From the left, Jerome Griffin, John Thomas, A. C. Limes, Ryan Smoyer, Tommy Rodgers and Cody Downs.
THE BLADE/ZACK CONKLE
Otsego appears to have the weapons to capture the Northern Buckeye Conference title spearheaded by a talented tandem of seniors.
The Knights edged out co-defending champion Lake as the preseason favorite to win the NBC.
Otsego coach Jim Bostdorff said his Knights are not only experienced they should also have good depth and balanced scoring, along with size.
“We are cautiously optimistic because we have a good core,” Bostdorff said. “But we have room to grow. We have kids that can play but we have to come together.”
Otsego has a potent one-two combo with seniors A.C. Limes and Ryan Smoyer. Both are 6-foot-4 and are four-year starters. Limes, who earned All-NBC first team honors, is a force down low. Smoyer, an NBC second teamer, causes match up problems with his ability to score from the outside and also in the post.
“They are both gifted athletes but they are also nice kids who you want to be around,” Bostdorff said.
Lake lost three talented seniors to graduation, including NBC player of the year Ra'Shad Smith. The Flyers still have three starters and five letter winners back.
“We should have a well balanced team with good guard play and post play,” Lake coach Ryan Bowen said.
Bostdorff said Lake is the team to beat after the Flyers shared the title last year with Eastwood.
“Lake will have a set of really good seasoned guards,” he said. “Those kids can play and they have size in the post as well. They have kids who can score.”
Woodmore also is a contender, led by senior Donny Bowen, who earned All-NBC first team honors last year.
Rossford coach Brian Vorst, whose Bulldogs are among the top four, said he expects his players to play hard and improve.
“I have been pleased with our overall work ethic,” Vorst said. “I believe that we have a team that will go out and compete hard and hopefully we will put ourselves in a position to win games.”
Eastwood, which shared the title with Lake last year, lost four starters to graduation.
The last time Otsego won a league title came in 2001.
“We are a work in progress,” Bostdorff said. “We have to get all focused on the team goal. It's a good group of guys. It's not an unrealistic goal that we could win. We're just an unfinished product.
“But there is not one team that you can phone it in against and think you will come away with a victory."
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish based on a preseason coaches' poll:
Coach: Jim Bostdorff, eighth season
Last season: 12-8 overall, 8-6 NBC
Top players: Seniors A.C. Limes 6-4, P; Ryan Smoyer 6-4, W; Drake Johnson, 6-0, W; Jerome Griffin 6-1, PG/W; Tommy Rodgers 5-10, PG. Juniors John Thomas 6-2, P; Cody Downs 6-0, W.
Outlook: Four of five starters and six letter winners are back for Bostdorff.
Limes (13.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game) earned All-NBC first team honors. Smoyer (11.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg) was selected to the All-NBC second team.
“A.C will probably be one of the strongest kids in the league,” Bostdorff said. “Ryan is one of the best shooters in the league. He causes matchup problems.”
Smoyer will play baseball at Notre Dame as a pitcher.
Johnson is out for the season after suffering a compound fracture of the leg in football.
Thomas (7.4 ppg and 5.7 rpg), Griffin (7.4 ppg), Rodgers (6.0 ppg) and Downs (4.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, and 2.3 assists) all contributed last season.
Coach: Ryan Bowen, third season
Last season: 17-6, 11-3
Top players: Senior Marcus Pierce, 6-5, C; Junior Jayce Vancena 6-5, P. Sophomores Connor Bowen 5-11, G; Jared Rettig, 6-2, G.
Outlook: Bowen led the Flyers to a share of the title and has compiled a 29-15 overall record.
Despite losing a a trio of talented seniors to graduation, he has three starters and five letter winners back.
Bowen said he must find out who his go-to scorers will be.
“Someone will have to step up,” Bowen said. “I'm not sure how much depth we will have. We have some good guys coming off bench, they just have to figure out their identities.”
Bowen said he has guards who can create, as well as shoot it, with good post size.
“We have been traditionally a guard team, that will change this year with our good post play,” he said. “We our looking forward to this season in many ways. We have a great group of kids who all work hard. It will definitely take a team effort for us to be successful.”
Coach: Brad Sander, third season
Last season: 8-14, 3-11
Top players: Seniors Donny Bowen, 6-3, F; Jake Lewandowski, 5-9, G; Brad Flick, 5-9, G; Matt Haar, 6-2, C; Harrison Wooten, 6-8, C. Junior Erich Greulich, 6-0, F.
Outlook: The Wildcats should have a good combination of players who can get to the rim along with players who are good shooters from the outside, according to Sander.
He also said his team needs to improve at the defensive end and in the rebounding area.
“We want to make teams work harder than they did last year to score against us.,” Sander said.
He has two starters and six letter winners back.
Bowen finished third in the league in scoring (14.0 ppg) and was third in rebounding (10.0).
“Donny will be our 'go-to' guy coming off a season in which he was first team all-league and all-district,” Sander said. “But we have five seniors that will form the nucleus of our team.”
