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Mark Ganter hopes to pick up the pace as he takes over Spartan boys basketball.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Hillsboro's Nate Smith (22) is the Spartans' only returning starter from last year's team that finished eighth in the Northwest Oregon Conference.It's the beginning of a new era for the Hillsboro High School boys' basketball program — in more ways than one.

Mark Ganter is taking over for departed head coach Scott Henderson, and while already familiar with the school, administration and kids on the team due to his work in special education at Hilhi over the past five years, the first-year head coach hopes to put a new stamp on a program in need of just that.

"I want to bring a little energy and a different perspective as to how basketball is played," said Ganter. "A lot of the kids have been so robotic lately, and I think handcuffed as to what they're allowed to do, that they haven't taken advantage of their athletic ability."

The Spartans return just one starter from last year's team that finished eighth in the Northwest Oregon Conference. But Ganter believes that with a fresh philosophy and firm belief in each other, the Sparts can compete as the season progresses.

"The kids realize what they're up against, but they also understand that if you believe in the system and the guy next to you, you can accomplish things," said the coach.

Ganter will lean heavily on Nate Smith, a 6-foot-4 post, for production, but also Vincent Felder and Kane Kiaunis, who return from last year's team and, according to their coach, bring a dependability and level of athleticism that make them valuable to a team looking for contributors. In addition, junior guard Lane Smith will provide a desperately needed outside shooting touch.

"Lane's the best shooter in the program," Ganter said. "If you get him open, he can let it go."

The coach expects this year's team, as opposed to years past, to run the floor and attack on both ends. While his predecessor liked to slow the game down, Ganter feels his best chance for success is to play aggressive both with and without the ball. He expects to play a lot of man-to-man defense, but will also show a 1-3-1 full- and half-court zone at times.

"These kids are familiar with the zone concepts, but not all that familiar with man defense," said Ganter. "We'll work at it and hopefully benefit from its intensity."

Ganter understands that his team's lack of experience is a problem, but equally expects their primary strength to be their ability and willingness to play as a team — something he said hasn't been the case in recent years.

"They're buying in," he said. "Last year, the kids were more interested in stats than working together, but this year's group gets it, and that's exciting."

The coach expects Wilsonville and La Salle to head the class of league competition, with Parkrose and Putnam not far behind. And how does he feel about his squad's chances going forward?

"My expectations are that by January into February, we're competing on a higher level and possibly surprising some teams," Ganter said. "If that means we grab that fourth spot and make the playoffs, that'd be kind of cool."

Hillsboro dropped its season opener to Camas 70-24 on Friday, Nov. 30, at Camas High School.

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