"It's not always quantity, sometimes it quality."
That's how Iola-Scandinavia boys' basketball coach Sam Bertsch is approaching the upcoming season with only 18 players on his roster.
The Thunderbirds are coming off of a pair of 6-8 finishes in the Central Wisconsin 8 Conference. Bertch believes the pieces are in place to improve on those numbers.
"They're working hard and we're throwing a lot of stuff at them," he said. "They're picking it up, so things have been encouraging so far."
The T-Birds will open the season Tuesday, Nov. 30, with a nonconference home game against Wild Rose.
"The numbers are down a little bit from the last few years," Bertsch said. "We have 18 boys out that are pretty darn good players. The players' skills are pretty good and they have to be pretty happy because there's going to be a lot of playing time to go around with two teams."
The 18 players means I-S will not field a freshman team this season. Tim Welch is back to coach the junior varsity squad and is also Bertsch's assistant on varsity.
Returning players include seniors Lucas Albers and Bryant Boyle and junior Bradly Hardel.
"Lucas Albers is our big key guy coming back," Bertsch said of Albers, a second-team all-conference selection as a junior. "He was a big target on the football team and the kid's an athlete. You like to have those players as a coach. We have some role players to build around him, but we need to get Lucas Albers the ball. If he comes down with an injury or gets into foul problems, we're a different team."
Hardel got some varsity experience as a sophomore.
"He's a great athlete and got a taste of varsity time last year knowing that we were going to need him as a junior," Bertsch said. "Here's an example of a kid playing some summer ball and he turned the corner, especially when we went to a team camp in Stevens Point. He became that big No. 2 role that we need."
Boyle also saw varsity action last season.
"Those are the three guys that teams are going to look at and we'll fill out the roster with a lot of nice role players," Bertsch said. "It's a nice lineup. I'm happy with it."
The T-Birds lost three starters to graduation in Tyler Ackerlund, Brett Anderson and Joe Schwartz, as well as Braden Paulson. Meanwhile, 6-foot-8-inch sophomore Blake Derickson moved to Oshkosh and is now playing at Oshkosh West, while 6-11 Tamas Peterson decided to not go out for basketball as a senior.
"It's a much different look," Bertsch said. "Since we didn't have a lot of these guys last year, it gave us the opportunity to change some things we were doing. We're making it a positive."
Bertsch, entering his ninth season with the T-Birds, expects defending champion Amherst to be one of the teams to beat this season in the CWC-8.
"Amherst is going to be awfully good with a target on their back," he said. "Then you have the team that's been holding the top spot for the last 10 years in Weyauwega-Fremont. After that, I think it's anybody's fight. The last two years, we've been a 6-8 club in conference. Two years ago we finished fifth and last year we finished sixth.
"We took some of those top teams close and it's our goal to win a few more of those games, improve on our record in the conference and move up in the standings," he added. "We feel we can do it. Give us a few games to get into things and we'll be a fun team to watch."
Tuesday, Nov. 30 - vs. Wild Rose, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 4 - at Wisconsin Rapids Assumption, noon.
Tuesday, Dec. 7 - vs. Amherst, 6 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 10 - at Manawa, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 14 - vs. Auburndale, 6 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 17 - vs. Weyauwega-Fremont, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 21 - vs. Edgar, 6 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 29 - vs. Owen-Withee at Stratford, 5:45 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 30 - at Stratford Invitational, TBA.
Friday, Jan. 7 - at Bonduel, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 11 - vs. Wittenberg-Birnamwood, 6 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 14 - at Stevens Point Pacelli, 6 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 21 - vs. Shiocton, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 25 - at Amherst, 6 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 28 - vs. Manawa, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 1 - at Rosholt, 6 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 4 - at Weyauwega-Fremont, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 8 - at Shiocton, 6 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 10 - vs. Bonduel, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 12 - vs. Wisconsin Valley Lutheran (JV at 1 p.m., varsity at 2:30 p.m.).
Friday, Feb. 18 - at Wittenberg-Birnamwood, 6 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 25 - vs. Stevens Point Pacelli, 6 p.m.
• Note: JV games begin at 6 p.m., varsity games to follow at approximately 7:30 p.m.
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