Wildcats upbeat on the hardwood
Verona boys take aim at district title
The Verona boys basketball team has a cache of starters and off-the-bench contributors heading into the upcoming season, and the expectation is to vie for a district championship.
Brad Stewart, Verona coach, said his team is loaded with weapons and wants to play an up-and-down style, using subs and speed to wear opponents out.
“It’s easier to sub in practice than in a game, but we will try to divide up the pieces of the pie,” he said. “We’ve spent quite a bit of time on our press defense, trying to convince the boys if we play hard, we can sub. We may have the most subs of any team in southwest Missouri.
“We wan to get up and down the court and have a lot of possessions. If we press and our defense pays off, we’ll be pretty good. And, if it doesn’t pay off, we’ll still be alright.”
Leading the Wildcats on the floor will be a pair of returning seniors, 1,000-point scorer Jaiden Carrasquillo and fellow offensive threat Colton Hillhouse.
“Jaiden is a three-year All-Conference and All-District player with 1,000 points in his career and a 23-point-per-game average,” Stewart said. “He’s a 6-1 guard, team captain and leader, and we look for him to have a great senior year.”
Carrasquillo managed to pass the 1,000 mark last season, despite sitting multiple games for an injury.
“He missed the last eight games, and that may keep him from getting to 2,000,” Stewart said.
Hillhouse is a 6-1 forward, a three-year starter with an 8-point-per-game average, and he is and the heart of the team.
“I call Colton the glue guy,” Stewart said. “He just does a lot of things really well. “He, and Jaiden, are both great examples on and off the court. They are two fine young men, and we have set great expectations.”
Also returning is a sophomore, Jacob Stellwagen, a 6-1 wing who averaged 17 points per game and was second Team All-Conference as a freshman.
“He made 81 three-pointers last year, so we’ll look for him to mature some,” Stewart said.
Fellow sophomore Andrew Martinez is a 5-9 guard who was fourth in scoring last year.
“He started about 21 games, is aggressive and was an important part of our team last year,” Stewart said.
Three more seniors are on the roster, two of whom are new to the squad.
“Seth Freiburger is a 5-10 post player who is tough inside and a hard rebounder,” Stewart said. “Mason Withnell is a 6-3 post who is athletic but inexperienced. Getting experience will help him improve throughout the year.
“Felipe Alvarado is a 5-2 guard and quite a talented player, maybe our best passer.”
Filling out the roster are guys like Isaac Alvarado, Felipe’s brother, a 5-9 junior guard who may slightly beat out Carrasquillo when it comes to speed on the floor.
“He is one of our top sprinters and is talented on the basketball court,” Stewart said. “He will make a big impact.”
Junior Westin Shrum is a 5-9 guard who was the Wildcats’ sixth man in 2020-2021.
“He adds to our depth at guard, where we plan to play a lot of people,” Stewart said.
Sophomore Noan Freiburger, Seth’s brother, is a 5-11 forward who excels defensively and on the boards.
“We need rebounding, and with Seth, Mason, Noah and Colton, we’ve got a good group for that and inside scoring,” Stewart said.
Sam Pinkley is a 5-10 sophomore billed as the team’s most improved player over the summer, a leader on the junior varsity and potential varsity sub. Jessy Gamel, a 5-9 freshman wing, may also get some varsity minutes.
Stewart said when looking at the schedule, a few dates pop out to him.
“I hope we can make and pack the stands for the championship game of our home tournament on Nov. 24,” he said. “But, we’ve got to get there. I’d also like for us to host the district final, but that’s not set yet, though we will put in for it. One definite big one on the schedule is senior night on Feb. 15, 2022, against Thomas Jefferson.”
Stewart said goals for the team are lofty this season, and he hopes with the team’s numbers, they can be reached.
“We had 17-18 guys last year, then some COVID things happened and we were down to seven and ended with 10, so I’m excited that we have 17 on the roster this year.”
Verona’s season tips off on Monday at the Miller jamboree against Miller and Greenfield. The Verona Tip-Off Classic starts runs Nov. 20-24.