The 2021 West Central Area boys basketball team is tasked with trying to build upon perhaps the best season in program history last year. That won’t be easy, but the cupboard is certainly not bare for the Knights.

West Central Area did lose three senior starters from last season’s 27-3, Pheasant-Conference championship and Section 6A runner-up team. They were integral pieces to that success in conference MVP Jack Van Kempen, fellow big man Gage Staples and guard Jacob Bright.

Van Kempen, Staples and Bright were three of WCA’s top-four scorers, but the Knights return four of their top seven players from a year ago to form a solid nucleus to build around.

“Our focus is the same,” WCA’s 25-year head coach Kraig Hunter said. “We want to get to a point to play the highest level of basketball that we can. One of the differences is how soon we have games. We normally give some of our guys a half of junior varsity (playing time) the first month and see who steps forward. Now with the season shorter and games right away, we have to have some young guys step in right away for depth.”

West Central Area forward Tate Christenson drops a pass off to a teammate against Parkers Prairie on Feb. 4, 2020. Christenson is back as a key contributor from last year's 27-3 team after leading that group in assists (120) and free-throw percentage (80.4). (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
West Central Area forward Tate Christenson drops a pass off to a teammate against Parkers Prairie on Feb. 4, 2020. Christenson is back as a key contributor from last year's 27-3 team after leading that group in assists (120) and free-throw percentage (80.4). (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

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That depth is the key area that Hunter is looking to build this year behind his returning players. Seniors Grant Beuckens (5’11” guard), Tate Christenson (6’1” forward), Brady Reeve (6’3” center) and junior Ryder Staples (6’5” forward) have all played big roles in important games.

Beuckens was one of the lead guards for the Knights last year who averaged 13.5 points, along with 3.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Christenson led the team in assists (120) and free-throw percentage (80.4), while Reeve was named the team’s most improved player.

“We always try to learn from wins or losses, failures or successes. So I think we can definitely learn from things we did well last year,” Hunter said. “But we are not going to dwell on last year. This is a new season and we want to write our own story for this team this year.”

The Knights won’t be able to rely on the length that Van Kempen and Staples provided on the wings and in the post, but there are opportunities for guys to step into big roles. Xander Bontjes, Nathaniel Junker, Cole Anderson, Jacob Strunk and Isaac Kreft are all returning letter winners, while athletes from a big group of freshman and sophomores could provide some depth on varsity throughout the season.

Hunter’s expectations start with having his guys compete hard on a nightly basis. He feels Ashby and Hancock are likely the favorites in the Section 6A-South field with experienced rosters, but Hunter believes this group will be competitive again this winter.

“(We have) four pretty experienced players returning and good overall team quickness,” he said. “Also, we are still pretty versatile with many guys that can play many different positions...This team expects to compete with the top teams in the Pheasant Conference and Section 6A.”

2021 WEST CENTRAL AREA BOYS BASKETBALL

SENIORS - Grant Beuckens, Xander Bontjes, Tate Christenson, Nathaniel Junker, Brady Reeve

JUNIORS - Tyler Biss, Ryder Staples

SOPHOMORES - Brett Amundson, Cole Anderson, Cole Bruss, Ty Fuoss, Peyton Hanson, Isaac Kreft, Roman Mihailischovi, Damon Sanstead, Brayden Stark, Jacob Strunk

FRESHMEN - Cam Anderson, Dane Anderson, Jack Courrier, Carter Dallenbach, Mitch Dewey, Nasir Dotts, Bryce Kjesbo, Brady Lindquist, Jackson Nadgwick, Ben Nyreen, Parker Prahl, Tayton Blascyk

COACHES - Head coach - Kraig Hunter, 25th season, 348-256; Assistant coaches - Brian Kjesbo, Jon Nelson, Brad Westrom, Devin Nelson

WCA BOYS BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

Jan. 15 at Ortonville, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 18 vs. Ashby, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 21 at CGB, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 28 vs. Hancock, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 4 vs. Wheaton-H-N, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 9 at Parkers Prairie, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 11 vs. Brandon-Evansville, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 19 vs. Park Christian, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 20 at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, 4:30 p.m.

Feb. 23 at Underwood, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 25 at Battle Lake, 7:30 p.m.

March 1 at Hancock, 7:30 p.m.

March 4 at Wheaton, 7:30 p.m.

March 5 vs. Ortonville, 7:30 p.m.

March 8 vs. Barnesville, 7:30 p.m.

March 12 vs. CGB, 7:30 p.m.

March 13 at Hillcrest Lutheran, 5:15 p.m.