PARK HILLS – A completely revamped roster is ready to power the Mineral Area men’s basketball team this season.
The Cardinals set new standards while posting a 28-3 overall record. But a second loss to Three Rivers in the Region 16 tournament ultimately sank their chances of reaching the NJCAA Tournament.
Mineral Area climbed to No. 4 in the national poll during a record-shattering, 24-game win streak. That push was propelled by eight sophomores, seven of whom have since progressed to the Division I level.
Head coach Luke Strege takes pride in watching his players prolong their basketball and educational careers, but is now focused on guiding a new roster in his third year at Mineral Area.
“Our job is to move guys on, and we did a good job of that. We had a good year last year, but this is a new start for us,” Strege said. “It is a completely new team, so we are still trying to figure out who we are.”
Strege knows that there will be much to teach and learn early in the season without having a single returning player.
“We are pretty far behind with this group compared to where we were last year,” he said. “It is a lot like my first year here, we basically have had to start over and reteach everything. We won’t be playing our best basketball in November, but that is probably a good thing for us to learn from.”
The Cardinals are bringing in eight sophomores and seven freshmen to the squad, which includes two players from MAAA high schools.
Jacob Meinershagen, who tallied over 1,000 points at West County, will enter as a freshman along with Potosi graduate Dalton Whitley.
Other incoming freshmen are Lance Singh from Tobyhanna, Pa., Cade Snyder from Chillicothe, Mo., Jamie Ahale from Australia, and Maurice Edwards from Alton, Ill.
Half of the sophomores joining the team are guards. Bobby Parker averaged 17.3 points per game on 49 percent shooting last year for Southeast (Neb.)
Other guards include John Bowman from St. Louis, Roman Young from Wichita, Kan., and Fabio Sohnel from Australia.
Dmonta Harris averaged 11.5 points and 5.3 rebounds at forward for Sheridan (Wyo.) last year. Fellow forward Christian Mathews brings Division I experience from Georgia Tech, where he hit 43 percent from behind the arc.
Zach Cameron also provides Division I talent at 6-foot-10 as a transfer from Kennesaw State, where he shot 47 percent from the field. Joining him along the post is Kevin Hamlet, who averaged 8.4 points and 6.3 rebounds last winter at Polk State (Fla.)
Strege has an array of skilled talent coming to the team, but he has yet to see a standout star emerge.
“There isn’t one guy that I could tell you who just jumps off the page right now, but that’s how my teams have been since I got here,” Strege said. “We really haven’t had a 25-point scorer in my time. It is usually several guys who put up 10 a game, and that is really hard to guard.
“We have seven or eight guys who have the skills to get you 18 on any given night, but I don’t think we have one individual that we can depend on. We are going to have to work together to win.”
Strege also finds obvious differences between this year’s team compared to the preceding crew.
“We are more skilled as a team this year, as far as passing, catching, and shooting the ball. I feel like we shoot it at a pretty high rate, which is exciting for me because that’s how I like to play,” he said. “We aren’t as athletic as last year though, we don’t rebound or defend like we could. We are going to have to make our shots and figure out ways to defend.”
Mineral Area begins its regular season on Friday against Link Year Prep at the Three Rivers Classic in Poplar Bluff. The Region 16 schedule starts Jan. 6 with the rival Raiders coming to Bob Sechrest Fieldhouse.
Strege knows that the beginning of the season could pose a challenge due to a schedule that contains stout competition early on.
“We don’t really have time to ease our way in. We start off our opening weekend by facing one of the top teams in the country in Tallahassee,” he said. “We need time with this group because we are new and not as far as we should be, but hopefully we are where we need to be by the time we get to those region games.”