Through all the losses, Dillon Higdon never lost his optimism last season.
West Platte’s energetic head coach kept seeing the flashes of potential as the Bluejays faded to a 2-22 finish. Phillip Pattison, now a sophomore, developed into his top player at the point guard spot, showing a fearless streak despite being undersized and overwhelmed at times.
Higdon returns three starters and adds back senior Grant Eagen, who missed last season due to a torn ACL.
“Last year was a tough year for a number of reasons — us as a school, us as a basketball team,” Higdon said. “I really think that the things that we went through are going to be beneficial for us. It’s not easy when it happens but we learn from them and we say, ‘Hey, we made these mistakes last year, and we can’t make them again.’ I’m not trying to harp on them much on last year but looking to learn from some of the things that happened.”
Eagen will add some size to West Platte’s front court, pairing with seniors Cole Whalen and Truman Gillis for an experienced rotation of forwards. In addition, Noah Johnson — a junior — will be counted upon to add more scoring punch for a team that topped 40 points just three times in 2016-17.
West Platte dropped from nine wins two years ago to just the two last season.
“We’ve got some more experience coming back but we still have a few younger guys that are hopefully going to get in the fold,” Higdon said. “We’re not as inexperienced on the varsity level as we were last year so we’re definitely excited to have those guys back with that experience and trying to build on that.”
Higdon expects juniors Gabriel Benedict and Cole Vandel plus sophomores Brayden Cogan and Myles DeMayo to compete for more time.
West Platte hopes to put the pieces together quick and avoid last year’s long losing streaks. The Bluejays went 0-7 in KCI Conference play and haven’t won a league game since January of 2006 — an active streak of 11 straight losses since winning a rivalry game against North Platte.
“We’ve got to compete, night in and night out,” Higdon said. “We’ve got to try to be one of the hardest working teams we face in our conference but also just help consistently carry over the things we work on in practice over to the game floor.”
West Platte touts plenty of history, and the current players have nowhere to go but back up. The Bluejays made the playoffs in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and recorded a 16-win season in Higdon’s first year.
“I can see in practice that we have made that turn that we need to be better in these areas and learning from some of the things that we did last year,” Higdon said.