BATTLE CREEK, NE — Two familiar teams will meet tonight in Battle Creek, but with unfamiliar faces on the court.
Mid State Conference foes Wayne and Battle Creek open their seasons at the Battle Creek gym Friday and will look to get familiar with their teammates and surroundings. The teams graduated a combined 13 seniors from last years’ squads.
Battle Creek returns just two starters from their 19-7 conference championship team. They’re led by new head coach Matt Rudloff who says the first thing he noticed about his team was their work ethic.
“Obviously they’re hard workers. You see it in football, you see it in track. They’re just overall hard workers and that goes a long ways,” Rudloff said.
Rudloff knows about the Braves’ determination first hand – he was an assistant coach at Boone Central/Newman Grove the last six years. Battle Creek beat the state-tournament bound Cardinals twice last season, including in a thrilling conference tournament title game.
“We probably outmanned them at Boone Central/Newman Grove with size and maybe athleticism, but they out-worked us,” Rudloff said. “That’s one thing I noticed, they never gave up.”
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils lost two of their top three scorers from last year’s 14-11 team. Sixth-year head coach Rob Sweetland says the start of the year will be a learning process for his young players.
“They didn’t do quite the number of plays and types of defenses that the varsity did last year,” Sweetland said. “So, it’s taken a little time to get stuff in. You never seem like you have enough time these first couple of weeks, but you just got to remember it’s a long season.”
After losing leaders Jack Evetovich and Mason Lee, Sweetland will lean on his son, Shea, for offense. The guard averaged 12.4 points per game as a sophomore.
Battle Creek returns just 28 percent of its scoring from last year. Rudloff will lean on point guard Dylan Mettler and forward Slate Kraft as returning starters. After those two and center Luke Stueve, the other spots are up for grabs.
“Who knows who else is going to step up. Right now it’s open for everyone to get in there and fight for some time.”
The new-look Braves and Blue Devils tip off at 7:45 PM on News Channel Nebraska.