From left; Eric Cellier, Josh Winzeler, Melvin Thomas, Dominique Pittman, Cordell Miller and Ben Ivan.
The Blade/Andy Morrison
By now, it is safe to say that the Toledo Area Athletic Conference has evolved into a solid boys basketball league in northwest Ohio.
The team most responsible for driving up the level of play in the TAAC, has been coach Dave McWhinnie’s Toledo Christian Eagles, who are favored to win the conference title this season after a three-year stretch without championship.
The Eagles (17-7, 10-4 TAAC) received six of eight first-place votes in a preseason poll of conference coaches, and totaled 62 voting points to claim the role as favorite.
The other team instrumental in the TAAC’s climb in basketball prominence, Ottawa Hills (13-9, 9-5), was picked to place second in the conference. Coach John Lindsay’s Green Bears picked up the other two first-place votes, and totaled 58 points in the coaches’ poll.
“Number one it’s a sign of respect,” McWhinnie (173-84 record) said of winning the coaches’ vote. “We have high expectations for this group, but [being first in a poll] doesn’t mean a whole lot at the end of the day. There’s a lot of really good teams in our league, and we’re going to have to battle hard every night to have a chance to win the league.
“The TAAC is very much improved over the last decade. We’ve put teams in the regionals the last three or four years, and it’s as competitive as any league in northwest Ohio, and really around Ohio. It’s a very good league.”
Defending TAAC champion Maumee Valley (22-2, 13-1) — which graduated four starters, and saw longtime area high school head coach Jim Robinson retire after guiding the Hawks to their first regional last season — was third in the poll with 41 points.
McWhinnie, a former TC player, enters his 12th season as Eagles head coach, a run that has elevated his program, and the TAAC as a whole, in the northwest Ohio basketball hierarchy.
The conference that at one time seemed incapable of even winning a district tournament game, has sent teams to at least the district-final level of the postseason for eight straight seasons.
“We think teams from this league have a shot to get to state about every year. It’s not just one team taking off," McWhinnie said. “We’ve had some good teams here at TC that haven’t won the league the past couple years, and that’s because there’s some depth in the league. Teams are putting in a lot of time into their programs, and that makes it exciting to be a part of this league.”
TC shared TAAC titles with Ottawa Hills in 2008 and 2009 (11-1 each season) after having won outright conference titles with 12-0 records in 2006 and 2007.
Coach: Dave McWhinnie, 12th season
Last season: 17-7 overall, 10-4 TAAC
Top players: Seniors Eric Cellier, 6-3, G; Josh Winzeler, 6-2, G; Dominique Pittman, 5-9, G; Ben Ivan, 6-3, F; Cordell Miller, 6-2, F; Melvin Thomas, 5-9, G.
Outlook: The Eagles return four starters, led by Cellier (17.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg), who was second in the TAAC player-of-the-year voting last season. Winzeler (12 ppg, 3.3 rpg), Pittman (7.0 ppg, 4.0 apg), and Ivan (5.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg) make a formidable foursome, although an injury may keep Ivan sidelined for the first month.
Adding to the mix will be Thomas, a transfer from St. John’s Jesuit who sat out the 2011-12 season.
Strengths for the Eagles should be quickness, depth, and shooting ability, while McWhinnie’s chief concern is an overall lack of size that may lead to rebounding trouble at times.
“We have the potential to be very good, but we need to keep working hard and play great defense in order to reach our potential,” McWhinnie said. “The league has improved significantly over the past 3-4 years and this will be a very competitive league top to bottom. We need to stay humble and hungry, and we need to be unselfish with the ball. If the players start thinking about their own points, it could be a long year. If they play hard and play for each other, we could have a pretty special year.”
Coach: John Lindsay, 18th season
Last season: 13-9, 9-5
Top players: Seniors Lucas Janowicz, 6-4, C; A.J. King, 6-2, G. Juniors Geoffrey Beans, 6-5, G; R.J. Coil, 6-8, C; Ben Silverman, 5-11, G.
Outlook: The Green Bears return four starters from a solid team from a year ago led by Janowicz (14.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg), and Beans (12.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg). Size and experience should be strengths for OH, and Lindsay (245-130 career record) points to overall guard play, speed, and depth as potential trouble areas.
“We do have game experience returning,” Lindsay said, “however our guard play and bench development must improve throughout the season if we are to challenge in the league, and have success in the tournament.”
Coach: Josh Arthur, first season
Last season: 22-2, 13-1
Top players: Seniors Dave Brown, 5-5, G; Caleb Willhight, 5-10, G; Rashaan Preston, 5-11, F. Juniors Thad Woodard, 6-1, F; Solomon Collins, 6-1, F; Danny Hazimah, 5-9, G.
