Inexperienced team looks to defend league title, reach state

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After last season’s state quarterfinal appearance, Manhattan High is reloading this year. The Indians lost six seniors from the team, including all five of its starters.

“I don’t know that you truly replace [last year’s seniors],” head coach Benji George said. “I think you have to take the pieces that you do have and adjust what you do. That’s what we’ve looked at doing, trying to put in some new stuff that fits the strengths of the players we do have, and play to those strengths.”

The changing strengths leads to a changing offense.

“We don’t have Trevor [Hudgins, alumni] anymore,” senior Nate Awbrey said. “So a lot of the ball screen stuff we probably won’t use as much. I think we’ll try to get … more of a motion [offense] that kind of gets everyone involved, gets everyone moving, less on-ball stuff and more off-ball.”

Since he is the only returning player with sizeable Varsity experience, Awbrey expects to take on a leadership role this year.

“Just making sure like, if we’re all hyped up or anything during the game,” Awbrey said, “that just making sure everything’s still under control and we’re staying focused on what we’re trying to do.”

Another issue for Manhattan is its lack of height. None of the seniors are taller than 6 feet 3 inches, meaning the team will look to sophomores and juniors to fill that role.

“I think [it’s important to] try to build confidence and help them through the rough times,” George said, “because there’s going to be some rough times, especially for the young guys. Make sure mentally, that they understand that we chose them to be there and they have a bright future and just find ways to get them confidence, but also put them in positions to really be successful.”

With underclassmen looking to play a prominent role this year, the seniors know they have an opportunity to form quality relationships.

“[It] feels really good to finally be in the position that I know the younger guys look up to,” senior Dawson Stewart said, “because I definitely looked up to the older guys when I was like freshman, sophomore, even junior year, and so they definitely influenced me, so I just want to basically influence the younger guys in a good way also.”

MHS is also coming off of its third straight Centennial League championship. Though there is added pressure to win, the Indians are looking to play their game.

“We’re just going to go out there and play hard and have fun and just carry on with the culture of Manhattan basketball which is all about effort,” Stewart said. “I mean, throw the results out the window, but if we’re leaving it all out there, then we can live with the results, and we’ll have fun doing it.”

Manhattan is looking to get back to the state tournament this year, but it knows that’s not a given.

“I think just an understanding that this is a new year [is important],” George said. “We can’t just assume that everything’s going to pick up right where it left off, we have to keep working on building our culture from scratch and building what we do from scratch, and hopefully we’re there when the dust clears.”

Manhattan kicks its season off at the Hays City Shootout on Nov. 30. The Indians are hoping the tournament can help solidify what this team will be.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the team was still a little bit of a mystery,” George said, “even to me and the coaches, so solving some of the mystery of what we do well and trying to play to our strengths I think will come from that. Defensively, I’d just like to see us set a tone, you know, play with enthusiasm, help and rotate and do some of the toughness things.”

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Inexperienced team looks to defend league title, reach state