If momentum can be carried from one basketball season to the next, Ottawa Hills seems to have the upper hand in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference boys basketball race as the season is set to begin.
Coming off a 22-5 finish (12-2 TAAC) that ended with a loss in the Division IV regional final last March, Ottawa Hills returns three starters, including the best senior big-man duo in the conference in 6-foot-9 R.J. Coil and 6-7 Geoffrey Beans.
This was enough for the TAAC coaches to make the Green Bears the unanimous pick to win the conference title this season. Ottawa Hills received the maximum possible 64 voting points to 54 for projected runner-up Gibsonburg.
“It tells us that the other teams think a lot of us, and we’re going to do everything we can to fulfill that selection,” 19th-year coach John Lindsay said. “The league was very competitive last year, and the thing we did well was that we improved throughout the season, especially with our guard play.
“At the start of the season that was one of our weaknesses. But to Ben Silverman’s credit, he developed throughout the year and became quite a poised point guard for us, which was what we needed. He was a big reason we turned things around at the end of the season.”
Reigning TAAC champion Toledo Christian (22-3, 13-1) was tabbed for third at 49 points, and Cardinal Stritch fourth at 41.
“This year I feel we have lost a considerable amount of toughness, and that’s going to be a real challenge for us, along with depth,” Lindsay said. “Even though we have tremendous size, we’re not anywhere near where we need to be to really be successful in the tournament.”
Under Lindsay, Ottawa Hills reached the D-IV state semifinals in 2010 and got back to the regional finals last season. That led high expectations annually.
“That’s the way it should be,” Lindsay said. “You should have high expectations, and we certainly do. We’re going to do everything we can to achieve them.”
Here is a look at all the teams in predicted order of finish.
Coach: John Lindsay, 19th season
Last season: 22-5 overall, 12-2 TAAC
Top players: Seniors Geoffrey Beans, 6-7, W; R.J. Coil, 6-9, C; Ben Silverman, 5-11, G. Junior Nick Hauck, 6-3, W. Freshman Hunter Sieben, 6-0, G.
Outlook: The Green Bears weren’t able to wrangle the TAAC title away from Toledo Christian last season, but did beat the Eagles two out of three times, including in the Division IV district final.
Although they lost four-year starter and team leader Lucas Janowicz to graduation, the Bears have three top-notch returnees in Beans (16.2 points, 4.1 rebounds), Coil (11.7 points, 7.8 rebounds), and Silverman (6.9 points, 5.1 assists) from a team that advanced to the regional final last March.
Coach: Brent Liskai, 12th season
Last season: 11-12, 8-6
Top players: Seniors Andrew Cantrell, 5-10, W; Tyler Ernsthausen, 6-1, P; Adam Copley, 6-3, W; Andy Burmeister, 6-4, F; Isaih Arriaga, 5-9, G. Junior Jordan Kreglow, 5-10, G; Bryce Ernsthausen, 6-3, W.
Outlook: The Golden Bears dipped a bit in the TAAC standings last season after narrowly missing a conference title in 2011-12. With all five starters back, plus three other lette winners, they are expected to be Ottawa Hills’ chief competitor.
Experience, athleticism, depth, and versatility should be strengths, according to Liskai, who sees potential rebounding deficiencies and a tough early-season road schedule as possible trouble spots.
“We will use our depth to implement an uptempo style and create opportunities off of our defense,” Liskai said. “We look to be very competitive in a very strong conference.”
Coach: Dave McWhinnie, 13th season
Last season: 22-3, 13-1
Top players: Seniors Garshawn Paynther, 5-11, G; Kyle Kempton, 6-2, G; Nathan Walton, 6-2, F; Ian Gibson, 6-4, F; Jordan Adesi, 6-6, C.
Outlook: The Eagles suffered a major hit to graduation, losing all five starters, including All-Ohio guard Eric Cellier. But it’s hard to say the cupboard is bare. He will rely on his team’s overall size and athletic ability, and its potential to be an aggressive, physical defense.
Depth, perimeter shooting, and solid rebounding could lead to a repeat TAAC title.
But inexperience will be the tallest hurdle to clear in that lofty pursuit. Paynther (4 points) and Kempton (2.1 points) are the top returning scorers.
