Coming off the best year of Royall head coach Scott Uppena’s tenure, the Panthers are well-positioned to take another step forward during the 2017-18 season.
Royall finished 18-7 overall and 10-4 in Scenic Bluffs play (third in the conference standings) last year, and advanced to the regional finals before falling to the Augusta Beavers. With all five starters coming back, the Panthers have the pieces in place to be among the best in the SBC again and make some noise come playoff time.
Three first-team all-conference selections from last season are back for Royall: senior forward Seth Brown, senior guard Jaydyn Enzenbacher and senior forward Tristan Welchlin. Junior guard Dane Hyer and senior guard Nick Murray are also back to round out the returning starting lineup.
“It’s all five returning starters I have coming back from last year’s group,” Uppena said. “Obviously, the all-conference piece is voted on based on stats and things along those lines, but we have a number of players that, the things that they provide us, the stats don’t really (represent). I’m pretty comfortable with the kids that we have. A couple of them have been on varsity for now four years and some of the others for three years. So experience and understanding our system and what we do is one of the things that I think will be a benefit for us this year.”
Brown averaged 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game for the Panthers last year. Welchlin averaged 14.0 points and 4.8 rebounds and Enzenbacher contributed 12.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 2.6 assists per game.
Hyer added 6.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, while Murray averaged 6.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists as well for Royall.
With so many major contributors returning, the Panthers look poised to put together their best season yet under Uppena, who enters his fifth year as head coach. Through his first four seasons, he has posted a 50-44 overall record and a 32-24 mark in conference play. But Royall hopes to regain the level of success it had during an unprecedented run from 2008 to 2013 under former coach Mark Gustafson.
During the final five seasons of Gustafson’s tenure, the Panthers went 101-28 overall, 57-13 in conference play, won two SBC titles, captures three regional titles and advanced to the state tournament for the first time in 2010.
However, Royall faces stiff competition in the Scenic Bluffs Conference. Defending conference champion Bangor, who went undefeated in SBC play last year, returns just about everyone and are the favorites to repeat. Both Necedah and Brookwood are expected to be in the mix too.
“We know the conference is very senior-dominated,” Uppena said. “Bangor has everybody back as well on a very good, well-coached team … having them twice on our schedule and in our sectional is something we know is going to be an uphill challenge. But we also have two other teams in our conference that our pretty darn good themselves in Brookwood and Necedah. Both have some pretty good senior leadership on their teams that have been around for a few years.”
The pieces are there for the Panthers to put together a successful campaign. All that remains is to see whether or not they can capitalize on their potential.
“Obviously our expectations for ourselves are pretty high,” Uppena said. “We don’t really talk about a lot of goals. We focus on one game at a time and try to move forward.”
“It’s not going to be easy. Every night’s going to be a battle for us. Even though we have a lot of experience and returning players that are pretty decent, we’re going to have to be ready to play every night.”