The journey to the Wisconsin state boys basketball tournament began in earnest with opening games scattered throughout the Stateline this past week, while Illinois schools start their seasons next week.
Here is a roundup of area teams for the 2016-’17 season.
Rock Valley North
Darryl Rayfield’s Trojans have been the cream of the proverbial crop, having enjoyed a four-run seldom seen in the Stateline area.
East Troy reached the Division 3 state tournament in 2013, lost to eventual champion Brown Deer in the sectional semifinals in 2014, returned to Madison in 2015 and fell in the sectional title game last year.
So, what do the Trojans do for an encore after going 15-1 in conference action and 20-6 overall?
East Troy’s biggest question is who will step up after the graduation loss of All-Rock County Player of the Year Jake Nixon, who led the league in scoring at 26.6 ppg.
However, the Trojans also must replace fellow RVC North first teamer Joe Ciriacks (18.4), second teamer Jacob Remsza (8.8) and honorable mention pick Johnathon Brehm (8.2).
The team’s top returning performer is senior Jonathan Ciriacks, who averaged 8.7 ppg and earned honorable mention status.
The Whippets return two key cogs in senior Brodie Runez and junior Bryce Parrish. Runez made the North’s second team after scoring at a 13.7 clip, while Parrish was an honorable mention pick after adding 9.4 ppg. No. 3 scorer Daniel Fuller (8.4), a junior, also will be counted on heavily.
Dan Gnatzig’s squad finished 7-15 overall, including a 7-9 conference showing, and is looking for the school’s first winning league record since going 8-4 in its second-to-last year in the Southern Lakes in 2006-’07.
Rock Valley South
The Chiefs return one of the top two-way performers in the conference in senior first teamer Beau Cary, who was third in scoring (14.9) and second in rebounding (8.0).
However, the Chiefs must replace honorable mention pick Zak Greco (12.4) if they want to improve on their 7-9 league standing and 9-14 overall mark.
Sophomore Logan Eischeid (7.0) and seniors Chucky Rohner (5.1) and Nelson Tovar (3.0) must step up for Michael Dowden’s squad if it wants to post the school’s first winning record since earning the South title in 2009-’10.
The Panthers were fifth out of six teams with a third consecutive 3-13 league record, finishing 7-16 overall.
They will try to regroup again without honorable mention selection Mason Roscizewski, who averaged 6.7 ppg. However, senior Brady Olson (12.5), also an honorable mention pick, is back after playing in only 11 games.
Palmyra-Eagle also must find replacements for the likes of Noah Hayalian (6.9) and Izaac Neubauer (5.7).
Still, the Panthers’ arsenal will include seniors Simon Carpenter (7.1) and Carson Poulson (3.8) for coach Mike Meracle.
The Cougars displayed plenty of firepower as Zach Krause (17.0), Cole Ciochon (13.5) and Terrell Walker (12.7) finished in the league’s top five in scoring, while Ciochon made the conference’s first team after leading the way in rebounding (11.1).
Ciochon is back for his senior campaign as Clinton attempts to catch Turner after finishing 10-6 in loop play and 14-10 overall.
Denny Morris’ squad lost Blake Hodges to graduation, one of three guys to make the second team along with Krause and Walker, who are in their junior and senior years, respectively. Also back are junior honorable mention picks Tyler Halsted (6.4) and Caleb Gracyalny (11.9).
The question is, can they challenge the Trojans after falling by a combined 43 points in their two meetings a year ago?
First-year coach Chris Hembrook must replace three big guns from his explosive Comets, who finished in fourth place in SLC action at 8-6 and 13-10 overall, the smallest school in the league’s second winning mark in eight years.
Second teamers Lucas DeLara (17.7) and Will Brown (14.1) and honorable mention performer Austin Ryan (12.4) have graduated and were the team’s top three scorers under longtime head man Bob Beighton, whose final squad finished 2-12 and 7-16 the year before.
However, the next four leading scorers are scheduled to return: seniors Brandon Edmonds (8.9), Seth Kirsch (6.9) and Jayce Crull (5.7) and junior Logan Rios (3.0).
The Badgers are coming off a third-place finish in the SLC, their 9-5 showing two games behind champion Westosha Central.
