Bedford (18-5, 9-3): Few teams in the state will have as much experience as the Bulldogs, as Brennan Sefrit (21.2) and Cooper Nally (16.5) are four-year starters, while Jordan Perkins (11.7) will be in his second year starting and third year as a key contributor. Sefrit is a big-time scorer who led the team in steals and was second in the state, regardless of class, in made 3s with 92. Nally gives them a big body in the paint at 6-5, while Perkins is a versatile scorer at 6-4 who can go inside and out. That trio is going to be asked to do a majority of the scoring, but this team will only go far if they improve on the defensive end. They ranked 73rd in 1A last season, allowing 54.7 points a game, which seems like a fine number. But in their five losses, that number jumped all the way up to 75.2 points a game. It’s hard to outscore that number.
Central Decatur (8-11, 6-5): Of the mid-level teams in the league, the Cardinals were the most competitive against the Martensdale-St. Mary’s, Bedfords and Mount Ayrs of the world, and they should be even better this year with a pair of double figure scorers returning in Cole Pedersen (16.0) and Michael Evertsen (11.8). That duo compliments each other well, with Pedersen a fairly efficient forward who does all of his damage around the rim. He blocked 51 shots and led the team in rebounding. Evertsen led the team with 47 made 3s (he made over 50% of the team’s total 3s last year) at a 40.2% clip. Matthew Boothe (5.4) and Kolby Hewlett (3.2) also return, giving the Cards some experience. Look for this group to beat up on the lower-level teams in the league and play tough against the top-tier teams. They should get above .500 overall this season.
East Union (6-16, 3-12): Like most teams at the bottom of the league, the Eagles struggled with turnovers last year, turning the ball over 476 times (against 217 assists). That contributed to a lot of easy points for opponents, and will need to clean up if they want to be more competitive against the upper-level teams in this conference. Kaden Kirkland (10.8), who was second in scoring and led the team in rebounding, returns. Cale Ecklund (6.6) led the team with 26 made 3s last season and will be the lead scoring threat on the perimeter.
Lenox (6-16, 2-12): The Tigers posted a -287 point differential in 14 league games last year and they were one of the lowest scoring teams in 1A, averaging just 39.5 points a game. Leading scorer Colton Vieux (12.4) returns. He made 40 3s last year. Colton Gordon (4.5) also returns, and he made 31 3s of his own. That duo gives the Tigers some shooting. Ethan Sheley (3.7), Keegan Christensen (3.6), Colman Dukes (2.9) and Chase Johnston (1.8) all saw plenty of time last year. This team needs to find a new lead ball handler following the graduation of Still Carter, who was the only player to post a positive assist-to-turnover ratio.
Martensdale-St. Mary’s (18-3, 13-1): All five starters return for a Blue Devils team that may have been a year ahead of schedule last season, racking up 18 wins and averaging nearly 68 points a game. Look for them to be even more explosive this season with all that experience returning. Four players averaged in double figures last year, headlined by Trey Baker (15.7), a versatile, 6-4 junior wing. Carson Elbert (13.0, 40 3PM) returns as the group’s best perimeter shooting threat and 6-8 senior big man Isaac Gavin (12.6, 9.0 rebounds) should average a double-double this season and is a significant matchup problem with his size and athletic ability at the 1A level. The straw that stirs the drink is Jack Franey (10.4, 126 assists), who led the team in assists and steals. Hogan Franey (5.8) is the final returning starter, a quality second ball handling option alongside his brother. Troy Holt (2.4), JT Archibald (3.1), Derek Kleve (2.2) and Baize Gibson (1.6) give them some experienced options off the bench as well, as this group only loses one player from last year’s roster, Esa Johanson, who averaged just 3.8 points a game. With most of the roster returning, Martensdale-St. Mary’s should be a viable threat to make the school’s first ever state tournament appearance.
Mount Ayr (18-4, 11-2): Three double-figure scorers return for the Raiders, headlined by Dawson Frost (15.6), who leads a talented trio of guards who should be able to put some points on the board this winter. Payton Weehler (11.7) and Isaac Grose (11.1) are the other key returnees, while Cayden Lambert (5.0) made 25 3s off the bench last year and will be asked to step into a bigger role. This group has a huge piece to fill in the form of graduated point guard Myles Greene, who dished out 206 assists against just 43 (!) turnovers last season. He made the offense go, and if they don’t find a capable replacement who will take care of the basketball, they could struggle, and that question mark will be a major factor in just how productive this team can be. With the trio they have coming back, they should be as good as anyone in the league other than Martensdale-St. Mary’s, and will battle it out with Bedford and Nodaway Valley for second place.
