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Published: Friday, 11/23/2007

NWOAL: Patrick Henry a favorite by slim margin

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Patrick Henry looks to repeat as champion with, from left, Brandon Schwiebert, Kyle Tietje, Matt Rettig and Kevin Tietje. Patrick Henry looks to repeat as champion with, from left, Brandon Schwiebert, Kyle Tietje, Matt Rettig and Kevin Tietje.
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Last season Patrick Henry claimed its second straight Northwest Ohio Athletic League boys basketball title, posting the school's first 8-0 league record since 1986.

And while the Patriots are a narrow pick to win the crown again this season, coach Kent Seemann is just pleased that his team is considered to be an equal with Archbold and Wauseon.

"Any time your program is mentioned with the good programs in this league, it's quite an honor," Seemann said. "Those are two extremely well-coached teams that churn out good team after good team."

The Patriots will have to deal with another difficulty - the current run of the school's football team to the Division V state semifinals will delay the start of the basketball season.

"Last year I had everybody within four days of the start of the season, so this is new for me," said Seemann. "And the fact that the [basketball] season is starting a week earlier, that eats into a little more of our time.

"But I've relied on our assistant coaches, who have some experience with this. It may take a little time, but we'll whip them into shape."

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

PATRICK HENRY

Coach: Kent Seemann, second season

Last season: 18-5, 8-0 NWOAL

Top players: Seniors Greg Berg-

stedt, 6-0, G; Zach Botjer, 6-1, G; Matt Rettig, 6-3; F; Brendon Schwiebert, 6-2, F; Kevin Tietje, 6-6, F; Kyle Tietje, 6-6, F. Juniors Austin Bower, 6-2, G; Cody Pettit, 6-3, F.

Outlook: The Patriots lost a pair of all-league performers in Kyle Brubaker, a first-team pick, and Kyle Behrman, a second teamer. But senior twins Kevin and Kyle Tietje are back after combining to average better than 21 points per game, while Botjer added eight per contest.

Kevin Tietje was All-NWOAL second team last season, while Kyle was honorable mention.

"We lost a lot of leadership from last season," Seemann said. "And we know that, in our league, you have to come to play every night. If you don't bring your 'A' game every night, you're going to get beat."

WAUSEON

Coach: Ken Burgei, 25th season

Last season: 16-7, 6-2

Top players: Seniors Scott Burgard, 6-3, W; Kevin Elson, 6-0, W; Storm Humbert, 6-1, P/W; Elliott Mealer, 6-6, P; Richard Russell, 6-6, P; Derek Schrock, 6-1, W; Tyler Uphaus, 5-9, G.

Outlook: Last season the Indians had a devastating inside-outside game with Chris Villalovos and Mealer. But Villalovos has graduated, taking away 18.5 points per game, which means Mealer - a first-team all-league pick - will need help.

On the inside he should get help from Russell, who averaged 8.0 points and 4.1 rebounds. On the outside Elson, who had 7.0 points, will look for support from a variety of sources as Wauseon returns seven letterwinners.

"The question mark is if we can complement our inside game with a consistent perimeter game," Burgei said. "Defensively our team will be a work in progress, but hopefully we can develop into a solid unit."

ARCHBOLD

Coach: Doug Krauss, 23rd season

Last season: 19-3, 7-1

Top players: Seniors Gene Goering, 6-3, F; Colton Martinez, 5-11, G; Justin Rupp, 6-1, F; Trey Smith, 6-2, G.

Outlook: The Blue Streaks return four-year starter Goering, a first team all-league pick who averaged 21 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. But Archbold also lost all-league performer Josh Wyse and returns just four letterwinners.

Smith provides an outside presence and Rupp looks to score more inside. But depth must come from a group of juniors.

"We'll be as good as our defense," Krauss said. "And with our experience, we should be able to realize that team chemistry is important, and that being able to accept a role on the team is key."

EVERGREEN

Coach: Jerry Keifer, 14th season

Last season: 17-7, 5-3

Top players: Senior Corey Truckor, 6-0, G. Junior Brock Bates, 6-9, C. Sophomore Chad Mossing, 6-1, G.

