HANCOCK COUNTY — When it comes to getting off to great start to the season, Hancock County boys basketball teams are 4-for-4.

Eastern Hancock, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and New Palestine are a combined 31-7 (81.6 winning percentage) over the 2022 portion of the 2022-23 schedule. Two of the losses are head-to-head matchups.

An unbeaten, two state-ranked teams and a pair of holiday tourney titles are among the items at the top of the teams’ lists of accomplishments.

New Palestine is 9-0 and coming off a victory over Class 3A No. 10 Lebanon in the Lebanon Holiday Tournament championship game.

After being among those receiving votes in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll, the Dragons are No. 16 in the poll released this week.

The Dragons have wins over both Eastern Hancock and Greenfield-Central.

In fact, that’s the only loss for the Cougars, who were also receiving votes in the IBCA poll prior to their Dec. 9 loss to the Dragons. Luke Meredith’s club is 7-1.

Eastern Hancock is 8-3, with the losses coming to the Dragons, Class 4A perennial power Bloomington South and to Class 1A No. 10 Indianapolis Tindley in double overtime.

The Royals made a Final Four trip in 2021-22 and are ranked No. 5 in the Class 2A Associated Press poll. They were receiving votes in the IBCA poll up until this week.

Mt. Vernon is 7-3 and just won the Roncalli Holiday Invitational last week.

The Marauders losses are to Class 4A No. 14 Fishers, No. 20 in the IBCA poll, Lawrence Central, and an overtime decision at Southport.

All four teams were coming off strong seasons last year (78-24 combined, 76.5 winning percentage). Along with the Royals’ post season run, Mt. Vernon went 22-3 and won a sectional. New Palestine had 19 wins, its most since going 19-3 in 1995-96. Greenfield-Central finished 15-8.

Coaches believe staff continuity is a key. Eastern Hancock’s Aaron Spaulding is in his 24th year leading the Royals. New Palestine’s Trent Whitaker is in his eighth year with the Dragons. Ben Rhoades is in Year 5 with the Marauders and Meredith is in his fourth win the Cougars.

“I know Luke is one of the least experienced as a head coach of any of us and I only have one more year than him, but I feel like, especially New Pal and Eastern, they’ve had such continuity with their coaches,” Rhoades said. “I think that speaks a lot more volumes than some people realize.

“When you can keep some of the same staff, whether it’s your high school coaches, middle school or feeder programs, in the long run, that pays off. Over the last four of five years almost everybody (in the county) has been able to keep most of their staff in place. I think that has a lot to do with it. Your kids are growing up around it.”

“Coach Whitaker, coach Rhoades and coach Spaulding are all good coaches and good men,” Meredith said. “I think coach Rhoades has been there (five) years, coach Whitaker eight or nine years and coach Spaulding has been at Eastern Hancock forever. This is my fourth year, and that continuity has been a big help.”

Mt. Vernon might be the surprise of this year’s group. The Marauders graduated all but one varsity player from last year’s team, Eli Bridenthal. They have two freshman starters, Julien Smith — who already has Division I scholarship offers — and Luke Ertel, and have had games where three frosh (including R’mani Wells) have been in the starting lineup.

The other three county schools are a little more senior heavy. Many of the top seniors are in their third or fourth year at the varsity level.

Spaulding’s twin sons, Silas Spaulding and Jacob Spaulding are four-year varsity players, as are Greenfield-Central’s Dylan Moles and New Palestine’s Blaine Nunnally.

Moles has been a starter since he walked into the G-C gym. Nunnally and the Spauldings all played a lot of varsity minutes as soon as they left middle school. Bridenthal, New Palestine’s Ian Stephens, and Eastern Hancock’s Edric Miller have all been big contributors for three years.

“I think these senior groups — I know Mt. Vernon’s young — have been battling each other since they’ve been in middle school,” coach Spaulding said. “That class has had some really good players all the way through. You’re seeing them as seniors now and they have some pretty good teams.”

Now, the hopes are to keep it going for the latter part of the season. In the upcoming months, conference and sectional titles will be up for grabs.

There will be big tests along the way for all four teams. Eastern Hancock plays another state-ranked 2A team in Wapahani Friday. It’ll be for the upperhand in the Mid-Eastern Conference. There’s a big county showdown Friday when Mt. Vernon hosts Greenfield-Central, but before that, the Marauders take on No. 13 Westfield (6-1), at home, Tuesday.

New Palestine will have a big road and Hoosier Heritage Conference test Friday at Delta.

“(Hancock County) basketball is really good and very comparative to other counties if not better,” Whitaker said. “We have some incredible basketball players, not just teams, but players, with Moles, Stephens, Nunnally, the Spaulding twins and the young guys at Mt. Vernon are getting better and better every week.

“I would put any of our teams up against any other county.”

IBCA boys’ basketball poll  (Jan. 1)

Rk;School;Points;Rec.; FPV

1.;Ben Davis;400;12-0;20

2.;Indianapolis Cathedral;372;6-1




6.;Center Grove;269;10-1


8.;Mishawaka Marian;216;10-1



11.;Lawrence North;196;7-1



14.;Blackhawk Christian;100;10-1


16.;New Palestine;95;9-0



19.;Jennings County;63;10-0

20.;Lawrence Central;49;7-4

Other Schools Receiving Votes (Listed Alphabetically): Anderson, Bloomington North, Brownstown Central, Castle, Chesterton, Columbus North, Evansville Memorial, Fishers, Floyd Central, Harrison (W Lafayette), Indianapolis Attucks, Lake Central, Munster, New Albany, North Daviess, Northridge, Norwell, Valparaiso, Warren Central, 21st Century Charter School  Gary