While the Hastings boys' basketball team might have wanted a better record last season, that's not to say it was not a successful season for the Raiders.
"We had a number of big wins last season with a great group of guys," head coach Chad Feikema said about last year. "We were the section academic champion with a team GPA over 3.6, and on the floor we beat Mahtomedi when they were the top-ranked team in (class) AAA. We also had three games where we scored over 96 points, so we were a fun team to watch when we played well. It was a group that overcame a lack of size to have a successful season."
That lack of size did hurt the Raiders as they struggled against teams with dominant post players. However, they were able to adopt an up-tempo style that saw them put up points and when they were making shots, compete with anyone they came up against.
However, Hastings loses three of their top four scorers from last year and returns just two starters; senior point guard Grant Hollar and senior forward Sawyer Levos. Feikema did say that the time the team spent together over the summer did give him a glimpse of what they can accomplish.
"We return our starting point guard in Grant Hollar, and our leading scorer in conference play in Sawyer Levos," he said. "We do not return a lot of other experience. We did have a successful summer, with a number of newcomers really stepping up. We will have more length and size this year than in any of my previous eight years as coach in Hastings, our guys have put in a lot of hard work since last March, we have a high-character group of guys again this year and I expect us to be very competitive."
Being competitive is the Raiders' goal this season and Feikema expects his squad to play the role of the dark horse.
"We expect to be very competitive in conference and section play," he explained. "Some people might overlook us a little with only two returning guys with varsity experience, but this group will surprise some people."
Outside of Hollar and Levos, who are both also captains, Feikema expects several other players to step up this season.
"I also expect Levi Zak to have a big senior year and I think he will be a tough match up for opposing teams as an inside outside threat,' he said. "Isaac Rabaey, Matt Schlottman, Griffin Myers, Brian Nielsen, Sully Levos, Noah Kullman, Devon Haroldson and Colby Zak should also contribute a great deal. There will be competition for playing time in practice and each player brings a set of strengths that will help us be successful."
With the regular season starting over the past week, look for Raiders to have the tools to be successful, but also take some time to adjust to playing at the varsity level.
"We have a smart group of guys, both on the court and off," Feikema said. "We also have a lot of guys that shoot the ball well from the perimeter, in addition to having some really good length."
One area that they will have to prove themselves in is their preparation.
"We will need to improve in terms of making plays off the dribble, and we will need to learn to adjust to and handle scouting reports," Feikema continued, "both in terms of our game plan attacking an opponent, and in terms of the other team having a game plan trying to take away our individual and team strength. We do not have a lot of experience at the varsity level, so being able to make adjustments and handle game plans is unproven."
Looking at the Metro East Conference, Feikema said that he expects Tartan and Mahtomedi to still be strong despite losing a lot of talent, while North St. Paul and St. Thomas probably return the most talent out of all the teams.
Outside of the conference schedule, there are several games to look forward to in the Raiders' non-conference schedule. They play several South Suburban Conference teams, including Eastview, Eagan and Rosemount, which Feikema said will be important for section seeding. Hastings will also be hosting its Holiday Tournament again this year, which will return last year's champion Farmington and the Wisconsin Division 3 state-runners up in Prescott.
On the team this year are seniors Joe Zak, Teklu Mezgebo, Grant Hollar, Sawyer Levos, Josh Speak, Griffin Myers, Patrick Curtis and Levi Zak; juniors Ben Streeter, Sully Levos, Noah Kullmann, Hunter Kazmierczak, Joseph Swanson, Zach Nelson, Isaac Rabaey, Matt Schlottman and Brian Nielsen; and sophomores Colby Zak, Devon Haraldson and Dylan Wagner.
Hastings opened their regular season with a tournament at Red Wing on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 1-2, after this article went to print. They then travel to Eagan on Saturday, Dec. 9.