VERSAILLES – Having lost five seniors to graduation, Versailles will enter the 2015-16 boys basketball season with an inexperienced but talented team.
Among the players Versailles lost to graduation is Kyle Ahrens, who led the team in points, rebounds and assists last year. Versailles will have to replace his 30 points a game, as he now is playing at Michigan State University, in addition to filling voids left by Jace Barga, Justin Marshal, Kyle Rutschilling and Zach Steinbrunner.
“We’re very inexperienced as far as that goes,” Versailles coach Scott McEldowney said. “We’ve got two starters and one other letter winner back. I thought we had one of the better JV teams in the area last year, and we’ll see how that meshes. They’ve played well, though, at this level. They had a good summer competing against varsity competition so it will be a growing experience.”
While the Tigers are young and likely will face some growing pains throughout the season, Coach McEldowney is encouraged by the skills of his players.
“Maybe one of the more skilled teams that I’ve had,” he said. “They really understand the game. They shoot the ball at a good rate from the outside, and they make good decisions. They pass the ball well. Offense will definitely be a strength for us this year.”
Among the returning starters for Versailles is senior Brett McEldowney, who averaged 5.7 points per game a year ago.
“He’s been good,” Coach McEldowney said. “He’s been vocal and positive. He’s really looking forward to his senior year and taking that leadership role. He’ll have more opportunities to score a little bit this year and we’re going to need him to do that than what there was last year in his role. But he’ll get a chance to go back and play more of a true guard this year when last year he was forced to play a little bit bigger than even what he is.”
The Tigers’ other returning starter is sophomore Justin Ahrens, who is the team’s top returning scorer as he averaged 9.5 points per game last year.
“He’s played really well,” Coach McEldowney said. “He’s worked a heck of a lot on his game throughout the offseason. I think he’ll be a tough match up for people. He posts pretty well inside and he shoots the ball at a high percentage from the outside and can also get the ball to the basket so definitely a multi-threat.”
Outside of the two returning starters, playing time is up in the air for the rest of the Tigers.
“The other three spots are pretty much up for grabs,” Coach McEldowney said. “The nice part about this group is there’s a lot of flexibility whether we want to go big or whether we want to go small.”
One of the top players in contention for minutes is senior Jared Niekamp, who played on the varsity team last year.
“Jared gives us another good athlete,” Coach McEldowney said. “Our physicality overall with us being so young isn’t what it’s been in the past. Jared gives us some of that with his size and strength to be able to help rebound.”
Also in contention are a group of four juniors in Sam Barga, Connor Custenborder, Austin Knapke and Alex Wendel who were part of Versailles’ strong junior varsity team last year.
Also in contention for playing time are sophomores AJ Ahrens, Kyle Jones, Keaton McEldowney and Cole Niekamp. AJ Ahrens and Cole Niekamp both are battling injuries but should be ready to go soon, Coach McEldowney said.
The Tigers’ youthfulness will be tested throughout the season as Versailles has a tough regular season schedule with opponents such as Chaminade Julienne, Urbana, Dunbar, Lima Central Catholic, Russia and the multitude of strong teams in the Midwest Athletic Conference.
“I would say our schedule this is year is probably as tough as I’ve ever seen it since I’ve been here,” Coach McEldowney said.
The more the Tigers play, the better off they’ll be as they learn to compete at the varsity level. And if they can continue to improve, Coach McEldowney thinks this team could be a contender.
“We’d like to say that we can compete at the top of the MAC and have a chance to maybe win that thing,” he said. “Hopefully as these kids grow up throughout the year that by the end of the year you’ll see that they have enough games under their belt that they’re not inexperienced anymore and hopefully will be able to make a tournament run.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.