The high-school basketball season has been shortened to 18 games and 13 weeks, and mandatory mask-wearing will look different.
But the boys and girls teams at Mankato East, Mankato West, Mankato Loyola and Loyola/Nicollet still have expectations of success in this unusual season that begins Thursday.
Nearly the entire roster is back for the Cougars, who were 12-15 last season, 11 in Big Nine Conference games.
Sydney Prybylla, who averaged 3.9 points and 2.9 rebounds, is the only senior on this team and one of four returning starters.
Junior guard Mackenzie Schweim averaged 17.9 points and 7.1 rebounds, with 57 assists and 69 steals. Classmate Lexi Karge, a junior center, averaged 13.4 points and 8.0 rebounds, with 39 blocked shots.
Sophomore point guard Peyton Stevermer averaged 7.9 points and 4.1 assists with 36 steals.
Sophomore Randi Baier and Isabelle Schott also are expected to see a lot of varsity action this season.
“We are excited about the returning letterwinners we have and the depth of our team,” East coach Rob Stevermer said. “Our team was very committed this past summer to working out together and improving our overall skill level. There are some very competitive athletes on our team, and we are excited to start playing games again soon.”
East hosts Owatonna on Thursday.
The Scarlets have had three straight 20-win seasons, including a 20-8 record last season, 17-5 in the Big Nine.
West has five seniors returning, led by guard Bri Stoltzman, who has signed with Southwest Minnesota State. She averaged 16.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.4 steals. Senior guard Calie Schumann averaged 6.4 points and 1.7 assists, and senior post Emily Fitterer averaged 4.7 points and 3.9 rebounds.
Junior guard Lani Schoper returned after suffering a knee injury and averaged 10.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.8 steals. Sophomore guard Teresa Kiewiet averaged 6.0 points and 2.7 assists.
Senior guard Sydney Ottmar and junior center Annika Younge also will play important roles on the varsity. Senior Faith Larsen, juniors Carly Nelson and Jancel Traxler and sophomore Landry Dubeau also could see minutes.
“We are so grateful to be back in the gym,” West coach Julia Battern said. “Our administrators and coaches have been working hard to plan and prepare for a safe winter season. ... We feel that things are going well so far and that we have found a good balance in maximizing safety while still giving the athletes an opportunity to play.”
West opens the season Saturday at Faribault.
Mankato Loyola and Nicollet continue their co-op this season, coming off a record of 8-17, 4-6 in Valley Conference games.
Kendall Robertson and Sam Rist are the only seniors on the roster. Last season, Robertson averaged 3.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists.
Junior Hayley Selby is the top returning player, averaging 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds. Junior Marah Hulke added 9.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.9 steals, and junior Josi Hansen averaged 6.2 points and 2.5 rebounds.
“We are happy to be back in the gym playing the game of basketball again,” Nicollet coach Jordan Rudenick said. “We have five girls that played a large amount of varsity minutes and will need some underclassmen to step up to earn playing time. We are looking forward to seeing our growth this season and to get out and compete again.”
Nicollet/Loyola hosts Truman/Martin Luther/Granada-Huntley-East Chain on Thursday.
The Crusaders were 15-12, including a 7-5 record in the Valley Conference, and six players have graduated from that team.
Sophomore Lawson Godfrey is the top returning player, having averaged 11 points and 4 rebounds while shooting 49% from the field. Sophomore Simon Morgan averaged 8 points and 8 rebounds and shot 46% from the field.
Senior guard Logan Carlson, a transfer from St. James, averaged 17 points and 3 assists. He shot 39% from 3-point range.
The other seniors on the roster are Sam Orcutt and Matthew Gartner. The juniors are Urban Casteel, Kolton Kunz, Jack Aamman and Duram Kelly.
“I think the Valley Conference is loaded,” Loyola coach Sam Carlson said. “It seems like every team has a veteran guard and a skilled big man. Every game will be a battle and our guys will be up for it and be ready to compete with grit and tenacity.”
The Crusaders open the season Friday at home against Truman/Martin Luther/Granada-Huntley-East Chain.
The Scarlets went 7-20 last season, including 5-17 in the Big Nine, but expectations are high that they can make a better finish this season.
Senior guard Mason Ellwein averaged 12.6 points and 3.8 rebounds with 60 assists and 42 steals.
Junior Buom Jock led the team in scoring at 13.4 points per game, and he averaged 5.2 rebounds. He made a team high 35 3-pointers. Junior Mekhi Collins averaged 11.8 points and 6.6 rebounds. He led the team with 84 assists, 59 steals and 20 blocked shots.
Junior Brady Haugum has returned from a foot injury, and junior Louis Magers saw some varsity action last season.
Senior Hayden Mellon and junior Aidan Corbett will be the first players off the bench, with seniors Avery Carson and Duang Buk; juniors Cornell Ayers, Aidan Wall and Hayden Hartman; and sophomore Trey Satre also in the mix.
“We, as a team, have high expectations and lofty goals this season,” West coach Jeremy Drexler said. “We know that starts in practice. We are excited to be in the gym playing basketball and hanging out together with our friends, striving for a goal.”
West’s first game is Saturday at home against Faribault.
The Cougars were 27-2, 22-0 in the Big Nine, but the season ended with a disappointing loss to Marshall in the section finals. East will be in a rebuilding mode this season, and three top players are already out: Pal Kueth (personal reasons), Ben Snaza (injury) and Jack Pemble (personal reasons).
That leaves junior B.J. Omot as the only player with varsity experience. Omot, who earned All-Big Nine and all-city honors last season, averaged 9.5 points and 4.0 rebounds and shot 51.6% from the field.
Juniors Poulrah Gong and Sean Clement and sophomore Jalen Hayes will move into varsity minutes, as will senior Tommy Braswell, junior Lavar Peterson-Pennington and junior T.J. Kueth.
“We will have some good overall length and ability to get to the basket to score,” coach Joe Madson said. “We need to get better defensively, rebound at a much better rate, think the game with good decision-making skills, and play with confidence. This group is super coachable and will improve as the season progresses.”
The Cougars open the season Thursday at Owatonna.
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.