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TELL CITY - Tell City's boys basketball team finished 14-10 last year and fell one-point short of winning the Class 2A sectional against a team that's now in Class 3A.
Despite the loss of nine seniors from that team, including four who started for at least two years, Coach John Hayes thinks the Marksmen could be just as good this year.
"We've got pretty good size," he said. "I don't think we're as athletic as we were last year, but I think this is the best post team we've had since I've been here. We will absolutely stress we need to get the ball inside this year."
The only returning starter is senior Ryan Zuelly, who was the point guard last year. But Hayes wants him "to play more off the ball this year," so he is concerned about "having someone step up and be a leader at the point guard spot."
The top candidates are senior Evan Rothgerber and junior Corey Young.
Rothgerber will miss the first three games, though, and since Young has no varsity experience Hayes plans to start Zuelly at the point in Tuesday's season opener.
Junior Andy Chinn will be the other guard. The starting frontline will be forwards Joseph Kohnert and Jay Ziegelgruber and center Eric Henrickson, all listed at at least 6-foot-4.
Later the Marksmen could go with a smaller lineup, with Rothgerber at the point and Zuelly and Chinn at the wings.
Besides who's available, which lineup Hayes uses "will depend on matchups," he said. "We might go with a bigger lineup against a team like Forest Park."
Though Hayes wants to pound the ball inside, he feels confident in the team's perimeter shooting when the post players kick the ball back out.
"Andy Chinn is probably the best shooter we've had since I've been here and Ryan Zuelly is shooting lights out," he said. "And Joseph does a nice job with his mid-range game."
Hayes said Henrickson and Ziegelgruber will be the main low-post threats.
As for drivers, "Ryan's a nice penetrator and Joseph does a nice job of that too," said the coach.
Zuelly averaged 6.3 points per game and hit 33.9 percent from three-point range last year.
Kohnert, who was usually the sixth man last year, averaged 4.3 points and 4.8 rebounds and hit 54.1 percent from the field.
Henrickson, the backup center last year, is the only other letterman returning. He averaged 2.8 points and hit 51.4 percent from the field.
Besides Tuesday's starters and the other two point guard candidates, Hayes said Tyler Henning, Michael DuPre and Shane Flannagan could also see extensive action.
"Tyler does a really nice job boxing out and rebounding," said Hayes. "Michael has an opportunity because he defends so well.
"And Shane has good size and nice range on his shot."
Hayes thinks "we'll be fine" in rebounding overall. "I think we'll be just as strong as last year. The boxing out part is one of the things we've really been stressing."
He said the team's ball-handling is not as good as last year at this point because "Evan, Corey and Andy have played very little varsity basketball."
But the coach said defense is "the place we've got to improve the most.
"I want to play man-to-man all the time, but this team may have to play more zone than we have in the past. We're not as quick as we were the last two years. If we get out of position, we're going to struggle.
"We spend a lot of time working on (defense). We probably spent an hour and 45 minutes of our two hours of practice yesterday on defense."
If the defense and rebounding come along, "I really believe we have a chance to win a conference championship this year," said Hayes.
The Marksmen play three of their strongest PAC opponents in their first five games of the season, though.
"Forest Park is going to be a load - they have a 6-7 transfer from Reitz (Jordan Myers)," said Hayes. "Southridge has a nice team with (Brett) Roesner and T.J. Reese.
"And I'd say Tecumseh is probably the favorite - they won it last year and they have most of their players back. (Senior guard Zach) Adams is probably the best player in the conference."
Forest Park is also in the same Class 2A sectional as Tell City, as is former Class 3A power Mater Dei. But Hayes "absolutely" thinks the Marks-men can compete for the sectional title as well.
"I know summer basketball isn't the same thing, but we competed against all those teams in the summer (including beating Mater Dei)," he said.