The Three Lakes boys basketball team knows that when it comes to talent, they can compete with anyone. Head coach Brian Diorio hopes that with a strong returning class of varsity players from a year ago, they can turn that expectation into fruition and compete for a Northern Lakes Conference title, and more.

"We have high expectations for ourselves, so we are able to use that as incentive to work hard every practice and prepare the best we can for every game,” said Diorio.

Diorio said in their 2021-’22 opener last week in Eagle River, his team came out very flat, and didn’t match the intensity that Northland Pines brought to the game.

“Our man-to-man offense stalled and our actions weren’t ran well most of the night,” he said. “We had stretches where we put together some good basketball, but overall it just wasn’t good enough. We were beat back in transition early and often through the game.”

Three Lakes lost the battle in transition where Northland Pines outscored them 25-2 in fast-break points on their way to a 61-35 win.

“That tells a lot of the story,” said Diorio. “We shot well from the free throw line going 12-of-16, but we should have been there more often. We started attacking the gaps and getting to the rim late in the second half with some success, but it was too little, too late.”

Coming off such an unusual winter season a year ago, the coaching staff said there are a few things they’ll concentrate on in the first few weeks of the season in particular.

“We were very fortunate to be able to get all of our games in a season ago with very little rescheduling of games or shutdowns due to COVID. I think pressure is a good thing,” said Diorio. “I’m a defensive-minded coach so a big focus, especially early on, will be making sure we’re all on the same page with defensive strategies.”

Looking at the conference this season, Diorio said there will be some challenging matchups, both as a team and individually.

“Our matchups with Laona-Wabeno, Florence and Goodman-Pembine will be good battles this season,” he said. “All of those teams have a lot of talent coming back. Laona-Wabeno has their leading scorers Connor Taylor and Reed Christianson back this year. Same goes for Florence, bringing back Patrick Milan and Evan Johnson. Goodman-Pembine lost a couple solid players but have plenty of talent as well, led by Boone Larison.”

For the Bluejays, Sam Eppler, Logan Erikson, Jared Kaufman, Ashton Maney and Cole Melton all return as letter winners from a year ago and will lead the team through the upcoming season.

“We are fortunate to have them to rely on for leadership throughout the season,” he said. “Last season we had five players average double figures for most of the season and I expect a lot of the same this year with a balanced offensive attack. I see all players on the floor as being a threat, and able to take advantage of any mismatches.”

Moving over to the defensive end, Diorio said his team made great improvements as the year went on last season and look to pick up where they left off.

“Cole Melton comes to mind as a defensive player we will lean on along with Jared Kaufman and Logan Erikson to defend a lot of the better opponents this season,” he said. “Our season goals are competing for a conference championship and getting to Sectionals. We know we have the talent to accomplish those goals, it’s just a matter of pushing ourselves to improve all season long. We’ll also have goals and challenges for each game that we’ll make as a team depending on the opponent.”

Diorio said that though the team will unfortunately be without LJ Terlizzi for the season due to a shoulder injury, the team has a lot of talent that will be brought up for this season to provide better depth than what they’ve had in year’s past.

“I see those guys like Austin Adams, Josh Cogar and Toby Volkmann adding some valuable minutes as some exciting new additions to this year’s varsity roster,” said Diorio.

After hosting Antigo in a nonconference matchup this past Monday, Three Lakes will travel to Laona-Wabeno this Thursday to open conference play. They’ll then return home to face Tomahawk in a nonconference matchup, Dec. 7.