Lewandowski averaged 7.0 points and 3.1 assists per game. Flick, Haar, and Wooten all averaged around 3.5 points per game.
“We should have more depth than we have had the last few years and I expect to get contributions from more than just our starters in each game we play,” Sander said.
Coach: Brian Vorst, seventh season
Last season: 7-14, 7-7
Top players: Juniors Mack Miller, 5-10, G; Derek Mack, 6-0, G. Sophomores Hector Aguirre, 6-3 F; Nate Childress, 6-4, P; Matt Enderbury, 6-3, F.
Outlook: Miller, Mack, and Aguirre all started last year.
Miller averaged 8.2 points per game, while Mack chipped in with 4.7 ppg.
Vorst said his Bulldogs are a pretty quick team and his guards anticipate very well on both ends of the floor.
“This group works very hard and is very tight,” Vorst said. “Our posts are very strong and can also step out and shoot the basketball from the perimeter. We have a very good balance of perimeter and post play.”
Potential trouble areas include youth and inexperience.
“We have three returning letter winners and several others who gained experience at the end of last season, but we don’t have any seniors,” Vorst said.
“Our main issues will revolve around experience and leadership type issues such as end of game situations, how to handle pressure situations, and how to get through difficult times.”
Coach: Matt Routson, first season
Last season: 14-7, 11-3
Top players: Seniors Kevin Sweeney, 5-11 G; Logan Bess, 6-4, P; Ross Bockbrader, 6-2, P. Juniors Jake Schmeltz, 6-1, G; Jordan Faykosh, 6-2, G; Skylar Dierker, 5-10 G.
Outlook: Routson inherits a team with just one returning stater and three letter winners.
Schmeltz averaged 11.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game and had 82 assists. Sweeney also saw varsity time.
Routson also is counting on juniors Steven Bradley, Michael Flipse, and Jacob Rahe.
“We have a talented group of players lead by third-year varsity player Jake Schmeltz,” he said. “We have a deep bench, at times being able to play eight to nine players.”
However, a lack of varsity experience is a potential weakness.
“We will need to grow up quickly and adjust to the speed and style at the varsity level,” Routson said “We have many talented and hard working athletes who will get the opportunity to step up and become contributors. However they will have to do it against high quality competition as our schedule is difficult. Our success will hinge on whether we can overcome our lack of experience and compete.”
Coach: Keith Diebler, first season
Last season: 6-14, 3-11
Top players: Senior Jacob Young, 6-1, W. Juniors Jake Schimming, 5-11, W; Grant Adams, 6-4, P; Dakota Caraway, 6-2, WP. Sophomore Luke Rightnowar, 6-1, P; Amos Kauder, 6-1, W/P.
Outlook: Only one starter and two letter winners are back for Diebler, whose coaching experience includes stints at Fostoria, Gibsonburg, Bowling Green, and Upper Sandusky — where he won a Division II state title in 2005 (27-0).
Diebler, who was an assistant at Bowsher last year, plans on pressuring and running.
Young averaged 5.0 points and 2.0 assists per game, while Schimming averaged 4.0 points and 3.0 assists per contest.
“We are really young,” Diebler said. “We hope to have a big turnaround here. Our system has to take hold and we're learning every day. We have youthful enthusiasm.”
He said he expects the Comets to play hard and compete.
“I like to get up and down the court and shoot about 80 times,” he said. “We put pressure on the basketball. As we develop that technique we will get better.”
Coach: Ty Traxler, fifth season
Last season: 12-11, 6-8
Top players: Seniors Zach Foster, 6-1, G; Mica Robinson, 6-4, P; Austin Hoiles, 6-2, P; Michael Chapman, 5-10, G. Junior Aaron Arnold, 6-4, W.
Outlook: The Royals reached the district semifinals last year and two starters are back along with five letter winners from that team.
Traxler, who has a 52-35 career record at Elmwood, lists size and length as team strengths. He said depth and team speed may be possible trouble areas.
Foster contributed 7.9 points, 2.4 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game. Arnold chipped in with 6.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest.
Robinson, Hoiles, and Chapman also saw plenty of varsity action.
“We want to be competitive night in and night out in what will shape up to be a tough league,” Traxler said. “The most important factor to our success will be how quickly we can develop second and third scoring options.”
Coach: Rick Renz, ninth season
Last season: 8-13, 7-7
Top players: Seniors Adonis Cousin, 6-2, P; David Cook, 6-0, PG. Juniors Drew Stennett, 6-2, P; Hunter Abell, 6-4, P. Sophomore Dominque Fuller, 6-0, G.
Outlook: Among three letter winners are two returning starters.
Cousin finished with 9.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Cook averaged 5.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per game while Fuller scored 3.0 points and grabbed 3.0 rebounds per game.
Renz said he likes his team's quickness and ability to put pressure on the ball.
A lack of height may lead to rebounding problems and he must also find consistent scorers.
“The key to this season is team chemistry,” Renz said. “We lost a lot of players off of last year’s team and most of these guys have not played together until three weeks ago. If we can hold it together until the New Year I think we will see some progress and become a team that can compete every night.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.