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Clippers back in the mix

Most folks will agree that success breeds success, and that seems to be the case with the Strasburg-Zeeland boys basketball team.

The Clippers (5-1) cruised into the holiday break undefeated against North Dakota opponents, including a pair of large early-season victories against ranked teams, and they’ve found themselves sitting at No. 9 in the latest Class B state boys basketball poll.

But there’s a difference between this year’s 5-1 start and last year’s 20-4 team. The Clippers are no longer flying under the radar.

“Last year we kind of snuck up on people,” Strasburg-Zeeland coach Brent Kleinsasser said. “This year we know they are coming at us.”

The team is coming off a successful, yet bittersweet 2012-13 season. Strasburg-Zeeland started last year at 14-0 and climbed as high as No. 8 in the state rankings before finishing fourth in the Region 3 tournament.

The Clippers lost four key seniors to graduation, but they haven’t missed a beat. In fact, they could be even better than last year’s 20-win team.

“We are better defensively I think this year, with Brody (Nieuwsma) and Scotti (Scherr),” Kleinsasser said. “They really turned the corner on playing better defensively, which last year was probably a weak point for us.”

Both guards, Nieuwsma is a sophomore and Scherr is a senior. They join this year’s starting five alongside senior guard Seth Aberle, senior forward Nic Kramer and sophomore forward Jacob Eberle, which as a unit hasn’t had much trouble scoring the basketball, either.

The Clippers are averaging over 66 points per game.

“A lot of it is we just started so good last year, and these kids are believing they can take (the ball) to the hole,” Kleinsasser said. “They’re playing well together. Scotti, Brody and Nic all got to play a lot of basketball last year and they just feel like it’s a continuation from last year.

“They also played a lot of ball over the summer, spent a lot of time at it and that’s what it takes.”

Size is one of the few drawbacks for the Clippers. Nieuwsma, the point guard, is the tallest player on the team at 6-foot-1.

But Eberle, a 5-10 transfer from Carrington, has provided the team a huge spark in the paint, matching up against other teams’ big men. He can also score, as he led the team offensively with 27 points in a 73-54 victory over Region 5 contender Flasher, and 20 points in a 67-51 win against South Border.

Flasher was ranked No. 7 when the Clippers defeated them back on Dec. 6.

“He’s just really intense. He’s the Energizer bunny,” Kleinsasser said of Eberle. “He just wears out people playing such good defense. He’s just relentless, and it’s fun to watch.”

Another one to watch is Kramer, who posted 12 points and four rebounds per game last season as a junior. Kramer scored 22 against Flasher, and tossed in 17 during the Clippers’ 69-59 victory over No. 5-ranked Linton-HMB on Dec. 17.

“Nic Kramer starts everything. He’s so darn quick taking it to the hole,” Kleinsasser said. “Keeping him healthy and active will be key for us. I think he’s one of the better athletes around.”

Linton-HMB (5-1) fell out of the top 10 this week, but is still receiving votes in the poll. Nieuwsma scored 22 against the Lions, and is the team’s leading returner scorer after averaging 15 points, four rebounds and five assists a year ago.

The only hiccup so far was a 59-55 loss to Herreid/Selby Area (S.D.) in Strasburg on Dec. 14, a game where the Clippers missed nine free throws and seven layups, according to Kleinsasser.

But the Clippers have shown so far that they’ll be taken seriously in the battle for Region 3 supremacy, which appears to contain quite a bit of parity.

“(Linton-HMB) Coach (Dan) Carr and I were just talking about that the other day. It’s just going to come down to who’s playing good towards the end and everyone staying healthy,” Kleinsasser said. “That’s the one thing for us (staying healthy). We’ve got a couple younger guys who come off the bench, but our starting five play most of the game.”

The Clippers fire things up after Christmas with a game against Sunshine Bible Academy (S.D.) in Aberdeen on Dec. 28. After that, the team hosts Kidder County (4-1) on Jan. 3 and Ellendale (4-2) on Jan. 4.

“I’m glad they’re at home … both those teams are better than people think,” Kleinsasser said. “We just need to play one game at a time and keep improving every game.”

Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at 701-952-8461 or by email at