WINONA LAKE – The Lakeland Christian Academy boys basketball team has been slowly building under coach Chris Hohm.

Now, the Cougars will look to make a leap without several players who helped build that success.

Hohm, who has a 26-70 record heading into his fifth season, led the Cougars to their first winning record since joining the IHSAA. They went 13-12 and won the inaugural Hoosier Plains Conference title last season, and won their first sectional game in program history.

“Now it’s gonna be a new challenge of bringing new guys into that,” said Hohm, whose team opens the season Tuesday with a game at Caston.

“Can we keep it rolling? Can we keep a positive, competitive program rolling with losing some guys to graduation?”

Gone to graduation are several players who were freshman when Hohm took the helm.

Noah Twombly, a four-year varsity letterman, Elijah Raymond, Jeremy Gross and Trey Harris all graduated.

The biggest loss was Josh McDaniel, who graduated after averaging 19.1 points per game in the regular season last year.

The Cougars will look to seniors Jake Harmon and Landon Twombly to fill the void. Harmon averaged 9.7 points per game last regular season, while Twombly averaged 9.2.

Braxton Keller provides valuable varsity experience, while Landon Paris, Trenton Parker and Matthew Helton will look to make an impact in their first varsity season.

“Some of it’s gonna be inexperience,” Hohm said. “We’re gonna have to work through some of that stuff.”

The youthful Cougars also face the challenge of lacking height, so they’ll rely on their speed to stop the opposition.

“(Rebounding) is gonna be positioning and by committee,” Hohm said. “Using our guys to dig down, jumping passing lanes and things like that to prevent the ball from getting deep. Once it’s deep, it’s tough to stop, so (we’re) working as a unit to make sure the ball’s not getting close to the basket too frequently.”

It helps that Lakeland Christian is sharp offensively.

“We’ve got some pretty good shooters,” Hohm said. “If we can work the ball, get some inside-out looks, we’ll take that. We’re pretty strong at the line if we can get there.”

Hohm hopes for the Cougars to repeat with another conference title and a sectional victory, but knows his team faces a tough task with Fort Wayne Blackhawk in its sectional.

The Braves went 26-3 last year and captured a regional championship. With them in mind, the Cougars are focused on other goals, including strong showings at regular season tournaments.

“That’s always the hope, that you grow throughout the year and you play better at the end of the year,” Hohm said. “At the same time, with having Blackhawk in our sectional that’s a tough goal to say that we win our sectional title.”