High school basketball: Experienced Oconto Falls ready for tough NEC slate

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Gillett, Suring, Lena eager to get M&O play underway
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Suring’s Mitch Stegeman, right, attempts to drive past Gillett’s Anthony Carroll in a game last season. Suring hopes to compete for the Marinette & Oconto Conference crown again, while Gillett hopes to surprise teams with their experienced roster under new head coach Russ Long. (Times Herald file photo)

While some high school boys basketball conferences graduated several all-conference players from a season ago, the same cannot be said about the North Eastern Conference. Of the 24 all-conference selections, only six were seniors.

Like much of the conference, Oconto Falls High School will return much of its starting lineup to the court this winter and believes it can be competitive with some of the conference’s best.

“We are experienced and have added some depth,” Oconto Falls coach Kirk Hirst said. “We should compete again in our conference, which is very good top to bottom. We will battle and compete with every team in our conference.”

A year ago, the Panthers turned in a 5-19 record on the season and 3-15 mark in the NEC to finish second to last.

Mitchell Manns, Dakota Carriveau and Joe Schoen all started a season ago and give Oconto Falls a strong nucleus. Manns and Schoen are both coming off honorable mention all-conference selections a season ago.

Kade Brabant, Connor Peetz and Dylan Nelson also have some varsity experience and could play bigger minutes for the team this winter.

The Panthers opened the season Tuesday at Suring and will play their home opener against NEC foe Clintonville on Nov. 30.

Marinette & Oconto Conference

The Marinette & Oconto Conference will have plenty of new faces on the court after all but two all-conference players from last season graduated.

Gillett is one of the few teams that returns its core players from a season ago. In fact, the Tigers return all five starters — Cole Long, Logan Krause, Elijah Framnes, Anthony Carroll and Logan Block.

Ben Frank, Bo Krueger and Wyatt Herzog also have varsity experience, giving new coach Russ Long plenty of options.

Cole Long was the team’s lone all-conference selection, making the second team.

Coach Long believes the Tigers should improve upon their 8-15 overall record and 6-10 conference mark from last year.

A team that tied for the M&O conference crown last was Suring. The Eagles tied Coleman and Crivitz with conference marks of 14-2.

While Suring will need to replace Ryan Mahoney, a first team all-conference pick from last year, the team returns Mitch Stegeman, a second-teamer, and plenty of other experienced varsity players.

Caleb Lally and Reece Garrigan also started for the Eagles. Josh Reed, Nick Buhrandt and Jayden Geniesse all could see expanded roles this year.

Even with all the returning talent, coach Jim Keeffe and the Eagles are not taking anything for granted. Instead, they are focusing on doing whatever they can to position themselves to compete for another conference title and hopefully advance further in the postseason. Last year, Green Bay NEW Lutheran took down Suring in the regional championship game.

After posting a 1-15 conference mark and 1-22 record overall, Lena is hoping for better results this year.

“I’m cautiously optimistic with expectations for the Wildcats this year,” coach Fritz Weidner said. “I expect us to take a big step forward. We didn’t lose much to graduation, and we have a good core of returning players and up-and-coming freshmen that, as the season goes along, should get better.”

While they lost two players to graduation and one player transferred, Lena returns four starters to the court this winter. Colby Borchert headlines the quartet after making the second team all-conference as a sophomore last year.

Simon Gard, Chantz Rowell and Trenton Telford are the other returning starters, while John Jagiello, Mathew Stutzman and Tyler Getchell are returning letter-winners.

Coach Weidner also believes a group of six incoming players — Colt Carroll, Bryce Hosking, Ralph Comins, Max Beyer, Mason Simonson and Logan Shallow — could also work their way into the rotation.

Boys basketball teams could start playing games Tuesday. Regional playoff games will begin near the end of February, with state games taking place March 14-16.