Bolivar High School senior Hunter Berry is on the south end of the gym.
Then, he’s on the north end. Then back to the south. He darts east, tracing a pass, then west, following the ball as it’s dribbled by fellow senior Dylan Rowell during a team practice Wednesday, Nov. 20.
That fast, furious style of play is exactly what Liberator basketball coach Robby Hoegh is hoping to see out of his group, which is heavy on upperclassmen but light on its feet.
“There’s a lot of high energy guys here,” Hoegh says.
The Liberators will look to utilize their connected group of veteran athletes when the team opens its 2019-20 season Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Branson Shootout tournament. The tournament continues through Saturday, Dec. 7.
Hoegh’s upperclassmen, including several seniors, are expected to play hard, cohesive ball this year, he says.
“This group is a really competitive group of kids,” Hoegh says. “They’ve grown up really connected with each other and played a lot of ball together. Individually, they’re nice players, but together, their connection can make them special.”
That, too, is a key component of the team, Hoegh says, later stopping the team during a four-on-four drill to break down a perfectly setup pass that saw junior Jace Krueger find an opening in the defense to hit a basket.
“Everyone had a piece of that,” Hoegh tells the group, “not just Jace. You all got the ball to him.”
A connected team plays better basketball, he says.
“That’s what we’re kind of banking on, that we’re going to really be a team that can really share the ball and can play really hard on defense and fly around on a lot of stuff,” he says.
The Liberators start their year without graduating seniors Levi Manning, Jaden Spindler, Kaden Katzer, Brock Pitts and Ian Jones, who is now on the court for Southwest Baptist University.
This year’s batch of seven seniors includes Berry, Rowell, Cooper Bushey, Josh Francisco, Brodie Pollock and Seth Batten.
“We have a strong senior group,” Hoegh says.
Krueger is joined by fellow juniors Luke Meents and Bo Banner. Sophomores Josh Bowes, Cooper Cribbs, Aidan Mauck, Dylan Hubbert, Deacon Sharp, Brant Meredith, Johnathan Skinkle, Chase Kirby and Lukas Gabani are also on the roster.
Hoegh says the team pulled up three freshmen — Kyle Pock, Jack Larimore and Kaden Griswold to fill out its bench.
The Liberators finished 12-13 last year, ending with a loss to Grandview in the district tournament. Grandview won the 2018 state title.
Bolivar doesn’t share a district with Grandview this year, and will instead look to take on Hillcrest, Logan-Rogersville, Marshfield, Reeds Spring and West Plains. Last year’s Liberators fell to Logan-Rogersville once, Marshfield twice, won against Hillcrest and split a pair of games against West Plains.
A similarly tough schedule awaits the team this year, but Hoegh said he believes the group is ready.
“Some kids are going to have to get out of their comfort zone,” he said, “but we really hope they realize how much fun you have when you play with energy and enthusiasm.”