Can Head Coach Dave Neier and his Borgia boys basketball Knights pull off the unexpected once again?
Borgia (20-9 overall, 6-2 in the Archdiocesan Athletic Association Large Division) stood 5-4 at the Christmas break, yet found a way to run to within a game of the MSHSAA Class 4 state tournament before getting stopped.
The Knights fell in the state quarterfinals to eventual champion Republic.
“Everybody will have to do his part on this team,” Neier said. “We have a lot of people who have a chance to play. Everybody will have to perform their roles.”
Entering his 27th season, Neier will try to find magic once again this year. The 600-win head coach and hall of famer has his entire staff back this season with Bill Kimminau handling the junior varsity team, Stan Westhoff as the freshman coach and former players Luke Meyer and Eric Kimminau helping on the varsity level.
“My goal is to get better each practice and every game,” Neier said. “We want to give ourselves the chance to be a good team at the end of the season.”
On the court, the Knights have a pair of seniors as returning starters.
Zac Schweissguth, a 5-10 guard, comes back after a breakthrough season last year. Averaging 7.5 points per game, Schweissguth was the team’s third-leading scorer at the end of the season.
“At the end of the year last season, he was really shooting the ball well,” Neier said. “He is one of our keys. He has to play well for us to have success.”
He hit 15 three-point baskets, but seemed most comfortable driving to the bucket and scoring, or getting fouled.
Besides his scoring, Schweissguth also averaged 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.9 rebounds per contest.
Inside, senior center Joe Helfrich is the top returner. Helfrich averaged 6.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season. He also averaged one assist, 0.7 of a steal and 0.34 of a blocked shot per contest.
“We need him to play aggressive inside,” Neier said. “He is one of our better players around the basket.”
Borgia has three other seniors with varsity experience.
Adam Meyer, a 6-4 forward, started for a good part of the season. He averaged 1.9 points, 1.1 rebounds, 0.3 of a steal, 0.2 of an assist and 0.4 of a blocked shot per game while playing a defensive role.
“Adam is a very capable athlete,” Neier said. “He has good height and wingspan. He really could come on for us.”
Tyler Breckenkamp, a 6-3 guard, is a three-point shooter. He averaged 1.4 points and 0.6 of a rebound per game. He hit five three-point baskets, fifth on the team last season.
Kevin Birk, a 6-3 senior, is another defensive specialist. He averaged one point, 1.9 rebounds, 0.7 of an assist and 0.5 of a steal per game last year.
Birk missed the high school soccer season while playing academy soccer, but has been given the green light to play high school basketball.
“Kevin is so valuable because of his communications skills,” Neier said. “He gets that from playing soccer.”
Neier said all three are key players.
From there, the Knights are looking at varsity newcomers.
Schweissguth’s likely guard companion in the starting lineup will be 6-2 sophomore guard Walton Eckelkamp.
Neier indicated his son, 5-11 junior Jake Neier, and 6-2 junior Clayton Voss will be the second unit at the guard spots.
Spencer Juergens, a 6-3 junior, is expected to see action at a forward spot. Another 6-3 player, sophomore Luke DeLine, has been brought to the varsity unit.
Two other players, junior guard Alex Moss and sophomore forward Trey Hunter, will miss a good portion of the season with injuries.
Moss is going to have surgery on both feet and should be out until around the district playoffs. Hunter suffered a back injury and will be out until at least January.
Borgia opens the season in the 61st Annual St. Francis Borgia Pepsi Tournament.
The Knights will face St. Clair next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and Miller Career Academy on Thanksgiving at 7:30 p.m.
Borgia will play a final game against the team finishing in the same place from Pool C (Washington, O’Fallon Christian or Union) on Saturday.
“I think there will be some great games,” Neier said about the tournament. “There is good competition among the teams entered into the tournament. That adds to the excitement. I think there will be great matchups every night and two great games on Thanksgiving.”
Besides the Borgia-Miller Career Academy game, Washington will open the night at 6 p.m. by taking on O’Fallon Christian.
“Brad Bruns has done a great job of getting teams entered into the tournament and excited about playing in it,” said Neier. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we were back to 16 teams next year.”