Bluffton men's basketball team is ready to turn potential into production
By Bill Hanefeld Jr., sports information director
November 2, 2006
Click here to view HCAC pre-season coaches poll (PDF)
While the 2005-06 men's basketball graduating class left formidable shoes to fill,
last year's juniors are ready to take over those leadership roles vacated by four
players who helped forge a tradition of excellence on the court and in the classroom.
Although the Beavers recorded a second place Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference
finish in 2000-01, Bluffton had been inconsistent at best during its initial years
as a member of the HCAC. That was until 2004-05, when the Beavers made their first
ever and first of two consecutive trips to the semifinals of the HCAC tournament.
Graduated seniors Scott Bergman, Eric Sweet, Darren Clark and Joe Duzan played a huge
role in setting the standard for consistency at Bluffton, but much of the 2006-07
squad has been a part of that journey and the combination of experience and youth
has Beaver fans excited about the upcoming cage season.
|2005-06 marked a record-breaking year for men's basketball at Bluffton University.
As a team, the Beavers fashioned a school-record 11-game winning streak on their way
to 17-10 overall record which was only one victory shy of the 1984-85 squad that picked
up 18 victories. Despite a last second loss to Concordia University in the third game
of the season, in early January the Beavers found themselves at 13-1 and, for the
first time in University history, ranked #21 nationally according to d3hoops.com.
Included in that stretch was a second straight McDonald's of Bluffton tournament championship
and a January 2 home victory over nationally-ranked Carnegie-Mellon University who
had recently knocked off Division I Princeton University. The Beavers wrapped up their
11-game winning streak with a 93-88 victory over Franklin University on 'Fill Founders"
night thanks to record-setting performance by standout Scott Bergman who poured in
43 points, including a school record nine three-pointers in only 12 attempts. Bergman
moved into third place on the all-time scoring list at Bluffton with 1,660 career
points. Teammate Eric Sweet also eclipsed the 1,000 point mark while finishing his
career with over 500 rebounds.
With the loss of such talented personnel, one might speculate that 2006-07 will be
a rebuilding year. Although statistically Bluffton will need to find consistent scoring
and rebounding from individuals who have not had that responsibility, Coach Neal is
confident that the returning senior leadership, tireless work ethic, and outstanding
athleticism will allow Bluffton to remain in the upper echelon of the HCAC. "In reality,
from a playing time and game experience standpoint, we have what amounts to three
starters back in Mike Anthony, Eric Schwieterman and Justin Rufenacht," quipped Coach
Neal. "We also have a group of four or five players returning who have played significant
minutes during the past two seasons." The cohesion of this squad will play a large
part in how successful the Beavers are in 2006-07. "For the past few years our players
have grown together both on the court and off. This has been a key component in our
success and I expect it to continue with the group of young men that we have now."
The HCAC welcomed the addition of Rose-Hulman in July of 2006. With nine teams currently
in the HCAC, the schedule and tournament both underwent renovations for the 2006-07
season. There are now two weeks of conference contests prior to the Christmas holiday
and only four of the nine teams will earn their way into the HCAC Tournament. Previously,
all eight teams were guaranteed a berth following the completion of the regular season.
Bluffton was not the only HCAC team to graduate much of its offensive production.
Many of the All-HCAC performers from a year ago were lost to graduation leading Coach
Neal to state, "The league looks very balanced once again and we would like to think
that we will be right in the thick of things."
Six seniors will form the core of Bluffton men's basketball this year. Three-year
starter and All-HCAC performer Mike Anthony (Ohio City/Delphos St. John's) will be asked to take on more of a leadership role
in 2006-07. With the ability to defend all five positions on the floor, Anthony provides
a defensive presence that the Beavers lacked when he sat out much of the 2005-06 conference
season with a broken hand. Shooting guard Tom Heil (Stow/Archbishop Hoban) provided the Beavers with outside shooting off the bench
last season. He started when Darren Clark was sidelined with an injury and his consistency
and leadership will play a large part in the Beavers' success. Power forward David Patch (Minster/Minster) has a smooth stroke from the outside and he provides Bluffton with
excellent free throw shooting when the game is on the line. Ricky Reucher (Toledo/Central Catholic) is a versatile player who brings energy and athleticism
when he is on the court, in addition he has the ability to knock down the outside
jumper. Experienced point guard Eric Schwieterman (St. Henry/St. Henry) will again run the show for the Beavers. A two-year starter,
Eric not only distributes the ball on offense, but he relentlessly pressures opposing
ball-handlers, keeping them from initiating their sets. Sam Seggerson (Columbus/DeSales) returns to the Beavers in 2006-07 after missing all of last year
with a knee injury. He will help solidify Bluffton's depth on the perimeter.
