding coach, along with a reward system to identify the “chairman of the glass” throughout the season.

“Every year that I’ve been here, we’ve gotten better at rebounding, and now is the time to blow the doors off of that,” he said. “We start every practice with our rebounding fundamentals, and then it’s time to compete. We want that to be part of every player’s mentality.”

Defensively, the Knights are adhering to getting back and set, closing out on shooters, staying in front of the ballhandler and limiting the opponent to one shot — and doing those things consistently.

“We’ll have four really difficult games against top competition to begin the season and eight practices to get ready,” Manzer said. “But we’re looking forward to that challenge.”

Norfolk Catholic boys basketball roster

Seniors: Ben Hammond, Brennen Kelley, Preston Burbach, Preston Bamsey, Eli Pfeifer and Tyler Gaspers.

Juniors: Triston Hoesing, Karter Kerkman, Kade Pieper and Mason Timmerman.

Sophomores: Nolan Fennessy, Carter Janssen, Sam Speidel and Aidan Kosch.

Freshmen: Carter Mickelson, Max Hammond, Hayden Kelley, Braeden Burbach, Brayden Boyle, Hudson Fischer, Alex Rios, Tyler Pfeifer, Trevin Sukup and Aiden Corr.

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