Vermillion boys basketball underwent some growing pains last season as the Tanagers paid the price for a totally senior-class ballclub from the previous year.
Now in Jay Drake's second winter as head mentor, "we have some athletes who gained some valuable varsity experience last year, and they should be ready to grow into their roles this season."
Drake, who came to Vermillion after six years of assistant coaching at the college level and two years in the same capacity at Hanson, assures Tanager fans that his athletes "will compete and play hard."
VHS lost four lettermen, three of them starters, from last year's team that went 6-15 and lost to Dakota Valley in the first round of the District 8 Tournament, but Drake still has six seniors and a junior remaining as returning lettermen.
There are two starters, both 6'2" seniors, still on hand – Cole Andre and Kylen Freidel, both of whom averaged nine points per game. Other letterwinners are seniors Jason Rasmussen, 5'10"; Aaron Steele, 5'9"; Erik Ustad, 5'10", and Sam Ekstrom, 5'11", and junior Tyler Husby, 6'0".
"A huge key for us will be for our athletes to build on their varsity experience," Drake said. "We will have to defend very well and rebound the basketball, which is a concern after losing our two posts from last year's team."
Drake said a lack of post presence both offensively and defensively is a concern. "We also must do a much better job of taking care of the basketball."
Other potential varsity players listed by Drake include juniors Jaron Sorensen, Marquis Knight and Alex Larson; sophomores Riley Vlasman, Nile Morecraft and Nate Garrett, and freshmen Austin Krier and Tanner Anderson.
Vermillion's difficult schedule starts Friday in a girls-boys doubleheader at Harrisburg, and Drake sees the Tiger boys as a prime favorite to win it all in Region 4A this year with their two All-State caliber inside-outside duo of Patrick Draisey and Eric Hensch. Madison's returning state "A" champs are led by Derrick Wiebe, Michael Sullivan and Mitch White and figure to be the other favorite, along with Harrisburg, in the Big 8 Conference.
Drake sees Elk Point-Jefferson and Beresford as co-favorites in District 8A.
The Tanagers' home opener will be Tuesday against Lennox with preliminary games at 5 and 6:15 and the varsity tilt at 7:45. Vermillion then faces six straight road dates at South Sioux City Dec. 18, Tea Area Dec. 29, the Winner Classic Jan. 2, West Central Jan. 7, Parkston Jan. 8 and Lennox Jan. 15 before finally getting another home game Jan. 19 against EP-J.