Coming off back to back State Tournament appearances and three straight unbeaten runs through league play, the St. Mary's boy's basketball team appeared to have key pieces back for another run towards Des Moines as they return All-State guard Luke Lenhart and All-State center Kennedy Drey.
The pair hasn't disappointed so far as Lenhart has turned in 25.1 points, 6.1 steals, 4.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds and Drey 23.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 3.9 steals and 3.0 blocks per game as the Panthers hit the holiday break at a perfect 7-0.
Stepping out of reserve roles and into the starting lineups, the Panthers have gotten solid contributions from Joe Sandhoff (10.9ppg, 5.7rpg), Dillan Smith (5.6 ppg, 6.1 apg) and Josh Demers (4.9ppg). Aaron Miller, Eric Broich, Trevor Landgraff, Josh Scuffham and Joe Kottke have chipped in to combine for 10.5 points per game.
The Panthers currently sit second in Class 1A at 77.6 points per game. They lead the class with a team field goal percentage at 58%. Defensively, they've allowed just 38 points per game, 10th best in the class.
What we learned: No easy path to a Twin Lakes title
With arguably the best guard and center in Class 1A leading the way, St. Mary's got the early nod as the favorites for this year's Twin Lakes Conference title, but the Panthers will have their work cut out for them in the most competitive conference slate they've faced in recent years.
With a relentless defensive mentality, and nearly a dozen returning letterwinners from a season ago, Newell-Fonda is a team no one wants to run into come tournament time. The Mustangs (6-2) already took the Panthers to overtime once this season, before falling 58-56. They've reeled off six straight victories since, including wins over East Sac County and Manson Northwest Webster.
Twins Dalton and Dillon Anderson key the Mustang attack as they combine for 25.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 4.5 steals. Brady Bohe, Jake Hahn, Brady Dicks, Rigo Johnson, Andrew Temple, Jon Jonson, Zak Sievers and Gabe Podraza make this one of the most balanced and deep teams in the league.
Manson NWW enters the break with just two losses at 7-2 as they've ridden the outstanding individual effort of Brody Eischeid's 17.0 points and 7.6 rebounds. Despite losing to Newell-Fonda, Manson did knock off East Sac to remain in the thick of the conference race. They get over seven points per game from Josh Markert, Caleb Wubben, Hudson Spedding and Braden Moser as they feature a bevy of capable shooters.
East Sac sits at 6-2 with losses to Manson and N-F but figure to remain in the hunt as they boast one of the league's most exciting players in Reed Tellinghuisen. The 6'5" junior has taken his game to another level this season, averaging 23.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.9 blocks. Justin Kraft adds 10.8 points for the Raiders, who rely mainly on a zone defense.
Pocahontas Area brings up the tail end of the top five with a 6-2 record. One of those losses was to East Sac by three and the other to Emmetsburg. They handled Southeast Webster with ease but had their troubles eking out wins over Alta-Aurelia and South Central Calhoun, but they were able to knock off Algona Garrigan in out of conference play. At 20.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, senior Aaron Youngberg leads this squad that doesn't have much depth on the bench.
The next four of South Central Calhoun (5-4), Laurens-Marathon (3-4), Alta-Aurelia (3-6) and Sioux Central (1-6) have also proven they're capable of giving the top group a run on any given night. Those squads are led by Nathan Christensen (13.2ppg, 5.8rpg), Tyler Stumbo (22.8, 5.2rpg), Jayson Van Haaften (8.4ppg, 3.2rpg) and Austin Glawe (16.3ppg, 12.9rpg), respectively.
Joe Sandhoff - Senior - St. Mary's
Stopping St. Mary's isn't going to be as simple as stopping their big two, thanks largely in part to the progression of senior Joe Sandhoff at forward. Every coach in the area knew Lenhart and Drey would get theirs, but Sandhoff has been a welcome surprise for Brad Wilkening's Panthers as he's notched double-digit scoring in each of the last six games, including 15 in each of the last two.
Sandhoff as averaged 10.9 per night for the Panthers, hitting on 60% from the floor and 31% from three. He is second on the team with 5.7 rebounds and 4.6 steals per night and third at 3.1 steals.
Tyler Stumbo - Soph - Laurens-Marathon
Stumbo was a full time starter as a freshman last season, posting a respectable 11.6 points per game on 40% shooting. He added 3.9 rebounds and a team-high 4.1 assists.
He picked up his game right where he left off and then some this year, averaging 23 points per night for the Chargers. His 13 made threes (35%) are among the leaders in the conference, as is his 38-of-46 (83%) clip at the foul line. Stumbo has upped his boards to 5.2 per game while staying right at 4.0 assists per game.