NASHWAUK — The Nashwauk-Keewatin High School boys basketball team has come close these past few years, but the Spartans have always come up short, especially with North Woods in the section.
Could this be the season where Nashwauk-Keewatin finally gets over the hump?
Spartan coach Kyle Giorgi has the athletes and the depth to do it as the Nashwauk-Keewatin has started the 2019-20 season with a 2-0 mark, and leading the way are seniors Spencer Engel and Jager Nash.
“They both played well in our first couple of games,” Giorgi said. “Spencer had a strong offensive game against Deer River (20 points, eight assists), and Jager has hit some big shots in our first two games.
“They’ve played the best out of everybody on our team through two games.”
Which is exactly what Giorgi wants to see out of those two players.
“I need their leadership,” he said. “I need them to lead by example and set the tone. They need to bring up the other players. We need them to do different things offensively and defensively, but being leaders is huge.”
The junior class is is loaded with talent beginning with Jeff Lorenz, Jack Lorenz, Keegan Warmuth and Brent Keranen.
“Having that size is nice,” Giorgi said. “They’ve come a long way. They’ve worked hard, and they battle every day in practice. They bring an element of the game that not a lot of the other small schools have the luxury of having at their disposal.
“We don’t take that for granted.”
The Lorenz brothers can play both inside and outside.
“Jeff can hit some threes, and can shoot from deep,” Giorgi said. “Jack has a nice jump shot. Keegan’s shot has come a long way as well. He can knock down free throws as well. That can go a long way.
“Brent is a huge piece of the puzzle. He does a bit of everything. He defends who we ask him to defend, he can rebound and he can create. He’s that Swiss-Army-Knife player.”
Sophomore Gaige Waldvogel is an important cog in the machine, along with Daniel Clusiau.
“Gaige has given us a lot of minutes,” Giorgi said. “He scored 17 points in the 17 minutes, and Daniel has given us some minutes, too.”
There’s a lot of balance in the Nashwauk-Keewatin camp this season.
“That’s something that was our go-to last year, being able to have a balanced attack,” Giorgi said. “We don’t rely on output from one guy. We get it done as a unit. It helps us be a lot more consistent night-in, night-out.”
According to Giorgi, there’s only one way to play — fast.
“We’re looking to push the ball,” he said. “We want to play fast, but take care of the basketball. We want to get shots off, sometimes early in transition, but at other times, we want to work it around, inside-out, and take advantage of the opportunities the defensive presents us.”
Defensively, the Spartans will play aggressively.
That will be put to the test against North Woods, who has finished second in the state the last three years.
“It’s a big test,” Giorgi said. “Deer River was formidable, which we knew was going to happen, but we came out strong. Now, we have a big test in front of us. They have a lot of experience and quality players there.
“It’s in their environment, their court, so it’s a big test to see where we’re at. I have the feeling that regardless of what we want to do, it’s going to be an up-and-down, back-and-forth game. It’s going to be two teams going right at each other. Neither team will back down.”
It might be early, but the game also has seeding implications on the line.
“It’s a little bit unfortunate it has to come so early,” Giorgi said. “Honestly, it could very well be a deciding factor in the seeding.”