Coach Von Graffin likes the makeup of his Bowling Green team's roster. It's a team with a decent amount of size. It's a team with experience. It's also a team that knows what it is like to win a Northern Lakes League championship.
Led by returnees Ryan Hoehner and Jeremiah Kollar, the Bobcats are considered the frontrunners to collect a second league championship in four seasons. BG finished second to Perrysburg last year with an 11-3 mark.
"We bring a lot of kids back from last season with experience," Graffin said. "They really enjoy playing basketball with each other and it's one of the hardest-working groups I've had."
The Bobcats are considered near-unanimous favorites to win the NLL. They came out on top of The Blade's poll of league coaches with 63 points. Anthony Wayne received 54 points, followed by defending league champion Perrysburg, Springfield, Maumee, Northview, Southview and Rossford.
Graffin, in his fourth season as the Bobcats head coach, will lean on Hoehner, a first-team All-NLL selection a year ago, and Kollar, a second-team All-NLL choice.
"They have had a taste of it [winning a championship] and they're trying to lead [this team] to the promised land," Graffin said.
But the BG coach expects plenty of resistance.
Anthony Wayne, paced by senior sharpshooters Brent Papenfuss and Kris Koval, could pose a threat. And defending champion Perrysburg always seems to be in the hunt for a league title under coach Dave Boyce.
The following capsules are in order of predicted finish:
Coach: Von Graffin, 4th season
Last season: 14-7, 11-3 NLL
Top players: Seniors Ryan Hoehner, 6-4 F; Jeremiah Kollar, 6-0 G; Moe Al-Jiboury, 6-1 F; Brandon Radabaugh, 6-3 F. Junior Jordan Fortney, 6-3 G.
Outlook: Hoehner (17.7 points, 4.4 rebounds) enters his senior campaign as one of the area's best all-around players. His versatility also makes the Bobcats a clear-cut favorite.
Kollar (11.6 points), Radabaugh (7.5 points) and Al-Jiboury (6.8 points) also understand what it takes to win, having been around when the Bobcats claimed their first NLL title when they were freshmen.
"We expect big things from this team if we can stay healthy," Graffin said.
Team chemistry, which seems to be a premium for Graffin-coached teams, will be a key.
Coach: Scott Riley, 4th season
Last season: 10-11, 8-6 NLL
Top players: Seniors Brent Papenfuss, 6-2 G; Kris Koval, 6-3 F; Andrew Riley, 6-0 G; Josh Dittman, 6-1 G; Ryan Pontsler, 6-3 G-F. Juniors Andrew Riley, 6-0 G; Matt Ramlon, 6-8 F.
Outlook: With eight letter winners back, including three starters, the Generals are as seasoned as any NLL team. Riley is working with his best roster in four seasons, and the Generals look like legitimate title contenders.
Koval (15 points, 8 rebounds) and Papenfuss (14 points, 6 rebounds) are as formidable a 1-2 punch as there is in the NLL. The Generals, who finished in the middle of the pack a year ago, have the potential to make most nights difficult for opposing defenses.
Riley (6 points), Dittman (4 points) and Pontsler (2 points) provide experience and depth. A fast start could go a long way for the Generals.
Coach: Dave Boyce, 5th season
Last season: 17-5, 13-1 NLL
Top players: Seniors Scott Perkins, 6-2 F; Ian Milne, 5-10 G; Lavon Christian, 5-11 F. Junior Andrew Wood, 6-2 G.
Outlook: The defending league champions could face a tough road after losing all but one starter to graduation.
Perkins is back after averaging 14.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists in his junior season. He's in a position to improve those numbers as the most experienced player on the team.
Milne (4.7 points), who saw ample playing time as a junior, is also expected to turn it up another notch this season.
Wood, who averaged 17 points on the JV level, heads a list of newcomers who Boyce thinks will contribute.
Coach: Tim Reiser, 19th season
Last season: 10-11, 6-8 NLL
Top players: Seniors Brad Zarembski, 6-6 F; Fletcher Noble, 5-9 G.
Outlook: This could finally be the year when Springfield catches the attention of the rest of the league.
Reiser will look to Zarembski (8 points, 6 rebounds) and Noble (10 points, 5 assists) in the early going for leadership on a team with ample depth and experience.
The Blue Devils' longtime coach believes they should be considered a team to keep an eye on.
Coach: Jim Robinson, 21st season at Maumee (36th overall)
Last season: 15-6, 11-3 NLL
Top players: Seniors Lamonte Dawson, 5-8 G; Kipp Dawson, 5-8 G; Jake Causer, 6-4 F. Juniors Ian Wright, 6-4 F; Carl Kelly, 6-2 F.
Outlook: The Panthers will lean heavily on the Dawsons for leadership. They made up one of the best starting backcourts in the NLL a year ago.
Lamonte, a proven scorer who averaged 17 points and four steals a year ago, will be asked to continue putting the ball in the basket. Kipp complements his backcourt mate. He accounted for nine points and three steals as the point guard a year ago.
But Robinson lost his entire starting frontcourt to graduation.
Coach: Dennis Shoemaker, 12th season
Last season: 1-20, 1-13 NLL
Top players: Senior Sam Myers, 5-10 F. Juniors Matt Wade, 6-2 F-C; Derek Andrzej-czak, 6-4 F-C.
Outlook: A year after winning only one game, the Wildcats can only go in one direction.
Shoemaker is counting on his three returnning starters - Myers (10.3 points), Wade (9.6 points, 5.7 rebounds) and Andrzejczak (9.3 points, 4.0 rebounds) - to provide direction for a relatively young team.
"Our goal this year is to finish in the top four of the NLL and to win over half of our games," Shoemaker said.
Coach: Marc Jump, 12th season
Last season: 9-12, 6-8 NLL
Top players: Seniors Brian Kramer, 6-4 F-C; Bryan Neely, 6-6 C; Andrew Skeels, 6-0 G-F.
Outlook: The Cougars fall into the group of teams that come up too short on experience to seriously compete for the league championship. Jump returns only three letter winners.
But that doesn't mean Southview will not show up ready to compete.
Kramer, Neely and Skeels are Southview's leading returners, and how they fare will probably tell how the season unfolds.
It wasn't too long ago when Jump led a senior-dominated Cougar team to the NLL title. The makeup of his latest team includes three freshmen and a pair of sophomores. Competing in the league race is the goal, but it looks more like Southview's best days ahead could be in future seasons.
Coach: Brian Vorst, 1st season
Last season: 4-17, 1-13 NLL
Top players: Seniors Dylan Jewell, 6-4 C; Jason Duly, 6-2 F-C; Kevin Cox, 6-3 F-C. Juniors Justin Wagner, 6-5 F-C; Jimmy Bell, 5-9 G.
Outlook: The Bulldogs are looking to compete and surprise a few teams in the NLL. Finding team chemistry early in the season could go a long way for a team whose roster doesn't match up with the upper echelon in the NLL.
In his first season as the Bulldogs coach, Vorst is optimistic about a group that returns five letter winners.
"I've been pretty pleased with how they're working," Vorst said. "They're eager to adapt to the changes in the program. I think if they keep playing hard we have a chance to win some games.
"I think the league is pretty solid. We're just hoping to fight, scratch and claw and be in position to win games."
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