Royals have 4 starters back from 18-6 team Elmwood coach Doug Reynolds is surrounded by talent, including, from left, Ryan Rothenbuhler, Brian Barndt, Dustin Reynolds, Andrew Marsh and Al Tyson.
Some of his coaching peers would just as soon not be picked in the preseason to win their respective league basketball titles, but Elmwood High School's Doug Reynolds welcomes the role of favorite.
Why? Among other reasons, Reynolds believes it actually provides extra motivation to his players.
"I like being picked No. 1 because you know you have to play your best every night," Reynolds said. "It feels good to get that type of respect, and it's going to make us mentally tougher."
Elmwood, which shared the SLL crown with Woodmore last season, also matched the Wildcats on the tournament trail, as each team lost in the Division III regional semifinals at Bowling Green State University.
But Elmwood's Royals return four starters plus another letter winner from that team, while Woodmore has a huge rebuilding process to begin.
The Royals were the unanimous first-place choice of SLL coaches in a preseason poll, receiving the maximum possible 64 points.
"Experience-wise, that [tourney run] helps you tremendously," said Reynolds. "We hope the kids are able to build on last year and go from there. The challenge will be staying mentally tough, because teams are going to bring their best games at us. We can't take a night off defensively, and we need to stay out of foul trouble."
Otsego had 49 points to edge Gibsonburg by a point for second in the SLL coaches poll, and defending co-champion Woodmore was tabbed for sixth. Here is a look at all eight teams listed in their predicted order of finish:
Coach: Doug Reynolds, sixth year
Last season: 18-6, 12-2 SLL
Top players: Seniors Al Tyson, 6-1 G; Andrew Marsh, 6-2 P; Brian Barndt, 6-0 W. Juniors Dustin Reynolds, 6-6 W-P; Ryan Rothenbuhler, 5-9 G.
Outlook: Dustin Reynolds (15.2 points, 10 rebounds) is the centerpiece to what promises to be an outstanding team. Tyson (7.2 points) comes off a superb football season as the Royals' quarterback. Marsh (7 points, 7 rebounds) adds inside presence when Reynolds operates on the wing, and Barndt (5 points) has also had plenty of court time.
Good overall size should mean strong inside play, and coach Reynolds also likes his team's quickness and depth. His chief concern is improving on man-to-man defense.
Coach: Jim Bostdorff, first year
Last season: 12-9, 9-5
Top players: Seniors Casey Donald, 6-0 G; Matt Mills, 5-9 G; Trevor Meyers, 6-0 F; Tyler Getz, 5-10 F; Eric Zuhlsdorf, 6-1 F; Chad Henck, 5-9 G.
Outlook: Bostdorff, a 13-year assistant, begins his first season as head coach with enough talent to potentially contend for an SLL title.
Donald (17 points) and Mills (4 points, 5 assists) were starters last season, and four other returnees started at one point or another.
Bostdorff sees depth and athleticism as pluses, and his main concerns are a lack of overall size, inexperience in the post, and team chemistry.
"If we can play as a team, we can have a very successful season," Bostdorff said.
Coach: Brent Liskai, fourth year
Last season: 13-8, 9-5
Top players: Seniors Brent Ernsthausen, 6-2 P; Nate Kirwen, 6-1 P; Derek Wasserman, 5-9 W; Wyatt Kiser, 6-2 G.
Outlook: The Golden Bears had a solid season in 2004-05, and look to break through for a better one with four returning starters.
Kirwen (11.2 points, 4.4 rebounds), Ernsthausen (9 points, 4.6 boards), Wasserman (7 points) and Kiser (3 points, 4 rebounds) expect to challenge Elmwood for the title with a mix of good overall quickness, depth and positive team chemistry.
Liskai's greatest concern is a lack of height with no players over 6-2.
"We will be an exciting team to watch," Liskai said. "We play 10 players and use an up-tempo style. We should compete for the league title."
Coach: Steve Stoller, 21st year
Last season: 11-11, 7-7
Top players: Seniors Trent Rahe, 6-4 F; Corey Weiland, 6-0 G; Jason Shank, 6-4 F. Juniors Trey Hunter, 6-1 F; Josh Fairbanks, 6-0 F.
Outlook: Six letter winners return for Stoller. Two of those returnees were starters - Rahe (8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds) and Weiland (6.7 points, 4.6 boards) - and Stoller sees plenty of experience to build around.
He likes his team's depth and athleticism, but is waiting for a proven scorer to emerge.
"We'll be very competitive as long as we stay healthy and develop some team chemistry," Stoller said. "We should be able to push the ball and apply full-court pressure."
Coach: Jeff Overmyer, sixth year
Last season: 5-16, 3-11
Top players: Seniors Cory Hornyak, 6-2 G-F; Anthony Robertson, 6-2 P.
Outlook: The Comets had no seniors last season, so the upside this year is that all five starters return along with three other letter winners.
Hornyak (11.6 points, 5 rebounds) and Robertson (11 points, 6.3 boards) are expected to lead the way to a much more successful season.
Experience and depth are strengths. But a lack of overall size may mean difficulty rebounding.
"This year's team is more athletic," Overmyer said, "and Hornyak and Robertson should anchor a team that should compete with the top teams in the SLL."
Coach: Ty Ray, first year
Last season: 21-3, 12-2
Top players: Seniors Brennan Lowry, 5-9 G; Derek Speaker, 5-9 G.
Outlook: Ray inherits a championship program that has all but been cleared of experience by graduation. Only two letter winners return, and each (Lowry and Speaker) averaged just three points per game.
Perimeter play and team quickness should be strengths, while inexperience and a lack of size will probably keep the Wildcats from defending their co-championship.
Coach: Terry Tansel, second year
Last season: 6-15, 3-11
Top players: Seniors Matt Rollins, 5-10 G; Cody McPherson, 6-4 W; Bryan Conley, 6-2 W.
Outlook: Mixed in with Lake's perilous financial situation, the basketball team returns only three letter winners. Rollins (11.4 points) and McPherson return as starters for the Flyers, who look to improve behind balance and team quickness. Inexperience overall may plague the Flyers early, and a lack of size may present rebounding problems.
"We will be competitive night in and night out," Tansel said.
Coach: Joe Pennington, first year
Last season: 4-17, 1-13
Top players: Seniors Trever Hohman, 6-5 F; Nathaniel House, 6-4 C; Devon Black, 5-11 G; Billy Sayre, 6-0 G-F; Jacob Hoover, 6-4 C.
Outlook: The Raiders should improve greatly from last season with three starters and two additional letter winners back. Hohman (14.2 points, 8.1 rebounds) is a solid hub to build around, and House (6 rebounds) and Hoover add size inside for rebounding.
Rookie coach Pennington is most concerned with his team's ability to take care of the basketball.
"We look to be competitive in the league," Pennington said. "We will concentrate on getting the ball inside, and then working it outside. We must be able to dominate the defensive boards and limit our opponent's opportunities."