BLHS primed for breakout season
It's been a long time since anyone in the Basehor-Linwood High School boys basketball program has talked seriously about the state tournament. The Bobcats' 6-15 record last year was their best in several years, and lately they've been whipping boys for teams like Mill Valley, Bonner Springs and Piper. But that's expected to change this season.
The Bobcats return four starters this year and most of their players have now been brought up exclusively in third-year coach Mike McBride's system. They seem to have the talent and experience to compete with just anybody on the schedule.
When it comes to the Kaw Valley League championship, the smart money is on Piper, which returns possibly the league's top two players in seniors Austin Bond and Nate Daniels. But the rest of the league is wide open and the Bobcats certainly have a chance at finishing in the top half of the standings and getting their first winning season in a long time. It may even be time to start uttering the "s-word."
"I think people close to the program expect some things; for us, we're just trying to get better," McBride said. "But, if we figure some stuff out, I'm not going to leave state out of the question."
The optimism for this season comes because the Bobcats have improved their record every year since McBride arrived, and because there are five varsity regulars returning. Austin Knipp, Jacob Schierbaum, Tanner Swafford and Chandler Schaake were all starters last year, while Matt Fanning was one of the first players off the bench.
Knipp was all-KVL honorable mention as a junior, when he averaged about 12 points and two steals per game. The senior guard has started most of the last two seasons and is the rare player who can dominate a game at either end of the floor.
Swafford seemed to improve with every game last year, and has continued that development during the offseason. McBride said he thinks the junior will be one of the best baseline players in the state this year.
Schierbaum is entering his third varsity season and the 6-foot-7 junior is poised to become one of the top post players in the league. Schaake is only a sophomore, but is the most steady point guard the team has had in awhile. Fanning, a senior, is a three-point marksman who also plays crafty defense.
Those five are likely to play big roles this year, but the team has also developed some quality varsity newcomers. Last year McBride basically went six or seven players deep. This year he said he plans to play at least nine.
"I feel like right now we're better at every spot," McBride said. "Our bench is more athletic, but we still have a lot to work on. We're better in that area, but we need to be a lot better."
The team graduated three seniors last year in Garrett Chumley, James Bishop and Steven Bower. The Bobcats will have to replace Chumley's hustle and determined interior play, but junior Scott Ogilvie may be able to do that. Replacing the backcourt play of Bishop and Bower may fall to promising sophomore guard Anthony Pierce. The wild card among the new varsity players could be junior Alex Ziegler, whose length, quickness and athleticism are a little reminiscient of Knipp's.
With all the talent and expectations this year, the Bobcats' season opener at Tonganoxie on Dec. 1 will be highly anticipated. The Bobcats lost their first six games last year and McBride said that getting off to a good start would be big this season.
"It's probably more important than any other year I've coached," McBride said. "This team is really searching for an identity."
Part of that identity could be formed on Jan. 12 at Bonner Springs. The Bobcats haven't beat their rivals in several years and McBride acknowledged that his players seem to have a "Bonner block." Is this the year the Bobcats finally break through?
"My wife says 'yes'," McBride said. "Obviously, if we can beat Bonner that will improve our confidence immensely ... I think we have the basketball players to do it."