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Published: Thursday, 11/30/2000

Whitmer, Sandusky are top contenders in wide-open race

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Flip a coin. Or two. Or three.

That may be the best way to predict who will eventually reign over the Great Lakes League at season's end.

There's no clear-cut favorite to win the GLL championship.

“With all the parity in the league, it is up for grabs,” said Lorain Southview coach Al McConihe.

“I think our league is wide open because a lot of teams lost key players to graduation,” said Sandusky coach Ed Kurt, whose team reigns as the defending GLL champion.

The Blue Streaks, perennial GLL contenders, figure to make a run at another league championship. But the Streaks will have to do it with an entirely different cast from a season ago after losing most of their instrumental players to graduation.

If experience counts for anything, then Whitmer deserves mention as a legitimate candidate. The Panthers enter the season as the most experienced team in the GLL.

“I think we can play with anyone in the league,” Whitmer coach Bruce Smith said.

Such could be said about Fremont Ross and Findlay, two teams coming off seasons in which they finished just a game behind Sandusky. Although both teams lost key players to graduation, there's still enough talent on both rosters to make some noise.

Lorain Admiral King and Lorain Southview enter the league as unknown factors after competing as independents last season. Neither they nor their new league rivals know exactly what to expect of their one-year entry into the league.

“You'll just have to go down to Lorain and assume they're going to be good,” said Smith.

Clay and Fostoria are both in transitional stages. Clay lost more than half its team to graduation while Fostoria is learning a new system under a new coach.

Here's a look at the teams listed in the predicted order of finish:

WHITMER

COACH: Bruce Smith, 10th year

LAST SEASON: 12-11 overall, 7-5 GLL

OUTLOOK: B.J. Barre took his athleticism on to Ohio State, leaving the Panthers in search of a steady scoring threat.

Smith would like to believe a roster that includes 10 seniors can overcome the loss of one 20-point scorer from last season.

“We don't have a guy who can average 20 points a game, so we've got to get five guys to average four more points a game,” Smith said.

A wealth of experience and decent all-around size should make the Panthers a contender.

Top returnees include seniors Dave Veres (6-2, G), Tyler Waite (6-2, C), Kevin Alexander (5-11, G), Matt Marsh (6-1, F) and junior Gerald Fletcher 5-11, G).

SANDUSKY

COACH: Ed Kurt, fourth year

LAST SEASON: 17-5, 10-2

OUTLOOK: The defending league champions figure to contend even though they don't return a single starter from last season's team.

With four players on the roster standing at least 6-5 the Blue Streaks pose major matchup problems for the rest of the league.

With only two lettermen back from last season Sandusky must deal with growing pains. A tough non-league schedule that includes Libbey, Mansfield and Bowsher will put the Blue Streaks to the test early.

Top returnees include seniors Antoine Stuckett (5-10, G) and Jason Jones (6-2, G-F), and juniors Issian Redding (6-6, -C) and Trey Hart (6-7, F-C).

FREMONT ROSS

COACH: Mark Gedeon, sixth year

LAST SEASON: 17-5, 9-3

OUTLOOK: The Little Giants may have lost a couple of prominent players from last season's team to graduation, but plenty of talent remains. The Little Giants have enough size and quickness to create trouble for every team in the league.

Top returnees include seniors T.J. Hammer (6-2, G), Bryan Root (6-5, F-C) and Alfonzo Vann (6-3, C), and sophomore Terrence Jones (6-2, G).

FINDLAY

COACH: Jim Rucki, second year

LAST SEASON: 16-5, 9-3

OUTLOOK: Like many of their rivals the Trojans are facing a rebuilding season.

Findlay's roster may include as many as five sophomores after it lost more than 80 per cent of its scoring and 80 per cent of its rebounding to graduation.

Nevertheless, the Trojans haven't ruled out contending.

“Maybe we can surprise a few people,” Rucki said.

Top returnees include seniors Greg Friday (6-5, F) and Chad Paul (5-9, G), and sophomore Will Toeppe (6-0, F).

LORAIN ADMIRAL KING

COACH: John Rositano, sixth year

LAST SEASON: 11-11

OUTLOOK: Young and talented, this group could be the league's biggest surprise.

With only one senior on the roster, Admiral King will rely primarily on its junior class. Considering Admiral King's lineup relied on an even less experienced group last season, that's not a bad proposition.

“We're still young,” Rositano said. “We played a lot of sophomores last year, and we'll be playing a lot of experienced juniors this year.”

Top returnees include senior Tony Richardson (5-11, G) and juniors Ryan Simmons (6-5, F), Antonio Ward (6-3, F), Bryant Bond (6-1, G), Haze Massey (6-3, F) and Drew Chapman (5-11, G).

LORAIN SOUTHVIEW

COACH: Al McConihe, first year

LAST SEASON: 14-7

OUTLOOK: The Saints are in the midst of transition. Besides being scheduled to play just one season in the GLL, the Saints enter this season with only one returning letterman.

Top returnees include seniors Anthony Rios (6-1, G-F) and Wilbert Scott (6-3, C), and juniors Tony Hodges (5-11, G), Marcus Todd (6-5, C) and Renaldo Collins (6-5, F-C).

CLAY

COACH: Joe Guerrero, sixth year

LAST SEASON: 7-14, 5-7

OUTLOOK: A loss of nine players to graduation make for a rebuilding scenario. Furthermore, Guerrero, who doesn't have a returning player taller than 6-2, is working with the shortest team he's ever coached.

Team chemistry and all-out effort must serve as the backbone.

Top returnees include seniors Ryan Stager (6-2, F) and Jeff Zakrzewski (6-0, C), and juniors Andy Ramsey (6-0, G) and Justin Thomas (6-2, F).

FOSTORIA

COACH: Keith Diebler, first year

LAST SEASON: 5-15, 1-11

OUTLOOK: The Redmen hope to show some signs of improvement under their new coach, and with six lettermen back from last season's disappointing experience, they have a chance to improve their league mark.

Top returnees include seniors Dane Bringman (5-10, F), Rob Downing (6-3, C), Bryce Moore (6-2, C) and Micheaux Robinson (5-9, G), and juniors Treyvon McBeth (6-0, F) and Michael Tucker (5-11, C).



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