Boys prep hoops: ACAC PREVIEW

Everyone has high hopes for big seasons

Woodlan's Aaron Hahn
Adams Central coach Aaron McClure
South Adams' Kody Fike

Last year was a bit of a rebuilding season for the Allen County Athletic teams. Woodlan and Heritage tied for the league title with 5-1 records, but Woodlan, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams and Southern Wells all finished with records around .500 overall as younger players tried to step up into leadership roles.

That’s kind of what happens at small schools who face constant turnover.

This year, however, the league looks to bounce forward in a big way, led by star players like Aaron Hahn of Woodlan, Kody Fike of South Adams, Max Corle of Bluffton, Abram Beard of Heritage, Jordan Bower of Southern Wells, Johnny Carroll of Adams Central and Cole Stigleman of Jay County. Each school has a go-to player and plenty of returning letterwinners, and each team thinks with a little luck they can challenge for the conference title. Nothing is out of the question as the season starts up with lots of hope.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. WOODLAN

Woodlan is probably the team to beat behind Hahn’s 15 points, 7 rebounds and 2.6 assists from last year. The Warriors also return seniors Micah Robbins and Ah’Lan Howard at forward and Jack Rhoades at guard. The rest of the team could include seniors Matthew Elias and Lucas Bertsche, junior Jack Stuckey and sophomores Mitch Mendenhall, Aiden Bayman and Trever Wiedenhoeft.

“We will be looking to replace a strong graduating class,” coach David Randall said. “We are a little undersized, but I feel like we will be very competitive in our conference as well as in our move up to Class 3A.”

Hahn was a first-team all-conference player last year and the ACAC Tournament Most Valuable Player.

2. ADAMS CENTRAL

The Jets have the most returning points in the conference led by Carroll’s 15 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists, and 12 points and 2 assists from Kevin Brown. Senior Drew Schultz averaged 6 points and 3 rebounds, and seniors Tyler LaFontaine and Kyle Arnold and junior Dylan Miller are also back, along with newcomers Colten Yergler and 6-4 sophomore Ben Voirol.

“This team will have an excellent chance in both the conference and the sectional,” coach Aaron McClure said. “We return nearly all of our statistical leaders, and Carroll and Brown are very good guards. We also have good size in the post. Our margin for error is not going to be nearly as great as it was a few years ago when we were loaded, but I think we’re going to have a pretty good team.”

3. HERITAGE

Defending co-champion Heritage is hoping to continue stability behind Beard who averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds last year. Fellow senior Lamar Hudson averaged 4 points and 4 rebounds per game, and junior Will Knapke scored 4 points with 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Juniors Cameron Mitchell and Alec Burton and sophomore Jarrett Kiess also return. Newcomers are Cal Springer, Joydon Harris and Parker Tracey.

“Although we lost some key seniors, we are excited to have a good group of experienced players returning,” Patriots coach Barry Singrey said. “We had a great summer and hope to improve throughout the season.”

4. JAY COUNTY

The Patriots have been a perennial power since joining the ACAC in 2014, but slipped to 3-3 in league play last year. Stigleman averaged 7.2 points and 2.1 assists, Ryan Schlechty 6.8 points, Michael Schlechty 5.9, Holton Hill 4.6, Max Moser 3.7 and Wyatt Geesaman 3.2 last year, but the Patriots really lack much size. Stigleman, Hill and Moser are the three seniors, while both Schlechtys and Geesaman are juniors.

Geesaman is 6-foot-5, as is junior Parker Grimes. Senior Jordan Stultz and junior Xavier Ninde are the key newcomers.

“Graduating two top scorers is always tough, but we bring back the rest of the team,” coach Chris Kreig said. “We will be very good defensively and have good quickness. We’re looking to compete for the ACAC conference and tournament titles.”

5. SOUTH ADAMS

South Adams also finished 3-3 last year in the league, but also lost its two leading scorers. Fike averaged 6.8 points and 7.3 rebounds last year. Seniors Terry Dawn, Lars Int’Groen, David Muselman, Victor Vasquez and Joe Stuber and junior Grant Besser will all look for more playing time this year. Junior Spenser Clark and freshman James Arnold move up to the varsity.

The good news for new coach Trent Lehman is the junior varsity was 15-4 last year and seven of those players are now on the varsity. The eighth grade team was also 18-2. Lehman, who is also the Starfires’ principal, is returning to coaching after an eight-year absence. He coached Speedway to a state title in 2002.

6. BLUFFTON

Bluffton enters its second season under coach Chris Benedict, and there’s lots of optimism. Corle averaged 9.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists last year, while fellow seniors Evan Baumgartner and Rylie Johnston also saw significant playing time. The junior class is a big one with Zach Cummins, Cole McConnell, Gabe Eisenhut, Landon McClish, Gavin King, Everett Johnson, Blake Kizer and Jonathan Irwin. Irwin is a transfer who started the last two years at Eastbrook.

7. SOUTHERN WELLS

Southern Wells finished 12-11 last season in Ben Burman’s third year, the Raiders’ first winning season since 2001-02. That’s a long way from 5-18 two season ago and 4-20 in his first season.

Bower averaged 16.5 points, 3 assists and 2 steals per game last year, while fellow seniors Kane Moore averaged 3.1 points and 2 assists and Cameron Lightle 5.5 points. The key newcomers are seniors Caleb Pugh, Jordan Szarenski, Parker Blevins and Ian Klowetter, junior Thomas Biddle and sophomores Kreigh Roush and Dylan Junk.

“The biggest thing this year is we need to learn how to win,” Burman said. “We need to learn how to ride the ebbs and flows of a basketball game and have confidence in what we are doing. The ACAC is one of those leagues where somebody can beat somebody, and an unexpected team moves into first place. I sincerely believe we can be right in the mix of everything.”

ACAC SUPERLATIVES

Most Valuable Player: Aaron Hahn, Woodlan

Best Shooter: Kevin Brown, Adams Central

Best Post Player: Cody Fike, South Adams

Defender: Abram Beard, Heritage

Bet Passer: Johnny Carroll, Adams Central

Best Intangible Player: Jordan Bower, Southern Wells

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