Hopes and expectations are high this season for the boys basketball squad at Pacific High School.

The Indians return four starters from last season’s team that went 16-10 overall, 5-2 in the Four Rivers Conference and won both the Owensville and Union Tournaments.

Pacific was picked to win the Four Rivers Conference by the league’s head coaches.

“We’re excited about the season. We had a great defensive team last season, probably the best I’ve ever had here. There’s no reason to believe we won’t be even better defensively this season,” said Pacific Head Coach John VanLeer. “We’ve really focused on shooting the basketball during the offseason. So far in practice, you can see the difference in the way we’re shooting. Hopefully that shows when we start playing games.”

Pacific’s top returner is 6-4 junior guard Cullen VanLeer, an all-state player who averaged 18 points per game last season.

VanLeer missed last season’s district tournament with a knee injury, but is back at full strength and ready to go.

“Cullen is 100 percent and looks good. Watching him play now, he’s much stronger and much more explosive than he was last year. He’s worked hard in the weight room,” VanLeer said. “We’ll look for him to be more of a leader. Not only do we need him to score, but we need him to distribute the ball and to rebound.”

Pacific’s other returning starters are 6-2 senior forward Jeff Hinkle, 5-10 senior guard Tanner Brown and 6-0 junior guard Noah Boyer.

“Jeff is an important post player for us. He’s a great athlete and a good defender. He’s worked on his shot and now can knock down a 15-footer. We really need him on the boards and to keep balls alive,” VanLeer said. “Tanner also is a good athlete who has been shooting the ball well in practice. He’s also a great defender. Noah has grown about three inches and is over six feet now. He shot the ball well for us last year and has gotten a lot stronger, which has allowed him to be able to take the ball to the basket. He’s a much more versatile player.”

VanLeer said he’s undecided on who his fifth starter will be.

The leading candidates are senior guards Zach Kraus, 5-9, and Chris Klenke, 5-10, and senior forward Logan Armstrong, 6-4.

“Zach has gotten quicker and is a great on-the-ball defender. When he’s in the game, he’ll play point guard and Cullen will play somewhere else,” VanLeer said. “Chris played almost every day during the summer and has really improved his game. He’s a good athlete and a good defender. Logan has worked hard in the weight room. He looks like a different kid. He’s 6-4 and 215 pounds. He has a nice touch on his shot and we’ll need him to rebound.”

Other players on the varsity roster are 6-2 senior forward Stephen Johnson, 5-10 junior guards Tristan Moore, Bailey Watson and Alex Rice and 5-11 freshman guard Jacob Klenke.

“Stephen will be Jeff’s backup in the post. He can rebound and score around the basket,” VanLeer said. “Tristan is a great athlete who can shoot the ball. Bailey and Alex give us depth at the guard position. Jacob will split time between the varsity and junior varsity teams. He can shoot the ball.”

The Indians host a jamboree against Washington and Kirkwood Friday starting at 5 p.m.

Pacific is in the Blue Division of the Borgia Thanksgiving Tournament. The Indians have pool games Wednesday, Nov. 27, against Herculaneum at 7 p.m. and Friday, Nov. 29, against Cardinal Ritter at 7:30 p.m.

The tournament concludes Saturday, Nov. 30. The schedule for the Blue Division is the consolation game at noon followed by the third-place contest at 4:30 p.m. and the championship game at 6 p.m.

Also in the Blue Division are McCluer North, Carnahan and Rockwood Summit.

“We’re in a tough bracket. There are a lot of athletic teams who can get up and down the floor. It will be a different style than the other bracket,” VanLeer said. “Our non-conference schedule is tough. We play Troy at the Norm Stewart Classic at Columbia College. We play a very good Jackson team at the Sullivan Shootout. We also have games against Washington, Borgia, De Soto, Salem and Farmington.”

VanLeer is being assisted by Scott Brown and Hart Hillhouse.