The Times Boys Basketball Preview Capsules

What to expect from Flanagan-Cornell, Sandwich and area teams from the Little Ten Conference

Earlville's Griffin Cook, (20) shoots over Serena's Ben Shugrue (32) during the 2022 Little Ten Conference Tournament.

Here is a look at the season ahead for Earlville, Leland, Somonauk, Serena, Newark, LaMoille, DePue, Sandwich and Flanagan-Cornell boys basketball. The remainder of the area’s boys basketball previews will be available online before the season begins and in print in the upcoming girls and boys prep basketball preview section.

Flanagan-Cornell Falcons

Coach: Brian Yoder (14th season)

Last season’s record: 23-7

Top returning players: Kesler Collins (jr., F), Ethan Schumm (sr., F), Emerson Weber (jr., F), Brennan Edens (jr., G)

Top new players: Connor Reed (so., G), Seth Jones (so., G), Colton Pfaff (sr., G), Masen Persico (sr., G)

Worth noting: All five starters from last winter’s 23-win Falcons team are gone to Pomp and Circumstance, meaning leadership responsibilities have transferred to Collins – last year’s sixth man who averaged 5.8 ppg – and a trio of seniors, Schumm, Persico and Pfaff. Yoder is hopeful that leadership develops sooner rather than later in what he calls a “strong, tight group. They all like each other and want to play hard for one another.” … The team looks more experienced in the paint that on the perimeter, and in practice is focusing on a defense-first mindset, which usually translates to a team that prefers a half-court game rather than an up-tempo one. “We are working on defense, defense, defense,” Yoder said. “[We’re] hoping to guard better than we did in the summer.” … Flanagan-Cornell opens the season playing in the Woodland bracket of the Route 17 Classic, with pool-play games Monday through Wednesday and a place game Saturday in Dwight.

Flanagan-Cornell's Kesler Collins (35) pulls up in the lane to shoot over the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley defense during a game on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in Flanagan.

DePue Little Giants

Coach: Trae Blumhorst (1st season)

Last season’s record: 6-22, 4-6 Little Ten

Top returning players: Oscar Lopez (sr., G); Pancho Moreno (jr., G); Jonathan Garcia-Torres (jr., F); Osvaldo Morales (so., G/F); Luis Lopez (so., G); Donovan Maltas (so., F); Romon Arevalo (so., F); Erick Perez (jr., G); Vance Hayes (so., G/F)

Top new players: Brock Coates (so., C), Kevin Garcia (so., G/F); Adrien Harder (jr., F); Julian Lopez (fr., G)

Worth noting: Blumhorst joins his brother Chance (LaMoille coach) as a first-year bench boss in the LTC. It should make for an interesting family dynamic when the two meet Dec. 9 in front of long-time area coach and father Brian Blumhorst, who serves as an assistant coach of sorts for both ballclubs. … DePue will have to excel after losing 1,000-point scorer Andres Moreno to graduation. … “This group is young with a lot of new faces, but they are fearless and put in a ton of work since the beginning of the summer,” Trae Blumhorst said. “The players and coaches are doing a great job building the program and working to put forth a solid season.” … The Little Giants will open up the 2022-23 campaign with a tough matchup right off the bat when they’ll face former Tri-County Conference foe Marquette Nov. 22 at DePue.

Earlville Red Raiders

Coach: Gerald Fruit (5th season).

Last season’s record: 13-19, 5-5 Little Ten

Top returning players: Garett Cook (sr., G); Diego Vazquez (sr., G); Matt Kuter (Sr., G/F); Griffin Cook (jr., F); Ryan Browder (jr., F); Trenton Fruit (jr., G); Carlos Gonzalez (jr., G)

Top new players: Adam Waite (so., C/F); Easton Fruit (so., G); Grady Harp (so., G)

Worth noting: The Red Raiders are returning four starters including all-conference leading scorer Griffin Cook (17 ppg) along with Browder (14 ppg) and Garett Cook (10 ppg) to a varsity mix that has Coach Fruit very hopeful. … “We have a lot of points coming back after last season, and I believe we’ll be a much better team than we were a year ago with some very solid experience on the court,” Fruit said. “I’m hoping we can compete very well in the Little Ten against some teams that I know will be tough, but I think we can have a great season.” … Earlville opens the current campaign in Dwight against the host Trojans at the annual Route 17 Classic on Nov. 21.

