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HILLSBORO: Repeat after me: Trojans primed to do it again

There’s not much Hillsboro boys basketball coach Darrel Knoll hasn’t seen or done in 32 years at the helm. 

It’s not the first time Knoll has had to figure out what to do for an encore after winning a state championship. 

He’s done it three times before, and his teams have finished no lower than third in the state.

Knoll and the Trojans left no question last year after COVID had wiped out the previous year’s final four.

Snagging a fourth state title, Hillsboro topped the Cinderella story Wabaunsee Chargers 30 years after the Trojans won their first title in 1991. 

It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to expect big things from the Trojans in Knoll’s 33rd season. 

Thirty years ago, Knoll had a big three with Craig Duerksen, Vaughn Jost, and Darrin Hiebert. 

The trio made it all the way to the Class 3A final before a rugged third quarter permitted the Holcomb Longhorns to foil Hillsboro’s bid at a repeat. 

Fast forward to 2021-22 and Knoll has another three-headed monster in seniors Matt Potucek, 6-7 Grayson Ratzlaff, and junior floor leader Brekyn Ratzlaff at point guard. 

The trio gained all-state honors from Topeka and Wichita papers, and Hillsboro finds itself in the same place it was to start the 1991-’92 season as one of the state’s best. 

“Our expectations are the same as they are every year,” Knoll said. “We’ve got to continue to improve and play up to our potential.”

Graduation took away some of Knoll’s height in a pair of 6-4 swingmen, Carson Linnens and Tristan Reed, but Grayson still is there, and Knoll still has plenty of quickness on his team.

Grayson is a double-double threat each outing, and his length disrupts opponents’ offensive flow.

Brekyn runs the floor as well as anyone who has come through Knoll’s program, and he’s dangerous from outside in crunch time, creating offense while sharing the ball. 

Potucek is a three-sport standout, fresh off leading the Trojans to the elite eight in football playoffs. He can put up points both inside and out and wreak havoc on defenses with his quickness and athleticism. 

Seniors Frank Wichert and Duncan Duell broke into the starting lineup a few times a year ago and were instrumental in the Trojans’ title run. 

They’re likely to round out Knoll’s starting lineup, and both can contribute in clutch situations on offense and defense. 

Perhaps the Trojans’ biggest weakness is a shortage of proven depth. 

Aside from Tyson Plenert, Jacob Thiessen, and Jaxxon Hanschu, it’s an open race for playing time. 

“We need to continue developing depth,” Knoll said. “We have several players who should compete for varsity spots, so that should help our level of play.”

Hillsboro’s schedule is rugged. It includes non-conference opponents Sterling, Inman, and Moundridge. 

The Trojans aren’t likely to miss Sterling’s Tyus Wilson, but the Black Bears still have enough back to cause headaches. 

The Central Kansas League will be a heated contest with defending Class 3A Hesston and the Trojans. 

Hillsboro may have an advantage with Swather standout Cason Richardson injured. 

On the state level, another meeting between the Trojans and runner-up Chargers could happen with Wabaunsee returning all but two of last year’s team. 

Lyndon, Valley Falls, and Erie were state qualifiers a year ago, too, and return experienced teams. 

Last modified Dec. 1, 2021

 

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