Bluffton preparing to move back into HCAC tournament picture
November 8, 2010
HCAC pre-season coaches' poll
With plenty of game experience to complement a wealth of youth, the Bluffton University
men's basketball team will look to claw its way back into the upper echelon of the
Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Although the Beavers saw their school-record
five consecutive winning seasons streak snapped in 2009-10, the crowds in Founders
were again treated to the competitive brand of basketball that has made Bluffton's
home court the best atmosphere in the conference. A talented junior class that soaked
up the bulk of Bluffton's minutes a year ago, coupled with a large group of newcomers,
has given the Beavers cause to believe that a spot in the HCAC tournament is again
The departure of three seniors, including three-time All-HCAC performer and captain
Josh Eichar, opens the door for Bluffton's youth movement that includes 13 new players,
four sophomores and six juniors who provided much of the offense for the Beavers a
season ago. Whereas those sophomores needed to get acclimated to higher expectations
for production last year following the departure of five seniors, seven players who
averaged over 13 minutes per contest, including four starters who played over 30 minutes
a game, give Bluffton a wealth of experience to draw on despite still looking young
Coach Neal is counting on improved play as a result of practice and game experience
when the Beavers take to the hardwood in November. "Experience will be one of our
primary strengths this season," stated Coach Neal. "With four starters back who saw
considerable action last year, we have the pieces in place to return to the heart
of the HCAC." Injuries and inexperience at the collegiate level slowed Bluffton last
season, but the core group of returners battled through adversity and never gave up
despite coming up just short time and again. Remaining positive and continuing to
work hard in practice throughout the season, the Beavers have put themselves in an
enviable position going into 2010-11.
Seniors Rob Luderman (Defiance/Ayersville) and Cam Saylor (Belle Center/Benjamin Logan) will be counted on to provide leadership both on and
off the court as the only fourth-year members of the 2010-11 squad. Luderman saw action
on the blocks last season, backing up stat-sheet stuffer Josh Eichar who moved from
point guard to power forward for his senior season. Saylor was injured for much of
his junior campaign, but he will provide depth for the Beavers on the perimeter thanks
to his smooth stroke from outside the arc.
Bluffton's juniors have the depth and talent to go down as one of the best classes
during Coach Neal's tenure with the Beavers. Versatile guards Mychal Hill (London/Jonathan Alder) and Nick Lee (Vanlue) have the skill set and athleticism to lead Bluffton deep into the HCAC tournament.
Hill, who earned First Team All-HCAC honors last season despite missing six games
due to an injury, and Lee can both get to the rack or light it up from outside the
arc. They also handed out nearly 100 assists a year ago.
Athletic forward Brent Farley (Lima/Shawnee) also has a knack for finding an open teammate, a trait that makes
him hard to double-team in the post where he has an assortment of moves that he can
use. Farley led the team with 48 blocks and 6.9 boards per game while chipping in
11.3 points per outing. Fellow slasher Nate Heckelman (Norwalk) played in only 10 games before an injury kept him out of action for most
of the rest of 2009-10. He gives the Beavers a solid rebounder who can defend multiple
positions. Juniors Steven Swick (Elida) and Orry Moughler (Butler, Ind./Eastside) both saw varsity action in a limited capacity as sophomores
and they will be counted on to help provide depth and experience on the wing and in
the post this season.
Sophomore Josh Fisher (Rockford/Parkway) established himself as one of the HCAC's top freshmen guards in
2009-10 thanks to his break-out performance in Bluffton's 91-83 victory over HCAC
tournament champion Defiance College in Founders Hall. The high-flying Fisher is a
match-up nightmare for opposing teams with his ability to soar through the key or
hit from long-range. Scott Schnipke (Kalida) and Tyler Neal (Bluffton) both got their feet wet last year and they give the Beavers solid depth
on the perimeter. Schnipke can hit the mid-range jumper and the triple, while Neal
distributes the ball and can knock down the outside shot. Sophomore Matt Gerdeman (Delphos/Jefferson) will look to provide solid minutes in the post for Bluffton this
Team unity and chemistry will once again drive the Bluffton University men's basketball
team. The relationships that have developed between players and coaches was evidenced
a year ago when the Beavers never gave in despite struggling to finish games on top.
It is this team-first mentality that Coach Neal has fostered as a way to prepare his
players for highs and lows both on the court and off.
The Heartland Conference has the makings to be another marathon with 2009-10 heavyweights
Anderson, Hanover and Manchester returning the most notable squads. The Ravens won
the regular-season title last year and qualified for the NCAA tournament despite falling
to Defiance in the HCAC finals. Bluffton and the rest of the conference will welcome
Earlham College to the HCAC in 2010-11, adding two matchups with the Quakers to this
With the 2010-11 campaign fast approaching, Bluffton has the tools in place to move
back into the Heartland Conference tournament race. A wealth of experience and drive
to succeed coupled with the team's outstanding chemistry give the Beavers reason to
believe that Founders Hall victories and post-season success are just around the corner.
A team that is balanced offensively, gets after it defensively and takes advantage
of the free throw line is tough to defeat and that is just what the Beavers expect
to be when Bluffton hits the hardwood this season.