Tanager boysâ�?�? season begins Dec. 12 By Parker Knox
Sportswriter If first-year head coach Jay Drake wanted a challenge, he likely found one in taking over the helm of the Vermillion boys' basketball team. It's not that the Tanagers' cupboard is bare by any means. It's just that it has been almost completely restocked since last winter's 12-9 team reached the district championship game and then graduated 100 percent of their scoring. Nine men who were in the varsity rotation – Jordan Boots, Broc Gauer, Alex Schaack, Jerrod Freidel, Ryan Angelo, Jackson Freidel, Mikal Ustad, Jesse Kirkpatrick and Jordan Merrigan – completed their VHS careers. Nevertheless Drake is happy to see 6'3" senior Kyle Nemec, 6'4" senior Blaine Olson and 6'1" junior Cole Andre still among the ranks. They all suited up for the varsity last year but saw limited action although they were key contributors on the JV squad. The numbers of boys out for basketball at VHS indicate that the program is in a sort of valley between mountain peaks. There are only four seniors and seven juniors but 10 sophomores and 15 freshmen. Drake lists nine men who will have the opportunity to compete for varsity spots and some playing time in his varsity rotation. They are 6'0" senior Tyler Johnson, 6'0" senior Travis Jerred, 6'2" junior Kylen Freidel, 5'9" junior Erik Ustad, 5'9" junior Aaron Steele, 5'10" junior Jason Rasmussen, 5'10" junior Jordan Robinson, 6'0" junior Sam Ekstrom and 6'0" sophomore Tyler Husby. "They all played minutes on the JV team last year and are hopefully ready to make the jump to varsity basketball," Drake said. Robinson unfortunately won't be available till the midway point of the campaign due to a knee injury sustained in football. The Tanagers open at home against Harrisburg Friday, Dec. 12, then go to Lennox the following Tuesday before returning home against South Sioux City on Dec. 19. The first two contests are Big 8 matchups, and Drake feels he will get an early idea of just where his club stands and where they need to make strides toward becoming a strong team. "We will have to be very patient, both as a coaching staff and as players," Drake said. "It will take some time for the athletes adjusting to a new coach as it will take some time for our staff to become more familiar with our players and their abilities." Drake says the big key for the season will be to keep striving to improve on a daily basis as the players feel more comfortable with a new system. "We are going to have to play extremely hard on the floor and defend and rebound as well as we possibly can just to give ourselves a chance to be competitive with the teams we are playing." With Harrisburg joining VHS, Madison, Lennox and West Central in the Big 8, each team will have eight conference games. Drake says all four of those foes are potential top-ten teams in Class A. "Our goal is to continually improve and work together as a team," Drake said. "We hope to be competitive and playing our best basketball at the end of February and in early March when the district tournament rolls around." Despite the uphill slope he and his Tanagers face, Drake says they are "really excited to get the season going, and we hope to represent our community, school and basketball program to the best of our abilities."