New Knoxville being mentioned with MAC’s best boys basketball team ever


Brad Piehl and Ryan VanderHorst are two key contributors to the Rangers success. (Photo by Gary Housteau)

Being compared to St. Henry in anything is a compliment. Being compared to the greatest basketball team in St. Henry history is down right flattering.

New Knoxville is blushing.

Being compared to St. Henry in anything is a compliment. Being compared to the greatest basketball team in St. Henry history is down right flattering.

New Knoxville is blushing.

“Coach tells us not to look at the internet but we do at times,” New Knoxville junior Ryan VanderHorst said. “We saw that people were talking about the best MAC teams of all-time and they mentioned both of us. I don’t think you can compare us like that though. Our styles of basketball are different.”

The results aren’t.

During a two-year stretch from 1990-1991, St. Henry dominated small school boys basketball in Ohio. The Redskins won the Division III state title in 1990, and still hold the state semifinal record for largest margin of victory (48 points) with a 93-45 win over Richmond Dale Southeastern. In 1991, St. Henry won the D-IV state title with a 26-point win over New Madison Tri-Village.

That two-year run by the Redskins, who were powered in part by future NFLers Bobby Hoying and Jeff Hartings and coached by legend Fran Guilbault, is the most renowned in Midwest Athletic Conference history and marks the only time a MAC boy’s basketball program has won back-to-back state titles. The conference has nine championships overall.

Jump ahead 18 years and suddenly St. Henry has a challenger to its prowess.

New Knoxville is the MAC’s smallest member with 59 boys in the high school, but the Rangers are the clear favorite for a D-IV state title this season. Why? They’ve dominated the division, much like St. Henry did, the last two years.

The Redskins were 51-2 during their two-year reign. The Rangers are 54-1 the last two years, the lone loss coming in the 2007 regional final. Last season New Knoxville finished 27-0 en route to its first state title and had an average margin of victory of 27 points per game. The Rangers won their state semifinal against Wayne Trace by 21 points. They beat Worthington Christian in the state championship by 22.

Now looking to become the second MAC school to repeat as state champs, the Rangers welcome back four starters and six of their top eight scorers.

None of this year’s New Knoxville players were older than one when the Redskins were making their run, but that doesn’t mean they don’t understand the significance of the opportunity that lies ahead.

“I know that people talk about it,” senior Brad Piehl said. “We don’t look at trying to be perfect or match up with anyone, we just take it one game at a time. After the season you can look back and once you get later on in your life you can digest how good you were and who people compared you to. They did have two NFL guys, though, so to be associated with a team like that is very, very nice.”

Said New Knoxville head coach Dan Hegemier, who coached against those St. Henry teams while at Fort Loramie: “You had to be really on your game to beat them. We’re not as big and strong as some of those St. Henry teams, but our kids are very unselfish, they all handle the ball and they all can shoot it.”

Depth and versatility are two advantages New Knoxville has over the opposition – and possibly those great St. Henry teams.

Last season the Rangers starting five and sixth man all averaged double-figures, with the 6-8 Piehl, a Robert Morris recruit, leading the way (13.7 points). In addition to Piehl, VanderHorst – who had a solid all-around game in the state final with 13 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals – was All-MAC last year. Returning senior and starting forward Caleb Allen also earned all-conference laurels. The fourth returning starter is Austin Arnett (11.3 points).

Replacements will need to be found for the graduation losses of point guard Tony Meyer (MAC player of the year) and key reserve Austin Luck.

“It’s real tough to lose a player like Tony due to the fact that he ran the offense,” Hegemier said. “He shot the ball, was a great defensive guard and his leadership and how he handled the team were key. He did a fantastic job. We’re going to miss that and we’re also going to miss the 130 3s we lost with the addition of Austin Luck as well.

“We have guys eager to fight for those spots and we hope that maybe we can play more guys this year. We feel athletically we might be a little bit better on the bench.”

Making the team at New Knoxville is one way to secure a spot in the gym on game night. Some people aren’t as lucky.

Although the other nine schools in the MAC have football, New Knoxville doesn’t. That means the community – all 891 people – talks basketball 365 days a year.

Right now the waiting list for season tickets to the Rangers home gym – the Hanger – is over 100 deep.

“Walking around town people will stop you and talk to you and let you know how excited they are for the season,” VanderHorst said. “Sometimes I think they’re more excited than we are. The expectations are high.”

“When we’re not in basketball season everyone is talking about the next year,” Piehl said. “When you got to church or out to eat, we only have one restaurant, you always get hit up.

“There is a little more pressure on us this year because the expectations are little higher. The expectations were high last year but not nearly as high as they are right now. Everybody is counting on us to win our share of games.”

Said Hegemier: “My aunt Dorothy is 94-years old and she’s really anticipating this season. So yeah, everybody is ready to go.”

New Knoxville won’t just walk over the competition every night because for one, it plays in the MAC and two, it will likely get everyone’s best shot.

That being said, the Rangers have been nearly bullet-proof the last two years.

They should be again.

New Knoxville opened the season with a 70-20 win over Waynesfield-Goshen.

“I try to do a lot of jogging on the east bank of (Grand Lake) St. Marys,” Hegemier said. “One day this past summer I’m jogging and I get done and I’m sweating and a bike pulls up in front of me and it’s Fran Guilbault. He stops and we chit chat back and forth and talk and banter. Finally when he’s leaving he turns and says ‘I’ve got one thing for you. The pressure is on you. I went back-to-back, lets see if you can do it.’

“Be humble and hungry,” Hegemier concluded. “Those are the main keys.”

This article was featured in the latest issue of the Miami Valley Sports Magazine.

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