Archbold is the favorite to win the Northwest Ohio Athletic League boys basketball title, just as it was last year.
Winning at least a share of the past three league titles, as well as trips to the state semifinals in two of the previous three years, earns a team that type of respect.
But last season the Blue Streaks relied heavily on All-Ohio guard Dan Borcherdt, who scored 22.7 points per game, as well as three other players lost to graduation. If Archbold wishes to claim another NWOAL title, it will have to find scoring from other options.
"We hope to have better balance this year," coach Doug Krauss said. "We'll need to offset the loss of Dan's scoring with better balance."
Despite the losses, the Blue Streaks are the preseason pick to win the league. But the league's coaches also gave first-place votes to Patrick Henry and Wauseon, and the NWOAL has a long tradition of tight title races.
"In no particular order, Patrick Henry, Wauseon, Evergreen, Liberty Center and Delta all are capable [of winning the league], and we hope to be in that mix," Krauss said. "Any of those teams will be able to beat anyone on any given night."
Here is a look at all nine NWOAL schools in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Doug Krauss, 22nd season
Last season: 24-2, 7-1 NWOAL
Top players: Seniors David Borcherdt, 6-0 G; Josh Johnson, 6-0 G. Sophomore Gene Goering, 6-2 F.
Outlook: The loss of Dan Borcherdt and the other seniors from last season shouldn't be overlooked, but the Blue Streaks' cupboard isn't bare. David Borcherdt is an excellent 3-point shooter, while Johnson is especially tough on the defensive end of the floor.
One key may be the play of Goering, whom Krauss said was remarkably consistent for a freshman and has made big strides in his game. Another is the development of depth behind the three returnees.
Archbold won't put a tall team on the court, so rebounding will be another critical area. But the Blue Streaks' commitment to defense, as well as the experience gained from last year's title run, may pay dividends this season.
Coach: Dave Krauss, 22nd season
Last season: 12-10, 4-4
Top players: Seniors Zack George, 6-2 F; Brendan Haas, 6-2 G; Marc Krauss, 6-3 F; A.J. Meyer, 6-4 C; Brian Yarnell, 5-9 G. Junior Kyle Brubaker, 6-0 G.
Outlook: It's difficult for Krauss to size up his team, because several key components are still playing football. But the return of six letter winners has raised hopes for the Patriots this year.
Brubaker, the team's point guard, earned a berth on the all-league first-team by averaging 9.5 points per game while leading the team in assists and steals as a sophomore.
George led the team in rebounding, while Marc Krauss and Meyer are talented shooters.
Coach Krauss hopes the school's state title run in football, as well as the memory of three league losses by two points or fewer, will spur PH to a big season on the hardwood.
Coach: Ken Burgei, 23rd season
Last season: 10-12, 4-4
Top players: Seniors Michael Downing, 5-10 G; Matt Kahrs, 6-4 P; Ray Martinez, 6-1 G; Jake Unger, 6-1 P. Junior Chris Villalovos, 6-2 F. Sophomore Elliott Mealer, 6-6 P.
Outlook: The Indians lost four letter winners, including first-team all-leaguer Jake Reckner. But Wauseon does return three starters who were big contributors last year.
Leading the way is Martinez, who averaged seven points per game. Mealer averaged 6.9 points and 8.5 boards per game as a freshman.
The Indians have a good mix of size and speed, but Burgei said his biggest concern is depth.
Coach: Ryan Miller, first season
Last season: 15-7, 7-1
Top players: Seniors Brian Babcock, 6-1 F; Kasey Bodenbender, 6-1 G; Andrew Quigley, 6-4 C.
Outlook: The Tigers welcome back three starters from last year's co-champions, led by Bodenbender, who was first-team all-league after averaging 13 points per game. Babcock scored 10 points and six rebounds, while Quigley contributed four points and six boards per contest.
The bad news is that Bodenbender, Babcock and Quigley are the only returnees, so developing depth quickly will be important.
Liberty Center also has questions about its rebounding thanks to a roster with only three players taller than 6-2.
Coach: Cory Sprow, fourth year
Last season: 16-7, 6-2
Top players: Senior Kyle Bostater, 6-5 F; Aaron Mahnke, 6-5 F; Jason Turner, 6-1 G.
Outlook: The Panthers' graduation losses included three guards who combined to win seven letters.
But Delta returns an impressive 1-2 frontcourt punch in Bostater and Mahnke. Bostater averaged 9.8 points and 5.3 boards per contest, while Mahnke averaged 7.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Sprow hopes the experience of reaching last year's district final will provide a spark.
Coach: Jerry Keifer, 13th season
Last season: 15-7, 4-4
Top players: Seniors Kelby Dominique, 6-0 F; Tyler Winn, 6-3 F. Juniors Chris Pfund, 5-8 G; Andrew Pinkelman, 6-4 C.
Outlook: The Vikings return experienced frontcourt players in Pinkelman, who averaged 9.6 points per game, and Winn (6.6 points).
But Winn will miss much of December because of a broken collarbone.
Keifer hopes his team can develop depth, especially at guard, where the Vikings lost all-league performer Nick Langenderfer to graduation. Pfund, who averaged 7.0 points per contest last year, is the lone backcourt player with experience.
Coach: Tim Meister, 14th season
Last season: 4-17, 1-7
Top players: Seniors Deiter Held, 6-3 C; Tyler Hollabaugh, 6-2 F; Joe Silva, 6-0 G; Tyler Smith, 6-3 C. Juniors Justin Schultz, 5-10 G; Kolbrin Vitek, 6-2 F.
Outlook: Last season the Golden Bears took their lumps with an inexperienced team. Meister hopes the payoff comes this year, when his team returns seven letter winners.
Bryan will look for scoring from Hollabaugh, Smith and Vitek, who combined for almost 20 points per game a year ago. The Golden Bears will present height problems for opponents, and rebounding shouldn't be a problem as Smith and Hollabaugh averaged 5.1 and 4.2 boards per game, respectively.
Coach: T.J. Hammer, first season
Last season: 7-14, 3-5
Top players: Senior Kurtis Moore, 5-9 G. Juniors Britt Barry, 6-3 F; Josh Daft, 6-1 G.
Outlook: The Locomotives return just two starters and three letter winners, so experience will be a big question early in the season.
Montpelier should be athletic. But height will be a problem.
Coach: Tim Zieroff, second season
Last season: 4-18, 0-8
Top players: Seniors Beau LaVigne, 5-6 W; Jeff Vincent, 6-3 P. Juniors Brad Betz, 5-9 W; Eric Camp, 6-0 P; Josh Rhodes, 5-9 W; Mike Timpe, 5-7 W.
Outlook: The Bulldogs return three starters. Betz leads the way with his average of 14 points per game a year ago. But Swanton will be extremely small, starting three guards no taller than 5-9. Zieroff hopes to use his players' speed and quickness to overcome his team's height disadvantage.
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