The Hiawatha Valley League season is underway as of Thursday with Goodhue the first of the Republican Eagle-area schools to hit the court. Last year the basketball season was cut short with the state tournament being eliminated before it was completed. The decision had no impact on area schools though, as their seasons all ended in section play.

That didn’t mean the quality of the teams was subpar, however. The opposite was true as the region is home to some of the best basketball teams in the state. Although some of the top-end talent was lost on the area teams, there’s plenty of optimism that it won’t take long for the replacements to fill the void.

Goodhue gets young

Goodhue lost three of its top players last season due to graduation and are staring at a season with no seniors on the varsity roster. With an unorthodox preseason to help get younger players up to speed and relative inexperience in those that return, the challenge for head coach Matt Halverson will be building the foundation for the years ahead.

“The core that we have coming back starts with two that started as freshmen last year,” Halverson said. “Then, there’s sophomore and a couple of other guys that have seen a little time. So we’ve had some experience but at the same time, we’re kind of young.”

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That core trio that Halverson will rely on includes sophomores Adam Poncelet and Will Opsahl, and junior Dayne Wojcik. Opsahl averaged 10.3 points per game last year, while Wojcik was at 11.6 ppg and 6.4 rebounds per game.

Based on the returning athletes, Halverson aims to continue running a 2-3 zone with man-to-man sprinkled in and on offense, remain patient with the ball and look for the layup or wide open 3-pointer.

“This early in the year, you really just got to make sure that your basics are in and making sure that guys get the overall concepts,” Halverson said. “And then when you start to have everything in your arsenal so to speak, then it’s fine tuning and really adapting to those teams that you're going to play.”

Wildcats win slugfest in season opener

In Goodhue’s season opener Thursday at home against Cannon Falls, it was evident that it will take some time before everything is running on all cylinders. Neither team could find any sort of offensive rhythm, and the result was a low-scoring 47-40 victory for the Wildcats.

The teams were neck-and-neck through the entire first half and were appropriately tied at 21-21 at halftime. The score likely would have been even lower for Goodhue in those first 18 minutes if not for some effective offensive rebounding allowing multiple second-chance scoring opportunities.

In the second half, it was the Bombers that dominated the glass but Cannon Falls couldn’t find a way to bury the ball in the basket when given the opportunities, and Goodhue slowly pulled away.

The turning point in the game for Goodhue was a five-minute stretch in which they outscored Cannon Falls 11-0 — seven of which came off the hands of Will Opsahl.

Although offensive rebounding was a positive takeaway for both teams, the shooting efficiency was not. More specifically, both teams struggled at the free-throw line. Combined, the teams went 17-for-33.

Individually, Will Opsahl led Goodhue with 16 points, followed by Adam Poncelet with 10, Tyson Christensen with nine and Dayne Wojcik with six.

Leading Cannon Falls were Marcus Banks with 19 points and Cam Dicke with seven.

Goodhue, 1-0, is next scheduled to travel to Stewartville on Tuesday.

Lake City reconstructs lineup

Lake City is coming off a 22-4 season in which its three top starters, including Nate Heise, a Division I commit now starting at the University of Northern Iowa will need replacement. With that in perspective, head coach Greg Berge understands the production void that is left for this year’s team to fill. Through the first two weeks of practice, the void doesn’t seem to be a significant concern for Berge though as he believes the team has more than enough talent to contend at the top of the conference again this winter.

The lone returning starter for the Tigers is Justin Wohlers, a two-year starter that has shown the ability to score and defend. Carson Matzke came off the bench last year as the team’s sixth man and is the only other Lake City returnee that has logged meaningful minutes. Berge said he hopes those two can really pick up some of the production that has been lost due to graduation.

The up-and-comers also have Berge excited and shouldn’t be overlooked this season.

“Seniors Seth Heitmann could get a rotation spot and Braden Meyer who was out with an injury last year will get some playing time,” Berge said. “And then after that, we will probably be starting a very young lineup. Probably a sophomore and a couple freshmen.”

Lake City opens its season Friday at Pine Island.

Z-M to replace top-end talent

Playing in the HVL is never easy and Zumbrota-Mazeppa’s 11-15 record from a year ago is a testament to that. The Cougars had plenty of talented basketball players but due to a gauntlet of conference games, Z-M wound up losing in the first round of sections with a sub .500 record.

This year, the going won’t get any easier as the Cougars lost two star players to graduation — Zach Hutton and Anthony Cylkowski. The combination of those two provided an average of 31 points per game to Z-M. For a team that averaged 57 points per game, that’s a lot of production needing replacement.

Head coach Fred Liffrig said he hopes the returning trio of Willie Holm, Broc Fredrickson and Landen Chandler can provide the leadership needed to get the team rolling.

“The nice part is I have seven kids returning that got to play quite a bit last year,” Liffrig said. “And then, we have some valuable kids coming off the bench, and our JV had a very successful season last year so I’m banking on a couple of the juniors to step in.”

Based on the combination of experience returning and young players stepping into new roles, Liffrig said there will be a learning curve this season and the results may not be there immediately as everyone gets up to speed in the first few weeks.

“My philosophy with the kids is if you get to play a game, it's a win,” Liffrig said. “Whether or not the scoreboard says we won or lost, it's a win, you got to play a game considering everything we've been through.”

Z-M opens its season Friday at home against Kasson-Mantorville.