Bangor Boys Basketball

Bangor's Grant Manke puts up a basket during the first half of Thursday's game against Cashton in Bangor.

Rory O'Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune

BANGOR — Coaches that prepare to play the Bangor High School boys basketball team know how good Luke Reader is.

They know about the senior’s smooth, all-around game, but coaches are also aware of the athleticism of fellow senior Caleb Miedema and the veteran savvy of senior Drew Johnson.

An emerging element for the Cardinals, and one that will make Bangor that much more difficult to deal with down the stretch run, is the play of 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Grant Manke.

As the Cardinals travel to face Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau in a nonconference tilt Monday, the top-ranked and unbeaten Cardinals (10-0) will be looking to Manke once again to add to Bangor’s already impressive résumé.

“He’s really stepped into being a key player on our team,” Cardinals coach Jordan Laufenberg said of Manke, who is averaging 9.6 points per game. “He adds a great hustle dimension, he does a great job on the boards, and I love the way that he works his tail off. He works hard, and he’s obviously got a very good skill set.”

Manke has also been remarkably consistent for Bangor this season, scoring between nine and 12 points in seven of the Cardinals’ ten games. He erupted for a season-high 17 points in Bangor’s 66-56 win over Scenic Bluffs rival Royall, who was then ranked No. 5 in Division 5 by The Associated Press.

“He’s a beast, and he’s only a sophomore,” Reader said of his underclassman teammate. “We can just give him the ball and he goes to work. He’s really developed over the past few weeks. He started off really shy, but now he’s a scorer for us, for sure. We can go to him if we’re in a slump and he’ll score.”

The Cardinals haven’t had too much trouble scoring this season, having topped the 70-point mark eight times and the 90-point threshold three times, but Manke’s height and broad shoulders along the front line of 6-foot-6 Cade Amborn and the 6-foot Garrett Krueger give Bangor a much more physical lineup to defend.

“It helps us because it gives us balance,” Laufenberg said of Manke’s size. “If teams try to take away the outside, he’s a good player, along with Cade and Garrett, who do a great job in the post too. Teams have to defend that as well, and that’s what we want them to have to do. We want them to have to defend the entire team, and not just key in on one or two things. Our kids do a really good job of being unselfish and finding where the opening happens to be.”

Manke scored nine of his 11 points before halftime in Thursday’s 90-41 win over Cashton, and when the Eagles tried to focus their efforts in the post, Reader was able to score 10 quick points on open jumpers to put the game away.

“We have Caleb, Grant, and Cade who are all over 6-foot-3, and in Division 5, that’s pretty good height,” Reader said. “They have to guard everyone on our team. They can’t just guard three people, they have to guard all five. That’s difficult for Division 5 teams.”

With Reader, who averages 16 points, Miedema’s 14 points per game, and the 12.3 points per game that Johnson adds, Manke doesn’t necessarily see his role as needing to be a scorer, rather as defensive presence, especially with Amborn working back from an ankle injury.

“I had to step up and take some of his minutes,” Manke said. “I think my role is just grabbing rebounds and getting to the boards.”

If he can continue to develop that role and add points when Bangor needs them, the Cardinals will be that much more potent come March.

“We worked him into our rotation last year a little bit, so he’s got varsity experience,” Laufenberg said of Manke. “He had a really good summer, worked hard, and continues to improve on a daily basis. That’s all we can ask of him, and he’s doing what we’ve asked.”