By Ryan Kaczmarski
The ROCKY RIVER boys basketball team comes into the 2011-12 season with great expectations. The Pirates were West Shore Conference champions last year with an overall record of 18-2 (13-1 in the WSC), district champions and regional finalists.
The team will have to replace the guards from last season it lost to graduation.
“We need to develop a go-to player on the offensive end,” said Pirates head coach Michael Murray. “Also, can this team play the kind of defense we are used to playing here at River?”
Rocky River has 10 returning seniors and a junior class that was 18-2 (14-0 in the WSC) last year on the junior varsity level.
“We have a lot of experience returning,” Murray said. “Our seniors were able to gain valuable experience last year by competing and earning a conference title and going deep into the tournament.”
The top returning players are forward Mike Pavlik (8.4 points per game, 59% field goal percentage and 4.9 rebounds per game), forward Joey Kinsley (6.2 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game), center Brian Thorn (5 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game), guard Jonathan Lihani (3.8 points per game, 1.5 assists per game and 1.7 streals per game), guard Tim Smith and forward Justin Seffernick.
Coach Murray feels, along with his team, the top teams in the WSC are Midview (with returning players Riley Moore and Patrick Lim), Avon and Bay.
“I think we will be very competitive across the board,” Murray said. “Our non-conference schedule has been upgraded, which should only help prepare us for our league and the tournament.
“I feel there are a lot of teams that are going to take a big step forward,” he added. “Last year teams played some young players that really grew throughout the year. That means they are going to continue to develop and improve and those teams are going to benefit from that.”
The BAY boys team had an overall record of 14-8 (9-5 in the WSC) last season and will need to replace nine players lost to graduation, including 2010-11 WSC MVP John Urwin, who scored over 1,000 points in his high school career, and four others that were three-year starters.
They will be a primarily new group of players this year with only three seniors in Bryan Lowrie (second-team All-WSC last season), Paul Gorski and Serbian foreign exchange student Jovan Miskovic.
“Our junior varsity team went 15-5 last year, and have been very successful all throughout high school,” said Rockets head coach Jason Frolo. “We are a very quick, athletic and are very good at attacking the basket.”
The Rockets team goals this season are to win the WSC and compete for a district title.
The FAIRVIEW team will be looking to turn around a program that has not seen a winning record since before this year’s seniors were in high school. Last season it had a record of 5-15 and lost in the first round of the playoffs while playing in its final season in the WSC (Fairview is in the first year of playing in the Stripes division of the Patriot Athletic Conference).
The Warriors’ key returning players are junior shooting guard John Miles (first-team All-WSC last season, 14.8 points per game and a school record 66 three-point shots made last season), senior power forward Rory Juhn (3.6 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game and 65 career blocked shots), senior guard John Doherty (10.7 points per game and 3.5 assists per game), senior guard-forward Cole Zeigler (4.8 points per game), sophomore forward Ed Martin and senior center-forward Eric Lebon.
“We return three starters from last year’s team, but return eight players that played significant minutes last season,” said Warriors head coach Pete Maienknecht. “We will be quicker, more athletic and have more depth than the past two seasons.”
The Warriors lack some size and there is the question of returning players stepping up into new roles.
“Expectations are high for major progress this season, which could mean more notches in the ‘W’ column for us this year,” Maienknecht said.
The key games to watch for this year are against rival Lutheran West on Dec. 20 and Feb. 3.
Last year LUTHERAN WEST had a record of 9-4 in the PAC (11-10 overall) and tied for the Stripes division title.
The Longhorns return five members of last year’s squad, including starters senior forward Shane Elkins (6.2 points per game and 3.7 rebounds per game) and junior guard Chris Ranc Jr. (6.6 points per game and 2.0 rebounds per game). The other returning players are junior forward Dan Hillenbrand, sophomore guard Chris Scott and senior guard-forward Ricky Downer.
“Shane Elkins is a versatile player who can score inside and out, and Ricky Downer is a solid overall presence on the floor,” said first-year head coach Alan Januzzi. “They (Elkins and Downer) have shown excellent leadership skills both on and off the court. With a young team, their leadership will be important for us to have success.
“We will be young, returning only 18.8 points per game total,” Januzzi added. “We only have the two seniors in the program, but we have a solid junior and sophomore class.”
The projected newcomers to the team are junior guard-forward CJ Griffin, junior guard Kyle Masek, junior center Kameron Bremer, junior guard-forward Austin Helmink, junior forward Lucas Hamlescher and sophomore guards Greg Kunze and Peter Koza.
When Coach Januzzi was asked what the team’s goals are for this year, he said that he wants the boys to come together as a team and play hard, smart and together every day.
The biggest games on their schedule are the four games against Clearview and Fairview (two each).
WESTLAKE is ready to erase the memory of the loss to North Ridgeville on a last-second buzzer-beater in last season’s sectional semifinals. That loss gave the Demons an overall record of 11-10 last year.
The returning letter winners are Grant Gaze, Andrew Guirguis, Max Rodrigues and Ezzat Assat. Westlake head coach Shawn Hood considers Gaze the best defender and most complete player on the team.
The team captains are Gaze, Guirguis, Rodrigues and Yousef Kirallah.
Coach Hood considers all of the games within the Southwestern Conference to be the most important. The team will have to rely on its half court defense to shut down opposing teams.
“The SWC is a very competitive conference with tremendous coaching and high- level talent,” Hood said. “We hope to be competitive every night.”
NORTH OLMSTED will hope to improve on last season’s overall record of 6-16 (5-9 in the SWC). The 2010-11 squad featured four seniors and nine underclassmen.
“We had two key injuries to two starters that effected our team for a big part of the season,” said Eagles head coach Joe Smith.
The team has eight returning letter winners from last year. The key returning players are senior forward Darvin Freeman (two-time second-team All-SWC, 12.9 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game), senior point guard Marc Remy, senior forward Khaled Oudeh and senior post player Pat Moran.
The key newcomer is junior post player Billy Lucian. Lucian is a transfer from Open Door High School.
“Billy has great hands and feet for someone his size,” Smith said. “He also has great ability to rebound and finish around the basket.”
The other returning seniors are forward Brad Avalos, forward Brandon Avalos, guard Samer Silmi, guard Pat Needles and forward Allen Allan.
Smith is looking forward to playing against Bay and their head coach Jason Frolo, who is his brother-in-law. The other key games on the schedule are against Brecksville and Avon Lake.
The Eagles’ strengths this year will be the size of their front court and senior leadership. They will have to work on the perimeter shooting to have success in the SWC.
OLMSTED FALLS is also coming off a disappointing 2010-11 season, in which they had an overall record of 4-17 (3-11 in the SWC).
The Bulldogs have four returning starters, including senior captain forward Eric Meehan (15.7 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game), senior captain guard Jared Kurz (8 points per game, 2 assists per game), junior guard Steve Johnson (13.4 points per game) and junior forward Brandon Friedrich. Junior guard Kenny Hanna is also projected to start this year.
The newcomers to the team are senior forward Hunter Hillebrand, junior guard Billy Calabrase, sophomore guard Adam Asadorian, sophomore guard James Sabatka, sophomore guard Sam Lombardo, sophomore forward Alex Mitchell and freshman guard Nick Fritz.
“I think that we will have a nice mixture of experience and younger players,” said head coach Chris DeLisio. “I think that if our younger kids grow up fast, we can have a nice year.
“We will be able to play a lot of players, so depth is a strength,” DeLisio said. “Size is our weakness.”