Hartington — The Hartington-Newcastle Wildcats want to build on the success of 2018.
It was a year of titles and a chance to run with the elite D1 boys basketball teams in Nebraska.
Nick Haselhorst’s seventh season running the Wildcat program was a boon in some ways as they finished 16-10 overall and captured Sub-District and District titles, beating Kenesaw, 36-32, in the D1-5 District title game.
The Wildcats got to the state tournament, losing to eventual state champion, Humphrey-Lindsey Holy Family.
“It was a culmination of our continued growth throughout the season,” Haselhorst said. “Our schedule was tough in December and eased up in January. The best cure is to win and winning builds confidence. The kids honed in on the details and those were what were costing us in December. We kept going back and applying our lessons and that proved to be a great strength for us,” he said.
The District title game showed the team they could do well if they stuck with the fundamentals.
“We weren’t playing lights out against Kenesaw, but we stayed disciplined and didn’t freak out. We made timely plays,” he said.
Now for an even better encore, Haselhorst will rely on Shaye Morten (11.5 ppg), Sam Harms (11 ppg), Matthew Meisenheimer (seven ppg), Jake Peitz (eight ppg) and Kobe Heitman (5.5 ppg) who all either started or got plenty of time in the rotation a year ago.
“We lost one key senior in Lincoln McPhillips who did most of his damage on defense,” Haselhorst said. “We return about 85 percent of our scoring and 80 percent of our leadership” Haselhorst said.
The bar has been set pretty high for this year.
“Making the state tournament showed the kids what they are capable of and raised the expectations,” he said. “We still have to improve our scoring. We were only scoring about 47-48 points-per-game. To be elite, we need to be an elite offensive team and defensive team, but we know we can’t do both. But to have a chance we have to get scoring up in the high 50s or low 60s.”
The Wildcats tried to play fast early last season and that led to a lot of turnovers, so they slowed it down and went to the grind offensively and relied on a high-pressure defense.
The coaching staff welcomes Zach Burcham, Isaac Bruning, Bennet Sievers, Teagan Scoggan, and Shay Dickes into the fold to hopefully see them aid the growth process.
“All are physically stronger and more experienced than they were a season ago,” Haselhorst said. “All of them are ready to contribute and accept their role on the team. We have returning experience and top scorers, but we are missing people who are forced to sit out practices due to injury.
“I’d like to play a faster pace style, but it depends on your athletes and what they are capable of handling. If we have to slow it down, then that’s what we will do.”
The Wildcats believe Laurel-Concord-Coleridge to be the biggest threat to another district title.
Hartington-Newcastle opens up the season on Dec. 5 at Ponca.
“We’ve got quite a gauntlet to start the season,” Haselhorst said. “We’ve got to be ready to roll right away. We found out in December that if you give away games early, you can’t get them back late and that affected our seed. If we stay healthy, we should be pretty good. We are missing three bodies right now, but if we are at full health, we can play with anybody.”