There seems to be a new sense of hope within the Leavenworth Pioneers’ boys’ basketball program.

After a few years of drought, the Pioneer boys seemed to slowly figure things out in 2016-17, even if the record didn’t reflect it.

However, with a stable of young players back from the lessons learned and the humility instilled, the Pioneers appear to have turned a corner after a strong summer of play, especially at the Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC) league.

“The purpose of summer basketball is to improve, improve your team play, come together and decide that you will play together, be a good squad and look out for each other as the year goes on,” Leavenworth’s Hall of Fame head coach Larry Hogan said. “We try to focus on team early since they let us practice as a team. We do more team-oriented stuff early for about four to five weeks and then we go to the three-man workouts where you really get in on the individual stuff. 

“They get two hours in here with me and then some things to do on their own, on the side. What I really like is the improvement I have seen from the guys just from the end of last season until now. Some of the improvement has been really impressive.”

As the team and athletic program wraps its days as a member of the Sunflower League, Hogan sees his Pioneers’ final chapter evolving into a potentially strong one.

“I think this group of kids is really ready to go,” Hogan said. “I’d like to see us in February in the hunt for the championship of the league. We have talented enough kids that we can do that if we come together and play as a team. We have to be tough on the boards, that’s a big thing. Especially on the defensive boards. You want a one-and-done and if you let a team get two or three attempts, they are going to score on you.”

The players also see the team’s vast improvements.

“It seems like we are getting better, a lot better than last year,” senior Julian Williams said. “We still need to get better and be ready to play. We need to play more as a team and keep working together. Everyone needs to come to be ready to practice and play. You have to work really hard. No one can get better if we don’t have everyone at practice.”

“This season means a lot because it’s the last time we will be in this league and we have been in it a long time,” Zach Thiel said. “We want to end with a bang and have an impact on it. Even if we don’t do our best and lose, this is the best league in the state and we are playing the best competition every night.

“All the guys have been in the gym … and the commitment is there to win. We lost a lot of games by a few points.”

It hasn’t hurt that sophomore Reece Williams continues to improve in the pivot.

The team did well over the summer, with a highlight win over Kansas City Schlagle – the defending Class 5A runner-up – at KCKCC in a game featuring most of both squad’s returning players.

“I like how everyone is trusting each other more,” Thiel said. “It needed to get better and it was just all about trusting the process and the coaching staff.”

Now it will just take some physical improvement, added team chemistry and luck with not so many injuries.

“We had a lot of issues last year with guys being out and hopefully we won’t this year,” Hogan said.