Lucas Albers graduated from Iola-Scandinavia High School earlier this year, but his presence is still being felt within the Thunderbirds’ boys’ basketball program.
Albers, a first-team Central Wisconsin 8 Conference player as a senior, is now a freshman at North Dakota State and gave the T-Birds an inside post presence, according to coach Sam Bertsch.
“He gave us our identity because he was so big,” he said. “We don’t have that this year, so we have to focus on speed. It’s a transition from a slow-down tempo to an uptempo. We’re playing 10 guys and we’re going to press the entire game. It takes a lot of energy to play that style of basketball, but that’s our style this year.”
Bertsch would use about seven or eight players a game last season, so fans can expect to see more players on the court.
“That kid who might have the hot hand, we might go with him a little longer,” Bertsch said.
Back for the T-Birds this season are seniors Bradly Hardel and Jordan Beyersdorf. Both saw plenty of varsity action last season.
“Those are the two guys that we’re going to have consistently fill out the stat sheet for us,” Bertsch said.
Both players were among the T-Birds in scoring Tuesday, Nov. 22, in the season opener, a 54-47 nonconference loss at Wild Rose. Hardel led the way with 18 points, while Beyersdorf added five. Senior D.J. Loken, another returning player that saw varsity time as a junior, chipped in with nine.
“It was a good test,” Bertsch said of his team’s effort against the Wildcats, last season’s CWC-10 champion. “We were down by four with about 30 seconds left. We scored two points in the first quarter and 20 in the final three minutes. We were dowon by 12 at one points, but came back in a hurry.”
The rest of the varsity roster includes seniors Grant Stenerson and Zach Gauerke; junior Michael Blum; and sophomores Nick Wavruk, Jon Prahl, Connor Lodewegen and Issac Lashua.
“I’m playing four sophomores and a junior with no varsity experience,” Bertsch said. “Hopefully, we can make up for that with our five seniors.”
A CWC-8 championship probably isn’t in the cards for the T-Birds thanks to solid programs like last season’s champion and runner-up, Amherst and Bonduel, but Bertsch believes a top-four finish is a reachable goal.
“That’s one of our goals, to finish in the upper half,” he said. “It’s been a few years for us, but that’s something that’s realistic.”
The nonvarsity roster includes three sophomores and nine freshmen, so the T-Birds won’t field a freshman team this season. Charmaine Cox will coach the junior varsity team and replaces longtime JV coach Tim Welch.
“We were still looking for a JV coach about a week and a half or two weeks before we got started,” Bertsch said. “I was throwing out ideas left and right and thinking if I was going to coach all these guys. She just kind of fell into our lap and I feel very comfortable with what she’s doing.”
The T-Birds traveled to Edgar Tuesday, Nov. 29, and will host Menominee Indian Friday, Dec. 2.
The CWC-8 opener is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 9, at Stevens Point Pacelli.