Coming into last season, the Colonels were riding high. They were coming off a 9th Region Championship, were preseason #1 in the coaches poll, and also returned enough talent that most thought would get Dixie back to Rupp Arena.
"Coming in to last year we had numerous returning players from a team that finished 29-4 the year before," said Chevalier.
Things didn’t work out for the Colonels as expected though and finished 20-11 - primarily because of one of the toughest schedules in the state – and faltered late, losing in the 34th District Championship to Lloyd and first round of the region tournament to Cooper.
The Colonels will try to replace 6 seniors from last years’ team but Coach Ken Chevalier feels that he has a team that will still compete and open some eyes, led by 6’2 JR Brandon Hatton, 5’10 JR Adam Daria, and 6’3 SO Nick Niehaus.
"Coming in to this year, we have young kids but we know that going in," said Chevalier. "We’re gonna have to break things down more where as last year we had guys that already knew the system and program. We weren’t going to change much stuff. This year we don’t have the target on our backs."
The Colonels will have 9 sophomores on their roster but bring in a group that made it to the Freshman championship last year.
"Looking at our talent level in that class, we really have some quality bigs that can play above the rim. We have some guys with length at 6’3, 6’4, and 6’6. Part of our strength this year is going to be the fact that we have kids coming up who are willing to buy in and work hard and do whatever it takes to win basketball games."
Leading that group is 6’3 Nick Niehaus who is coming off a meniscus tear, but didn’t require surgery.
"Niehaus can play both inside and out at 6’3. Nick is such a vocal leader as a sophomore out on the floor,” said Chevalier. "He’s also a very good defender. We’re really watching him to be a star at the varsity level this year."
Several other sophomores received high praise from Coach Chevalier.
"Andrew Hedger, who is a 6’4 guy that also played tight end for the football team, can mix it up and really has a great feel the game." Chevalier continued, "The ball really loves him and seems to always find him on rebound situations and he’s really good at putting the ball back in the basket."
The Colonels will have a little bit more size across the board this year with seniors Alex Milligan (6’4), Cam Ruehl (6’3), and sophomores Alex Schreck (6’2) Mitch Bolin (6’6), Matt Isbel (6’3), and Matt Wehrle (6’1).
"Alex is a wide bodied kid that can score and also provide us with defensive rebounding because of his athletic ability."
Ruehr, who didn’t play last year, has good length in the post and is a good rebounder.
"He has been looking really good in practice this year. He can also step out and knock down the three. We’re certainly looking at him coming back."
Bolin needs to develop and get stronger but Isbel is considered one of the most athletic kids that Coach Chevalier has had the opportunity to coach at Dixie. Wehrle is being compared to former Colonel Stephen Pompilio, as far as work ethic and motor go.
Not to be outdone though is sophomore Leam Rabe (5’10 G) who can play the point guard position and will be known for his tough defense.
"Leam has had one of the better off seasons of any of our guards."
Leading the youth and the biggest reason why Dixie will almost certainly be in every game they play is 6’2 junior Brandon Hatton. Hatton has worked hard in the off season to improve his explosion and athletic ability and it will show in his play on the court this year. In the most recent player rankings list, Hatton was listed as the 13th best player in the state, regardless of class, and has a host of Division I schools courting him.
"Any time you have the Region’s #1 player in Brandon Hatton, a kid who has already put up 1,662 points in his high school career, on the floor you are gonna have a chance to win any game," Chevalier said.
With Hatton almost certainly seeing double teams and being checked by the opposition’s best player, Coach Chevalier talked a little about how he plans to get Hatton open and get the offense going.
"We’re going to set more screens and try to shake Hatton loose. Coming in to this season we are getting back to the basics. We’ll run more of a 3 out 2 in and run some motion. We’re not taking anything for granted."
"I’m the veteran on the team but we have Nick and Adam Daria to help me out," said Hatton. "I just want to do anything I can to help the team win the region. We have a lot of young guys but they all know their roles," Hatton continued.
Hatton’s versatility and size will make him extremely tough to game plan for the opposition. At 6’2 he will be able to play positions 1-5 at either end of the floor because of his strength.
With Dixie having high expectations, Coach Chevalier has set up a schedule that will help Hatton get exposure and also get them ready for a post season run. The Colonels will play in two of the top tournaments in the state - the Scott County tournament and Lexcath tournament, while also playing in a showcase at Mason County.
"Part of the reason we did that was to get Brandon Hatton exposure but with a young team we are going to be challenged and we are going to be pushed but we hope that schedule gets our team ready."
Expectations for this season are simple for Coach Chevalier:
"I love the expectations this year. Being ranked 6th in the polls, I think we’re appropriately ranked but I’m looking forward to how we progress throughout the season. I think if we have all of our kids stay healthy, I think we can make a run with a young team of sophomores and juniors. Come the end of Feburary, early March we have expectations to win the district and make a run at winning the 9th Region title."
In order for the players to reach theirs and the coaches expectations, Brandon Hatton made it clear.
"We’re going to have to box out, rebound, and score when we have the opportunity."
Dixie opens their season November 28th against Newcath, who was voted the preseason #1 team. The last time the Colonels opened their season against the preaseason #1 team was in 2010 against Conner. That same season, they won their first region championship since 1957.