With eight returning letterwinners, Northland Pines boys basketball team and third-year coach Terry Klemett have high expectations for the 2021-’22 season.

“It’s our third year together and the bar is set pretty high,” said Klemett. But as with all things, we have to take it game by game. We are excited about the growth and hard work these guys have put in. We’re not a junior varsity team any longer.”

Klemett was referring to a group of juniors and seniors who have several years of varsity experience and are ready to take the next step. The Eagles were 5-7 in the Great Northern Conference (GNC) last year and were 10-13 overall.

“We should compete as one of the top teams going for the school’s first ever conference title,” said Klemett.

Returnees include seniors Michael Klemett and Deven Millis, along with juniors Nolan Lurvey, Ryan Muench, Griffin Stiemke, Gabe Smith, Miles McCanles and Kadin Kroeplin. New comer to the team is Milton Verseman.

Lurvey is billed as one of the top players in the GNC and one of the best point guards in the state. He is a two-time all-conference selection. He averaged 14.9 points a game last year as a sophomore.

“Nolan is really really good,” said coach Klemett. “He is a team leader and just wants to win and compete.”

Muench is also considered one of the top players in the conference, averaging 14.3 points and 2.3 steals per game last season.

“Ryan is a do-it-all guy,” said the coach. “He defends, he can score and has a motor that doesn’t run out of gas.”

Stiemke was the third leading scorer last season off the bench.

“Griffin is the definition of hard work,” said coach Klemett. “We expect big things out of him this season. He has had a fantastic off season.”

Michael Klemett, son of the coach, and Millis are senior captains. Klemett is a three-year starter and Millis is considered the best defensive player on the team.

“Gabe Smith has a tremendous upside. He is long, athletic, smart and can really play. We are looking for him to really become himself this season,” said coach Klemett.

“And then there’s Mike McCanles. You want to talk about hard work. This guy grinds and is our best post defender,” said the coach.

The coach said Verseman is going to surprise a lot of people.

“He can handle the ball and is a big body guard,” said Klemett.

Klemett said he is looking forward to the season. Assistant coaches are Gary Muench and Marissa Burke.

“This is one of the best teams I have been around,” said coach Klemett. “They really are a family and they are happy for the next guy.”

The Eagles will open the season Tuesday, Nov. 23, with a nonconference game at home against Three Lakes. The game will start at 8 p.m. as it is part of a doubleheader with the Northland Pines and Three Lakes girls basketball teams. The girls will start at 6:30 p.m. in the field house.

The first GNC game will be at Tomahawk Friday, Dec. 3.