There seems to be at least one prerequisite to be considered one of the top teams in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League.
If your team wants to win the NWOAL this season, it had better have a top player returning from last season.
All of the preseason favorites do. Wauseon and Patrick Henry both welcome back all-league seniors in Chris Villalovos and Kyle Brubaker, respectively, while Archbold will feature an all-league player in junior Gene Goering.
The Blue Streaks also have a second-team performer from last year in Josh Wyse, a senior, while Evergreen will be led by second-team all-leaguer Andrew Pinkelman.
Archbold, Evergreen, Patrick Henry and Wauseon all received first-place votes before Wauseon narrowly edged Archbold for the favorite s mantle.
The league is even more balanced and competitive than I ve seen in a long time, said Indians coach Ken Burgei, who enters his 24th year at the school. Winning in this league will be a big challenge each night out.
Burgei said the eventual champion probably will be the team that shows the most consistency.
Here s a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Ken Burgei, 24th year
Last season: 17-7, 6-2 in NWOAL
Top players: Seniors Casey Elson, 6-1, G; Kevin Elson, 6-0, G; Chris Villalovos, 6-2, F. Juniors Elliott Mealer, 6-6, C; Tyler Uphaus, 5-9, G.
Outlook: Villalovos and Mealer give the Indians one of the best inside-outside combos in the NWOAL. The Elson twins and Uphaus also give Wauseon an experienced core upon which to build.
While the Tribe did lose all-league guard Ray Martinez, as well as three other lettermen, reinforcements should come from last year s outstanding junior varsity squad.
Our team defense is a concern at this point, and we need to take care of the ball on offense, Burgei said. But I like this team s attitude and work ethic.
Coach: Doug Krauss, 23rd year
Last season: 21-5, 6-2 in NWOAL
Top players: Seniors Andy Brink, 6-4, P; Tyson Fruth, 6-2, F; Josh Wyse, 6-0, G. Juniors Gene Goering, 6-2, F; Justin Rupp, 6-0, F.
Outlook: The Blue Streaks lost a pair of key players from last season s state semifinalist in guards Dave Borcherdt and Josh Johnson. But the return of Goering, an all-district performer who averaged 18.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, as well as Wyse, who added 11.9 points per game, can immediately lift Archbold back to contender s status.
The Streaks should be able to score, but Borcherdt and Johnson will need to be replaced on the defensive end. Archbold also will need to rebound well to have success.
Even though we are not big, we hope to be a team that will cause some matchup problems for others, Krauss said.
Coach: Jerry Kiefer, 14th year
Last season: 13-9, 4-4 in NWOAL
Top players: Seniors Paul Hilton, 6-2, F; Chris Pfund, 5-9, G;
Andrew Pinkelman, 6-5, F; Branden Truckor, 6-0, G; Nick Weissenberger, 6-3, G. Junior Corey Truckor, 6-0, G. Sophomore Brock Bates, 6-8, C.
Outlook: The Vikings return a wealth of experience in seven returning lettermen, including six players who started at least one game a year ago. The leaders are Pinkelman, an all-league performer, and Pfund, who joins Pinkelmen in giving Evergreen a pair of four-year starters.
The Vikings also have exceptional depth, which was bolstered by the addition of freshman Chad Mossing and senior Lassie Schikowski, a foreign exchange student from Germany.
We are banged up coming out of football season two returnees haven t practiced with us because of injuries, Kiefer said. But we have high expectations this season.
Coach: Kent Seemann, first year
Last season: 17-5, 7-1 in NWOAL
Top players: Seniors Jared Badenhop, 6-6, C; Kyle Behrman, 6-2, C; Kyle Brubaker, 6-1, G. Juniors Kevin Tietje, 6-6, C; Kyle Tietje, 6-5, G.
Outlook: The defending league champs lost several all-league players in Marc Krauss and A.J. Meyer. as well as experienced performers such as Zack George and Brian Yarnell.
We lost a lot of good competitors and good leaders, said Seemann, who takes over for long-time coach Dave Krauss. They also were good athletes who were very physical players.
But the cupboard isn t bare thanks especially to Brubaker, an all-league pick who plays point guard. We will have good size, and I feel we can shoot the ball well, Seemann said. If we can develop a strong post game, I think we can be successful.
Coach: Cory Sprow, fifth year
Last season: 13-9, 5-3 in NWOAL
Top players: Seniors Tyson Andrews, 6-1, G; Dustin Chase, 6-3, F; Dustin Cass, 6-1, G; Jeff Weis, 5-9, G. Juniors Aaron Betz, 5-11, G; Eric Vaughan, 6-3, F/G. Sophomore Marcus Vicars, 6-2, F.
Outlook: The Panthers lost a lot of size with the graduation of Kyle Bostater and Aaron Mahnke, a 6-5 pair who combined to average better than 21 points and 16 rebounds per game last season.
We bring back a good nucleus from last year s team that provides ball handling, depth and leadership, Sprow said. But rebounding and guarding the post will be a work in progress throughout the year.
Coach: T.J. Hammer, second year
Last season: 6-17, 0-8 in NWOAL
Top players: Seniors Britt Barry, 6-3, F/C; Josh Daft, 5-11, G; Jeremy Hartman, 6-0, G; Bill Hill, 5-10, G.
Outlook: While the Locomotives took some lumps last season, the return of four starters and six lettermen raise hopes for this winter.
The problem for Montpelier is depth beyond those six returnees; no one else on the Locos roster besides those returnees has a minute of varsity experience.
We also don t have a lot of height, so rebounding and defense in the paint are concerns, Hammer said. But I really like the speed and athleticism of this team.
Coach: Doug Billman, first year
Last season: 9-13, 2-6 in NWOAL
Top players: Seniors Erik Dickinson, 6-3, F; Kyle Kurivial, 6-0, G; Justin Schultz, 5-10, G.
Outlook: While the Golden Bears have a new coach in Billman, he isn t exactly new since this is his eighth year in the program. The bigger concern is replacing six lettermen that averaged 37 points per game.
The lone returning starter from last season is Schultz, who averaged 4.5 points and 3.9 assists per contest. But the Golden Bears will be inexperienced at nearly every position thanks to a roster with four sophomores and a freshman.
We will need to find some consistency offensively, and work to get better every day, Billman said.
Coach: Tim Zieroff, third year
Last season: 4-18, 1-7 in NWOAL
Top players: Seniors Eric Camp, 6-1, P; Josh Rhodes, 5-11, G. Junior Brad Betz, 5-9, G.
Outlook: The Bulldogs hope that the four returning starters from last year have learned from the team s struggles. The leader is Betz, who was voted second-team all-league after averaging 13 points per game.
But Swanton again will struggle with a lack of height, as no one stands taller than 6-2.
I think we have good overall team speed and more depth than in recent years, Zieroff said. We need to continue to work to find ways to win.
Coach: Ryan Miller, second year
Last season: 10-11, 5-3 in NWOAL
Top players: Seniors Corey Meister, 6-2, C; Tate Slee, 5-11, G; Evan Tiplady, 6-3, F.
Outlook: The Tigers were hard hit by graduation, losing all five starters from last season, including all-league performers Kasey Bodenbender and Brian Babcock. So experience and depth will both be problems, especially early in the season.
We lost over 90 percent of our scoring from last year, but if some of our younger players develop we may be able to sneak up on some people, Miller said. I think we should be a solid defensive team.