After a year of limited fans in the stands, the boys high school basketball season tips off Friday with a perennial Henry County rivalry, as Napoleon invades the House of Heat to face off with Patrick Henry.
“Anytime Patrick Henry and Napoleon play it’s an exciting game, but starting out the season with it I think it is a good time to play the game,” said Patrick Henry boys basketball coach Bryan Hieber. “It seems like it has been a long time since we have had fans in the stands, and it being the first game and Patrick Henry-Napoleon there is a lot of excitement surrounding the game.”
Napoleon boys basketball coach Chad Bostelman said he remembers playing in this game against Hieber, who was a couple years ahead of him in high school.
“This is a unique opportunity ... playing the first game and against your biggest rival,” said Bostelman. “Having played for Napoleon against Patrick Henry, I know what a unique rivalry it is. It’s exciting getting the crowds all the way back. I am hopeful for a packed gym.”
Holgate and Liberty Center were also supposed to face off Friday, but LC’s playoff run in football forced that game to be postponed until Dec. 21.
Patrick Henry returns five lettermen from last season’s team, which finished 7-16 in it’s first season under Hieber.
Despite the returning lettermen, the Patriots, who were 0-6 in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League, are still fairly inexperienced with only two seniors on the roster.
Will Seedorf (6-4) and Drew Rosengarten (6-4) are the two upperclassmen and will start in the post for PH. Sophomore Landon Johnson (5-9), freshman Lincoln Creager (6-0) and junior Gavin Jackson (5-9) are the probable other starters for the Patriots.
Sophomore Nash Meyer (6-2) and juniors Kaden Rosebrook (6-3), Aiden Behrman (6-5) and Braden Hall (5-9) are the top players off the bench.
“We have a young team and there are certainly going to be first-game jitters, but sometimes you find out with young players they don’t know what you don’t know so you don’t know anything different,” said Hieber. “We always stress to control the things we can control, like effort, communication and focus. The other things are beyond our control.”
The Wildcats have four lettermen returning, with seniors Joshua Mack (6-5) and Tanner Rubinstein (6-3) leading the way. Senior Kaleb Woods (6-2) has missed the entire preseason with a wrist injury leftover from the football season and is not expected to play Friday.
Junior Blake Wolf (6-2) is the other returning letterman and will start at point guard for the Cats. Sophomore Caden Kruse (6-5) and junior Clayton Behnfeldt (6-3) are the other two probable starters.
Senior Drew Grant (5-10), juniors Caleb Stoner (6-3), Andrew Williams (5-11) and Blake Buehrer (5-9) and sophomore Kellen Ressler (6-0) are expected to see time off the bench.
“We have a lot coming back, but we have new leaders,” said Bostleman, whose Wildcats were 11-10 last season (2-5 in the Northern Lakes League). “I feel our seniors having done a great job filling in these roles, especially Josh Mack and Tanner Rubinstein.”
Bostelman said a key to the game will be tempo.
“We’re going to get up and down as much as possible,” he said. “We want to get our athletes up the court and put pressure on the defense. If we do back it out, I think we are capable of running our offensive sets.
“We have to show toughness when going after the 50-50 balls,” added Bostelman. “They (Patrick Henry) have a young team, but they are going to play hard. We have to match their intensity.”
Hieber said the Patriots need to match Napoleon’s size.
“I think some of our scrimmages helped prepare us for that,” said the PH coach. “We have some length, but they have mass to go with their height. We have to find a way to match their physicality.
“We’re so young, we are still trying to find our identity,” added Hieber. “We are learning each day. We still have things to tweak. The key to this game is we can’t give them multiple opportunities on offense.”