Boys basketball: With core group gone, Jets still expect big things

POWERS — It’s a new season, but the expectations at North Central haven’t changed.

Despite the graduation of an all-time senior class, North Central coach Adam Mercier said the Jets and their team approach will continue with the quest for excellence from day one.

“We will never replace the production of two all-state players and a bunch of good seniors,” Mercier said. “It will take a collective effort. This is a group that will improve from day one to day 100 more than any team I’ve had before. They are a group hungry for improvement and they want to prove they can play varsity basketball at a high level.”

Indeed, the North Central High School Gymnasium is still the place to be this winter for Jets’ fans.

Even if all-state players Jason Whitens (Western Michigan) and Dawson Bilski (Michigan Tech) are playing at the next level. Even if fellow starters Bobby Kleiman, Marcus Krachinski and Seth Polfus and reserve Ryan Plunger have moved on. Even if a fourth straight state championship is not a serious conversation piece. And even if a nation-leading 83-game win streak — and maybe more — is likely to come to an end.

It’s time for seniors Lucas Dombrowski, Trenton Schaff, Hunter Riley, Austin Poupore, Ben Snyder and newcomer Connor Robinson to make their memories. It’s also time for juniors Brady Eichmeier, Griffin Johnson, Carter Holle, Dalton Hanchek and Caleb Walters and sophomore Noah Gorzinski to make their marks.

“They all have a lot to prove,” Mercier said. “If they can prove some people wrong along the way, it’s a worthwhile season.”

North Central definitely has depth and quickness on its side.

The strength will be with the senior class. Dombrowski and Schaff are the most seasoned players returning and will be joined by fellow guards Poupore, Riley and Robinson and 6-foot-4 post player Snyder.

“They helped us win a state championship last year,” Mercier said of his seniors. “We will rely on them for leadership. A lot of people don’t understand the importance they had last year. They were excellent in practice. They are a great group of kids to lean on.”

As far as juniors, the 6-4 Eichmeier and 6-3 Holle will help shore up the post. Johnson, a solid guard, was moved up for last year’s state tournament and Hanchek and Walters are fundamentally sound role players, Mercier said.

Gorzinski also will see time in the backcourt as a sophomore.

Mercier said fundamentals and conditioning are being stressed in a very competitive season in the Central Upper Peninsula. He cites Bark River-Harris, Carney-Nadeau, Rapid River and Norway as talented teams battling each week.

Of course, Mercier is a realist and knows the win streak is probably going to end.

“If teams beat us, we’ll shake their hands and move on to the next game,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world if you lose a game.”

Overall, the Jets will keep moving forward and plan to be playing their best basketball in March.

“It might not be a 20-0 kind of season,” Mercier said. “It might be a lunch pail season. They will play hard for each other.

“I think we are under the radar. It’s a position we’re not accustomed to being in. We are looking to possibly surprise a few people.”