Beavers preparing to make run at Heartland Conference championship
By Bill Hanefeld Jr., sports information director
November 9, 2007
Click here to view HCAC pre-season coaches poll (PDF)
|With the 2007-08 season rapidly approaching, the Bluffton University basketball team
is once again preparing make its mark on the floor despite having lost six seniors
to graduation a year ago. After three of the most successful and exciting seasons
in men's basketball history at Bluffton University, the Beavers are ready to take
the next step and compete for the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship
following three straight trips to the semi-finals of the HCAC tournament. 2006-07
captains Mike Anthony, Eric Schwieterman and Tom Heil along with fellow graduates
Sam Seggerson, Ricky Reucher and David Patch are gone, but Coach Neal is confident
that their example has been permanently etched in his program and the Beavers are
simply reloading with another talented group of players.
The 2006-07 Beavers left an indelible impression on their fans, posting Bluffton's
first ever perfect home mark (12-0) in Founders Hall. For the third consecutive season,
Bluffton found itself playing in the semi-finals of the Heartland Conference tournament,
one of only three teams to accomplish that. Bluffton fashioned its third consecutive
McDonald's tournament championship on its way to an 11-game winning streak which equaled
the mark set by the Beavers in 2005-06. An 18-8 record last year tied the 1984-85
squad for most wins in a season. A pair of dramatic overtime wins over rival Defiance
College wowed the fans and consecutive victories over national power Carnegie-Mellon
were also highlights from the 2006-07 season.
||From an individual standpoint, the Beavers also collected their share of post-season
hardware. Mike Anthony, who finished his career as the number 16 ranked all-time scorer
with 1,183 points, was the second Bluffton men's basketball player in three years
to be named the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year, following
in the footsteps of Scott Bergman who took home the honor after the 2004-05 campaign.
Guy Neal was named Coach of the Year in the HCAC for the second time after guiding
the Beavers, who were picked to finish last in the conference, to an 18-8 record overall,
including a 10-6 mark in league play.
With three of the top 21 career scorers having graduated from Bluffton in the past
two years it would be easy to have reservations regarding the chances for the Beavers
in 2007-08. Coach Neal doesn't, "We have put together three solid seasons after three
years in which we were on the verge of turning the corner. The work on and off the
floor by those graduating classes has put us in a position where we strive for consistency
rather than looking to rebuild every few years." Following the graduation of standouts
Scott Bergman and Eric Sweet two years ago, the Beavers went out and put together
one of the best seasons in school history and Neal believes the same is possible this
year despite not being able to call on the likes of Mike Anthony and Eric Schwieterman.
|The senior class is led by captain P.J. Juenger (Cincinnati/Moeller) who will be asked to take his game to next level after showing
improvement each year at Bluffton. A 6-5 post who can step outside and knock down
the mid-range jumper, Juenger averaged 5.6 points and 4.3 rebounds a game as the starting
center a year ago. Senior transfer Nathan Overmyer (Haviland/Wayne Trace) provided the Beavers with instant offense off the bench as
a junior, knocking down 51-of-139 shots from beyond the arc and sinking 84.2 percent
of his attempts from the charity stripe. He dropped in 8.4 points per game as a junior
and he will look to improve on that as he attacks the basket more this season. Seniors
Blake Babcock (Findlay/Findlay) and Eric Croyle (Bowling Green/Bowling Green) both have the skills to potentially provide Bluffton
depth on the perimeter this year after seeing most of their action on the junior varsity
squad last season.
An outstanding junior class is ready to provide leadership after seeing significant
playing time in 2006-07. Junior sharpshooter Colt Cunningham (Powell/Worthington Christian), who started on the wing and dropped in 12.4 points
per game as a sophomore, was selected to be a captain this year by his teammates and
coaches. He looks to follow in Scott Bergman's footsteps becoming a lethal scoring
threat every time he touches the ball. His improvement over the past two years has
him primed to make his mark as one of the best players in the Heartland Conference.
