Elmwood's aspirations of winning a fourth straight Suburban Lakes League championship appeared to take a hit with the loss of three top scorers, but the Royals are even deeper and quicker than any of those title teams.
The league coaches agreed and picked Elmwood to win the crown again. The Royals were a unanimous selection due to three returning starters and a deep bench.
"This is the quickest team I've ever had," said Royals coach Doug Reynolds,. "This is a group of kids who will get up and down floor. And now we have a bunch of kids and anytime any one of them could step up."
Eastwood, which features plenty of varsity experience and athleticism, was picked to finish second. Gibsonburg, which has all five starters back, was third followed by Genoa, a team that has posted a 32-11 record over the past two seasons.
But Elmwood, which has reached the regional semifinals twice in the last three years, went undefeated last season in league play.
"I tell the kids that when they pick you No. 1, they're all going to give you their best game," Reynolds said. "But you have to show it on the floor. That helps keeps us focused. Last year we had a 14-0 run through the league and that is very tough to do. I love that challenge."
Elmwood lost three of its top five scorers to graduation (Dustin Reynolds, Ryan Rothenbuhler and Cory Stewart).
But senior wing Ben Hammer and senior post Preston Shank both averaged 10 points per game last season and can also dominate on the boards. Thomas Curtis steps in at the point guard position, but can also play down low. Nathaniel Fitch can also play the point and is a fierce competitor.
"We have six seniors and there won't be that one go-to guy," Reynolds said. "That makes us harder to defend."
There are new coaches at Lake, Eastwood, Woodmore and Lakota.
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Doug Reynolds, eighth season
Last season: 19-3 overall, 14-0 SLL
Top players: Seniors Ben Hammer, 6-2, W; Preston Shank, 6-4, W/P; Thomas Curtis, 6-2, G; Nathaniel Fitch, 6-0, G.
Outlook: Reynolds counts speed and pressure defense as strengths.
"We have more depth than ever before in my eight years here," Reynolds said.
Hammer averaged 10.1 points and 5.1 rebounds. Shank added 10.4 points per contest.
Seniors Kyle Donaldson and Jordan Briggs also will step in. Sophomore Tyler Chamberlain lettered as freshman. Sophomore Reed Rothenbuhler is a backup point guard and 6-2 junior Thor Bottesch is fighting for a starting position.
"We want to get up and down and pressure. We hope to get transition buckets," Reynolds said. "I expect an exciting season."
Coach: Todd Henline, first season
Last season: 9-12, 8-6
Top players: Seniors Chad Fairbanks, 6-2, F; Nick Schling, 5-11, G. Junior Jay Faykosh, 6-0, G. Sophomore Clay Rolf, 6-6, F.
Outlook: "Our team strengths will be our varsity experience and our athletic ability," Henline said. "Our team weaknesses will be how quickly we can get in basketball shape and how quickly the kids pick up what we're trying to do."
Fairbanks ranked seventh in the league in scoring (11.3 per game) and was All-SLL first team. He averaged 6.2 rebounds.
Eight players were on the football team that reached the regional final.
"I think potentially we could be a pretty good basketball team," Henline said. "It's going to take a little time for everyone to get on the same page due to the football team's playoff success."
Coach: Brent Liskai, sixth season
Last season: 8-13, 4-10
Top players: Seniors Jordan Kirwen, 5-11, W; Matt Kreglow, 5-11, W; Cody Fisher, 5-10, G. Junior Tony Egbert, 6-5, P.
Outlook: Liskai has all five starters back along with two other letterwinners.
Kirwen, who was All-SLL first team, led the team with 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per games. Kreglow (12.8, 4.0), Egbert (8.0, 4.0) and Fisher (7.0, 2.0) also are seasoned.
"We return a lot of players with varsity experience," Liskai said.
Liskai also likes his team's quickness and perimeter shooters. But he said the Golden Bears need to become a better rebounding team.
"We should be very competitive and look to compete in every game," Liskai said.
Coach: Jeff Overmyer, eighth season
Last season: 17-5, 11-3
Top players: Seniors Justin Lau, 5-9, G; Zach Skees, 5-7, G; Kyle Schimming, 5-9, P; Ben Sutter, 6-5, P.
Outlook: The Comets look to build off of two successful seasons when they posted a 32-11 record and seek their first title since 1996.
Overmyer lost nine seniors to graduation and has only one returning starter. Lau averaged 4.9 points and 1.5 assists per game.
"Lau will provide leadership, being the only returning starter and only player with significant experience," Overmyer said.
The Comets' best attributes will be their quickness, perimeter play and a winning attitude.
"Every player on the roster has been part of an SLL championship in another sport," Overmyer said. "The winning attitude that is prevalent throughout all Genoa sports should help us."
But Genoa lacks varsity experience and overall size.
Coach: Michael Haar, first season
Last season: 9-12, 7-7
Top players: Seniors Corey Witker, 5-11, W; Chris Noe, 6-2, P; Aaron Haar, 6-3, W. Juniors Robert Schumacher, 6-2, P; Jack Rospert, 6-2, P.
Outlook: Haar takes over a program that has four returning letterwinners led by Witker (15 points per game).
Noe and Aaron Haar each averaged 5 points and 6 rebounds per contest. Bench players Chris Jacobson, Junior Adame, Dan Deitemyer and Justin Garver will play key roles.
Coach Haar said his team will be physical with good defense and tight chemistry. On the negative side, Woodmore will be inexperienced.
"We will be tested right off the bat with four out of five on the road," Haar said. "I have high expectations for the team and believe that if they continue to mature they should contend for the top spot in the league."
Coach: Jim Bostdorff, third season
Last season: 11-11, 8-6
Top players: Seniors Seth Childers, 6-3, P; Kenny Rodgers, 5-9, G; Ben Forshey, 6-3, P.
Outlook: Childers is a three-year starter who averaged 9.0 points and 9.0 rebounds last season. The post player is among six seniors.
The main question mark is where the scoring will come from with three of the team's top four scorers lost to graduation.
"We should have good team speed and good post players," said Bostdorff. "Our main weakness is varsity experience. We believe there are players that will excel but that has not been proven," Bostdorff said.
Coach: Marc Diels, first season
Last season: 2-19, 0-14
Top players: Seniors Ryan Babcock, 6-1, G; Brett Filliater, 6-1, G; Nathan Hoffman, 6-4, F; Grant Wasserman, 6-2, G.
Outlook: Diels inherits a team with 10 seniors and three returning starters.
He likes the Raiders' quickness and depth. But there are only three players with varsity experience.
Hoffman pulled down an average of 4.8 boards per game.
"We look to build on a good off-season of workouts and continue to get better everyday," Diels said.
Coach: Jim Welling, first season
Last season: 6-16, 4-10
Top players: Senior Miguel Mata, 5-8, G. Juniors Mike Mathews, 6-3, F; Anthony Lumbreras, 5-8, G; Alex Geisel, 6-0, F.
Outlook: Welling, the highly successful and longtime coach of the Owens Community College men's program, looks to rebuild a struggling Flyer program.
"We'll have a new system and a new team attitude," Welling said.
The Flyers are young, inexperienced and lack significant size.
Mathews is the top returnee after averaging 6.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
"Team attitude, work ethic and effort everyday will be the key to this year's team," Welling said.