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Published: Friday, 12/1/2006

TAAC: Coaches give nod to Toledo Christian to repeat as champs

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Jacob Weemes, left, Blake Powell, and Tyler Boris will anchor Toledo Christian, which finished 20-4 last season. Jacob Weemes, left, Blake Powell, and Tyler Boris will anchor Toledo Christian, which finished 20-4 last season.
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Look no further than last year to know how the boys' basketball race will finish in upcoming competition.

Toledo Christian captured the title last season, despite pressure from Cardinal Stritch and Ottawa Hills.

TAAC coaches voted the Eagles the favorite to claim the crown again this season. The Cardinals and Green Bears are expected to post the biggest challenge, with Danbury viewed as a dark horse.

"I really believe the TAAC is going to be very competitive this year," Toledo Christian coach Dave McWhinnie said. "Several teams can win, and there will be lots of good competition.

"I believe Stritch and Ottawa Hills are two of the better teams in the area, and Danbury will surprise a lot of teams this year."

But the Eagles received the favorite's nod thanks to the return of three all-league players from a year ago.

Jacob Weemes and Tyler Boris both were named first team all-Toledo Area Athletic Conference last season, while Blake Powell earned a berth on the second team.

Cardinal Stritch also returns a pair of first team all-league performers in guards Michael Ameling and Eric McCloskey, while Ottawa Hills' top returnee is first-team all-league pick Andrew Wolff.

"I think [winning the TAAC] is going to come down to defense and rebounding, especially in big games," McWhinnie said. "I thought we did both of those things well in the big games last year.

"Also, there are lots of great offensive players around the league this season. The best teams will make it hard on the other teams' best players."

Here's a look at the teams in predicted order of finish.

TOLEDO CHRISTIAN

Coach: Dave McWhinnie, sixth year

Last season: 20-4, 12-0 in TAAC

Top players: Seniors Tyler Boris, 5-10, G; Blake Powell, 6-0, G; Jack Sims, 6-0, G; Jacob Weemes, 6-2, F. Juniors Joe Claytor, 6-2, G; Kyle Whitlow, 6-1, F. Sophomore Ethan Michael, 6-4, C.

Outlook: While the Eagles lost TAAC player of the year Kyle Bensch and two other key performers from last year's district finalists, the return of four experienced veterans in Boris, Powell, Sims, and Weemes is a good foundation upon which to build.

Another problem facing TC is that, beyond those four returnees, there is little varsity experience.

"I expect that we'll get good guard play this year," McWhinnie said. "Right now my biggest concern is getting some of our young players to step up, especially with the tough schedule we have in the early season."

CARDINAL STRITCH

Coach: Jim Sheehy, fifth year

Last season: 18-5, 10-2

Top players: Seniors Michael Ameling, 6-3, G; Nate Cassidy, 6-2, G; Jim Gallaher, 6-5, P; Eric McCloskey, 6-1, G. Juniors Eric Rutkowski, 6-1, G; Hank Taylor, 6-3, F; Kevin Sheehy, 6-4, P; Brenton Webb, 5-10, G.

Outlook: The Cardinals return four of their top seven players from last season, including the dynamic pair of Ameling and McCloskey. McCloskey is an experienced scorer, and Ameling is a talented ball handler who finds open players for easy scoring chances.

While Stritch lost all-league performer Garrett Petty from that squad, the team has good height thanks to Gallaher, who stands 6-5, and a pair of juniors in Kevin Sheehy, who is 6-4, and Taylor at 6-3.

"We have good experience and athleticism," coach Jim Sheehy said. "I also like this group's work ethic and attitude. But our defense and rebounding will be the big factors in determining what level of success we have this year."

OTTAWA HILLS

Coach: John Lindsay, 12th year

Last season: 14-7, 8-4

Top players: Seniors Andy Parker, 6-3, C; Matt Smith, 6-2, F; Andrew Wolff, 6-2, F. Junior Brent Abendroth, 6-2, G. Sophomore Phillip Beans, 6-5, C.

Outlook: The Green Bears return the TAAC's leading scorer in Wolff, who averaged 18.4 points per game a year ago. OH also should get good post play from a roster that includes five players who stand 6-2 or taller.

But the Green Bears have lost a pair of all-league players from last season in Sam Miller and Aaron Crooks, so experience will be a question. That's especially true at point guard, where the starter is likely to be freshman Eliot Browarsky.

"We have some talented players back this season, but this is a good year for talent in our league," Lindsay said. "For us to be successful this season we'll need to have more toughness, both mentally and physically."

DANBURY

Coach: Joe Miller, fifth year

Last season: 3-18, 2-10

Top players: Seniors Ben Cantu, 6-4, P; Cameron Roth, 6-6, P; Kyle Schafer, 5-8, G; Jake Twarek, 6-2, P. Junior Nick Wiedenhoft, 6-1, G. Sophomore Mike Hamann, 6-2, G.

Outlook: The Lakers took some lumps last season, but Miller hopes the lessons have been learned by eight returning lettermen, a group that includes three starters.

Danbury also added a pair of move-in players in Cantu, who averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds a game at a Utah high school, and Schafer, who scored six points and dished out five assists at Avon High School.

If the Lakers can assimilate these new players successfully during a tough nonconference schedule, they may be able to surprise some unsuspecting teams this winter.

NORTHWOOD

Coach: Jim Besgrove, eighth year

Last season: 11-10, 6-6

Top players: Seniors Shane McGaharan, 6-2, F; Michael Waddell, 6-2, G/F; Andy Zablocki, 5-8, G.

Outlook: The Rangers lost six players who averaged 32 points and 19 rebounds per game last season. While Northwood does have eight seniors on this year's roster, only four averaged more than eight minutes per game a year ago.

Zablocki, who averaged 7.9 points per game last season, and McGaharan, who added 5.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, will need to provide leadership for a team that Besgrove said will play 10 or 11 different players each night.

"We have good depth, and we have more size than we've had in the past," Besgrove said. "But we'll need to play great defense to stay in games because we'll be looking for people to step up and pick up some of the scoring we lost."

EMMANUEL CHRISTIAN

Coach: Dave Regnier, 16th year

Last season: 6-17, 1-11

Top players: Seniors Walker Behan, 6-1, G; Kris Benefiel, 6-2, F; Seth Flamm, 6-1, G. Junior Mike Noss, 6-1, G.

Outlook: The Warriors also absorbed a beating in the league last season, but the return of 10 lettermen from that squad boosts hopes for a move up the league ladder this winter.

The leaders should be Behan, who averaged 10.3 points per game; Benefiel, who contributed 7.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest, and Flamm, who averaged six points per game a year ago.

"I think we will be better at taking care of the ball thanks to our experience," Regnier said. "We still need to get better on the defensive end and with our rebounding. We've emphasized working on rebounding during the preseason."

MAUMEE VALLEY

Coach: Deon Thompson, fifth year

Last season: 7-15, 3-9

Top players: Senior Nate Stern, 5-8, G; Shamari Hall, 6-2, F/C. Junior Tasso Cocoves, 5-7, G.

Outlook: The Hawks welcome back three lettermen and six players with varsity experience, but none will be more important than Hall, who averaged around 14 points and seven boards per game last year.

That's because Maumee Valley doesn't have much height and lacks an inside presence to aid both its offense and defense.

Another key performer will be Stern, a two-year starter who missed much of last season after suffering a torn ACL.

"We'll probably use a lineup that features four guards," Thompson said. "That will make us as fast as any team in our conference."



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