WAUPUN — The talent is there, but most importantly, the chemistry is there for the Waupun prep boys basketball team.
That's because four-fifths of the starting lineup — senior Owen Theune and juniors Marcus Domask, Trevor Vande Zande and Reece Homan — have been playing together for quite some time now.
“It will definitely be a plus,” Warriors head coach Dan Domask said. “I think we will start off a little further ahead than maybe we were last year at this point, which only allows us to spend more time at other parts of the game, and ultimately if that time is spent on strategy or skill, it’s going to put us in a better place.”
These four players formed the nucleus of last year's team that took second (11-3) in the East Central Conference behind champion Ripon (14-0).
By the end of last season, though, the gap between the two was much less than three losses, as the Tigers barely survived against Waupun in the WIAA Division 3 regional finals, winning on a last-second 3-pointer.
Momentum from a strong finish to 2016-17 coupled with their experience likely means the Warriors will be the team to beat this season. The Tigers lost all five starters from last year's team that made the state tournament.
“Of course, I’m totally not disrespecting any team, but on paper it would seem they’re going to probably be in the bottom half, working up towards the middle, comparatively speaking to some of the other programs and what they bring,” Dan Domask said.
With Marcus Domask (20.3 points per game, 5.6 rebounds last year), Theune (13.2, 7.7), VandeZande (9.2, 2.8) and Homan (9.3, 4.9) returning, Dan Domask said playing for an ECC championship “is a goal.”
“We know that in order to win, we always plan to beat the best and top teams, and work our way down, never underestimating any,” he added. “We’re always planning for the high end."
And exactly who might that be?
"I would say Kettle Moraine Lutheran, who was a team that got significantly better as last year wore on," Domask said. "They had almost an entire team of juniors. They’re really well-stocked with veteran players who are now seniors.
“I feel they’re the team that is probably lifted to also compete for the conference title.”
The Chargers finished 12-13 overall and 6-8 in conference play last year, but return seniors Grant Biesterfeld (9.6, 3.9), Solomon Zarling (8.2, 7.0) and Zach Zuleger (7.9, 6.7). Fellow seniors Andrew May, Bryce Marohn, Blake Nelsen, Brandon Heckendorf and Tyler Precia also are back after contributing in some way or another last year.
Likewise, Waupun is blessed with a deep bench of returning players and newcomers, all ready to lend a hand in pursuit of an ECC championship.
Senior Jack Lenz, junior Benet Veleke and sophomore Gabe Keach will be playing for minutes at the guard position, while junior Connor Kamphuis, sophomore Keegan Hartgerink and Blakely Wiesman are fighting for minutes at the forward position.
All six also will be competing for that fifth starting spot alongside the established quartet.
“It depends on what we want to do,” Dan Domask said. “We could go a little bigger. The nice thing about our guys, one of the luxuries we have, is that because of their skill set, they’re not locked into a particular position. I can have Marcus play anywhere from 1-5, Owen can play 2-5, Reece can play 2-5 and Trevor can play 1-3.
“We have a lot of flexibility of moving guys around.”
For all their depth, though, it'll still likely be the core four who dictate just how high the ceiling is for this year's Warriors.
“Every one of those players has taken it upon themselves to come in poised for an even better season,” Dan Domask said. “I feel optimistic about each one of them expanding their game. Then it’s really a matter of my other guys complementing them and filling the needs we have in having a well-rounded five guys on the floor at any given time.
“There’s going to be a fight for playing time with the other guys, for sure.”