KNOXVILLE — The Panthers have a lot of reasons to be excited for the upcoming season. Last year was a tale of two halves for Knoxville, who started out 11-3 before losing seven of their final eight games. The Panthers return a lot of talent as they eye a potential conference title and a deep playoff run.
Leading the way will be senior point guard Kieren Nichols. The returning first team all-stater is poised for another big season after leading 3A in scoring where he averaged 25.9 points, 4.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game on 47.3% shooting from the floor and 34.1% from deep.
Nichols will be joined by second team all-conference selection Spencer Hixson. The 6-foot-5 forward brings length and scoring ability after averaging 12.1 points and 5.9 rebounds last season while shooting 38.5% from the field and 32.4% from beyond the arc. With Knoxville losing hard-nosed seniors Alex Eckert and Ben Olson to graduation, Hixson may have to fill some of that production inside.
Other returners include Mike Hudson, Cael Peterson, Keegan Cox, Jaxon Zuck and Luke Keitges.
Keep an eye out on Keitges this year. Last year as a freshman, he played all 22 games and even started in 11 while averaging 7.7 points and 5 rebounds. The 6-foot-4 center could be in store for a jump this season.
“I think we could have a very good year in the conference and in districts and a chance to make it to state,” Knoxville head coach Jeff Larson said. “We have a lot of experience coming back and our guard play is one of our strengths and our speed.”
Larson noted that one of their weaknesses might be having to play some young kids and that they’re not real deep outside of those seven returners.
It will be a senior group that has a lot of time on the court together, something that should help them after not being able to get into the gym until early July due to COVID-19 might have hindered some development of the underclassmen.
Knoxville went 7-3 in conference play last season. Albia took home the SCC title after going 11-1. Those two seem to be keen to battle it out for the title again this year.
“Albia and Knoxville will be the favorites and I expect us to be at the top in the end,” Larson said.