BAYTOWN TOWNSHIP — The St. Croix Preparatory Academy boys’ basketball team had two goals for its first varsity season last year: finish with a .500 record and win a playoff game.
Check, and check.
SCPA, which finished 14-13 in its first varsity season and was third in the Minnesota Charter School Conference, eventually lost to league foe and section champion Prairie Seeds Academy. But coach Jon Liesener said the results showed his team it could compete and succeed.
“It met my expectations,” he said. “You never know how kids are going to respond to varsity-level experience. We didn’t talk about wins and losses at the beginning of the season.”
Things are different this season. With an experienced, senior-laden roster, Liesener said the Lions’ goals are higher this season.
“I think we’ll be very competitive again,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential talent in the conference. We’ll compete for the conference title. Our goal is to compete for the section championship. That’s our one and only goal at this point.”
To reach those lofty goals, Liesener will rely on a veteran lineup that’s been together as the team moved from junior varsity to a varsity play.
“We have six returning seniors, a returning sophomore and three returning juniors. We expect all 10 of these guys to contribute in some way,” Liesener said.
The seniors include 6-foot-6 forward Jakob Schollmeier, 6-4 forward Seth Johnson, 6-1 guard Nick Richardson, 6-foot guards Cameron Mehls and Sam Caspers and 5-10 guard Jack Richardson. Joining them are junior forwards 6-3 Weston Berg, 6-foot Kai Ylonen and 6-foot Chance Fisher and sophomore 5-10 guard Michael Gutierrez.
“I expect Seth Johnson and Cameron Mehls to have good years,” Liesener said. “The seniors have been together since Day 1. We don’t have one go-to guy. All six have to contribute.”
But Liesener believes the Lions will be ready when they start their season Nov. 30 at Bethany Academy.
“Our kids have put in a lot of time. I think we’ll be prepared. The boys know the work they put it,” he said.
With its experience and depth, Liesener said his team will try to play a transition game at times this season.
“In our program, we run a read and react offense,” he said. “The kids have put the time in to improve and our team is a little deeper, so we’ll try to push the ball up in transition.”
Liesener said the Lions’ depth is helped by having full junior varsity and C-team rosters this season. He added that about 80 boys at SCPA are playing basketball on teams in grades 4-12.
“Our program has built up very quickly. From when I started here four years ago, we’ve grown very quickly,” he said.
That growth is reflected in the Lions’ schedule. SCPA plays at St. Paul Humboldt, Minneapolis North and Edison and hosts Simley. The Lions also face St. Croix Lutheran Dec. 6 at the Target Center.
“That will be a big game,” said Liesener, who also said Prairie Seeds (Jan. 8) and Concordia Academy (Feb. 8) are also big games.
It’s a schedule that Liesener said will tell both he and his team where they’re at early in the season.
“Our first seven games will be a good barometer of where we’re at,” he said. “We didn’t want to put together a cupcake schedule.”