Herders return with size, experience; setting high expecations

File photo
The Glenrock Herders huddle together prior to the start of a regional game last season. After finishing third in 2A Southeast with an 11-14 overall record, the Herders return this season with strong senior leadership and added size on the court. 

Eddie Poe eddie@glenrockind.com

On the second day after a five-day Thanksgiving break, the Glenrock boys basketball team stretches and prepares for a late afternoon practice. Head coach Shawn Huxtable addresses his players prior to the start of practice, and then they’re off.
Working hard is nothing new for this group, and after a lackadaisical practice the day before, they want this one to play out differently.
“We had a really good first week of practice,” Huxtable said. “The kids were really intense, they showed up and worked hard. It was unfortunate we had a five day break after that but I think we’ll step right back into it here over the next week or so.”
Last year, the Herders finished in the middle of the pack, ending the season third in the 2A Southeast Conference with an 11-14 overall record. With five starters returning from last season, Glenrock enters the 2018-2019 campaign with strong senior leadership and for the first time in a while, some much needed size.
The overall makeup of the team is a bit different from last season, but Huxtable and the Herders return with the same goals - compete for a top spot in the conference and make their way back to the state tournament.
“We lost a couple of games last season that we probably should’ve won,” Huxtable recalled. “Last year we pushed the ball as good as I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Offensively we’re going to keep our tempo.”
In 2017-2018, Glenrock entered the season as a team with both talent and experience, but one that lacked length on the perimeter and size down low. It’s something that has plagued the Herders in recent years, but this season could bring hope.
Glenrock returns seniors Tucker Bopp, Archer Young, Payton Steinmetz, Kale Kuhlman and Urian Moreno. Bopp led the team in scoring last season averaging 18 points per game, third-best in the conference. He also led the team in assists and steals. At forward, Kuhlman returns as the team’s leader in rebounds and blocks and will be a defensive force for the Herders once again.
“I’ve seen a lot more drive, a lot more experience so far,” Kuhlman said when asked about what he’s liked through a week and a half of practices. “We have more length now. We’re more of a threat on the perimeter than we’re used to.”
Along with its returning starters, the Herders will also be joined by seniors Skyler Piasecki and newcomer Jaren Fritz. Fritz comes to Glenrock from Tongue River where he led the Eagles with 16.4 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. He’s just one piece of added length for the Herders this season, and one they know will immediately contribute.
“Jaren (Fritz) brings athleticism to the team,” Huxtable said. “He’s got great vision, he’s a good passer and can score the ball as well.
“He really brings a lot to the court for us and it’s another big body for us inside defensively. I’m really excited to have him be a part of the group.”
Since Huxtable first arrived in Glenrock, he’s emphasized an up-tempo offense that looks to pick apart weaker defenses with ease. With a strong group of players he refers to as “athletes”, this allows the Herders to push the ball up and down the court with authority and late in the game, take advantage of opposing teams.
“Up-tempo, up-tempo, up-tempo, that’s our focus,” Huxtable reiterated. “We’ll look to score easy buckets in the half court and continue to use some of our dribble-drive action and incorporate some ball screens this year. But really we just want to try to find mismatches and let our kids be athletes. We have a lot of them.”
Both Huxtable and Kuhlman pointed to the defensive end as a point of focus this season, along with more accurate free throw shooting. If they hope to fulfill their potential, they know they can’t afford to give away points.
“We have to play better defense,” Huxtable said. “That’s our focus at the varsity level this year is to really shut teams down instead of just trying to outscore them.
“We did some good things that we’re only going to get better at but individually man-to-man we have to get better. We have some zone schemes and principles that we’ll work on and really enforce at the beginning of the season.”
For a team that shot 36 percent from the field as a collective last season - 11th in 2A - they were only outscored by opposing teams at an average margin of 1.6 points. But if they want to take things to the next level, they know the focus of their improvements will have to come on defense and at the charity line where they shot just 49 percent.
At this early stage of the season, Huxtable is already encouraged by his team’s ability to mesh together and is optimistic that as the season progresses, that chemistry will only strengthen. They’ve set high goals for themselves and that’s only natural.
They’re eager to watch their hard work and potential come to fruition, but for now, they’ll continue to prepare for the start of the season.
“Our expectations are high, which is good,” Huxtable said. “If you have high expectations you have to be able to hold yourself accountable. We expect to be a top team in our conference and expect to be at the state tournament in March.”
Glenrock will be tasked with toppling last year’s 2A Southeast champs Pine Bluffs and second-place Southeast. They’ll also be challenged by the senior heavy Wright Panthers and Big Horn Rams.
The Herders open up the season Dec. 7-8 on their home floor at the Herder Classic before traveling the following weekend to the Lusk Jamboree. They open up conference play in the new year on Jan. 8 at Wright.


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