Last season was one for the history books as the Perry boys finished 18-6 overall and won the Raccoon River Conference title outright at 13-3.
The Bluejays are 4-3 overall and 2-1 in RRC play entering the second portion of this season, and if the team intends to defend their crown, they will need to repeat a trend that aided the team last year: win close games.
Perry was 6-2 in games decided by six or less points last year. This season, the Jays have one six-point win while their three losses have come by a combined 10 points.
“We have to play with the confidence we had last year,” Menke said. “We might have surprised a few people in the first half of last year, but by the middle of January people knew what to expect.
“There are no surprises this year,” he added. “We seem to be an easy team to dislike, and that means everyone is going to be out to get us with all they have. We can either feed off that, or not.”
Perry is fifth in Class 3A in scoring at 71.7 points per game. The Jays are second in 3A in total blocks (37), fourth in assists (121), second in attempted 3-pointers (182) and third in 3-pointers made (63), a shooting clip of 34.6 percent from beyond the arc.
The team is shooting 45.1 percent overall (55 percent on traditional field goals) and is 81-of-142 (57 percent) at the foul line, a number Menke emphasized must be improved.
Like all coaches, Menke sees numerous areas that require attention, notably on the defensive end of the floor.
“We have simply got to get better at rebounding the ball, especially on the defensive end, which I think probably cost us at least two wins so far,” he said. “I also want to see us play more consistently in our man-to-man so we are not a one-defense team that teams have an easier time attacking.”
The offense, aside from what Menke termed “too many turnovers, especially unforced ones” has been effective and, at times, nearly unstoppable.
“We have had multiple kids on different nights stepping up with a high volume of points, and we need that to continue,” he remarked. “Shammond (Ivory) is going to get his points, but we need a Kyle (Nevitt), a Ryan (Rathje) or someone else to give us high teens scoring and so far we have had that happen.
“Our athleticism causes people a lot of trouble,” Menke continued. “We have 10 dunks in seven games, which is more than we had in my eight years here. That is an example of the athletic talent we have. That alone is not going to win us games, but it is going to keep us in all of them.”
Ivory leads 3A with a 25.7 point per game average. He is 19-of-49 (38.8 percent) on 3-pointers, and, along with sophomore brother Rashon, has 26 assists.
Nevitt (15.6 ppg, 17 assists, 26 rebounds, 11 steals) and Rathje (11.9 ppg, 19 assists, and a 3A second-best 14 blocks) have been steady for the Jays, as has Janier Puente (8 ppg, 47 rebounds, 12 steals). Rashon Ivory missed two games but is averaging 8.4 ppg while Alex Long has added 2.7 ppg with 23 assists and 23 rebounds.
Rathje is draining 45.5 percent of his 3-pointers (20-of-44) and Nevitt 37.1 percent (13-of-35), giving Perry a wide variety of threats outside the arc.
The offensive output has been greater in the second halves of games, as Perry has scored 127 points in seven first and third quarter, but has a decided 143-105 edge in points produced between the fourth and second frames.
Perry will be tested by a 5-2 ADM team — which already owns wins over both Carroll and Ballard — when they return to action Jan. 5. A Jan. 8 trip to winless Winterset — who stunned Perry for one of their two RRC wins last year — and a Jan. 9 visit from 6-2 Roland-Story, who also topped the Jays last season, will complete the first three games of 2016.
“We will need to play our best,” Menke said. “It is not going to take us long to see where we stand.”