This winter’s Hastings Raiders boys’ basketball team will look drastically different than it did last season, despite having plenty of familiar faces. In 2018-2019, the Raiders played through the post and had plenty of size in Matt Schlottman, Isaac Rabaey and Brian Nielsen, all of whom were 6-foot-6 or taller and graduated last spring.
“Yeah we’ll have a lack of size that we’ll have to overcome and we’ll have to adjust how we play a little bit,” said head coach Chad Feikema. “Last year we played through Isaac (Rabaey) in the post as the primary offensive option, get the ball inside and go to him and we don’t have that anymore. We don’t really have a strong post-up presence but we do have some other ways into the paint and hopefully we can still play inside-out a little bit.”
Instead, this year Hastings will rely upon their guards as seniors Devon Haraldson -- who returns after being out for almost two years due to injury -- Trey Swanson, Colby Zak and sophomore Japheth Gudissa all return. They had hoped to also bring back senior Dylan Wagner, but he will miss the season with an injury suffered during the football season.
“I think we’re going to have to be a team that creates some offense through our defense, so hopefully that will be the case. Our theme will be relentless, we’re going to have to be a relentless team to make up for our lack of size,” Feikema said. “We’re not an incredibly quick team, but we do have some pretty good athletes, we just have to be selective about where and when we pressure and how we go after people.”
“We’ll need to create some points with our defense and get out and go,” he added. “We’ve got some good shooters and so on nights where we shoot well I think we can play with anybody and on nights we don’t shoot well, those might be some difficult nights if we don’t get to the rim. We’re going to need to shoot well.”
The Raiders have had good shooting in the past and will most likely this year as well. However, Feikema is aware of the high-variability of relying upon outside shooting too much.
“We like threes, we love layups, and I think one of our dangers sometimes is to get a little three-point happy,” he said. “We’ve got a group of shooters but sometimes we try and rely on that too much and we need to make sure we do a good job of putting the ball on the floor and attacking the paint.”
One glaring weakness for Hastings is its lack of size, but that can be compensated for.
“Both of those things are true, I think it’s (rebounding with lack of size) a concern but I also think we have a team that’s going to fight,” Feikema said. “I think we have a team that’s tough minded, we’re going to scratch and we’re going to claw. Sometimes teams are going to be bigger than us and they’re going to jump over us, but hopefully we’re feisty enough to box out and pursue the ball well.”
Through just over a week of practices, Feikema said there have been a few things that have caught his eye.
“I would just say how good Devon looks. He hasn’t played for a year-and-a-half and he got cleared to play one-on-one and two-on-two like less than a month ago. Super happy about how he looks, not only physically but mentally,” he said. “So that’s generally encouraging. I think Trey Swanson is going to have a really good year, he played a lot last year but I think he’s really going to step up his game this year and he’ll be really good for us.”
Last year, Hastings went 9-17 overall and finished fifth in the Metro East Conference with a 7-9 record. This year, Feikema said that while many MEC teams will have different identities than they have in the past, the pecking order will be the same with Mahtomedi and Tartan on top and South St. Paul most likely making the jump.
Hastings starts the regular season with a two-game, two-day tournament at Red Wing Friday and Saturday, Nov. 29-30. They play Hibbing and then either Red Wing or Kasson-Mantorville. Feikema said there are no easy games on the schedule this season as the Raiders face off against Park, Eagan, Apple Valley, Duluth East and Blake for the non-conference schedule. Their home opener is against Apple Valley on Friday, Dec. 13, and their first MEC matchup is Dec. 20 at North St. Paul. This year’s captain’s are Haraldson, Swanson and Zak.
Through the first couple of games, Feikema said he and his coaching staff will be looking to see if the team is forcing turnovers and running and transition. He emphasized again the need to turn defense into offense and said if they are being forced to play in the half-court the whole game then things could go badly. However, when they are executing and shooting well, they will be able to play with any team in the MEC.