Despite losses, Solon Springs expects to be competitive
The Solon Springs boys basketball team looks a bit younger this year, but that is to be expected.
"We've lost 11 seniors over the past two seasons with tons of experience," said Dale Rajala, head coach of the Eagles.
Solon Springs lost six seniors from last year's team, including starters Trey Scheldroup, Tyler Long and Jacob Dahlberg.
This year's varsity team is comprised of four seniors, one junior, three sophomores and one freshman.
"We've got some kids that are very intelligent, and I think they will pick up things quickly," Rajala said. "They've certainly had a good example set for them by seeing the guys that were there before them."
Returning for the Eagles are starters Austin Khalar, a senior, and Logan Long, a junior. Also back from last year's varsity team are seniors Daniel Gengenbach and CJ Zamzow and sophomores Caleb Hedberg and Adam Vandenberghe.
They will be joined by senior Brock Flamang, sophomore Corey Pajtash and freshman Zachary Rajala.
"Right now we're just feeling out who goes where," Rajala said. "Positions are up in the air. We're trying to figure out roles right now, so once we get that down I think we'll be a respectable team."
On Tuesday, the Eagles warmed up for the season with a scrimmage in Maple against the Northwestern Tigers.
Despite a small disadvantage in height, the Eagles held their own on the boards. Solon Springs also showed off a versatile offense, picking up easy layups in transition but also playing well in a slower, half-court set.
"It's nice to get some real, live game situation play," said Dave Gustafson, head coach of the Tigers. "They are a smaller school, but they always play really hard and they're really well coached."
On defense, Khalar stood out Tuesday with strong on-the-ball pressure. Hedberg also provided a spark with his long reach and quick feet.
On offense, Gengenbach matched up well in the post and will be Solon Springs' main inside threat this year.
"Daniel is as strong as anybody out there, and he uses his body very well," Rajala said. "He's going to be our big man inside."
At the perimeter, Logan Long knocked down a couple of 3-pointers in Tuesday's scrimmage. Rajala said Khalar also did well from the arc late last year, and Vandenberghe is expected to contribute from the perimeter.
"I think we should have a good balance of inside and outside," Rajala said. "We don't have a lot of height, but we've just got to make up for that with mechanics and good defense."
For the past two seasons, the Drummond Lumberjacks have been favorites in the Indianhead Conference.
Last year, Solon Springs ended its season with a loss to the Drummond Lumberjacks in the regional finals. The Eagles finished at 16-9 overall.
Drummond advanced to the WIAA Division 5 State Tournament and finished at 24-3 overall.
The Lumberjacks will be without 6-foot-6 center Ben Best this year, but Drummond is still expected to be a force in the conference.
"Drummond has five players back from the state team, so I never count them out," Rajala said. "Washburn also looks to be very, very talented this year. I would think that they would be the team to beat in the west. I think Ironwood and Hurley will be the forces in the east.
"But you know what, we're very competitive. The conference is very balanced. Some of the teams that struggled last year are going to be up again."
If the Eagles can get through their growing pains early, Rajala said, they should be able to compete in their division.
"I'm very happy with the way our younger players are stepping up and filling in some spots where we've lost experience," Rajala said.
Solon Springs opens the season at home Tuesday with a 7 p.m. game against Mellen.
Solon Springs Eagles
Brock Flamang G Sr.
Daniel Gengenbach F Sr.
Caleb Hedberg F So.
Austin Khalar G Sr.
Logan Long G Jr.
Corey Pajtash G So.
Zachary Rajala G Fr.
Adam Vandenberghe G So.
C.J. Zamzow F Sr.
Thursday, Dec. 5 vs. Mellen, 7 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 9 vs. Birchwood, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 12 at Drummond, 7 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 16 vs. Shell Lake, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 17 at South Shore, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 19 vs. Washburn, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 27 at Clayton Holiday Tournament
Saturday, Dec. 28 at Clayton Holiday Tournament
Friday, Jan. 3 vs. Butternut, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 7 vs. Northwood, 7 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 10 at Mercer, 7 p.m.
Monday, Jan. 13 vs. Wakefield-Marenisco, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 14 at Bayfield, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 21 vs. Frederic, 7 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 24 at Hurley, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 28 vs. Ironwood, 7 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 31 at Bessemer, 7 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 7 at Mellen, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 11 vs. Drummond 7 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 14 vs. South Shore, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 18 at Washburn, 7 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 21 vs. Bayfield, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 25 Regional
Friday, Feb. 28 Regional semifinal
Saturday, Mar. 1 Regional final
Thursday, Mar. 6 Sectional semifinal
Saturday, Mar. 8 Sectional final
March 13-15 WIAA State Tournament (Kohl Center, Madison)