As the only basketball team in Callaway County, boys or girls, to return their entire starting five, the New Bloomfield Wildcats will use that familiarity to build off last season.
"We really have that continuity now that the boys know what I expect," New Bloomfield boys basketball coach Zach Buscher said. "They know the offense. They know the little things. Now, they're just learning to get better and play at that varsity level and the varsity speed that we weren't necessarily used to or hadn't learned to play at. Now, I believe we can get to that level."
New Bloomfield excels with speed as a team, and the Wildcats will apply their quickness to how they play offensively and defensively.
"We want to get out to race and space and push the ball," Buscher said. "I think that can be if we can manage our turnovers -- I think that can be a huge part of our offensive identity. I also expect us to be able to cause some havoc on the defensive end with that quickness that we have. Again, we're not huge, so we're gonna have to fight. Fight the bigger teams fight, when we rebound, fight during that kind of thing, right? I really expect the speed that we can play with and the quickness that we have to cause some problems for other teams defensively."
Nathan Fuhriman will be integral to New Bloomfield's offense, as he led the team in points (318 -- 12.2 per game), 3-point shooting percentage (34) and free throw percentage (72) in 26 games last season. He was the only Wildcat with a postseason accolade in 2022, making second-team All-Show-Me.
"Nate is going to be a big part for us this year if he can stay healthy," Buscher said. "He's actually dealing with a stress fracture right now. So he's kind of on a limited playtime schedule. He's gonna get limited minutes to start while we manage that. But we really expect him to lead us, not only offensively, but just as a senior. We expect him to step up and start teaching and mentoring these young guys to help them get to where we need to go."
Nathan Fuhriman's younger brother, Jacob, was the Furhiman dealing with an injury a season ago.
Before breaking his arm, Jacob Fuhriman tallied a team-high 45 assists (2.6 per game) and 36 steals (2.1 steals per game) in 17 games last season.
"(Jacob Furhiman) actually got a little unlucky," Bushcer said. "He broke his arm and had something else for an injury, but he missed quite a few games. (The Fuhriman brothers) were actually going back and forth, leading us in scoring, and it's pretty neat to watch. They compete in practice to try to see who's the 'better brother.' So we actually expect big things out of Jake this year, too. Help take that step forward. ...He's got to learn how to be more efficient with his scoring, and then he's gonna have to make good decisions because he's gonna have the ball in his hands a bunch."
Outside of the Fuhriman brothers, Buscher expects 6-foot, 5-inch big Brayden Nilges to step up for the Wildcats. In 2022, Nilges played 16 games and notched a team-high 5.5 rebounds per game (3.1 defensive and 2.4 offensive), 17 blocks (1.1 per game) and 53 percent field goal percentage.
"He just started playing last year," Buscher said of Nilges. "He hadn't played since elementary school, then he decided to play last year, and he didn't start at the beginning of the year. But once he started learning and progressing, he took home that starting spot, and he really, really improved. He's got crazy good timing on his shot-blocking, and he's a great rebounder. He's going to be a big inside presence for us this year when we can get him. He's also not able to play at the beginning of the year here, but we expect him back just a couple of weeks in. So he's going to be huge."
Buscher mentioned Andrew Fouch and sophomores Wyatt Jordan, Alex Massman, and JT Powell as other standouts for New Bloomfield. Fouch registered a team-high 73 defensive rebounds per game last season.
Alex Massman's brother, Eric, is the lone freshman Wildcat to earn a varsity jersey.
"...as far as minutes go, he's got a lot to learn," Buscher said. "But he is a sparkplug off the bench, and I could see him eventually pushing these other guys, these upperclassmen for playing time. We really like what we're seeing out of Eric so far. He just has to keep working and improving and learning how to play at that varsity level."
The Show-Me Conference will be a grind for New Bloomfield, as last season, conference champion Fatima -- went unbeaten in the Show-Me -- took second in Class 4 District 9, St. Elizabeth was the Class 1 state runner-up, Eugene won the Class 2 District 9 title and Russellville finished runner-up in Class 3 District 8.
"It's always a tough conference," Buscher said. "It's always one of the best conferences in mid-Missouri. You always got the top of it. It's always good for us to play those so we can see we can measure ourselves against them. We might not always win, but I just want our guys to compete against them each and every night that we play. It's good for us to play those high-level teams."
This is the Show-Me's final year of existence. The Wildcats will no longer have to play the likes of Fatima and St. Elizabeth in conference games next year, but they'll join fellow Show-Me teams South Callaway, Eugene, Russellville and Linn in the Central State 8 starting in 2024-25.
"I'm actually alumni of Fatima, so I love coach R (Ryan Robertson)," Buscher said. "I respect him. He runs a great program. So, while it will be nice not to have to play them, we're gonna miss the traditions and everything of the Show-Me Conference, but we are super excited to join the Central State 8. It's gonna be a great experience to get new teams added. Maybe some new rivalries and also just new things are always exciting. It'll be exciting to see how it goes."
While New Bloomfield will move to a new conference after this season, its district will have continuity. For the third straight year, the Wildcats will have the same opponents in Class 3 District 7: Hermann, Missouri Military Academy, Montgomery County, North Callaway and South Callaway.
"We've been in the same district for a couple of years now," Buscher said. "We know what to expect. There are some high-level teams, and we are going to go in with the same philosophy we have always had: To compete as hard as we can. Whatever happens, happens."
New Bloomfield will open its season with its first Show-Me contest, taking on Fatima (0-1) at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Westphalia. Last season, the Comets beat the Wildcats 92-28 in New Bloomfield.