|The junior class is led by two-year letterman PJ Juenger (Cincinnati/Moeller). PJ is a formidable defender in the post and his shooting ability
makes him a tough assignment for opposing defenses. Although Blake Babcock (Findlay/Findlay) joined the basketball team following his freshman year, his deft
shooting stroke was showcased on the junior varsity team as a sophomore and he looks
to open up defenses with his ability to score from outside. Eric Croyle (Bowling Green/Bowling Green) also returns to Bluffton for his second season after
transferring in following his freshman year. He has steadily improved and the Beavers
will count on him to provide stability on the perimeter. The Beavers also welcomed
transfer Nathan Overmyer (Haviland/Wayne Trace) to the program this season. He had an outstanding high school
career at Wayne Trace under head coach Al Welch and continued as a Polar Bear at Ohio
Northern the past two years. He is the brother of former Bluffton standout Rod Overmyer
who scored 1,086 points between 1999 and 2002.
The 2006-07 sophomores gained a wealth of experience both at the junior varsity and
varsity levels a year ago. Colt Cunningham (Powell/Worthington Christian) immediately made an impact on Beaver fans as he provided
Bluffton with an offensive spark off the bench early in the season. He hit 25-of-55
shots (.455) from beyond the arc as the Beavers spread opposing defenses with their
outside shooting. He is ready to help fill the void left by 2006 graduate Scott Bergman
who put up 22.5 points per game. After a solid freshman season on the junior varsity
squad, Drew Clady (New Bavaria/Holgate) is prepared to move into the varsity rotation this year. His
improved ball handling and shooting skills will allow him to contribute at both perimeter
positions. Aaron Mass (Tiffin/Calvert) is a strong presence in the post and he will use his ability to
move around the basket to open up the outside for the Beavers. Although he was not
a permanent fixture on the varsity squad until late in the season, Justin Rufenacht (Wauseon/Pettisville) used his athleticism and ability to defend multiple positions
as he became a permanent starter for Bluffton following the injury to Mike Anthony.
Justin is strong on the glass and his experience will be key for the Beavers in 2006-07.
Adept in the post both offensively and defensively, Josiah Stober (Spencerville/Spencerville) will provide the Beavers with excellent depth down low.
Following an outstanding high school career as the point guard at Antwerp, Aaron Taylor (Antwerp/Antwerp) showed his versatility as a freshman on the junior varsity squad
last year. Not only can he handle the ball, but he has the ability to score from outside
or post up on the block. Nick Wilson (Continental/Continental) will look to fill the shoes of first team All-HCAC performer
Eric Sweet. After seeing time on the varsity squad in 2005-06, Wilson will use his
smooth shooting stroke and finishing ability to complement Bluffton's outside shooters
A guard oriented freshman class will provide the Beavers with depth on the perimeter.
Adam Burris (Bluffton/Bluffton, Josh Eicher (North Baltimore/North Baltimore), Zack Kraus (Findlay/Findlay), and Jordan Pothast (Ottawa/Ottawa/Glandorf) were proven shooters and ball handlers at the high school
level. Post player Chris Singleton (Ada/Ada) is the lone newcomer in the paint. How fast they are able to adjust to
the speed of the game at the college level will determine their level of court time
For this year's edition of Bluffton University men's basketball, Coach Neal's goal
is to, "Turn potential into production." He feels that this is, from top to bottom,
the most athletic team he has ever coached. It has a complementary mix of shooting
and post play, along with experience and youth. Like always, he has a group of young
men that played in outstanding high school programs for coaches who are adept at teaching
players how to be successful both on the court and off of it. The challenge that faces
Coach Neal and his 2006-07 squad is that individuals are going to be asked to take
over roles they are not accustomed to. Four seniors took not only a wealth of experience
with them, but also some gaudy numbers and leadership that will need to be replaced.
Although blanks need to be filled, this squad is more than ready to begin assembling
the puzzle while continuing to build on the tradition of consistency that Bluffton
has forged during the past three seasons.