With a trio of all-district starters returning to its lineup, there is little doubt the Des Lacs-Burlington boys basketball team is the Region 6 favorite this season.
The Lakers bring back 6-foot-4 forward Chris Duke and 5-10 point guard Cole Edwards to a team that went 15-9 and finished fourth at the region tournament last season. Then there's Tanner Holte. The 6-4 forward was an all-state selection a year ago, averaged a double-double (20.6 points, 10.1 rebounds per contest) and drained 52 3-pointers. And Doug Wagner, the 33rd year head coach, can use him nearly anywhere on the court.
"We don't lock him into positions because he plays inside-out," Wagner said. "You can call him a three, four or five. It depends on the opponent, depends on the trip. We don't want to limit him by giving him a position. He's a basketball player."
Other area coaches agree with the notion that winning the region likely means getting through DL-B.
"They're so big, they're so long," Bishop Ryan coach Scott Medalen said. "They've got a great point guard (Edwards)... It presents a little bit of matchup difficulties. He really sets up those other guys."
The Lakers will be tested early with nonconference games against Beulah (reigning state champs), North Star (last year's runner-up) and Hazen, a team that went 19-5 last season.
"Our schedule is loaded," Wagner said. "We seek competition like that every year. If you want to be the best, you gottta play the best."
Rugby may be DL-B's biggest threat at region supremacy. The Panthers went 21-4 last year and return Kyle Lovcik, an all-region player who averaged more than 16 points per game last year.
Other threats include Bishop Ryan, Berthold (last year's region champs) and Westhope-Newburg, which returns Kodie Hancock, an all-region player.
North Star came within a couple points of winning a second consecutive state championship last year. Beulah topped the Bearcats (26-1 last season), but North Star looks poised to make another run this season.
The Bearcats return all-staters Jacob Hagler (28 points per game) and Daniel Grande (18.1 ppg). Alex Weston, a sophomore, averaged more than seven points last season.
Carrington, which finished second in the region last year, may be North Star's toughest obstacle.
Shiloh Christian, Turtle Lake-Mercer-McClusky, Standing Rock, Flasher and Wilton-Wing all look to make noise in Region 5 this season.
Shiloh, last year's region champions, is a clear favorite to repeat. Donovan Lambert, a 14 ppg scorer, returns for the Skyhawks, as does Walter Bearstail (7 ppg.)
T-L-M-M went 21-5 last year and finished third in the region. They bring back all-region senior Adam Peltier (21 ppg) and Nathan Rauhauser,who averaged nine points last season.
Beulah lost three games last season, but when it counted, the Miners outlasted North Star - a team that had beaten them handily earlier in the year - to win the school's first state championship.
Trevor Zacher, the reigning state-tournament most valuable player, and Jesse Hettich, an all-district player a year ago, return to anchor the Beulah starting lineup. Cody Nelson, a high-scoring sixth man last season (8 ppg), will likely move into the starting lineup.
Other teams in the region to watch for include Dickinson Trinity and Hazen.
The Divide County Maroons won their region last year to earn a trip to state. But the graduation of Morgan Jacobs, Andreas Holm and Taylor Wiggington make repeating a tall task.
Trenton and Powers Lake, meanwhile, seem poised to compete for region dominance. Powers Lake returns two all-district players in Levi Hoiby and Collin Marden.
Trenton brings back a trio of all-district players in seniors Lane Huck, Michael Rademacher and Trenton Hove. Senior Jade Bentz also averaged double-figures for the Tigers last season.