By JIM MISUNAS
CLAFLIN — The Central Plains boys basketball team never beat rival St. John the past two years.
The three-time state champion St. John Tigers swept the Oilers six times over the past two seasons. But at least the Oilers’ final 49-44 loss to St. John came on the biggest stage at the Class 2A state tournament last season.
St. John also ended the Oilers’ season two years in the substate championship. A Class 2A state berth for the Oilers will likely come down to beating St. John on their homecourt in March.
Central Plains features second-team all-CPL Braedan Crites (8.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 3.4 apg), second-team all-CPL Michael Ryan (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg) and guard Jacob Warnken (7.5 ppg, 2.6 apg). Ryan and Crites will be four-year starters.
Other experienced players are guard Bryce Miller and forwards 6-2 Brady Rugan and 6-3 Alex Barton.
Central Plains coach Brett Rolfs believes the Oilers will contend for Central Prairie League title, and be a contender for a Class 2A state tournament berth.
Rolfs features a team with a high basketball IQ that knows how to work together for team success.
Point guard Ryan will be the Oilers’ team leader who can attack the basket and distribute the basketball. Ryan maintained a 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“Everything goes through him. He is an unselfish player who orchestrates our strategies extremely well,” Rolfs said. “He has gained a wealth of knowledge. He had a breakout season on the offensive end and we look for him to continue that improvement.”
Crites is a defensive specialist who is the Oilers’ most versatile player. He works inside-and-outside while averaging 3.4 assists per game.
“Braeden is a very underrated player who gets overlooked. He is very versatile who does many different things depending on the matchup,” Rolfs said. “He can play from the 1 to the 5, even though much of his time is spent inside. He’ll take a big step on the offensive end as he will find the ball in his hands on the perimeter more.”
Shooting guard Warnken has earned a reputation as a hard-nosed defensive player who shows great quickness and strength.
“Offensively, Jacob shot the ball very well down the stretch from the perimeter last season,” Rolfs said. “We expect Jacob to take that final step this season as he continues to gain confidence and realizes how great of ability he really has.”
Three-year letter-winner 6-2 Brady Rugan and 6-3 Alex Barton will provide the Oilers’ inside presence. Both players gained valuable experience off the bench.
“Brady brings solid experience at the forward position and has grown very well into his role,” Rolfs said. “He is a tough kid who we will have to lean on to carry the load down in the paint defensively.
“Alex Barton is a forward who can also step out on the perimeter from time-to-time,” Rolfs said. “We look for him to take the next step in his maturation process and make an impact for us this coming season.”
CENTRAL PLAINS OILERS
Central Prairie League
Head coach—Brett Rolfs, 4th year (54-17)
Record last season—22-4 (7-1)
Braedan Crites, 6-2, G, sr., 8.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 3.4 apg; Brady Rugan, 6-1, F, sr., 2.7 ppg; Jacob Warnken, 5-11, G, sr., 7.5 ppg, 2.6 apg; Michael Ryan, 6-1, G, sr., 15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg; Trustin Kreft, 6-0, sr.; Bryce Miller, 5-9, G, jr.; Collin Schlochtermeier, 5-11, G, jr.; Kyle Lewis, 6-2, F, jr.; Kade Beck, 5-10, G, so.; Alex Barton, 6-3, G-F, so..; Lee Letourneau, 6-4, F, so..; Brady Short, 5-9, F, so..; Phillip Donnecker, 6-0, G, so..; Anthony Oberle, 5-8, G, so.; Devin Ryan, 5-10, fr.; Alex Hickel, 5-10, fr.; Jacob Oberle, 6-3, fr.; Brett Thompson, 5-10, fr.; Brett Liebl, 6-2, fr.
12-8—Nickerson at Lincoln Tournament
12-11 to 12-12—at Lincoln Tournament
12-15—at St. John
1-5—at Smith Center
1-19 to 1-23—at St. John Midwinter Classic (boys)
1-26 to 1-29—at Barton Hilltop Classic (girls)