Experience won’t be an issue for Northeast Nodaway, who didn’t have a senior on the team last season, but this year return five seniors from their top six players and return all of their rotation players.
“We already have our synergy and whatever you want to say,” Northeast Nodaway senior Lane Dack said. “It is nice, you don’t have to learn to (play) with other people.We’ve got some nice freshmen coming up too.”
For the Bluejays and coach Rory Jackson, this season is basically an opportunity to run back last season’s team and see how much growth they’ve made. Last year, the team went 17-9, but didn’t end the season as deep in the postseason as they would have liked with a 66-44 loss to Platte Valley in the district semifinals.
“It makes it a lot easier to start the season,” Jackson said. “They already know the system. Bringing everyone back, it is pretty flawless really — just ironing some things out, walking through stuff and conditioning. They are doing a great job.”
This season, the Jays have their goals set higher in a tough district the includes Platte Valley and last season’s state runner up Mound City who returns the best player in Class 1 with Tony Osburn.
“Never regret anything,” Dack said. “There are five seniors. It is our last year, so we don’t want to regret anything that we didn’t do.”
The Jays have their own set of very strong players with junior Dylan McIntyre back after leading the team in scoring and rebounding last season. McIntyre averaged 17.8 points per game and seven rebounds as the team’s power forward last season.
He shot 60 percent from the field and had over two steals a game.
McIntyre will be joined in the frontcourt by senior Auston Pride who has been one of the most skilled big men in the area the last few years.
Pride is in tremendous shape going into this season as he is starring for the top-ranked Worth County football team as an offensive lineman.
“Auston had a good summer,” Jackson said. “He worked hard and he is our one big. He has really soft hands, can shoot it anywhere on the floor and finishes around the rim.”
Last season, Pride averaged 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
The Bluejays will have a challenge to begin the season though with McIntyre and Pride both still playing football with the state semifinals this week and a potential state championship game next week.
“With the football guys gone for now, we are very small — not that we were a big team anyway, but we got smaller,” Jackson said. “We are quick. The big thing we are preaching right now is to use our quickness.”
Until that season ends, the Bluejays will be without their starting frontcourt meaning that the team will be relying heavily on its guards, but if any group of guards can embrace that situation, it is the four senior guards for the Jays.
Ben Boswell leads the group as a mainstay in the backcourt.
“I love playing with these guys,” Boswell said. “We’ve been playing together since we were little.”
Last season, he was the team’s second leading scorer at 14.5 points per game. He added four assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game.
“I’ve tried working on my left-hand a little more,” Boswell said.
Lane Dack and Zach Pride will start around Boswell. Both seniors return as started from last season.
“A lot of teams would love to have one or two guys who can handle the ball,” Jackson said. “I think we are lucky enough that we have five or six or seven.”
Dack and Zach Pride weren’t as heavily relied on to score, but each was an excellent role player last season.
“We each have our one-fifth that we do,” Boswell said.
Zach Pride was a pass-first point guard for the team and complements Boswell’s aggressive style in the backcourt.
“Just watching Ben pretty much,” Zach Pride said on where he hopes to improve. “He knows how to do everything, shoot, dribble, pass — he has got it all.”
Dack brings plenty of aggression of his own as one of the top defensive players in the area.
“It is awesome to be able to stop somebody who usually scores 20 or 30 points a game and make them only have 10 or something,” Dack said. “I think it is better than scoring 20 or 30 points. It is a lot harder work. You enjoy it more at the end.”
For at least the first few games of the season, senior wing Colton Swalley should slot into the starting lineup as well. Swalley was the Forum’s Sixth Man of the Year a season ago.
“It is just exciting being senior year and being the big dog this year,” Swalley said of his senior class.
Swalley averaged 4.9 points per game with four rebounds and 3.7 assists.
“I think I’ve definitely gotten better shooting, but until I get in a game and get under that pressure, I won’t know for sure,” Swalley said.
Without their size in the paint, the Bluejays will play even faster than usual the first few contests.
“As long as we do our jobs, we can out-run the other team,” Swalley said. “It will be tough.”
It will also give them a chance to explore their bench options for a unit which played limited minutes outside of Swalley.
“It is going to be nice having the depth if we need a short break to throw one of the younger guys in,” Swalley said. “We can trust them once we get them up to speed. Get them a few minutes, take a break every now and then, and I think it will help us in the long run.”
Junior Boston Adwell is a player who could see an increased role this season after most of last year was spent recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“Boston has stepped up and had a really good summer,” Jackson said.
Having recovered, Adwell seems like the most likely choice for the other starting position until McIntyre and Auston Pride get back.
Jackson is also intrigued with what freshman Ethan Gascoigne can contribute this season.
The Bluejays played Albany on Tuesday and are the No. 1 seeds in the PVI Tournament next week.
Northeast Nodaway will play Nodaway Valley’s junior varsity on Monday at 4:30 p.m. In the second round, they will either play Stewartsville/Osborn or DeKalb.
“A big goal that we have is a first-place trophy,” Swalley said. “ We always get third or consolation or something like that, but it has always been a goal to get a first-place trophy and break 20 wins. We have higher goals too, but we have to focus on getting there.”