Pine River expects to field another strong basketball team

LEROY — It won’t be easy for Pine River’s boys basketball team to duplicate the accomplishments of its 2014-15 season, when the Bucks were 17-4.

But coach Brian Goodenow is returning some talented players and is looking to make a strong run in the Highland Conference.

The Bucks open their season at Morley Stanwood on Dec. 8. The first home game is Dec. 10 with Harrison.

Pine River has had various scrimmages so far during the practice season. The Bucks tied for second in the conference, losing to McBain once and Manton twice.

Key returners include junior Mason Powell and seniors Connor Hoaglund, Matthew Goodenow and Tyler Wing.

“Our JV team only lost three games last year,” Goodenow said. “We’ll get significant minutes from Hunter Esiline. There’s a couple of others in that group that will help us out. We will miss some guys like Tristan Nelson, who would get significant guard minutes for us, but he’s coming off an injury from football that will hold him back for several weeks. So we’re a little thin at guard to get started.”

Bradley Holmes is another junior who “is a solid strong kid in the post,” Goodenow said. “Early on, we’ll be lacking a little at guard. We have a fairly formidable front line. Esiline goes 6-foot-4, Hoaglund and Matthew Goodenow are around 6-2, 6-3.”

Players like Mitch McDonald and Lukas Harris have graduated but the style of play might be extremely familiar to Bucks fans.

“We still want to push even though this is going to be one of the bigger teams I’ve had,” Goodenow said. “They’re still real athletic guys so we’ll try to push the ball up the floor and get quick baskets whenever we can. I don’t think this will be as much of a jump shooting team, but more of a slicing through the paint type of group.

“Defensively, this group features a lot of kids I played together in what we called our Swarm team that came off the bench. We had a whole new five come in and create all kinds of chaos on defense. Those kids will play that same style this year with aggressive defense.”

Goodenow expects Manton and McBain to be among the toughest league teams.

“Lake City will be really tough,” he said. “Evart will be much improved. They were young last year but had good athletes. There’s a lot of balance in the Highland this year.”