The third captain for the Beavers is junior Justin Rufenacht (Wauseon/Pettisville) who sat out much of 2006-07 with a knee injury. Nevertheless,
Rufenacht is the toughness of this team and his return will provide Bluffton with
a spike in athleticism and a presence on the boards. Another junior who missed most
of last season but is ready to compete for playing time in 2007-08 is Drew Clady (New Bavaria/Holgate). Following the spring practices and trip to Europe, Clady was
named the Most Improved Player and he is ready to help Bluffton at both guard spots
this year. Nick Wilson (Continental/Continental) moved into the starting lineup midway through his sophomore
season and never relinquished that role. His ability to take over in the low post
as well as drain the three-ball makes him tough to guard. Wilson was selected as the
Most Consistent Player this spring and he has impressed the coaching staff throughout
the off-season. Another dominating low-post player who saw varsity action a year ago
is Josiah Stober (Spencerville/Spencerville). An athletic big man who moves well and can step outside,
Stober was 42-of-91 (59.2 percent) from the field, including 6-of-10 from beyond the
arc. Junior Aaron Taylor (Antwerp/Antwerp) may be the most talented all-around player for the Beavers. He
hit 59.7 percent from the field off the bench last year and he provides Bluffton with
many options because of his ability to play any position on the floor. Aaron Mass (Tiffin/Calvert) saw the bulk of his action on the junior varsity squad last year
and he provides the team with depth on the blocks.
||Sophomore Zack Kraus (Findlay/Findlay) was the only freshman to see significant playing time for the Beavers
in 2006-07. His 17 minutes a game kept three-year starter Eric Schwieterman fresh
all season as he gained experience against the best ball-handlers in the conference.
Kraus averaged 4.8 points per game and he dished out 42 assists for the season. Jordan Pothast (Ottawa/Ottawa/Glandorf) has a refined all-around game and his shooting and ball-handling
skills will allow him to compete for playing time at the wing positions in 2007-08.
Although Josh Eichar (North Baltimore/North Baltimore) made his mark as a prolific scorer in high school,
he showed during the spring practices that he has the ability to be a lock-down defender
for the Beavers at the varsity level as a sophomore. Chris Singleton (Ada/Ada) gives the Beavers an athletic presence in the post after missing most of
his freshman campaign with a foot injury.
Sophomore transfer Justin Leimeister (Shawnee/Shawnee) provides the Beavers with size and depth in the post after playing
at the University of Akron as a freshman. Freshman Ben Shindeldecker (Ohio City/Crestview) is a pure point guard who had a phenomenal career under former
Bluffton standout Jeremy Best. Joel Miller (Sugarcreek/Berlin Hiland) and Rob Luderman (Ayersville/Ayersville) also played in extremely successful high school programs
which are accustomed to winning. Cam Saylor (Belle Center/Benjamin Logan) left Benjamin Logan as the most prolific scorer in
school history while Gregory Simerly (Lecanto, Fla./Lecanto) rounds out the freshman class for the Beavers.
|Coach Neal believes the parity in this year's conference race may be even more so
that it was a year ago when the tournament selection and host were determined on the
last day of the regular season. He feels that, "It will be a balanced dogfight with
Franklin and Defiance possibly being picked to finish at the top of the conference."
He is confident that the squad he has assembled will be in the mix competing to host
the six-team tournament at the conclusion of conference play. With the increase from
four to six teams this year, there will be a reward for the top two teams who will
be able to watch their opponents play in the first round before suiting up for the
||Although Coach Neal does not want to sound like a broken record, he is holding fast
to his belief that this year's team needs to 'Turn potential into production.' "We
have made great strides over the past few years, but we will fight to avoid complacency
that often follows success. Being satisfied is an obstacle at all levels, and although
we have raised the bar significantly, we know that there are goals we have yet to
meet. Winning the conference and competing in the NCAA tournament are challenging
goals, but we believe those are both within our grasp," quipped Neal. If the past
couple of years are any indication, fans in Bluffton should get prepared for an enjoyable
season of quality and winning basketball on the hardwood in Founders Hall.