Kaine Hanson has seen and experienced the down side of New England boys basketball.
New England struggled through a four-season stretch (2006-07 through 2009-10) in which it lost 69 of 85 games.
Hanson, now a senior, was a reserve on the 2009-10 team, which went 6-15. He also played in seven varsity games in 2008-09 before suffering a broken foot. That team went 6-16.
"We had a hard time of it for a few years. Boys basketball here was really down," Hanson said. "But it wasn't always that way. I remember we used to have good teams ... teams that won the district and went to state. When I started playing varsity ball, I was hoping we could get back to that. I wanted to help get things turned around."
The Tigers turned it around last season, going 18-7 and winning their first District 13 championship since 2004. They came within a split-second of advancing to the Region 7 tournament championship game. A buzzer-beating game-tying shot by Dickinson Trinity sent the semifinal game into overtime, and the eventual champion Titans went on to win 61-56.
"We were disappointed about what happened in the region semifinals, but we felt great about the season we had," Hanson said. "We won games, won the district tournament and brought pride and excitement back to New England boys basketball. It was a big year all around."
The 6-foot-5 Hanson is back and hoping to lead the Tigers to the Class B promised land. New England also returns two other starters and several top reserves.
"Hopefully we'll get to the state tournament," Hanson said. "We have a good nucleus of players to build around and a lot of other guys who we know can help us. We had a good year last year, but we came up a little short. We're ready to go after it again."
Hanson averaged a double-double last season - 16.5 points and 10.3 rebounds. He was the Tigers' best inside player, but his 29 3-pointers show that he was deadly from the perimeter as well.
"Kaine is a player who can do it all," New England coach Luke Powers said. "He can score from the outside and in close, he can handle the ball and do a ton on the defensive end. He's also our leader, someone who leads vocally and by example. He's a big reason why we had a good run last year, and why we expect to contend again this year."
Other returning starters are seniors Nick Wolf and Clarence Binstock. Wolf averaged 15.5 points and three steals per game. Binstock, the point guard, averaged 10.5 points, 6.7 assists, and 4.5 rebounds.
Wolf and Binstock also experienced some of New England's lean years.
"All of the seniors remember what those years were like. They just motivate us more," Hanson said. "It was really tough losing all of those games, but we knew we had the potential. We just had to stick with it and keep working hard. Last year all of the work paid off."
The top candidates for the other two starting spots are seniors Devin Plaggemeyer and Jared Kautzman.
Plaggemeyer was the Tigers' top reserve last year, and averaged 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
Powers said Austin Maershbecker, Austin Fitterer, Levi Hollinger and Paul Gardner should see lots of playing time off the bench.
Hollinger averaged 24 points in junior varsity games.
"We feel we can go nine deep this year and depend on all of them," Powers said.
New England is in a highly-competitive district. Mott-Regent, Heart River and Hettinger-Scranton all have veteran teams.
"It was tough last year, too," Powers said. "We like that. You get better by playing good teams. Hopefully after playing a regular season full of tough games, we'll be playing our best basketball at tournament time."