“Every single player will be taking on very new roles,” McWhinnie said. “We will need to learn the varsity game very quickly in order to compete at the level that is expected.”
Coach: Dave Rieker, fourth season
Last season: 13-11, 9-5
Top players: Seniors Brooks Gasser, 6-2, G; Jacob Empie, 6-2, G; Austin Pratt, 6-3, C; Karl Zacherious, 6-3, C. Juniors Austin Adams, 6-3, G; Joey Sinay, 6-2, G; Eddie Uher, 6-3, F.
Outlook: The Cardinals have the potential to make a title run, but will need plenty to fall into place. Adams (21 points, 7.8 rebounds) is one of the TAAC’s top all-around players, but will need consistent help, especially in big games against fellow conference contenders.
Gasser (9 points) and Empie (5 points) should provide scoring to complement Adams. Boxing out, better perimeter shooting, and better free-throw accuracy is a must.
“We have a very optimistic outlook for the season,” Rieker said. “We feel we have the talent to compete with every team on our schedule. On offense we must take care of the ball.”
Coach: Josh Arthur, second season
Last season: 12-10, 6-8
Top players: Seniors Thad Woodard, 6-1, G-F; Solomon Collins, 6-1, F; Marcus Knabb, 5-7, G; Rasha Woodley, 6-6, F; Danny Hazimah, 5-9, G. Juniors Nick Towns, 6-5, P; Lucas Isaza, 5-9, G.
Outlook: Two years removed from their TAAC championship season of 2011-12, the Hawks may not be ready to make a legitimate run at another crown.
The Hawks return three starters and four other letterwinners, but for the most part Arthur sees his returning corps as untested and inexperienced. Depth at the guard position should be a key plus.
Woodard (8.7 points, 6 rebounds) and Collins (8.7 points, 4 rebounds) make for a solid 1-2 returning punch.
“The key will be how quickly our players improve,” Arthur said. “Our potential will rely on how quickly we mature, game by game.”
Coach: Dave Regnier, 23rd season
Last season: 13-13, 5-9
Top players: Seniors Phillip Parmelee, 6-2, F; Nathan Creech, 5-11, G; William Higgins, 5-10, G. Juniors Aaron Scheiderer, 6-4, F; Jordan Farley, 6-3, G. Sophomore Adam Regnier, 5-9, G.
Outlook: The Warriors may be hard-pressed to make a climb in the TAAC with no returning starters and just two letterwinners back. Coach Regnier sees height and work ethic as positives but knows inexperience, unproven leadership, and a lack of understanding the varsity game will be major hurdles to overcome.
“We don’t have great numbers throughout the program after graduating seven seniors last season,” coach Regnier said. “Replacing the production we lost will be the first priority of the season.”
Coach: Drew Davie, fourth season
Last season: 1-22, 0-14
Top players: Seniors Dominic Manuella, 5-9, W; Kegan Rakosky, 5-9, W. Juniors Caleb Gerber, 6-1, W; Hunter Stinchcomb, 6-3, P. Sophomores John Rhodes, 5-8, G; Conner Lenthe, 5-8, W.
Outlook: Winless in the TAAC last season, The Lakers are hoping to make a bit of a climb in the standings this season with four returning starters plus three other letterwinners. Manuella (6.2 points) and Gerber (5.3 points, 7 rebounds) will be counted on to lead in the rebuilding.
Davie likes his players’ willingness to learn and compete. But a glaring lack of size will most likely make rebounding and defending the post a tough prospect.
“This team will really get after it on the defensive end of the floor,” Davie said.
“We are a much-improved team the past two years.”
Coach: Jim Scharer, second season
Last season: 6-16, 3-11
Top players: Senior Dustin Sigurdson, 5-6, G. Junior Steven Sutton, 5-9, G. Sophomores Jay Johnson, 6-0, F; Joey Woody, 5-6, G; Jacob Vickers, 6-0, F.
Outlook: The Rangers have no returning starters and only one letter winner back. Factor in a glaring lack of size, and the prospects for competing in the TAAC are not promising. Sigurdson is the only senior and Sutton the only junior on a young team.
“We will play hard and we will improve,” Scharer said.
“Because of our youth, we will be building for the future. We have 20 sophomores and freshmen in the program. We may be the youngest team in Ohio.”