MIDDLEBURY — So, now for encore ...
In his first year as the head coach of the Northridge boys basketball team, Scott Radeker led the Raiders to a Class 4A Elkhart Sectional titles, 13 straight late-season victories, a win in the Michigan City Regional and a heart-breaking loss to Penn in the regional finals.
This season, with several key components back from that team – including late-season sensation Alex Stauffer – Northridge should be one of the favorites both in the Northern Lakes Conference and back at the Elkhart Sectional in March.
The Raiders open the season Tuesday against Elkhart Central at North Side Gym.
“The players are really buying into the culture we’re trying to sell,’’ Radeker said. “The sectional is very strong of course and you have to come to play every night in the NLC or you will lose. Most of these kids know that, now we just have to go and play.’’
It’s not that the Raiders don’t have holes to fill. Last year’s leading scorer Jackson Erekson – a member of The Truth’s All-Area first-team last season – has graduated, as has solid rebounder and scorer Sam Vogt and starting guard Nate Bowman.
But there is talent in Middlebury, starting with the 6-foot-7 Stauffer, who scored a career-high 28 points in the Raiders victory over Munster in the regional semifinals. He averaged 12 points and six rebounds-a-game last season, but was in double figure scoring in his final nine games after returning from an injury.
“Alex has come a long way from last year,’’ Radeker said. “He’s worked hard in the weight room in the off-season and he’s also a lot more mobile than he was, which just adds another dimension to his game. Plus, I believe he’s ready to take a leadership role for this team too.’’
Junior Carter Stoltzus is another returning starter for Northridge after running the point last season as a sophomore. His best game came against Plymouth, when he scored a career-high 20 and hit the game-winning shot to beat the Pilgrims in the regular season.
“Carter came right out of soccer and started working hard with us right away,’’ Radeker said. “He’’s another guy that’s going to be better this year, both as a shooter and a distributor.’’
Junior Sam Smith, often the first player off the Raider bench last season, should move into the starting lineup this season and will be an immediate threat from 3-point range. According to Radeker, Smith hit 81 of 98 treys during a four minute stretch earlier this fall at a practice.
“He was a really good shooter last season, but I think he’ll be even better this year,’’ Radeker said. “But he’s also gotten a little bigger and his defense has really improved ... he’s not just a jump shooter anymore. He’ll be a big part of what we do this year.’’
Cam Knepp, a 6-3 senior is also back after averaging five points and nearly three boards-a-game last season. While Drew Gayler, Clay Stoltzfus and Blake Jacobs another senior, all so limited action in 2018-19.
“One of the things I like most about this team is, they’re very athletic and nearly everyone can shoot the 3’s,’’ Radeker said. “Knepp will be an important rebounder for us, while Clay Stoltzfus can play the point when he and his brother are in at the same time. Gayler has really improved his game and will play a key role for us, while Jacobs, along with Trevor Brown and Braden Miller will all contribute to a strong bench.’’
Like last year, Northridge won’t shy away from strong competition, which includes a trip to the Noblesville Holiday Tournament, where they’ll face defending 2A champion Andrean and could face defending 1A champ Fort Wayne Blackhawk. The Raiders will also face Westview, South Bend Riley and East Noble in their non-conference schedule.
“It’s tough, but it will prepare us very well for the NLC,’’ Radeker said. “It’s great to see teams like that, especially early in the season, so you can judge where you are as a team.’’
PLAYER HT. CLASS
Trevor Brown 5-10 Jr.
Carter Stoltzfus 5-11 Jr.
Clay Stolzfus 5-8 Jr.
Drew Gayler 5-11 Sr.
Braden Hoover 6-3 Sr.
Cam Knepp 6-3 Sr.
Sam Smith 6-0 Jr.
Blake Jacobs 6-4 So.
Brandon Miller 5-10 Jr.
Micah Hochstetler 5-11 So.
Alex Stauffer 6-7 Sr.
Head coach: Scottt Radeker, second year.