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Cardinals set to tip off season

TIPOFF TIME — Members of the Fairmont Cardinals boys basketball team tipping off the season at Belle Plaine at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday include, front row (l-r): Carter Bell, Carson Toomer, Jackson Francis and Thomas Klanderud. Middle row: Ryan Hennager, Tony Ortega, Tanner Rosch, Jack Hested and Sedrick Parker. Back row: Luis Reyes, Caden Baarts, Zach Jorgensen, Blake Buntjer, Wyatt Frank, Dan Betts and Jackson Utermarck. (Photo by Greg Abel)

The Fairmont Cardinals boys basketball team won’t be hurting for experience this season.

The Cardinals enter the 2019-20 season with 12 seniors on the roster, along with four juniors and one sophomore.

Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson said having a team loaded with upperclassmen brings some perks.

“I haven’t had 12 seniors on a team before. I don’t know the last time we’ve had 12 seniors on a basketball team, whether in my years or even when I was playing,” Thompson said. “That amount of experience is nice to have, it’s just something that you don’t get very often in high school sports anymore.”

Along with the experience on the court, Thompson brings in a decade of experience coaching the team.

Thompson is set for his 10th year as the Fairmont boys head coach. He said though the teams change year to year, he tries to teach the same core themes.

“The mindset and culture we try to bring about is the importance of understanding the necessity to improve all the time,” Thompson said. “Not getting too high, not getting too low. But in high school sports, every season and every team is different. There’s people graduating and people coming up, so every season takes on its own identity, I guess.

“But as far as the program and the culture, we really emphasize fighting for the same thing and being a good teammate above anything else. We talk a lot about how in 10 or 20 years, not many people are going to remember how many games you won or lost or how many points you scored, but they are going to remember what type of teammate you were.”

Much of the Cardinals’ experience comes from the four players returning from last year’s varsity roster.

Three of the Cardinals starters last season, Wyatt Frank, Zach Jorgensen and Jack Hested all return.

Joey Flohrs also played a lot of minutes last season, but a back injury will hold him out for at least the early part of the season, if not the whole winter.

Thompson said the experience those players bring has helped them take leadership positions.

“We haven’t named captains yet, that will take care of itself,” Thompson said. “The guys that have been part of the program are taking a leadership role. That would be the guys that played a bulk of the minutes last year that are back this year, Wyatt Frank, Jack Hested, Joey Flohrs and Zach Jorgensen, who is only a sophomore, but started all last year.

“Those four and then Carter Bell who didn’t play in our program last year, but has been playing at the varsity level (at Blue Earth Area) for three years. He brings a lot of knowledge about how to play at the varsity level, too.”

This season, the returning Cardinals will look to build upon the end-of-season momentum the team built last year.

In the 2018-19 season, Fairmont ended with a record of 13-14 after a 58-52 loss to St. James Area in the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section semifinals, but the Cardinals won seven of their last 10 regular-season games.

Fairmont will try to recreate that momentum when it goes on the road to start the season with a 7:15 p.m. game against Belle Plaine on Tuesday. Thompson said Belle Plaine creates challenges as an opponent, but having them early in the season might help the Cardinals.

“We have a lot of challenging teams on the schedule early,” Thompson said. “Belle Plaine is a team that traditionally does a lot of different things offensively and defensively, so you kind of have to have everything more ready when you play them because you don’t really know what they’re going to throw at you from year to year. That presents a challenge in Game 1.

“We kind of just look at the early part of the year as more about how and what we’re doing. You get more into scouting your opponents as the year goes on. Right now you just have to worry about things that you’re trying to put in and do, and the habits that you’re trying to create. That really consumes us. … It’s kind of all about us right now.”

After their matchup with Belle Plaine, the Cardinals stay on the road to face Waseca at 7 p.m. Thursday, then host New Ulm on Dec. 12 for the Fairmont home-opener.

This season brings change to the Fairmont coaching staff.

Chris Voss is returning to the program to coach the B-squad, while Andy Waldmen will take over as C-squad coach.

Tyler Brackey has moved from his position as C-squad head coach to varsity volunteer and Johnny Olson returns as the varsity assistant coach.

With their first game coming soon, Thompson said the Cardinals look to be set up for success.

“I’m just impressed with the work ethic of the boys,” Thompson said. “They come to work with good attitudes, they’re willing to learn and they’re working hard. That’s the first takeaway. They understand that it’s a long process to become a really good team, it’s not going to happen right away. That doesn’t mean you can’t have success right away, but you’re going to have to keep improving as the year goes on.

“As far as the team, I think the identity is yet to be determined, but I think we’re an athletic basketball team. Ultimately I think we could be a very good defensive team, offensively, I think we’ll get better as the year goes on. I’m looking forward to seeing us grow.”

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