LaMoille Lions

Coach: Chance Blumhorst (1st season)

Last season’s record: 1-18, 1-9 Little Ten

Top returning players: Logan Dober (sr., G); Eli Keighin (sr., F); Ian Sundberg (jr., F); Josh Martin (so., G); Brayden Klein (so., G); Tate Sundberg (so., G); Eddy Frye (so., G); Tyler Billhorn (so., F)

Top new players: Rick Boege (so., F); Joseph Lovgren (fr., F); Connor Deering (fr., F)

Worth noting: Blumhorst will take on his first season coaching the Lions, and he has big expectations for this year’s group despite a rough year for LaMoille in 2021-22. … “We are led by two seniors who put in a ton of work this summer and will be relied upon heavily,” Blumhorst said. “Eli Keighin is a forward who possesses a strong inside-outside game, while Logan Dober is a talented spot shooter.” … Blumhorst is also encouraged as to what Ian Sandberg brings to the court. “Ian’s an all-conference guard on the state football team and will be relied upon heavily to patrol the middle of our offense and defend the other team’s bigs,” Blumhorst said. “We also have a sophomore group of six that is very talented and will be expected to grow into their respective roles from coming off the bench last year to playing significant minutes this season.” … The Lions open their season Nov. 21 at the Ashton-Franklin Center Tournament versus West Central. “We will bring energy, intelligence and intensity each and every night,” Blumhorst said.

Leland Panthers

Coach: Patrick Torman (2nd season)

Last season’s record: 2-18, 0-10 Little Ten

Top returning players: Evin Hensley (jr., G); Ian Cameron (sr., F); Matt Grzanich (sr., F); Dalton Hannel (jr., G); Austin Todd (so., G); Geno Schwager (so., F); Gunner Nelson (so., G)

Top new player: Adin Hensley (fr., G); Gunner Swenson (fr., G); Owen Bray (fr., F)

Worth noting: The Panthers had a tough go of it last season, but Torman is encouraged moving forward with seven returning varsity players. … “We faced a lot of challenges and learned a great deal last year,” Torman said. “We’re ready to compete and take a big leap forward this season.” … Leland will see Evin Hensley (9 ppg, 2 spg) return as the school’s top scorer after his sophomore campaign. Cameron (6 ppg, 5 rpg) comes back for his senior year as the team’s best rebounder. Sophomores Gunner Nelson (5 ppg, 3 rpg) and Todd (4 ppg) should also see elevated roles as underclassmen alongside freshmen Adin Hensley, Swenson and Bray. … “The boys have been working hard during the summer and have shown their commitment to the program,” Torman said. “Playing together as a team and taking pride in our efforts will be keys to a successful season.” … Leland begins its 2022-23 campaign at the Ashton-Franklin Center Tournament against the host Raiders on Nov. 21.

Newark Norsemen

Coach: Kyle Anderson (1st season)

Last season’s record: 17-16, 9-1 Little Ten

Top returning players: Zach Carlson (sr., F); Jake Kruser (sr., G); Joe Martin (sr., G); Cole Reibel (sr., G)

Top new players: Blake Adams (jr., G); Clay Friestad (jr., G); Lance Pasakarnis (jr., G); Caden Wheeler (jr., F); Travis Leggett (sr., G); Nathan Kath (jr. G); Blake Wallin (jr., F); Gabin Lumeau (sr., F)

Worth noting: After 16 seasons leading the Newark basketball program, Rick Tollefson retired from coaching. Enter the Norsemen’s all-time leading scorer, Kyle Anderson (2,280 pts.), who helped guide Newark to the Class 1A State championship in 2011. … Anderson is anxious to get started. “I’m excited for my first year coaching and to see this great group of kids grow and improve throughout the season.” … Only one starter returns, and that is Carlson (13 ppg), who impressed as a junior. Anderson expects Kruser, Martin and Reibel to contribute strongly as well as a group of eight new players who will see their first varsity action. … The Norsemen will open the season Nov. 21 at the Seneca Turkey Tournament.

