The Northland Prep boys basketball team is ready to wear down opponents.

Taking a roster loaded with senior talent into the new season, the Spartans and head coach Brett Larson plan on pushing the pace against teams and using turnovers to spark offensive fast breaks.

"We plan to take some teams by surprise with our quickness and team defense," said Larson, who is back for a second year at the helm. "We probably aren't as skilled offensively at this point, but we are getting better every day, and our defense should let us compete with everyone we play."

Accompanied by three juniors, six of the nine seniors return to the varsity squad from last season. Adam Nicol, the team's strongest player on the glass last year, and Cameron Larson, a strong defender who averaged 1.6 steals per game in 2016-17, go into their third and final season as the most experienced of the upperclassmen.

Drew Gibson will share captain responsibilities with Nicol, who averaged 9.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season. Larson, Gibson and Nicol, all players who had a significant role as juniors, will look to carry the team to the state tournament for the first time since 2014.

"Our goals are to hold each opponent under 40 points, to get consistently good shots, and to win every game in the hustle statistics: rebounding, steals and assists," Brett Larson said. "We'd like to win our region and at least one playoff game."

Last season, the Spartans finished the regular season with a 9-8 overall record and a 4-4 mark in the Central Region Standings. Northland Prep won all of their games last season in which they limited teams to 50 or fewer points. On the other hand, the Spartans went 1-7 when allowing teams to score 55 or more on them. 

With nine players listed at 6 foot or taller, including Nicol and junior Jack Berger, who both reach 6-5, Brett Larson said he expects the team's athleticism and length to give opponents trouble.

The push for a region title took a hit late in the season as the Spartans finished a large chunk of the schedule on the road. Northland Prep dropped three of the final five regular-season match-ups and four of those five games were on the road.

This season's schedule favors the Spartans, who will play five of the last six games at home.

Relying on depth to keep legs fresh, the Spartans will look to control the pace of play whether at altitude or not. The three juniors, Brody Hibbert, Berger and Simon Trebon, will also find playing time to keep the team's battery charged, especially if they can help get stops.

"Because of our depth, we plan to play an 84-foot game and substitute liberally," Brett Larson said.

The team's eventual reserves -- starting roles are still up for grabs -- are not the only thing Larson is starting to believe in already. With the new faces of the senior class having played in the program at some point during their high school careers, the coach sees chemistry and an understanding of roles starting to form more fully.

"I am quietly optimistic about our team. I think we are pretty good, and we are ahead of last year at this time with the guys knowing the system offensively and defensively," Larson said.

In fact, meshing is taking place inside and outside of the lines.

"As a coach, I feel much more comfortable than I did last year, which is not to say that I am not still learning," Larson said. "This is a great game and with everything that assistant coach Rick Hurst and I observe in practice, we go back home, do some research and come together to create a plan for improving in the next practice. Rick and I are gelling as a coaching team and my biggest opportunity to improve is probably in working with each player individually to help them maximize their potential."

The players have been committed to putting in work in the offseason as well. For instance, Nicol, a threat in the paint on both coasts, has worked at improving his free-throw shooting, which was at 51 percent last season.

"There was good participation in the offseason, so everyone has improved their game and we have a deep team," Larson said.

Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at mhartman@azdailysun.com.

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