Forrest Larson’s squad, which wound up 12-11 overall, must fill gaps left by leading scorer Jake Berhorst (21.0), who finished second in the league in scoring and made the All-Walworth County unit. He made the conference’s first team for a second consecutive year, while Austin Jackson (10.4) also graduated after earning honorable mention.
Badger will rely on seniors Mason DuMez (11.8) and Ian Schirtzinger (7.9) to carry the load until several others step up while trying to also replace Chase Kruger (8.8).
The Elks slid into last place in the league at 2-12 despite the efforts of Alex Easterday, who as a junior made the talented conference’s first team after averaging 20.0 ppg, third best in the SLC.
Easterday is back after making the All-Walworth County squad, but Elkhorn, which went 6-17 overall, must make up for the loss of honorable mention choice Dayne Fisher (13.0).
Josh Skatrud’s team will look to seniors Ross Ingersoll (8.2), Ian Nowell (3.5) and Ryan Shilts (3.2) for improvement.
The Demons captured second place in the SLC standings, finishing one game behind Westosha Central at 10-4 while going 15-10 overall.
Burlington will try to challenge for the title again without honorable mention pick Cal Tully (10.5), but Steve Berezowitz’s unit features Nick Klug, a first-team selection after scoring at a 15.2 clip as a sophomore.
Seniors Luke Geiger (6.7) and Liam Safer (3.3) and juniors Brock Halbach (7.1) and Grant Tully (3.4) should be key pieces again.
The Bulldogs never lost more than three games in a row and didn’t win more than two in a row until a four-game run that included a regional-opening victory over Black Hawk, thus their 9-9 conference finish and 12-12 overall showing.
Jake Olson (11.0) graduated after making the league’s honorable mention list, but senior second teamer Avery Lettenberger returns after averaging 10.4 ppg and a team-leading 8.5 rebounds.
Andrew Breen (7.7) must be replaced, but senior Cory Shea (7.7) and juniors Braden O’Laughlin (5.6) and Eric Norton (5.0) will take on bigger roles for coach Troy Nottestad.
The Hilltoppers tied Racine Lutheran for second place in the league standings at 10-6, six games behind juggernaut Dominican in an otherwise balanced conference.
Central finished 19-10 overall, and that included a spirited postseason run that saw it advance to the WIAA state tournament for the third time in school history. The Hilltoppers, who won titles in their first two appearances, fell to McDonnell Central in the D-5 showdown.
Central will be hard pressed to duplicate that run after the graduation of first teamer and league player of the year Ben Heiligenthal, who was second in scoring at 21.3 and first in rebounding at 9.0.
Brandon Vandehei (8.7) also graduated, but fellow honorable mention pick and senior Aaron Rueber (5.5) is back. Junior Frank Koehnke (9.5) and seniors Cole Pankau (5.5) and Austin Neuhaus (4.6) also should be key pieces.
Indian Trails Blue
The Eagles should be the favorite in conference play after sharing the top spot with Kenosha Reuther at 9-1.
Veteran coach Brian Pollard’s Eagles finished 13-10 overall and lost first teamer Noah Knudtson (8.8) to graduation.
But Faith Christian returns a strong lineup that features juniors Caleb Thomas (11.5) and Cole Bachman (9.1), who made the first and second teams, respectively. Classmates Joshua Olson (8.3), C.J. Johnston (6.9) and Ben Ledger (6.8) make this a formidable attack.
And keep an eye on sophomore Andrew Kent, who averaged 8.3 ppg in just three outings.
The Red Hawks seldom have been competitive in eight years in the Badger South Conference, only reaching the .500 mark once, a 6-6 showing in their first winter in the league in 2008-’09, and not finishing with an overall winning record since their final year in the Southern Lakes.
Milton’s struggles continued a year ago as it finished in the league’s basement for a fourth consecutive campaign, going 0-12 and 1-22.
Coach Zach Groelle again will try to get his squad turned around, and he needs a big year from senior Chase Frye, who made the loop’s honorable mention list after averaging 6.5 points per game.
The Red Hawks must replace leading scorer Josh Cash (8.7). However, they get back the services of seniors Charlie Terrill (7.2), Jake Hermanson (5.6) and Max Olson (5.0), plus junior Mark Bowditch (5.5).
Big Foot will have to make up for Michael Heidenreich’s 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.