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The Bowling Green boys basketball team experienced some growing pains the last two seasons, but that maturation process now has the Bobcats prepared to win the Northern Lakes League title.
Bowling Green coach Von Graffin started freshmen and sophomores the previous two seasons. The Bobcats finished 6-8 and then 8-6 in league play.
But with four players who have been together on the varsity for a third straight year, BG has the experience to win its first title since 2002-03.
“Potentially this could be a very good year for us,” Graffin said. “The problem is that everyone in the league is better than they were last year. The NLL will be a lot of fun this year.”
Junior guard Chauncey Orr returns after leading the Bobcats with 16.3 points a game last season. He is joined by junior Xavier Brown (10.3 points), Tony Dible (7.0 points), and Jonathan Stoner (4.1 points).
BG, which shared the title with Perrysburg in 2002-03, returns 73 percent of its scoring and 71 percent of its rebounding.
Southview, the two-time defending champions, shared the title with Perrysburg two seasons ago.
But the Cougars have just two players back with significant playing time.
Perrysburg, which is picked to finish second, had captured four straight titles (2004-05 to 2007-08) before the Cougars won it outright last year.
Yellow Jackets coach Dave Boyce, who has a 153-44 record in nine years at Perrysburg, said the league is the most balanced it has been in the last three to five years.
“The top half of the league should be the best it has been in years,” Boyce said. “We do have experience with [6-5 center] Charlie Hughes, [6-0 guard] Brian Boyce, and [6-2 wing] Matt Marquette.”
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Von Graffin, eighth season
Last season: 10-12 overall, 8-6 NLL
Top players: Seniors Tony Dible, 6-2, G; Jonathan Stoner, 6-1, G. Juniors Chauncey Orr, 6-4, G; Xavier Brown, 5-11, G; Max Hopfgartner, 6-8, F.
Outlook: Four starters are back. Orr and Brown, who played significant minutes as freshmen, have now played with Dible and Stoner for two full varsity seasons.
Orr, who is the son of Bowling Green State University men's coach Louis Orr, ranked second in the league in rebounding with 8.2 per game.
The Bobcats should be an excellent shooting team with great depth at guard.
Hopfgartner, who is an exchange student from Austria, adds instant size inside. He will be joined by junior Caleb Roe (6-4), freshman Vitto Brown (6-6) and junior Alex Augsburger (6-7).
“If our bigs progress, they have the ability to be very good,” Graffin said.
A tough early-season schedule could prove to be challenging and a December filled with eight tough games will provide an early test.
Coach: Dave Boyce, 10th season
Last season: 17-4, 12-2
Top players: Seniors Charlie Hughes, 6-5, C; Brian Boyce, 6-0, PG; Matt Marquette, 6-2, W; Andrew Holliger, 6-2, F. Juniors Kevin Schenk, 5-10, G; Karter Sell, 5-10, G; Alec Schmenk, 6-0, F.
Outlook: With six returning letterwinners and three returning starters, Boyce has experience.
Hughes ranked second in the league in scoring (19.1) and was sixth in rebounding (7.4).
Marquette averaged 6.6 points. Boyce handed out 9.3 assists, while scoring 3.9 points. Schenk shot 41 percent from beyond the arc.
“This group has won throughout grades 7 through 11,” Boyce said. “They play well as a team.”
Boyce cited overall athleticism and depth as strengths.
But he said some lack of height and overall size are potential problem areas.
“We must get through a brutal nonleague schedule,” Boyce said.
Coach: Tim Reiser, 24th season
Last season: 11-10, 6-8
Top players: Seniors Dontae Deboe, 5-6, G; Miles Tripp, 6-8, F. Junior Chester McFadden, 6-4, G. Sophomore Leroy Alexander, 6-2, G.
Outlook: Overall team quickness should be the Blue Devils' greatest strength.
But Reiser, who has a career record of 231-198, said lack of depth could prove to be a concern. He also said consistently getting rebounds is a possible problem area.
McFadden and Alexander are the only two returning starters. But McFadden averaged 17.0 points and Alexander poured in 10.0.
“We are a very young team,” Reiser said. “Hopefully we can gain experience early on and improve throughout the year. I'm concerned about scoring and overall inside play.”
Coach: Marc Jump, 17th season
Last season: 20-2, 14-0
Top players: Seniors Andy Borcherdt, 6-1, G; Cam O'Reilly, 6-1, F; Thomas Stichter, 5-10, G; Branden Yoshino, 5-10, G; Andy Joseph, 6-4, F. Sophomore Allen Gant, 6-1, F.
