Area boys basketball: Evansville, Turner among contenders in merged RVC
Evansville and Beloit Turner find themselves in similar situations as the area high school boys basketball season tips off.
The Blue Devils and Trojans each won Rock Valley Conference championships a year ago and lost their league’s player of the year to graduation.
And yet they both figure to contend in an extremely deep RVC that now includes all 10 teams playing one double round-robin schedule after years of a North-South divisional split.
East Troy appears to be the prohibitive favorite, but the list of contenders runs long.
“It’s going to be tougher, but we’re excited about getting to play those teams (formerly from the North) twice,” Turner coach Ken Watkins said. “It’s going to be a challenge. If you take a night off in this conference, somebody is going to beat you.
“It’s going to be a very competitive league with a lot of close games.”
Turner went 22-4 overall and 15-1 in claiming its third straight RVC South Championship last season. But all-everything guard Alec Fruin is now playing collegiately at Division II Northern Michigan.
“Replacing a guy like Alec is never an easy task,” Watkins said. “But top to bottom, this is probably the most talented team we’ve had.
“It’s just a matter of putting it all together and establishing roles.”
Senior Nacio Villarreal gave the Trojans an outstanding one-two punch with Fruin last year and returns after averaging more than 22 points per game. And Sereno Ferone and Brandon Malkow are returning starters coming off a successful football season, along with Juan Reyes.
Watkins said sophomores Jordan Majeed and Dai’Vontrelle Strong have the talent to make a quick impact, and junior Steve Dillard will see his role increase.
“We have lot of guys who can score,” Watkins said. “But who’s going to do it on a night-in, night-out basis? Or is it going to be a different guy stepping up every night? Those are some of the questions.”
Evansville knows those types of questions, too.
Gone is Brennan Banks, the RVC player of the year in the North. The Blue Devils were 19-5 last year and shared the North title with McFarland at 14-2.
They do return multi-year starter Zach Mielke and sophomore Sulley Geske, who averaged double-figures scoring as a freshman.
“We’ll lean on Zach and Sulley and Seth (Maag) a lot for their leadership, because they logged a lot of minutes for us in high-pressure games,” said first-year co-head coach Kendall Buttchen, who will team with Ron Grovesteen in replacing Steve Krupke. “I think we’re going to have to be a little more balanced.”
The Blue Devils will look for upperclassmen, including Logan Wardwell, Braiden Bergum and Colin Deming to step up and fulfill larger roles.
“What’s been working in Evansville has worked from coaching staff to coaching staff, so we’re not going to change it up a whole lot,” Buttchen said. “We’ll add a few wrinkles, but we’re still going to look to push the ball if it’s there. If not, we’ll share it. And we’re going to lean heavily on our defense and let that fuel our offense.”
The rest of the Rock Valley will be out to break into that top four that included Turner, Evansville, McFarland and East Troy last year.
It wouldn’t be shocking to see another team join that fray.
Edgerton hovered around the .500 mark and returns three starters, including second-team all-conference pick Dan Zeimet.
Clinton lost forward Cole Ciochon, a walking double-double, but all four other starters return, including several who were key parts to Clinton’s highly successful football season.
Senior Zach Krause averaged nearly 14 points and six rebounds last season, while senior Caleb Gracyalny averaged 14 points, as well.
Jefferson returns all five starters, and Whitewater has five seniors back, including 6-foot-4 forwards Daniel Fuller and Bryce Parrish.
In Brodhead, returners Parker Johnson, Justice Tway and Brekan Day all averaged at least 13.8 points per game.
And first-year coach Jeff Fenrick can build around Logan Eischeid, who averaged 15 points as a sophomore.
It should be a fun first year in the revamped Rock Valley.
Is it safe to pencil Stoughton in for another title?
The Vikings shared the Badger South crown with Edgewood last year, winning their sixth straight league title.
Monona Grove and Edgewood figure to be the top contenders for that crown again.
First-year coach Alex Olson hopes to help pull Milton out from the bottom of the heap.
The Red Hawks lost four starters but senior Kyle Hanauska returns after averaging more than 10 points for a team that went 2-21 overall and 1-11 in league play.
The Lakes title went down to the wire last season, with Westosha holding off Burlington by one game and Elkhorn by two.
Expect the same two to battle for the top spot.
The Elks will have work to do to remain in that fray after losing Alex Easterday and Ross Ingersoll, two all-conference choices, to graduation.
Delavan-Darien, which went 13-11, lost four starters.
So, too, did Lake Geneva Badger, which finished 4-19.
Orfordville Parkview changes conferences and could be an immediate factor.
The Vikings return four starters who all averaged at least six points per game.
Expect Deerfield to be the favorite in the Trailways South.