Entering the 2018 Region 7 Tournament as the No. 7 seed, the 2017-18 Killdeer boys basketball campaign came to a close with a 48-40 quarterfinal defeat to No. 2 Dickinson Trinity in March.
In that contest, only four Cowboys scored, three of whom will not be on the floor this year.
Killdeer graduated four players overall, but the three most notable were All-Region forwards Alex Sadowsky and Garrett Lemieux, along with fellow forward starter Dawson Schmeling.
The trio, which also served as the three tallest players on the roster last year, scored 34 of the Cowboys' 40 points in the quarterfinal loss.
"It's not going to be just three guys that are going to replace them," Killdeer head coach Andy Murphy said. "Everyone is going to have to improve all of their basketball game and skill. It's going to be a team effort. You can't just replace two All-Region kids and another kid that was a very solid player for us. ... Everyone has to step up to the challenge."
Junior guard Daylon Danks is only returner who scored in the quarterfinal, as he knocked down a pair of 3-pointers. With a new season on the horizon, Murphy believes Danks, senior point guard Kacen Gartner and junior guard Jamie Keller are three of the players capable of leading the Cowboy charge after seeing the work they've put in during the offseason.
"They are just gym rats," Murphy said. "They're always just asking me to come up and open the gym; 'let's go do this and let's do that.' They're just gym rats and it's showing the first couple days of practice just how well they've progressed from last March until now."
Of the three players, Keller is listed as the tallest at 6-foot. This year, Killdeer will feature a couple of players above 6 feet, but won't reach the heights of 6-foot-3 Schmeling, 6-foot-4 Lemieux, and 6-foot-5 Sadowsky.
In years past, Murphy's defenses focused on filtering opponents into the paint to deal with the team's length and shot-blocking ability. Additionally, with that length, Killdeer would operate its offense out of the post.
With that size gone this year, Killdeer will utilize its athleticism by pressuring opponents on all 84 feet, reeking defensive havoc in the half-court with its team speed and slashing to the rim on the offensive end.
Bringing to the Cowboys' athleticism are sophomore guard Kostner Benz-Weber and junior guard Kadin Nodland, a pair of solid contributors adding to the team's developing makeup.
"I think it's going to take a little bit of adjusting to get used to both sides of the ball; it's going to take time," Murphy said. "It can't be the same thing year after year when you have different rosters, so we are trying to mix it up this year. ... It might take some time just to get accustomed to it. You aren't going to be able to win a state championship in December, so you are going to take your lumps early on in the year, but you want to be playing the best basketball in February and March."
The losses of Schmeling, Sadowsky and Lemieux will be big shoes to fill. But when the late winter months do roll around, because of the current landscape of Region 7, Killdeer thinks it has a good chance of being in the hunt.
"I believe that just how the region fared, a lot of good seniors graduated across the board last year. This region is going to be a lot more balanced," Murphy said. "I know that Hazen and Glen Ullin-Hebron bring a lot of kids back, but there's a lot of seniors that left and holes to be filled. I think that if we play the way we could play, we could host a regional play-in game and be one of those five-eight seeds."