Outlook: With a roster filled with seniors, Jump is counting on leadership and maturity to be the Cougars' main strengths.
Borcherdt and Gant each scored an average of 10.0 points. They are among six letterwinners.
“However, those are the only two players that return with significant playing time,” Jump said.
He said Stichter did not see much action last year due to a football injury. The Cougars also lost the league's leading scorer, Tim Hausfeld, to graduation.
“With one of the least experienced teams in the league, we have nothing to base a prediction on,” Jump said. “I think our team is capable of playing good defense and that's a good place to build.”
Coach: Derek Sheridan, second season
Last season: 4-17, 3-11
Top players: Seniors Damon Contat, 6-2, F; Jon Hall, 6-0, G; Anthony Barnum, 6-4, F; Steven Boyd, 6-2, G; Tyler Martin, 6-2, G; Tim Hitchner, 6-0, G.
Outlook: Three starters and six letterwinners return for the Panthers led by Barnum, who scored 14.0 points.
Contat, a standout football player, averaged 8.0 points last year. Hall and Boyd return after scoring 5.0 per contest.
Sheridan said team quickness is a strength while lack of size is a concern.
He said his team should be better offensively and should also be much more effective on the boards.
“The players are used to the new system,” Sheridan said.
Coach: Brian Vorst, fifth season
Last season: 11-11, 6-8
Top players: Seniors Tyler Kralovic, 5-11, G; Zach Leahy, 6-2, G; Tyler Kanary , 6-4, F; Ollie Goss 6-2, F. Juniors Josh Perry 6-2, G; Mitchell Stewart, 6-5, P.
Outlook: Vorst lost six letterwinners to graduation, but has six back.
Kralovic earned honorable mention All-District 7 after averaging 6.8 points. Leahy was named second team all-district after scoring 18.1.
Kanary, Goss, Perry, and Stewart each averaged 2.0 points.
“I believe that our major strength is the fact that we return six letter winners,” Vorst said. “This experience along with their good work ethic will allow them to be successful.”
He said the team is very “coachable.” Guard play and overall speed are strengths offensively.
“Our post players have done a very nice job of developing and becoming more of a physical presence in the paint,” he said.
But a major concern is consistency, and, defensively the Bulldogs must work together. Overall foot speed could be an issue as well.
“Our players have grown and improved,” Vorst said. “Our goal is steady improvement. I think that we will be as good as our defense will allow us to be.”
Coach: Nate Gaubatz, second season
Last season: 5-16, 3-11
Top players: Seniors Brad Celusta, 6-1, W; Andrew Donnal, 6-7, P; Sam Fischer, 5-11, G. Juniors Jake Conklin, 6-1, W; Matt Green, 5-9, G; Clay Nordhaus, 5-11, G.
Outlook: The key to the Generals' season will be how quickly the players adjust to the varsity level, according to Gaubatz.
But three starters are back, including Celusta (10.4 points., 3.0 rebounds.). Donnal, who will play football at the University of Iowa, averaged 7.0 points and 7.5 boards.
“Our team strength will be depth,” Gaubatz said. “We will have interchangeable players at every position.”
But Celusta and Donnal have the only varsity experience.
“Our seniors will also play a role in guiding inexperienced players and will help bring them along,” Gaubatz said. “We look to improve from last season and compete on a nightly basis.”
Coach: Terry Shadle, second season
Last season: 7-12, 4-10
Top players: Seniors Jake Zureich, 6-2, F; Jarred Bowens, 5-9, G; Austin McDonald, 6-1, F. Juniors Jake Sturt, 6-3, F; Addison Hirschfeld, 6-0.
Outlook: Zureich is the Wildcats' leading returning scorer (7.3 points), but is only one of two returning starters. Bowens averaged 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds.
Shadle said his team will play hard with great intensity and will make it difficult for teams to execute and score points.
“We are going to compete the entire ball game. Each man knows their role on the team,” Shadle said.
“We are going to force an up-tempo style of game.”
But Northview is undersized and lacks depth at the post position. Inexperience also is a concern.
“We will compete every single night that we step onto the floor,” Shadle said. “Our opponents had better be ready. We are going to give them all they can handle. We'll look to wear our opponents out.”
Contact Mark Monroe at:email@example.com 419-724-6354.