Rangers have sights set on another solid year

Herald File Photo by Sarah Ann Jump
Curt Hopf made a splash last year for the Forest Park boys basketball team as a freshman and is prepared for an even bigger role this upcoming season as a sophomore. While the Rangers graduated a few key pieces and have a new head coach at the helm, the team still has high expectations as they prepare to defend their sectional, regional and semistate championships.


Last year was a memorable one for the Forest Park boys basketball team as they made their first IHSAA State Finals appearance since 2006. However, this year’s team will look a little different from the one that went to the Class 2A title game a year ago.

Sure, there will be returning players such as sophomore Curt Hopf and junior Isaac Uebelhor who both started in last year’s state championship against Oak Hill. But the team will also have three new starters, a new head coach and several new opponents on the schedule. The goals however? Well, those remain the same for the Rangers who are ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press preseason polls.

“Our goals have not lessened any, we want to try our best to go back to state,” Hopf said. “Sectional will be tough with a lot of good contenders but as long as we stick together and play hard then I think we’ll have a good chance.”

With a few weeks of practice under their belt now, the Rangers have began to see what life will be like under new head coach David Welp. Welp, who played basketball at Forest Park and has been an assistant under former head coach Jeff Litherland for the past four seasons, has been impressed with what he’s seen so far in the daily practices at Buechler Arena.

While there will obviously be some differences in coaching styles and gameplan, Welp is making sure that one area of focus will remain the same for the Rangers.

“A lot of defense,” Welp said with a laugh. “Our emphasis is continued on defense — pressure the basketball, work on help side defense and continue to play a team brand of defense.”

Senior Reid Steffe added: “(Welp) takes pride in defense because he was a Ranger and that was a philosophy when he played as well. He’s made sure to keep it that way and we’ve worked very hard on defense.”

Even though Forest Park graduated five seniors from last year’s 25-win squad, the Rangers will still bring several players back that have experience in addition to the starters Hopf and Uebelhor.

Welp is expecting to see strong play from Steffe (“good outside shooter, can help spread the floor”), sophomore Simon Jacob (“utilize him off the dribble”) as well as senior Elliott Rothgerber (“experience and a strong senior leader”). Fellow seniors Garret Jochem, Garrett Betz and Aaron Hurst will also be important members of the Rangers as they’ll look to be the veteran leaders with three years of high school basketball experience under their belts.

Steffe is excited for his senior leadership role as he hopes he can provide valuable lessons to some of the younger players on the team.

“I hope to be a leader and I hope to get some of the younger varsity guys up to the next level,” Steffe said. “I just hope I can always be there for them and help with whatever they need.”

Entering his second year as a varsity starter as just a sophomore, Hopf feels a lot more confident this time around with the experienced he received as a freshman.

Even though he’s still one of the younger players on the team, Hopf will be one of Forest Park’s leaders both with his play on the court as well as his leadership.

“It was a lot tougher last year with all of those seniors because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes (as a freshman),” Hopf said. “I’m just real confident about this season — I definitely want to help out these guys as much as I can.”

In terms of the schedule, Forest Park will face two new opponents this season in Springs Valley and Evansville Bosse. The Rangers will play the Blackhawks on November 24 at home and will face the Bulldogs at the Ford Center in the River City Showcase on December 8.

The last time Forest Park played Springs Valley was in a tournament in 2010 where they defeated the Blackhawks 76-45. The Bulldogs and Rangers have never met as this year’s battle will be their first ever meeting. Welp is excited to play two very tough opponents and believes that those games will be big challenges for his team.

But while there will be plenty of big challenges against many tough teams in a stacked Pocket Athletic Conference and sectional, the Rangers don’t want to get too far ahead of themselves — all they want to do is make sure to improve day-by-day and let the chips fall where they may.

“We’ll just compete to get better every single day,” Welp said. “It’s a long season, everyday we’re going to try to get better and we just want to compete at a high level and continue to push each other.”

Steffe added: “There’s a lot of expectations but we just kind of have to ignore those and take it game by game. I think if we do that then we can accomplish good things.”

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