Brandon Schuttemeier defends Elliott Cross during the boys’ first basketball practice of the season. The Lions open Saturday, Dec. 1 at Mabel-Canton. Pick up your sports calendar at Merchants Bank or the Spring Grove Herald.
Brandon Schuttemeier defends Elliott Cross during the boys’ first basketball practice of the season. The Lions open Saturday, Dec. 1 at Mabel-Canton. Pick up your sports calendar at Merchants Bank or the Spring Grove Herald.

The Spring Grove Lions are setting their sights on a third-straight Southeast Conference (SEC) East Division basketball championship this season, after winning a record 25 games last year.

The team lost six outstanding seniors after last season (including a two-time SEC Player of the Year). But they bring back three returning senior letter winners who will lead the 2012-13 Lions onto the hardwood floor this winter.

Point-guard 5-foot 10-inch Blaine Storlie is back for a third season in the starting lineup, his fourth in varsity play. He has already placed twice on the All-SEC team and will be team co-captain for a third year. Storlie averaged 15.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 3.1 steals per game last year.

A proven threat from the perimeter, Storlie hit a school-record 71 treys last season and now stands only 11 long shots away from the all-time career record. He was the second leading scorer last year and now has 900 career points.

Storlie led the team in assists, free throw percentage, three-point percentage and three-point field goals last season.

Senior 6-1 Brandon Schuttemeier is also a returning starter. The 250-pound center averaged 3.5 points per game and 3.4 rebounds in 2011-12. He should be the one of the top post players in the league this year with outstanding speed and court-covering ability. Schuttemeier is widely regarded as a perfect fit for the Lions' up-tempo offense.

Senior co-captain 5-11 Josh Olerud returns at guard. He averaged 9.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game last year.

Coming off the bench, Olerud was the third-leading rebounder and fourth leading scorer in 2012, with more assists (51) than turnovers. He's a strong jumper and a versatile player, and Lion fans hope their senior starter will be ready to go after a late-season football injury.

Two freshmen who saw limited varsity action as eighth-graders will also be strong candidates to either start or come in first off the bench.

Brady Schuttemeier, a 6-2 forward, scored a team-high 14.4 points per game, grabbed 7.2 rebounds and notched a 50% field goal percentage in B-team games. He also appeared in 16 varsity games, scoring 2.6 points and getting 1.4 rebounds per contest.

Classmate Alex Engelhardt led the B-team in assists (3.9 per game), steals (3.2 per game) and 3-point success rate (42%). He was the second-highest scorer on the B-team at 10.5 points per game.

Engelhardt also appeared in 11 varsity games, recording 2.2 points and 1.0 rebound per outing. He brings good height to the perimeter.

Dustin Vickerman, a 6-0 sophomore point guard, played B-team ball last year. He started on that squad and according to reports had an outstanding summer-league season.

Vickerman has gained three inches in height from last season but is recovering from an injury that kept him off the football field this fall. If he's ready to go, he could vie for a starting position or be one of the first off the bench.

Key reserves include 5-11 sophomore guard Elliott Cross, who has also grown three inches from last year. Cross showed great improvement on the B-team in 2012, hitting 31% of his shots from beyond the arc.

Tanner Sanness will probably see plenty of playing time as well. At 6-2, the sophomore center checks in at a solid 240 pounds, adding a strong presence inside along with a good shooting touch around the basket.

Three other players are also listed on the current varsity roster, but could play on the B-team as well. Tanguy de Monval is a 6-1 senior foreign exchange student who is new to the game of basketball.

Dylan Kampschroer is a 5-6 freshman guard who played in all 18 B-team games as an eighth grader.

Gabe Solum is a 5-9 freshman guard who played in 7 of 18 B-team games.

Four eighth-grade players are projected to play primarily on the B-team. They include 5-10 center Jordan Jaster and guards 5-9 Chase Grinde, 5-4 Damon Cody and 5-6 Devon Nerstad.

Head coach Wade Grinde is in his 19th season at Spring Grove, his 18th as head of the program. He has been named the Section 1A Coach of the Year four times. Grinde has more victories (289) than any other head coach in program history and has led the team to seven of 13 conference championships.

Assistant coach Dave Konz is in his 17th season with the varsity program. He also heads the B-team. Al Lochner (26 seasons at Spring Grove) heads the junior high program for a 17th straight year.

Chris Strinmoen serves as junior high assistant. As an SG alum, he was a two-time Honorable Mention on the All-Conference team and the Lion MVP in Grinde's first season as head coach.

Grinde said the team will need to deal with a lack of varsity experience and overall size this year. On the plus side, "Any time you enter the season with experience at the point guard, you're in good shape," he said.

"As young as we are, Blaine's leadership is going to be valuable for us."

Contenders in the division include Lanesboro, Houston and Mabel-Canton, Grinde said.

In section play, the list grows longer. Faribault Bethlehem Academy, Rushford-Peterson and Booming Prairie are all favorites, while Lyle/Pacelli and Fillmore Central could be dark horse candidates.

Where do the Lions fit in?

"On any given night, we could beat any team we would play," Grinde said, "I certainly wouldn't look past us."

The big question is, with an eight-man rotation likely, five players are going to be on the floor that don't have any varsity experience, yet....

"We'll see," Grinde said. "We definitely have an uphill battle ahead of us, but everyone else has to deal with those things as well.

"Last year, we were the experienced team in the league, and everybody else was a little younger. Now they're a little older, and we're a little younger. We'll see what happens."