Guy Neal looks for Bluffton to make a strong HCAC finish
By Scott Van Eman, SID assistant
November 7, 2003
With a healthy core of returning players and a solid recruiting class, head coach Guy Neal has his eyes set on a top Heartland Conference finish this season.
The Beavers will enter the 2003-04 season without three of their most productive players over the last four years. Two-time 1st team Heartland Conference selection Mike Leimeister, 2003-04 Heartland Conference honorable mention selection Marcus Bixler and two-year starter Derek DeNero were all lost to graduation last season. Together these three players accounted for 58% of Bluffton's total points, 56% of Bluffton's total assists and 49% of Bluffton's total rebounds last season, leaving some big shoes for this year's squad to fill.
This season's team depth has Bluffton prepared to do just that. The Beavers will return 16 players from last year's team and will add 10 newcomers for the largest team to date at Bluffton. With 26 players to choose from, the hunt for starting and key contributors off the bench is heated.
This competitive advantage of depth and talent has Bluffton already setting high expectations for this season. "This year we are in a position to challenge and have a 15 win season. I feel that we can definitely make things happen," Head coach Guy Neal said.
With the new faces this season Bluffton will also bring a new offensive concept to the court. The Beavers will be running the motion offense and will depend on offensive production from a variety of players, unlike Bluffton's last several years that were dominated by inside players Jeremy Roberts and Michael Leimeister who carried much of the load. "We don't have a main 'go to' guy on offense this year and it looks like it may be an effort by a number of people to put points on the board this season. The team has good upperclassmen leadership and good chemistry to do well," said Neal.
That senior leadership will be comprised of Brad Boyles and Ryan White. Boyles was a key contributor last year posting 10.4 points per game, and 3.1 rebounds per game. Boyles is currently Bluffton's most consistent shooter in school history netting a career .611 shooting percentage. White was one of Bluffton's key contributors coming off the bench last season were he scored 1.5 points per game and posted five steals.
Five juniors return for Bluffton this season, Bryce Beilharz, Ken Vana, Nathan Chivington and David Schwartz. Beilharz started in 15 games for Bluffton last season posting 4.6 points per game and 1.6 blocks per game. Vana and Chivington are currently establishing their roles on the team and providing leadership in the early stages of the preseason. Shwartz is still rehabbing after missing the entire 2002-03 season due to injury.
Bluffton's sophomore class is the largest and strongest part of this year's team. Leading the way will be Scott Bergman (5.1 ppg, 30 assists), Darren Clark (3.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg), Simeon Talley (2.6 ppg, 6-9 in three-pointers), Eric Sweet (4.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Brian Yelley (2.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg). All five players had excellent freshman seasons and saw significant playing time. Also returning as sophomores this season are Joe Duzan, Zach Nussbaum, Brett Mitchell, Shaun Boening, Colby Bright and Paul Driskell. These six players are currently competing for key roles on this year's squad.
Among the freshman class are Eric Shwieterman (St. Henry/St. Henry), Tom Heil (Stow/Archbishop Hoban), Tony Mass (Tiffin/Calvert), Sam Seggerson (Columbus/St. Francis De Sales), Michael Anthony (Ohio City/Delphos St. John's), Jason Sowry (Fletcher/Miami East), David Patch (Minster/Minster) and Ricky Reucher (Toledo/Central Catholic).
Head coach Guy Neal wants to get back into the Heartland Conference race this season and with this group he thinks it is possible. With four losses by five or less points and one loss in overtime last season some might say that Bluffton was simply unlucky. With this year's team depth and talent they won't be relying on luck. After the experience gained from last year and the tough preseason this year, they simply won't need it.