Players arrived at the first Tomah High School boys basketball practice ready to bring it.
Coach Brad Plueger described the pre-season practices as “super competitive.”
“We’ve gotten dinged up in practices more than we have in the past,” Plueger said. “We’ve had a bloody nose, a bloody mouth − nothing dirty, just guys battling for playing time. I don’t know who my starting five are yet.”
The competition for starting spots continues all the way to Tuesday, when the Timberwolves open their season with a non-conference home game against Onalaska Luther. The intensity of the early practices should come as no surprise. The team lost just one senior from last season, and the Timberwolves bring back eight letterwinners, many of whom are wing players with similar skills.
The returning starters are seniors Isaiah Nick, Charlie Ella and Tyler Torkelson and junior Kade Gnewikow.
Gnewikow is back at point guard. He led the Timberwolves in most statistical categories last season. He tied Ella in the scoring lead with 9.4 points per game and led the team in rebounding, assists and steals.
Two other letterwinners − sophomore Carson Lindauer and freshman Dustin Derousseau − were the top two options off the bench last season. Both are wing players and threats from the 3-point line.
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The other two returning letterwinners are senior Jalen Figgins and junior Justin Gerke. Juniors Brett Pierce and Zander Williams are moving up to the varsity after playing varsity reserve last season.
Plueger said one of the team’s strengths is continuity. He said the continuity has been enhanced by a healthy participation in summer basketball.
“It’s been the best year we’ve had for kids knowing our system,” Plueger said. “They understand our offensive sets and understand our non-negotiables on defense − don’t give up the baseline, keep people out of the paint.”
Offensively, Plueger wants more balance than last year, when the Timberwolves were primarily a perimeter team.
“I love the 3-pointers, but we can’t have all our guys fall in love with the 3-pointer,” he said. “We can go inside.”
Plueger believes his team has the athleticism and experience to make a bid for a top-three finish in the Mississippi Valley Conference. He said it will be difficult for anyone to surpass La Crosse Central, which will be sending two players to the University of Wisconsin next year, and Onalaska, which could have as many as three future scholarship players.
“There shouldn’t be many games on the schedule where we’re overmatched,” Plueger said. “We’ll be fun to watch.”