BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Holy Trinity Head Coach John Hellige is all too familiar with the Notre Dame Nikes boys basketball team. He hopes that familiarity leads to a win over the conference nemesis on Thursday night.
The two clash in the first round of Class 1A District 10 regional action in New London beginning at 6:30 p.m. The Nikes are seeded 4th in the bracket while Holy Trinity is 5th.
The Nikes have two wins over the Crusaders this year, but Hellige said he’s not sure he’s seen the best of his team. What’s better is that the team feels the same way.
Senior Cory Hopper averaged 18.9 points per game during the regular season, good enough for second in the Southeast Iowa Superconference South, but only managed 10 points in the two teams’ last outing, a loss that is part of a current three-game losing streak.
“Cory texted me this week and said he was sorry for how the team has played lately and said a new season starts today,” Hellige said Wednesday during a workout before a team meal.
“He’s totally focused right now. With a Cory Hopper on your team anything is possible.”
Hopper is 3rd in the SEISC South in made 3-pointers at 37 and is shooting those at a 33% clip.
Fellow senior Bailey Merschman is averaging eight points per game and five boards from his forward position. Jack Stinson, who’s as big as a house inside the lane is averaging close to 6.5 boards per game and has been coming along nicely with points in the paint with double figures in two of the last three games. He’s averaging six on the season.
Senior Nick Pothitakis is the defensive specialist for the Hounds and will be relied on heavily to contain the Nikes’ Jett Tjaden or Jack Giannettino who are averaging 13 and 11 points per game respectively. Pothitakis can step out and hit the occasional 3 for the Crusaders, as well, and is averaging right at four points per game. Senior Connor Hellweg is averaging right at 5.5 points per game.
Senior Connor Conrad is still day-to-day with an injury behind his knee. Connor only played in 11 games this year, but averaged close to 15 per contest and threw in a school record 40 points against a tough Central Lee team in December.
In addition to Tjaden and Ginnettino the Nikes started their last game, a 63-80 loss to Wapello in the Shootout, with junior Jaxon Osborn, and seniors Jacob Dance and Connor Delaney. Delaney averages just under nine points per game with Osborn around four a game and Dance is at a bucket a game. The Nikes do have a fairly strong bench with Dylan Klossing at six points per game and Adam Johs and Matt Meeker with five points each.
“We know each other pretty well,” Hellige said. “I don’t think, however, that we’ve seen the best our team can play yet. We’re gonna throw a couple of wrinkles at ’em.”
Hellige said Notre Dame has some pretty good shooting all around and his troops will try to contain that shooting better than they did in the previous outings which HTC lost 42-54 on Jan. 6 and 40-49 on Feb. 7.
“We’re trying to work hard but keep it loose,” Hellige said. “We feel we’re set up to compete in this district bracket. We’re gonna try to get three wins find a way to substate.”
The winner will face the winner of New London and Waco on Feb. 21 in Mount Pleasant for an 8 p.m. game.