WARDSVILLE -Replacing the leading scorer on a team is always tough, but if you're going to start somewhere, having eight returning players with varsity experience is a pretty good place to begin.
That's the scenario facing the Blair Oaks Falcons, who open the season at 6:30 p.m. today against Russellville in the first round of the Eugene Tournament.
The Falcons will be looking to replace the long-range sharpshooting of Brett Voss, who was a first-team all-district performer last season.
"You're talking about 16 points per game and he hit 123 3s and shot 43 percent from the 3-point line. That's hard to replace," Blair Oaks coach Ryan Fick said. "When you're talking about school records that have stood for almost 20 years, not very often is a different guy going to come back the next year and do the same thing.
"... But I think we have several guys who have the ability on any given night to hit four or five 3s. Whereas they may not hit 123 over the season, I think as a team we have the ability to shoot just as well overall over the course of the season as we did as a team last year. I think we've got guys who are ready to expand their roles a little bit."
That list of guys starts with the aforementioned senior class.
"Most of them saw significant amount of time as juniors and they're a year older, a year stronger, and mentally tougher after a year of varsity experience," Fick said.
Directing the team will be Logan Bax, who was an all-Tri-County Conference player at point guard last year, averaging seven assists per game.
"What he's going to have to do is give us a little more scoring this year - sometimes he's a little too unselfish," Fick said. "That's something we've talked to him about. His shot selection is very good and for us to keep teams honest defensively, he's going to have to knock down a few perimeter shots or they're just going to give him a few steps and keep him out of the lane."
Other backcourt players for the Falcons include Seth Eskens and Haydn Lock.
"Seth was a guy who was pretty streaky last year as a shooter, but he's been pretty consistent for us so far this preseason. We're looking for a big year from him shooting the ball," Fick said. "Haydn is just a smart player, he played a big role last year. He had a great football season and we're looking for his leadership. He's that guy that gets everybody on the same page and gets people where they need to be."
The front line for Blair Oaks will be made up of Logan Gratz and Chandler Haxton.
"We're looking for them to run the floor, they're probably a couple of the more athletic big kids you'll see in the area," Fick said. "If they'll run the floor and crash the glass, they do a great job."
And while all those players are returnees, no "return" is more anticipated than that of Joey Bernskoetter. The senior contracted viral meningitis last summer and spent four weeks at St. Louis Children's Hospital, losing 40 pounds before doctors could get things under control.
"It was kind of up in the air for a while whether he was going to be able to contribute much, but he's had a great first few weeks of practice," Fick said. "He came out in the Jamboree (Nov. 22 at Helias), which was his first real competition since late June, and he was excited to go.
"He was a little rusty in the Helias scrimmage, but when we played Jeff City, he looked like the Joey of old. He made a couple moves to the basket and finished strong and it was like the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders, because he started playing a little more free and easy.
"... We (coaches) are happy for him, his teammates are extremely happy to have him."
OVERSET FOLLOWS:The other seniors on the squad are Ryan Wilbers and Ross Burlbaw, while two juniors expected to see time are Kory Franks and Mikel Drehle.
Drehle and Lock have just joined the squad recently after playing on the football team that advanced to the state semifinals, while additional football players have joined the JV team.
"While (the JV guys) may not be getting varsity minutes now, what it does is make practice more competitive," Fick said. "That's been a welcome addition to our practices - we can go deeper and get more things done."
The biggest emphasis for the team heading into the season is to be more consistent offensively.
"Like the past few years, we're going to try to play fast again," Fick said. "But as the year goes along, good teams are going to do things to negate that. As the season went along last year and teams took away our transition offense, I don't think we were very consistent in the halfcourt. If teams slow us down, we have to be able to run an offense or particular set and be consistent at scoring.
"Too many times last year we went spells or had long dry periods without scoring. We could score 10 points in a minute and then go three minutes without scoring. We've got to improve upon that."