Panthers return with more experience

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OFHS coach looking for 1st win

Greg Bates Times Herald Correspondent

Times Herald Photo by Gerrard Diaz

Oconto Falls High School forward Bo Shroyer takes a shot during a scrimmage against Lena on Monday at Oconto Falls High School.

If everything goes as planned, Oconto Falls High School boys basketball coach Kirk Hirst will shave his head at the end of this season.

That’s his promise to the team if it wins at least eight games.

That’s a lofty goal for the second-year coach after not winning a game last season. However, Hirst is optimistic since every player returns.

“I’m hoping for 10 wins,” Hirst said.

Last season was a transition year as Hirst stepped in with a new attitude and no seniors.

“When you bring everybody back, you don’t really have to start over with a new system and all that,” Hirst said. “They understand what we were looking for last year, so it’s just another year of experience. A lot of those kids never played at the varsity level, so last year was their very first year of varsity experience.”

It proved to a baptism-by-fire for Oconto Falls, which went 0-23, including 0-16 in the Bay Conference, never lost by less than 14 points, lost 13 games by 33 or more points and averaged only 35.4 points while giving up 70.3 per game.

Ball handling and turnovers were major problems for Oconto Falls last season.

“If you can’t handle the ball, it doesn’t matter how good an offense you run or anything,” Hirst said. “If you can’t get it over half court, you’re not going to win, and that’s where our problem was last year.”

The Panthers don’t have a true point guard, so Hirst will be relying on multiple players to bring the ball up the court and set up the offense.

Guard Alex Young led the team in scoring with about eight points per game. Riley Gruetzmacher added about seven points and seven rebounds, and Michael Fifield and Bo Shroyer scored about five points apiece. Those four guys will be relied on heavily for scoring, along with varsity newcomer Dylan Woosmann.

Hirst would like to have balanced scoring with seven or eight guys averaging seven to eight points a game.

“We could go 10 to 12 deep this year,” Hirst said. “We had some really nice sophomores who will be juniors this year that we played.”

The Panthers will have good size on their front court with 6-foot-7 Fifield and 6-4 forwards Gruetzmacher and Shroyer. Forwards Dillon Curl and Jordan Koppa will also get playing time in the rotation.

At the guard spots, Oconto Falls has Young, Woosmann, Tyler Kowalczyk, James Salscheider, Kyle Fiedler and Alex Johnson. Hirst found out Friday that Johnson will miss the first two to five weeks of the season due to a fractured toe.

Defensively, the Panthers will need to stop teams from scoring easy baskets on the fast break.

“We’re really working to be better on the defensive side,” Hirst said. “We gave up a lot of layups on the other end.”

West De Pere (15-1) beat out Seymour (14-2) by one game last year for the conference title, and Hirst expects both teams to again be the frontrunners.

“The Seymours and the West De Peres of the world are a notch above everybody else, and I’m talking about in the state, not even in the Bay,” Hirst said. “I think the other teams in the Bay, I think we will match up with them. On paper, I think we’re as athletic as most teams.”

“I never like to make predictions, but I will tell you this: I do believe we will win more games than we did last year,” Hirst joked. “Our kids will go out and play hard again. They learned a lot and they hate losing.”