Norfolk High had five seniors graduate following an 8-16 season a year ago, but two primary contributors return in seniors Kamari Moore (11 points per game) and Colby James (8 ppg) from a team that finished just four made 3-point shots (189) short of tying the school record of 193.
“Last year we were more offensive-minded; we just couldn’t stop anybody and gave up too many points because we were kind of soft,” Panthers coach Matt Shelsta said. “We’re not going to be defensive wizards, but we think our guys are going to be tougher, which will help us on defense and also on offense.”
“We played 7½ guys last year and five were seniors, so we lose a lot of (offensive) production and a lot of minutes, but we gained toughness,” he said. “Our junior varsity guys that are our players now are tough-minded, physically tougher and gained another year in the weight room — which was a focus.”
Shelsta said that although the Panthers might not have the individual scoring ability of last year’s group, the team will have more diverse scoring options. Norfolk will still incorporate the 3-point shot, but the hope is to attack the basket and “shoot more layups.”
“Our team will be very capable of shooting 3s, but everything is based on our ability to get to the rim,” Shelsta said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to shoot a layup every time, but we’ve got to get the ball into the paint to either shoot a one-on-one shot or a dump down to an offensive player or a kick-out for a 3.”
Shelsta also is hoping the improved toughness makes a difference defensively, and the emphasis this year is on the defensive end of the court, where the Panthers intend to force opponents to earn their points.
“We asked coach (Ben) Bohn, our junior varsity head coach, to be our defensive coordinator; he’s really taken that and run with it, and is doing well,” Shelsta said. “The kids are responding to it and are seeing the game situations come to fruition with the drills we’re doing, the movement we’re doing, the communication we’re doing. It’s really coming along.”
“We had a really tough week of practice; we pushed them and pounded them, and they responded well,” he said. “They’re good kids.”
Joining Moore and James are five additional letter winners in seniors Taelin Baumann, Brett Reestman and Devon Bader, along with junior Jack Borgmann and sophomore Tanner Eisenhauer.
“We’re younger. We have five seniors on the team; I don’t know how many are going to play, but we’ll give them a shot,” Shelsta said. “We might be a lot younger by the end of the season.”
Like last season, the Panthers lack height, with Borgmann at 6-foot-3 Norfolk’s tallest player.
“We’re tailoring our offense and defense to that. We just don’t have height, but that’s OK,” Shelsta said. “You can still win, you’ve just got to find ways to be efficient. We want to stop giving up layups, so we’re probably going to run more of a ‘pack line’ defense that’s hopefully going to clog the lane a little bit.”
“Our foundations are based on what they can handle; we don’t want to try to do anything and everything because it would be information overload and we’d do nothing well,” he said. “We’re going to focus on the little things, fine-tune our defense and, offensively, try to make really simple concepts so that we can start playing faster and getting to the rim, because we have good skills. They’re just young, so we’re trying to simplify and make really good reads.”
Shelsta said the primary concern with a lack of height is rebounding, especially if the Panthers’ defense denies layups well and forces opponents to take shots from the perimeter.
“Once you force them outside, a long shot equals a long rebound, and without size we may give up some offensive rebounds,” Shelsta said. “So it’s hard not having that height, but we’re going to deal with it by being great at boxing out, and we’ve got to have great effort running the ball down.”
Despite his team’s inexperience, Shelsta described his team’s two primary goals as “finding a way to be one of the eight teams at the state tournament and to win a state championship.”
“That’s our team goal; we don’t talk about wins and losses, but we’re going to try every single possession to make the best of our opportunity, and those successes will build up,” Shelsta said. “We talk about controlling what we can control, every single time, and doing those little things that will add up. If we do that, and the other team is still better, we can live with that.”
“We’ll continue to improve throughout the season,” he said. “But now that we’re in year two, we’re already way ahead of last year in a number of areas.”
Assisting Shelsta this season are Bohn, Myles Burkink, Aric Kasuske and Derek Siedschlag.
Norfolk High boys basketball roster
Seniors: Kamari Moore, Taelin Baumann, Colby James, Brett Reestman and Devon Bader.
Juniors: Isaiah Graham, Hunter Jorgensen, Jack Borgmann, Cameron Borgmann, Billy McGuire, Caleb Grasshorn, Ultan Kienbaum, Mason Dixon, Michael Foster and Kagan Woodard.
Sophomores: Easton Sullivan, Tanner Eisenhauer, Jeremiah Sanchez, Diego Carrillo, Brayden Hendershot, Gabe Claussen, Coleson Barritt and Mason Merkel.
Freshmen: Chase Swanson, Hudson Merkel, Ethan Branz, Cole Fundus, Peyton Ternus, Hayden Kuehner, Kaleb Miller, Braylon Votta, Damien Jones, Ethan Machuca and Ethan Synovec.