2008-09 Men's Basketball
Five seniors to lead Beavers in 2008-09
October 30, 2008
|As the 2008-09 season looms just around the corner, the Bluffton University men's basketball team is ready to put the lessons it learned a year ago into action when the Beavers step on the court this season. Following a fourth consecutive winning season, the first time in school history that the men's basketball program has accomplished this feat, the pieces are in place for Bluffton to put itself in a position to challenge for the title in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference.|
|For the first time in four years, Bluffton lost fewer than four seniors to graduation as P.J. Juenger and Nate Overmyer wrapped up solid careers in 2007-08. With five experienced seniors returning to lead the Beavers this season, Head Coach Guy Neal is confident that Bluffton will once again find itself in the middle of an exciting Heartland Conference campaign. Although Bluffton just missed qualifying for the HCAC tournament last year, the experience, as well as the sour taste left in the mouths of this year's seniors, has driven the Beavers to work with greater intensity throughout the off-season to ensure that Bluffton returns to the form it displayed during the two years prior to last season.|
|With a junior-laden group eating up many of the minutes on the floor in 2007-08, a changing of roles required more adjustment time than it had during the past few seasons when seniors gradually moved into positions of leadership. Coach Neal explained, "Our personality had been dominated by seniors who had established a tremendous work ethic and dedication over the last five years." Prior to last season, 10 seniors graduated from the men's basketball program in 2006 and 2007. The 2008 class included just two seniors, P.J. Juenger and Nate Overmyer, with Juenger being the only member of his class to play all four years at Bluffton. "We simply went through a leadership and personality 'change of guard' last year that took some time and had some ups and downs. As the year progressed, we made important strides that enabled us to finish the season on a good note and that will carry over into the 2008-09 season," quipped Neal.|
Last season produced many positive experiences that will greatly benefit the 2008-09 squad. Despite a six-game skid late in the Heartland Conference schedule, consecutive victories against Hanover on Senior Day and at Mt. St. Joseph nearly propelled the Beavers into the HCAC tournament. The seniors, who saw significant time on the floor last year, and junior guard Josh Eichar (North Baltimore/North Baltimore) are more comfortable with their roles on and off the court. They understand what is required if the 2008-09 Beavers seek to compete for the Heartland Conference championship this season. Following a productive spring that saw players working hard on their game on the court and in the weight room, the upperclassmen are ready to lead Bluffton back to the level of competitiveness that it displayed when the Beavers put together 35 wins in the two years prior to 2007-08.
|For the Beavers to reach their expected level of success, it is imperative that the seniors are more productive and consistent each night. Shooting guard Colt Cunningham (Powell/Worthington Christian) showed that he was a legitimate three-point threat as a freshman and sophomore and he will need to put points on the board in a variety of ways in his final campaign. A solid post player who can step outside and drain it from distance, Nick Wilson (Continental/Continental) has shown a penchant for scoring points in bunches, but he must stay out of foul trouble and contribute each night to open up the game for Bluffton's shooters. Justin Rufenacht (Wauseon/Pettisville) provides Bluffton with a physical toughness on the floor and he has the athleticism to defend both inside and outside. Not many Division III players have the ability to run the point and score from the block, but Aaron Taylor (Antwerp/Antwerp) brings those skills and more to the Beavers. If he stays healthy and works hard at both ends of the floor, Taylor could greatly improve the Beavers' versatility. After missing his entire junior campaign due to back surgery, senior post Josiah Stober (Spencerville/Spencerville) is ready give Bluffton more of a physical presence in the post this season both offensively and defensively.|
|After not seeing a single minute of varsity action as a freshman, Josh Eichar quickly established himself as a starter in Bluffton's backcourt early in his sophomore campaign last year. He made tremendous improvements and does the little things that make his team better. Just a 6-0 guard, Eichar led the Beavers in rebounds, assists and steals, while proving to be a lockdown defender on the perimeter. Jordan Pothast (Ottawa/Ottawa-Glandorf) and Chris Singleton (Ada/Ada) both need to cross the line and make the jump to more substantial contributions on a nightly basis. They have shown flashes, Pothast with his shooting and Singleton with amazing athleticism, but as juniors it is important for them to play more significant roles.|
Last year's freshmen saw limited varsity action, however, Rob Luderman (Defiance/Ayersville) and Cam Saylor (Belle Center/Benjamin Logan) gained experience by matching up against the upperclassmen every night while witnessing the intensity of Heartland Conference basketball last season. A talented group of 10 freshmen and three transfers will look to make contributions to the program early on. Having better depth will allow the Beavers to improve in a multitude of ways. The practice floor is one area that Coach Neal feels the depth will impact right away. "Being able to have better competition in practice will help us prepare for the quality teams we face in the Heartland Conference on a nightly basis," stated Coach Neal.
|A look back at the top of the conference at the end of last season may provide a glimpse of what can be expected when the 2008-09 campaign hits high gear. Transylvania and Franklin have proven to be models of consistency throughout the past few years with each school advancing to the NCAA Division III tournament recently. An athletic Anderson team showed great improvement last year before falling to regular-season champion Defiance in the semi-finals of the HCAC tournament. Despite losing four-time All-HCAC Performer and floor general C.J. Johnson to graduation, the Yellow Jackets have 2007-08 HCAC Player of the Year Anthony Pettaway back on the blocks for his senior season.|
|Bluffton's court experience in 2008-09 is as high as it has been during its four-year run of winning seasons. If the Beavers are to return to the level they set in 2005-06 and 2006-07, the leadership displayed by the seniors, along with consistent play from the beginning of the season until the end, will be important. Following their season-opening tournament at Case Reserve on November 21-22, the Beavers return home for an crucial four-game stretch in Founders Hall where Bluffton has an opportunity to forge its identity while playing in front of the fans who are ready for another exciting installment of Beaver hoops.|