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Young Redhawks look to remain competitive amid rebuild

December 3, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

2018-19 Record: 12-9 (L to AGWSR in First Round of Districts)

Head Coach: Alex Tagtow

After a successful football season in 2018, North Tama basketball coach issued a challenge to his team: keep it going. The senior-laden team, led by Hale Hulme, eyed an Iowa State South title and to make a run in the postseason. Neither would come into fruition despite a starting lineup chock full of experienced seniors and juniors.

Article Photos

Kneeling left to right: Nate Urban, Devin McKinley, Gabe Kopriva. Standing: Michael Schrier, Dylan Hosek, Luke Pennell, Tate Payne, Ryan McLean.

"We came close to being outright conference champions and close to winning a first round postseason game," Tagtow said. "The season was very successful and I was really proud of those guys for what they accomplished."

Five seniors in that rotation are graduated, leaving Tagtow with a young squad led by a new senior class dealing with injuries. The four-year coach knows the Redhawks will not be able to plug in new guys and immediately expect them to replace the lost production.

"You have to move on and replace what you miss not individually, but as a committee," Tagtow said. "We're not looking for one point guard to do what Hale did last season. Our post players won't be able to do what we did last year individually. We need a little bit of everything from everyone. We will look different personnel-wise, but have the same style of play."

Outside of 2019 1st Team All-Conference player Ryan McLean (12.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg), only a few players outside of the injured Zach Greiner and Skyler Staker saw any minutes on varsity. However, Tagtow comments that younger players have "played hard" and continue to follow the same fast-paced system that has made Redhawk basketball a fun spectacle to watch.

"We are so new personnel-wise that outside of Ryan we only have a few guys that played varsity minutes," Tagtow said. "We're dealing with injuries from football season. Hopefully we can get Skylar and Zach back this season. Everyone else will have to contribute whether they start or come off the bench. We have to get comfortable as a team. It will take us awhile to figure things out."

Among the new faces on the team are seniors Tate Payne and Luke Pennell, both of whom haven't played basketball in recent years. Despite being out until mid to late January, Greiner is present at practices to help in whatever he can, including working with his teammates and teaching them the ropes.

"I just need to be there for this team and ensuring everyone is getting better," Greiner said. "It's about teaching the guys who haven't played basketball in several years how things are done. With what we have, I feel this could be a really great defensive team."

The star of this team will unarguably be McLean after a breakout junior season in 2018-19. A JV player his first two seasons with the program, McLean continued his success from the football field onto the basketball court.

"Ryan was great for us last season and the only returning 1st Team All-Conference player on our side of the conference," Tagtow said. "Everyone knows about Ryan now. Honestly, he needs to continue what made him successful, but continue to grow as 'the guy' for this team. What he did last year won't be enough this season."

In the offseason, McLean has continued to develop his game close to the basket and his rebounding. Yet, the senior understands North Tama's season will depend on more than just his scoring and athletic abilities.

"I know I have to step up again this year, take on more leadership and wait for our seniors to get back," McLean said. "We have a lot of young guys that didn't play varsity last season. Some guys are getting their first varsity experience and will have to step up."

The role of point guard for this team will accomplished by committee as opposed to Hulme bringing the ball up nearly every possession last season. While Staker could be a candidate for minutes, the senior is currently out to recover from football.

"When he comes back, he'll be on the floor a lot in a different role than he's used to," Tagtow said. "With all the new faces, we have to put things together. We might have three or four different guys playing point guard. We were spoiled with Hale over the past several years. This year will be the opposite."

What also will be different from the previous season is the league itself. Like North Tama, many of the conference schools lost talented players to graduation and are looking to retool themselves as the conference title appears to be open to anyone.

"We are not the only ones in this boat in our conference," Tagtow said. "Top to bottom, that's the story in our conference. A lot of great players that played for a long time are gone. It's a lot of new faces. Our non-conference is the strongest it's been since I've been here. We need to see new things outside of the conference and this schedule does that."

Despite the turnover of talent on his team and the Iowa Star Conference, McLean believes the Redhawks can compete for the title they fell just points short off last year to Meskwaki. The senior also wishes to chase the school's single-game scoring record of 44, which Tagtow fully approves of.

"I'm looking forward to continuing the success we've built off of last year and football," McLean said. "We want to be better, whether that be a better team player or a better person in general."

The Redhawks will open their season hosting Columbus Catholic for a scrimmage on Monday, Dec. 2. Their season will officially kick off at Valley Lutheran on Tuesday, Dec. 3 and then back in Traer on Friday, Dec. 6 for Baxter.



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