Last season was a rebuilding one for Versailles. It took most of regular season, but the Tigers were built by the time the tournament started.
Versailles lost five players from its 21-5 district runner-up squad in 2018, including current Ohio State player Justin Ahrens. The Tigers struggled to a sixth-place finish in MAC play last season and finished regular season 12-10.
But Versailles won four tournament games and captured its second Division III district title in three years. The squad finished 15-11 overall after losing to Cincinnati Purcell Marian in a regional semifinal.
With almost everyone back, the squad is hoping for another deep tournament run later this winter — and is hoping to avoid regular-season struggles and finish high in the MAC standings.
“Unlike last year, we return almost our whole team,” fourth-year Versailles coach Travis Swank said. “We lost a great player in Evan Hiestand but bring back four key starters. We will look to lean on our experience to help us reach our goals this season.
“As with every year, we will look to play hard on both ends of the floor and try to make our community proud of our effort and grit.”
The four returning starters are 5-foot-11 senior guard Michael Stammen, 6-3 senior forward Ryan Martin, 6-2 senior guard Dakoda Naftzger and 6-6 senior center Austin Toner.
Stammen, who was a second team all-Southwest district Div. III selection last year, led the team by averaging 15.3 points per game and averaged 3.6 assists. Martin averaged 4.6 rebounds per game.
“Michael Stammen is the leader of our team,” Swank said. “He’s a point guard that can do everything well. Ryan Martin brings us size and can defend multiple positions and finds ways to score. Austin Toner is a shot blocker and has the ability to take over inside. Kody Naftzger can do a lot of things as well and can run the point if needed. He’ll be asked to score more.”
Other key returnees include 6-0 senior guard Connor VanSkyock and 5-11 senior forward Hunter Trump. Key newcomers include 6-2 sophomore forward Ben Ruhenkamp and 5-11 sophomore guard Eli McEldowney.
Swank said he expects the MAC title race to be hotly contested again this year.
“The league will be very balanced,” Swank said. “There are many good players and coaches in our league, so every game will be a tough task.”
Minster has almost entirely new roster
Minster enters the season with just two players back from last year’s 16-8 campaign.
The Wildcats lost every starter off last year’s team to graduation. Senior Jacob Salazar and junior Justin Nixon are the squad’s only two returnees.
“It’s going to be a work in progress as our team develops into a new identity,” fourth-year coach Michael McClurg said.
McClurg said Nixon, a 6-4 forward, will anchor the team in the post and got a lot of experience last year in big games. Salazar, a 5-10 guard, led the MAC last year in 3-point shooting percentage.
Key newcomers include 6-3 junior guard Bryan Falk, 5-11 junior guard Brady Hoelscher, 5-10 junior guard Eric Schmidt and 6-3 senior guard Trent Roetgerman.
“We have new faces, but a lot of scrappy, hard-working kids,” McClurg said.
McClurg said the MAC should be wide open with a lot of teams losing key players. He said Versailles should be among the conference’s best, as it returns the most players.
Stephens takes over young New Bremen squad
New Bremen will be looking for improvement after finishing 8-15 overall and in eighth place in the MAC with a 2-7 record last year.
The Cardinals will be coached by Cory Stephens, who takes over for Brad Francis. Francis’ contract was not renewed last April.
Stephens, a first-time head coach who’s a Lima Bath and Bluffton University grad, is far from the only new person on the sideline. The Cardinals return just two starters and one other varsity player from last year.
Stephens is hopeful that the players will be able to carry momentum into basketball from football. Most of the team’s players played on the football team, which finished 9-4 overall and advanced to a regional final.
Senior forwards Nolan Bornhorst and Patrick Wells are the team’s returning starters. Bornhorst, who is 6-0, averaged 10.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last year. Senior forward Logan Suchland is the team’s other returning letterwinner.
Key newcomers include senior guard Griffen Roetgerman, senior post Ryan Paul, senior post Dan Homan, junior guard Zach Bertke, sophomore forward Reece Busse and sophomore guard Trevor Bergman.
“We are going to rely on our three lettermen and the rest of our seniors to lead this team,” Stephens said. “Griffen Roetgerman and Ryan Paul are two seniors that have been in our program for the past four years, and they know the expectations we have.”
Stephens said the MAC race should be competitive with most squads having lost key players.
“It will be a battle every night where anyone can knock you off,” Stephens said.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.