Hawks hungry for another shot

Shawano returns 8 key players
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Leader photo by Jacy Zollar Shawano Community High School senior Atty Wagner, left, is one of eight seniors for the Hawks this year. After losing in the first round of playoffs last year at home, the seniors are hungry for a chance to advance farther in their final season.

A seasoned Shawano boys basketball team is eager for redemption after feeling the pang of loss on their home court in the first round of Division 2 playoffs last year.

Not only is the team returning eight seniors and several more varsity players, they also have an edge in the Bay Conference in terms of size.

A 6-foot-5 Dakota Maltbey, 6-foot-7 Carter Weisnicht and 6-foot-4 Brad Bartz are among Shawano’s weapons on the court this season.

“Any time you have any kind of length like that, it’s a huge advantage,” Hawks head coach David Ambrosius said. “But on top of that, they’re not just big, they can move, too. So you take that size and make it mobile, and it really causes defenses a lot of problems.”

Maltbey averaged 6.8 points per game last season and is the team’s leading returning rebounder with 66.

Other assets for the Hawks will be the return of the team’s leading scorer, senior guard Kaden Richards, and one of its top free-throw shooters, senior guard Cole Nelson.

Richards shot 12.6 points per game last year, tallied 52 assists and was 50 percent from 3-point range, all of which earned him a spot on the all-conference first team and helped his team to a 12-11 record and third-place finish in the conference.

“I’m so excited to get back to it,” he said. “It’s intense so far. Just the vibe in the gym right now, everything’s so fast and it just feels so good to be back in here.”

Just a few days into the season, Richards can already feel a difference with his teammates at practice.

“I think you can see an added drive this year,” he said. “Last year the way we finished in the playoffs is definitely not the way we want to go out, so I feel like everybody’s motivated from that loss.”

“That left a sour taste in those kids mouths,” Ambrosius said, “and you could really see during the offseason and these first few days of practice that they’re hungry to get back out here on the floor.”

How do the Hawks plan on taking their game to the next level?

“I think it starts with us becoming closer as a team, and throughout the season that’ll help us get that edge,” said Nelson, who shot over 70 percent from the charity stripe and put up 6.6 points per game last year. “Getting close will help us get better at communicating on defense, which is our biggest challenge.”

Along with communication, Ambrosius points to rebounding as his team’s biggest weakness. With the Hawks’ top two rebounders graduated, Austin Kohl (142 total last year) and Tyrell Hesse (98), Ambrosius is looking for guys to step up.

“In rebounding, it’s not for a lack of size,” he said. “It’s the desire, and taking that extra effort to really block out the other team and attack more. We’ve got a lot of guys that can really shoot the basketball, especially from the outside, and if we can add rebounding to that, we’ve got the potential to be a really good team this year.”

Ambrosius is optimistic after seeing huge growth from his players in the offseason.

“A lot of our kids really grew up in the offseason, especially a lot of our younger kids,” Ambrosius said. “Alex Mueller really did an excellent job of getting better in the offseason. Jacob Lacy has really done an excellent job maturing, along with guys like Brad Bartz and Atty Wagner. They’ve just worked their tails off this offseason to try and help the team.”

While the team is hungry for a postseason run, Richards said the group of seniors ultimately “just want to help the team come together, reach our fullest potential and just have fun all year.”