Outlook: The Vikings lost five seniors from last year's regional semifinalists. Since only three letterwinners return, Evergreen's depth must come from inexperienced players.

But the returning players show promise, as Truckor averaged 10.0 points while Bates and Mossing added 7.8 and 5.5, respectively. And the roster includes four players who stand 6-2 or taller, which should make for a strong interior.

"Brock Bates really came on in our tournament run last year, and our hope is that he continues to develop," Keifer said. "Our experience would have to be a strength, but our depth is a most glaring weakness."

SWANTON

Coach: Tim Zieroff, fourth season

Last season: 10-11, 4-4

Top players: Seniors Brad Betz, 5-9, G; Michael Montion, 6-2, P. Junior Chad Lewis, 6-3, P.

Outlook: The Bulldogs return just three letterwinners, but two of them are second-team all-league picks. Betz and Lewis combined to average 25.4 points per game.

Size is a problem for the Bulldogs, who have no one taller than 6-3.

"We will have eight or nine players who will see ample playing time, so that is a strength," Zieroff said. "But only three of those players have any real varsity playing time.

"We need to try and use our size and speed to an advantage rather than a disadvantage."

BRYAN

Coach: Doug Billman, second season

Last season: 6-15, 3-5

Top players: Senior Andy Park, 6-1, F. Juniors Dan Gallagher, 6-2, G; Jake Hollabaugh, 6-2, F; Matt Jones, 6-0, G; Andy Shaffer, 5-11, G. Sophomores Austen Alabata, 6-6, F; Alex Nossaman, 6-1, G.

Outlook: The Golden Bears return just three letterwinners, and Park is the only senior. Experience at the varsity level will be an obstacle to overcome early.

Size and rebounding also are questions, with Alabata the only player taller than 6-2. But Billman expects his team's athletic ability and quickness to help Bryan overcome early-season barriers.

"Some of our underclassmen are not players with varsity experience, but they do compete," Billman said. "We will need them to lead us through our tough schedule."

DELTA

Coach: Cory Sprow, sixth season

Last season: 8-13, 2-6

Top players: Seniors Aaron Betz, 5-11, G; Nate Parsons, 5-11, G; Eric Vaughan, 6-3, F-G. Junior Korbin Smith, 6-4, F.

Outlook: The Panthers lost three starters who combined to average better than 32 points per game, including second-team all-league performer Tyson Andrews.

But Delta should get solid play at guard from Vaughan, as well as Betz and Parsons. And the roster includes five players 6-2 or taller.

"Finding consistent scorers is a concern for this year, but we bring back some solid guard play as well as some size," Sprow said. "I am optimistic with this year's team, but I think we must show up to play extremely hard every night."

MONTPELIER

Coach: T.J. Hammer, second season

Last season: 8-15, 1-7

Top players: Senior Scott Freese, 5-10, W. Juniors Brit Moore, 5-8, G; Lane Reese, 6-4, W.

Outlook: The Locomotives lost 84 percent of their scoring and 85 percent of their rebounding from a year ago. And only one starter, Moore, leads just three letterwinners.

But Moore, who averaged 4.9 points and 2.2 assists per contest, will give Montpelier good guard play, and the roster has good height and length.

"We will be quick and athletic, and our tall wings should help us rebound well," Hammer said. "But adjusting to the speed of the game at the varsity level will be a challenge. I think that, with our depth and length, we will be able to compete."

LIBERTY CENTER

Coach: Ryan Miller, third season

Last season: 2-19, 0-8

Top players: Seniors Jordan Burdue, 5-9, G; Jarrod Maneval, 6-0, F. Juniors Patrick Brown, 6-2, G; Danny Irving, 5-11, G. Sophomore Logan Burdue, 5-9, G.

Outlook: The Tigers return three starters from last year. Much of that experience is at the guard position, where Jordan Burdue and Irving averaged 7.8 and 5.8 points per game, respectively.

But depth may be a problem for Liberty Center, which has only five letterwinners. A large junior class will be asked to step forward and lift the Tigers back to respectability.

"We should be a fairly quick team that attempts to do the little things right," Miller said. "But we don't have a lot of depth at this point."

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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