BERTRAND — Last year, the Bertrand girls basketball team was loaded with experience with three starters and five other letterwinners back.
The experience netted the Vikings a 12-12 record, which was just a two-game improvement from 2017-18.
This season the Vikings will have a youthful roster with the departure of three starters, including first-team All-Republican Plains Activity Conference selection and four-year starter Grace Schwarz, who was the Vikings’ go-to player throughout her career.
The Vikings’ leading returner is junior guard Erin Boggs, who averaged 7.2 points per game last season. Junior forward Aleya Hueftle also will be relied on to take the next step this season after averaging 3.8 points per game in 2018-19.
Cailey Grabenstein, Jada High, Natalie Johnson, Jordan Hilmer, Trista Callahan, Karley Patterson and Johanna Ford are returning letterwinners.
The Bertrand girls open the season Thursday at Alma.
Longtime Bertrand boys basketball coach Craig Newcomb returns just two starters from a team that went 9-13 last season.
Last year’s record marked the second consecutive below .500 season for the Vikings.
This year’s roster will lack size. The Vikings have just two players who are taller than 6 feet. The two returning starters for the Vikings are 6-3 senior forward Isaiah Schwartz and junior guard Arik Ackerman. Jerret Bicker and Jonah Nelson are additional returning letterwinners for the Vikings.
Senior forward Brandon Dodson, junior guard Landon Andersen and sophomore forward Joseph Pelton likely will contribute this season.
The Vikings are in a similar situation as they were last season with a roster featuring little size. Expect the Vikings to play a similar style as last season when their biggest strengths were their athleticism and defense.
Newcomb is in his 23rd year at the helm of the Vikings program and has a chance to accumulate his 250th win this season.
Bertrand opens the season Thursday at Alma.
The Loomis/Bertrand WolfKings return three state qualifiers from last season, including Jacob Holmer, who placed fifth last year in the Class C 113-pound weight class. Also back are state qualifiers Trevin Edwards (106 pounds) and John Kenney (132/138). All three won more than 30 matches last year.
Letterman Joel Abramson, who was 28-19 as a sophomore, returns.
“The WolfKings will have a solid group returning with some valuable experience,” coach Dustin Freeman said. “This group of upperclassmen will be looked at to provide leadership for the team throughout the season.
“This group of experienced wrestlers should set the tone in the practice room that is needed for overall team success.”
The trick for the WolfKings will be to spread the talent out to fill the weight classes.
Then comes the trick of getting through the difficult C-4 District. Freeman has put together a tough schedule to prepare for the district that includes Valentine and Broken Bow, which finished 1-2 in state last year, as well as Kearney Catholic, Perkins County and Bridgeport, which finished in the top 20. In addition, Class D’s dynasty, the Amherst Broncos, are in Class C this year and are part of the C-4 District.
“With every wrestler trying to qualify for state it makes for a very grueling test,” Freeman said. “Many high-level wrestlers don’t make it to state out of this district but many of those that do bring home medals.”