Serena Huskers

Coach: Dain Twait (9th season)

Last season’s record: 16-16, 5-5 Little Ten

Top returning players: Cam Figgins (sr., G); Braxton Hart (sr., G); Bradley Armour (sr., G); Hudson Stafford (sr., G); Tanner Faivre (jr., G); Bryce Shannon (sr., G)

Top new players: Ritchie Armour (jr., F/C); Hunter Staton (jr., F), Carson Baker (jr., G)

Worth noting: Two-time LTC All-Conference performer Figgins (15.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.1 spg) highlights the list of six returners for the Huskers. Hart (7.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.3 apg), Faivre (5.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg), Stafford (3.5 ppg), Bryce Shannon (1.8 ppg) and Bradley Armour (2.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg) also return to the 13-player varsity roster that includes six seniors and seven juniors. … “Cam Figgins had a great season last year, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do as a senior,” Twait said. “We also have some other solid players we’re adding to the varsity roster, so I’m optimistic about this group.” … Those newcomers are Richie Armour, Staton and Baker. … Serena opens the season Nov. 21 at the Seneca Turkey Tournament.

Somonauk Bobcats

Coach: Curt Alsvig (4th season, 59-23)

Last season’s record: 27-6, 10-0 Little Ten

Top returning players: Colton Eade (sr., F/C); Carson Bahrey (jr., G)

Top new players: Tyler Wilkinson (sr., F/C); Mitchell Haag (jr., F); Weston Hannibal (so., F/C); Brock Sexton (so., G); Isaac Joseph (jr., F/C); Silas Johnson (so., G/F); Max Gabrys (jr., F); Aldo Resendez (so., F)

Worth noting: The Bobcats are coming off one of their finest seasons in school hoops history, winning the Little Ten regular season with a perfect record and the LTC Tournament championship before falling to Pecatonica in the Class 1A regional title game at Indian Creek. … But with that success came a price, as graduation took away all five starters with only Eade (4.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg) returning with any significant statistics. … “We are young and inexperienced,” Alsvig said. “There will be frustrating times. With that, there will also be a tremendous amount of growth throughout the season.” … Alsvig will be joined on the bench by long-time former head coach and mentor Ron Hunt, who retired from coaching after the 2017-18 campaign. Hunt will serve as a varsity assistant for the Bobcats. … “The Little Ten Conference is up for grabs this year,” Alsvig said. “I think Serena has a strong squad that will be fun to watch. Hinckley-Big Rock and Earlville will also be fun to watch. We’re hyped to hit the court and defend our LTC Conference and Tournament title.” … Somonauk opens the 2022-23 campaign at the annual Seneca Turkey Tournament.

Sandwich Indians

Coach: Kevin Kozan (3rd season)

Last season’s record: 1-29, 0-14 Interstate Eight

Top returning players: Evan Gottlieb (sr., G); Austin Marks (sr., G); Chance Lange (jr., G); Owen Sheley (sr., F); Dylan Young (sr., F); Jack Pakula (sr., G)

Top new players: Dom Rome (so. G); Quinton Rome (so., C); Sammy Leggett (sr., G)

Worth noting: The Indians struggled mightily last year with a young squad, but are hoping that some veteran returners can turn the tables. … “Last year is behind us, and we learned from it and know what to do to get to where we want to be,” Kozan said. “We have more experience under our belts this season as we return four starters.” … Those are Gottlieb (10 ppg, 2 apg), Marks (6 ppg, 2 apg), Lange (6 ppg, 2 apg) and Sheley (6 ppg, 5 rpg) as a big force on the glass at 6 feet, 5 inches tall. Young at 6-3 (4 ppg, 3 rpg) should also help Sandwich’s rebounding as well as 6-4 sophomores Dom and Quinton Rome, who Kozan believes will shine in their first year on the varsity level. … “We are finding our identity and will be a tough and physical team,” Kozan said. “We look forward to the challenge ahead this season and to getting started.” … The Indians will open their pursuit of a new start during the Strombom Hoop Classic at Sycamore High School.