Nodaway Valley (15-8, 10-3): The Wolverines got off to a strong 11-2 start last year, losing to the best team in 1A (Grand View Christian) and the best team in the league (Martensdale-St. Mary’s). Then things went a little south, as they lost six of their last 10. They bring back three of their top five scorers from that group, including leading scorer and rebounder Clay Hohertz (13.7), so this group should be quite competitive again. Hohertz should split primary ball handling duties with Josh Baudler (6.9), who dished out 68 assists (against 46 turnovers) last year, while Hohertz had 63 assists and 37 turnovers. Toby Bower (9.6) is the team’s top shooter. He made 49 3s last season and will pair with Hohertz and Baudler to give the Wolverines one of the best backcourts in the league. Those are the only three returnees who saw much time last year, so a lot of newcomers will need to fill into some key roles, but Nodaway Valley is always a strong program, and they should keep it rolling again with the amount of talent they have coming back.
Southeast Warren (1-17, 0-11): The Warhawks really struggled last year, winning just a single game and losing by an average of 26 points a game. The good news is that they only lose one player from that roster, so they have lots of experience. The bad news is, of course, the fact that they only won one game. Mason Merfeld (13.7) is the leading returning scorer, but they’ll need to improve the decision making (317 turnovers, 86 assists) if they want to win more games this year.
Southwest Valley (6-16, 5-9): The Timberwolves posted an average point differential of -19 last season, so they really weren’t very competitive in games they lost. Leading scorer and rebounder Christian McCuen (10.4) is back, as is Blaine Venteicher (5.4), who led the team with 23 made 3s. This group really struggled taking care of the basketball last year, committing 459 turnovers (nearly 21 a game) and dishing out jsut 169 assists. That number really needs to improve if they want to win more games.
Wayne (8-12, 5-6): The Falcons lose leading scorer Brooks Jacobsen, but bring back the next five scorers from last year’s team, so there is plenty of continuity here. Bret Whitehall (7.5) is the leading returning scorer, while Logan Berndt (6.2), Gunner Fogle (5.8), Dayton Jacobsen (4.6) and Grant King (4.5) all saw plenty of time last season as well. Berndt, Fogle and King are all capable shooters from the arc. The issue for this group will be finding a lead ball handler, as Brooks Jacobsen was the only player on the roster last season to post a positive assist-to-turnover mark. They’ll need to clean that up and improve at the free throw line (49.8% as a team last year) if they want to keep moving up the league.
Analysis: The Blue Devils are a heavy favorite here after dropping just one league game and returning everyone. Mount Ayr and Bedford are both quality teams, while Nodaway Valley and Central Decatur have some strong individual talent who could jump up and get someone. It’ll be a long winter for the teams at the bottom of the league.
Preseason Player of the Year
2020 Brennan Sefrit, Bedford: 21.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 4.0 steals, 92 3PM
The league’s leading returning scorer, Sefrit’s 92 made 3-pointers last year ranked second in the state. A dynamic scoring threat who also can dish it and defend, look for his assist numbers to bump up this year following the graduation of Abe Weed.
2020 Cayden Lambert, Mount Ayr: The 5-10 senior guard came off the bench to knock down 25 3-pointers last season, and should have a significantly larger role this year for the Raiders.
Players to Watch
2020 Brennan Sefrit, Bedford
2020 Cooper Nally, Bedford
2020 Jordan Perkins, Bedford
2021 Trey Baker, Martensdale-St. Mary’s
2020 Isaac Gavin, Martensdale-St. Mary’s
2021 Carson Elbert, Martensdale-St. Mary’s
2021 Jack Franey, Martensdale-St. Mary’s
2020 Cole Pedersen, Central Decatur
2020 Michael Evertsen, Central Decatur
2020 Dawson Frost, Mount Ayr
2021 Payton Weehler, Mount Ayr
2020 Isaac Grose, Mount Ayr
2021 Mason Merfeld, Southeast Warren
2020 Clay Hohertz, Nodaway Valley
2021 Toby Bower, Nodaway Valley
2020 Colton Vieux, Lenox
2020 Kaden Kirkland, East Union
2020 Christian McCuen, Southwest Valley