Seniors, size, quickness lift expectations for Mabel-Canton boys

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The Mabel-Canton boys basketball team is a week into preparations for the 2018-2019 season. The team is looking to improve on its eight-win total from last year (8-18, 4-9 SEC).

Cougar coach Russ Larson said practices are going well, and they bring back a good group of seniors to help lead the squad this winter.

“We’ve got (point guard) Drew Wyffels returning,” Larson said, “along with Blake Henry, Ryan Kuhn and Dylan Loppnow. We also have two other seniors, Brandon Schneider and Jon Smith on the roster. Thanksgiving week was a little hectic as far as scheduling practices, so having those experienced players helps out a lot.

Wyffels has already been all-conference for two seasons and led the conference in assists with 7.5 per game.  He has been voted the Cougars' Most Valuable Player for the past three years. He was also voted the Team Player Award last season. Wyffels led M-C scorers with 14 points per game while shooting 68 percent from the free throw line.

Henry received Honorable Mention on the 2018 All-SEC Team and was voted both the Defensive Player Award and the Hustle Award by his teammates last winter.

Numbers are strong. The 2018-2019 roster also includes senior Cody Lueck and features juniors Ethan Underbakke, Dawson Wilder, Brayden Gjere, Parker Ingvalson, Dylan Delaney and Daylon Jacobsen along with sophomores Gavin Johnson, Jack Arneson, Rien Crawford, Randy Gerard and Reid Crawford.

“We spent the first practices adding some new things,” Larson said. “We’re also tweaking a few things as well. We’ve added some new faces on the basketball team. There are a few players out for the first time, or even some players that haven’t come out for basketball in a year or two.”

He said most of the seniors and several juniors spent time playing basketball over the summer. They played in a summer basketball league and attended a tournament at Wisconsin Dells. Larson said the offseason for basketball players is completely different than it was 20 years ago. That summertime work is when players improve their skills the most.

“It’s almost like there isn’t an offseason anymore,” he said. “If you aren’t out there working, you know there are a lot of other teams that are. That puts your team a lot farther behind. It’s definitely a valuable thing. The rule of thumb is that players work on their individual games in the summer, and then you build your team in November.”

The Cougars feature a little size and some quickness on this year’s team. Loppnow (6-foot-3) and Henry (6-1) provide the size up front, with Henry the top rebounder in the Southeast Conference last season. Larson said Loppnow is a “big kid with some nice touch.” They also have good quickness in the backcourt, led by Wyffels at the point.

“He’s almost like having a coach on the floor,” Larson said. “Brayden Gjere is a junior that’s 6-3 with some length to him. He’s a good athlete, so we expect good things out of him too.

“Ideally, we’d like to use our athletic ability to score as many baskets as we can before the defense can get set up,” Larson said. “At the same time, we’d like to make sure we’re taking good, disciplined shots, as opposed to just chucking it at the basket.”

The conference

The boys race in the Southeast Conference will be as competitive as ever. Larson said he’d put Spring Grove on top as the preseason favorite. The Lions are also coming in off the momentum of their second-straight 9-man football title.

“I also expect some big things out of Houston,” he said, “as they have a nice balanced squad. Lyle/Pacelli made a nice run in the playoffs with a young team last year, so they expect good things this season.

"Grand Meadow seems to always have their share of good athletes, so they’ll be tough, too. LeRoy-Ostrander won 19 games last season, and they only lost one senior. The conference is going to be pretty strong this season.”

Larson talked about what it will take this season for Mabel-Canton to make the jump up into the top tier of SEC teams. It starts with rebounding. The Cougars have set a lofty goal of outrebounding everyone they play this season.

“That’s something we should be able to do with our size,” he said. “Even a guy like Wyffels always seems to come up with five or six rebounds a game. We also need to limit our turnovers every night. If we can keep the turnovers down and outrebound opponents, that’ll give us some extra possessions, which means more opportunities to score.”


The Cougars open up their season at home on Thursday, Nov. 29, with a non-conference game against Hayfield. They’ll get into SEC action the following Tuesday, Dec. 4, with their first road game at Houston. L/P visits on Dec. 7.

In addition to 14 conference contests, the Cougars will also see non-league competition from Alden-Conger, Fillmore Central, Hayfield and Southland along with Class AA clubs Cannon Falls, Cotter and Lewiston-Altura. Decorah (Iowa) is also a larger school on the slate.

The boys return to the annual Iowa-Minnesota Border Battle at Luther College in Decorah, this year facing South Winneshiek.

Look for the complete schedule in next week's News Leader.