Sem and Zeller look to lead junior-laden Fargo North boys under 1st-year head coach Travis Hoeg
The Spartans are 5-3 this season under Hoeg's watch, who previously served as an assistant coach before taking over the program in an interim role last February
FARGO — Travis Hoeg took over as head coach of the Fargo North boys basketball program in the middle of the 2021-22 season.
Under Hoeg’s leadership, the Spartans made some noise in the postseason, winning a state qualifying game against Fargo Shanley to earn the East Region’s fourth and final seed before taking West Region No. 1 seed and eventual state champion Minot to the brink in the Class A quarterfinals.
North ultimately fell to the Magicians in that game, a 73-72 overtime thriller. But the Spartans left the Bismarck Event Center with a lot to look forward to heading into the next season.
Fast-forward to the present day. North is off to a 5-3 start and currently sits tied for second place in the Eastern Dakota Conference standings.
That record includes a win over then-No. 3 ranked Fargo Davies on Jan. 3, handing the high-powered Eagles only their second loss of the year in what was a historic moment of sorts for the visitors from the north side.
“We felt really good about ourselves after our win at Davies,” Hoeg said. “That was actually the first win we’ve ever had over that program on their home court, so that was really exciting for us.”
The team’s other four wins have come against Fargo South, West Fargo, Devils Lake and West Fargo Sheyenne.
Hoeg may be the new head coach for the Spartans but he certainly isn’t a new face. Before taking over for former head coach Ted Critchley, who resigned last February , he had been with the team as an assistant coach and has coached at multiple levels and programs at North and Ben Franklin Middle School since 1995, where he’s also a science teacher.
Couple that with the fact that Hoeg already served as head coach in an interim role last season before officially being hired as the Spartans bench boss last April and it hasn’t taken much for his players to buy in.
“It’s a little bit of a different brand of basketball,” Hoeg said. "I think schematically, we do a lot of things the same defensively and offensively that we were doing last year with just a few tweaks.
“I think the guys have bought into the process a little bit. I know they like to run the floor and they like to get up and down, and I feel like we’re deep enough to where we can play that style of basketball. So yeah, I think they’ve bought in and hopefully they’re enjoying the process.”
All-EDC returners Jeremiah Sem and Carter Zeller lead the Spartans offense.
Sem, a junior guard, was also an All-State Second Team and an All-State Tournament Team selection, averaging 21.1 points per game last season as the EDC’s third-leading scorer.
Sem is averaging 24.4 points per game this season and sits second in scoring behind Davies’ sophomore guard Mason Klabo.
Sem, however, will be the first to tell you that numbers are just numbers. He’s more focused on expanding his leadership role as his junior year continues.
“I don’t really try to think about the numbers,” Sem said. “I just try to get the wins and keep my team at the top. Last year, we had a couple of older guys to lead us and now we have a lot of juniors, so we have to lead ourselves kind of and teach ourselves and lead ourselves through the ropes."
Zeller, a junior center, ranked 15th in EDC scoring last season at 13.8 points per game but held the conference lead in field goal percentage at 70.2 percent. He also led the team in rebounding at 7.9 boards per game.
This season, Zeller has bumped his averages to 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds. He remains the best field goal shooter in the EDC at 71.4 percent.
Like Sem, however, Zeller will tell you the same about leadership.
“We lost a bunch of seniors and a bunch of leaders (last season),” Zeller said. “I think right now, we’re doing really good for having a bunch of young kids and a bunch of new blood in the gym. It means a lot that I’m a leader and leading this team again to more wins.”
To be precise, North has only two seniors this season, three sophomores and a whopping 11 juniors.
Hoeg said his two star players' reliability has a lot to do with the program’s success.
“I think Carter is averaging a double-double this season,” Hoeg said. “I kind of call him the Kevin Love of the program. You can always count on him for lots of rebounds and double-digit scoring, which is really nice. And then Jeremiah, you never know what that kid is going to do. The kid can go off for 40 (points) or he can be set up for 20 or 18 points.”
Others are contributing, as well. Junior guard Ethan Welk is second in the EDC at 4.3 assists per game while Jeremiah’s younger brother Matthew, a sophomore guard, is a hot free throw shooter at 84.2 percent and averages 2.4 steals per game. Zeller and junior guard David Shilling are capable, strong defenders, both averaging 1.3 blocks a night.
“Kind of the big surprise for me this year is Ethan Welk,” Hoeg said. “He didn’t start out as the starting point guard for us and Ethan has filled in that role really nicely for us. He’s taking care of the ball and his assist to turnover ratio is great."
Hoeg also noted the play of senior guard Welcome Muhoza and junior center Joe Rose off the bench.
"Welcome coming off the bench gives us senior leadership and he does a nice job, as well. with a big, physical body as a senior," Hoeg said. "Joe Rose coming off the bench is doing a great job for us filling in for Carter when we need to get Carter off the floor."
North will look to use that talent to make a run in the EDC tournament and return to the state tournament for a third straight year in hopes of chasing its first state title since 2006.
“We try to take it one game at a time and focus on one opponent,” Sem said. “But I’m pretty confident. I’m going into this year with the same mindset as the last two years.”
“Anything can happen in the EDC since we’ve seen it already this year,” Zeller added. “No one is going to be taking it easy on anyone. We’ve just got to go into every game thinking we’ve got to win.”