By the end of last season, few teams in Class AA boys basketball were playing as well as the Roosevelt Rough Riders.
After beating Watertown and Lincoln to sneak into the state tournament following a mediocre regular season, the Riders took Mitchell to overtime in the first round of the state before falling and eventually taking sixth place and finishing with a 13-13 overall record.
With three starters and nine letterwinners back from that team, the Riders aren't shying away from setting their sights on a state championship.
"I think that's everybody's goal, and if you're not talking about those goals, your guys don't know what it is they're working so hard for," said fifth-year coach Lee Taylor, who has a 37-35 record with Roosevelt. "When you get a taste of the state tournament with kids that you know are coming back the following year, it's a huge momentum booster going into the offseason. We're definitely excited to get back there and come away with a better result."
The talent is there to do it, and so is the experience, with all five starters in their senior seasons.
Tyler Howard (13.7 points per game), Nate Cole (10.6 ppg) and Jeremiah Clark (8.8 ppg) give the Riders a dangerous backcourt, while 6-foot-3 seniors Lucas Wilber (5.1 ppg) and Brandon Boggs (6.1 ppg) round out a strong starting five.
Taylor said Boggs - who contributed heavily off the bench last year - is poised for a breakout season,and was also enthused about the competition for bench play, saying that early practices have been "fierce and intense."
Among the first off the bench could be 6-foot-3 junior Josh Kirkwold, 6-2 junior Colton Kooima and 6-3 junior Chris Phillips.
The success the Riders had last year has given them momentum and confidence, and Taylor clearly seems enthused by the attitudes the players have brought to early-season workouts. But he also knows that they must not fall into the trap of assuming that getting back to the tournament is a given just because everyone's a year older.
"In 'AA' you've got to work every single day like you're fighting and scrapping along," Taylor said. "We've got a great group of leaders and they're motivated. We're going to work every day like we're coming from the bottom of the barrel."