Seniors Bryan McDougle, left, and Matt Warner both had experience as starters last year. Sophomore John Nelson scored 19 points in a victory over Anthony Wayne.
Two games do not define a season.
Yet after Clay posted back-to-back victories to start the season, the Eagles would like to believe a sound start is a sign of even better times ahead.
"Our guys are excited," coach Joe Guerrero said. "Our guys are just concentrating on trying to get better in practice and in the games. By no means are we where we really need to be."
Wins over Start and Anthony Wayne have the Eagles thinking positively about a season in which many expected them to be among the non-contenders in the Great Lakes League race.
Ultimately, the Eagles don't just want to pretend that they're legitimate contenders. They're serious about proving it.
"It's really great motivation for us to be picked by everyone to finish last," Guerrero said.
"We really want a part of that league title this year," said senior Bryan McDougle, the Eagles' top returning scorer from last season.
The Eagles' first step toward proving they deserve to be mentioned among the league's contenders comes tonight when they play host to Fremont Ross.
"That's a huge test for us because they won the league last year and they're predominantly seniors," McDougle said. "They've got a lot of athletes and they work real well together. We're excited and looking forward to it."
McDougle is one of three seniors on the team who spent some time in the starting lineup last season. Matt Warner and Adam Laurell are the other two.
Laurell, a 6-4 low-post player, also considers the matchup against Ross as a good game with which to begin the GLL campaign.
"It's a tough league and it'll show what we can do in league," Laurell said.
Last year's team finished 9-12 overall and only 4-8 against GLL opponents.
But the Eagles believe they are better than they were last season. Six players are averaging at least eight points per game so far.
The addition of several underclassmen, including three sophomores, has been key. So far, sophomores Brett McDougle, Nick Zenk and John Nelson have responded well to being thrown right into the mix.
Brett McDougle, a 6-1 forward, has averaged 10 points and 11 rebounds during the first two games while his brother, Bryan, leads the team with 15 points a game after averaging nine points last season.
Nelson has shown scoring promise as well, pouring in a team-high 19 points in the Eagles' 92-84 overtime victory over Anthony Wayne.
"Our kids are working extremely hard in practice," Guerrero said. "We're very inexperienced, but the three senior guys have been the leaders of this team."
Guerrero believes the Eagles' success or failure ultimately rides on the shoulders of Bryan McDougle, Warner and Laurell.
McDougle, who is playing point guard this season after starting at the off-guard spot a year ago, has been a steadying force. He's kept the Eagles' turnovers down while quarterbacking the offense.
Warner is the tallest player on the roster at 6-5. A state-medalist high jumper last spring, he's also been the most active Eagle around the basket. He grabbed 14 rebounds in each of the first two games.
Warner, who has a personal-best high jump effort of 6-8, said weight-training workouts over the summer to help him with his high jumping has benefited him in basketball.
"I've been training since June for the high jump and I've gotten a lot stronger," Warner said. "So, I've been able to push around people under the boards and go after rebounds."
The three seniors haven't forgotten the struggles of a year ago.
Meshing the younger players with the returning lettermen has gone well.
"They really don't look like sophomores out there," Bryan McDougle said. "They're really composed and they look like they've been out there playing for a long time."
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.