Rib Lake starts over after nearly reaching the pinnacle
RIB LAKE BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW
To the Rib Lake boys basketball team, the 2020-21 season will hopefully be much more about how the Redmen finish rather than how they started.
Rib Lake, as its fans certainly won’t forget, ended the 2019-20 season nearing the top of the WIAA Division 5 mountain. The Redmen were one of eight teams still vying for the state championship when the post-season tournament was abruptly canceled due to the emerging coronavirus pandemic.
While the same pandemic is still making life difficult nine months later, basketball is being played again wherever possible and things have changed greatly on Rib Lake’s varsity roster with the departure of four key seniors –– Levi Ewan, Nick Gerstberger, Steven Petkau and Devyn Vlach –– who put up most of the numbers responsible for last winter’s 22-4 season.
Head coach Carrie Ewan and assistant Todd Henderson do return, accepting the challenge to build the program back up with the largely young and inexperienced athletes they have.
They were looking forward to an offseason where these players could work together and begin to learn the speed and strength of the varsity game. But, of course, COVID had other plans as the Redmen played no summer or off-season games ahead of Thursday’s 66-31 seasonopening loss to an Edgar team poised to contend for first place in the Marawood Conference’s South Division.
“We’re young and we have a lack of playing together,” Ewan said after the opener. “This is literally the first other squad that we’ve played. I knew we were probably going to take a hit tonight.”
Fortunately, there is a long way to go before the verdict is in when determining the success of the season. Ewan said she is blessed to coach a highcharacter group of players that will put in the effort needed to improve as the season goes on. In her third year in the head position, Ewan is confident the team will be much better with time.
“Practices have been going well,” she said. “The guys work hard. They give a lot of effort. As long as they keep doing that, good things will come out of this. (Thursday) was definitely something to build on and learn from.”
Rib Lake brings back one starter from last year’s outstanding squad and some reserves who now have the chance to fill much more prominent roles.
Senior Ryan Patrick is the returning starter. The 6-2 forward got significantly better from November through March last year, turning himself into a solid rebounder and defender. He’ll be looked to increase his role as a scorer this year.
“Ryan has seen the most playing time,” Ewan said.
“He started last year and he improved tremendously throughout the season. He carried that into (Thursday). He was definitely a leader for us out there.”
Senior Brock Thiede and junior Logan Blomberg played meaningful minutes last year at guard positions and they are now members of the starting lineup. Outside shooting may develop into one of Rib Lake’s strengths, and Blomberg figures to be a big part of that. He was a 37% shooter from 3-point range a year ago. Thiede brings defensive intensity to the lineup and averaged just over a rebound and just under an assist per game in his playing time a year ago.
Trey Klemann, a 6-1 junior who got his year off to a strong start with a seven-point outing Thursday, Michael Borchardt, a 5-9 sophomore guard and Matthew Siroin, a 5-9 senior guard, also dressed with the varsity a year ago and should see much more playing time this winter.
The starting lineup got two young additions in the opener with 5-9 sophomore Tanner Vlach and 5-10 freshman guard Andrew Wudi. Vlach led Rib Lake with 10 points in his varsity debut, collecting all three of the team’s made 3-pointers, and Wudi figures to take on the lead ballhandling role as he settles in.
“Tanner is a good outside shooter,” Ewan said. “He’s not afraid to take it. He’s definitely an asset to the squad this year. Andrew is a hard worker, a great ball handler and a really good passer. Andrew is a good outside shooter as well.”
More newcomers to the varsity roster include 5-11 junior Sam Gumz, who played aggressively in the opener and scored six points, 6-1 junior forward Jordan Yanko and 5-9 sophomore Ryan Buehler. Ewan noted Rib Lake goes from one of the tallest teams in the Marawood North to possibly one of the smallest, so the rebounding of Patrick and others will be important. So will playing solid, hard-nosed man-to-man defense. Lessons were learned Thursday defensively as Edgar scored at will in the first half in transition and got too many uncontested drives to the basket. Ewan said the Redmen will get better at that end of the floor. “I think we’ll be good,” she said. “We have a lot to work on. I felt like they had a couple of good runs (Thursday) down on the defensive end. In transition is where we struggled, stopping the ball more than anything. So that’s got to be worked on for sure.” Ball handling is another area where Rib Lake will have to get better at especially against the better teams they will face. In the Marawood North, which Rib Lake won by a two-game margin over Athens last year with a 12-4 conference record, Ewan views Athens and Prentice to be teams to watch this year. Prentice returns All-North second-team guard Trent Heikkinen and Athens returns first-team guard junior guard Cooper Diedrich. Both teams have emerging talent and size in the post. Phillips has been a consistently strong program as well. The Redmen will see all three of those squads by Christmas.
The Redmen again are scheduled to play a crossover game against each of the six Marawood South teams as part of conference play. They got one tough one out of the way with the Edgar game. Games against teams like Marathon, Auburndale and Stratford are never easy either.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Ewan said. “They work hard and we’ll get there. I’m confident that we’ll just keep improving.”