Outlook: The Hawks graduated four starters from the best team in school history, and are left with a small lineup that will be challenged in the rebounding and post defense departments. Brown (6.5 ppg, 8.0 apg) brings great leadership, and Willhight (3.0 ppg), and Woodard (1.7 ppg) will have to step up to much larger roles as Maumee Valley hopes to remain in the upper half of the TAAC race. Arthur is counting on his team’s court smart to offset some of its deficiencies elsewhere.
“Our expectations for this year are for all of our players to work as a cohesive group and play together,” Arthur said. “A lot of our players this year have not played together. Some played JV and some played varsity last year. As we build chemistry throughout the year, the stronger we will become. The sky is the limit for these players.”
Coach: Brent Liskai, 11th season
Last season: 17-5, 11-3
Top players: Juniors Andrew Cantrell, 5-10, W; Andy Burmeister, 6-2, P; Tyler Ernsthausen, 6-0, P. Sophomores Jordan Kreglow, 5-9, G; Matt Tille, 6-0, W.
Outlook: Like Maumee Valley, the Golden Bears also graduated a ton of the talent that had them contending for the TAAC crown a year ago. Gibsonburg has no returning starters and, with no player taller than 6-2, may struggle on the boards and on inside defense.
Liskai (110-109 record) points to depth and chemistry as strong points for his team, which must establish some consistent scoring sources. Cantrell (3.1 ppg), Kreglow (2.7 ppg), and Tille (2.3 ppg) may rise in those roles.
“I feel that we will field a competitive team that will be fun to watch as the season progresses,” Liskai said. “As this team gains experience, I think it will improve greatly. As long as we compete on the boards, we can be good in a conference that should be very good once again.”
Coach: Dave Rieker, third season
Last season: 9-12, 5-9
Top players: Seniors Robbie Bekier, 6-3, F; Jo-Jo McVicker, 5-6, G; Joey Cousino, 5-8, G; Travis Rodriguez, 6-3, C. Sophomore Austin Adams, 6-3, G.
Outlook: The Cardinals may be poised for climb into the upper half of the TAAC with two starters plus four other letter winners returning. Adams (9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) is a rising standout in the conference, and Bekier (8.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg) should be part of an effective 1-2 punch for the Cards, who Rieker sees as having good team chemistry and defensive potential. The coach’s main concerns are an overall lack of experience, and a lack of size that may lead to rebounding difficulty at times.
“If we come with a belief that we can compete with anybody, play with energy every possession, and do the little things, we should be in every game,” Rieker said. “Which means play good fundamental defense, take care of the ball, rebound and take good shots.”
Coach: Dave Regnier, 22nd season
Last season: 12-12, 5-9
Top players: Seniors Ryan Creech, 6-2, F; Jason Regnier, 5-6, G; Bobby Behan, 5-8, G; Leland Snyder, 5-9, G; Trent Groenhout, 6-3, F; Jacob Holley, 5-10, G.
Outlook: The Warriors return three starters plus three other letter winners, and this senior group could bond into a team that reaches the upper half of the TAAC standings. Creech (18.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg) led the TAAC in scoring and was second in rebounding a year ago. Regnier (9.0 ppg, 2.8 apg), and Behan (5.6 ppg) will also be counted on for consistent production. EC has good senior leadership, is a scrappy defensive unit, and should shoot well from the perimeter, according to coach Regnier, who sees a need to develop depth, and is also concerned that his team’s lack of size may present rebounding issues.
“I really like our team and think that we can be competitive in the conference,” Regnier said. “We lost three good seniors from last season, but this group returning received some good experience last year. We will need to stay injury free in order to compete.”
Coach: Jim Scharer, first season
Last season: 4-17, 3-11
Top players: Seniors Evan Perkins, 5-10, G; John Segura, 6-2, F; Tyler Williams, 6-0, F; Mike Autman, 6-0, G. Junior Jake Davenport, 5-9, G.
Outlook: The Rangers transition to a new head coach with four returning starters, led by Perkins (13.0 ppg), Williams (12.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg), and Segura (6.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg).
Experience, athleticism, and perimeter scoring are elements that have pleased Scharer in the preseason, and his main concerns are a lack of overall size that could lead to rebounding woes, and the players’ adjustment to a new system.
“We are looking to capture the winning attitude of our other programs here at Northwood by getting out as many of the best athletes as we can,” Scharer said. “I am excited about our athleticism and our experience both inside and out. Our success will depend on how quickly we can adapt to the new system. There will be a some inconsistencies early, but I think we will be a good basketball team come January.”
Coach: Drew Davie, third season
Last season: 0-21, 0-14
Top players: Seniors Dylan Buckley, 5-11, G; Chance Mackall, 6-3, F. Juniors Kegan Rakosky, 5-9, G; Dominic Manuella, 5-9, G.
Outlook: Winless last season, there is absolutely nowhere for the Lakers to go but up. Buckley (4.4 ppg) and Mackall (3.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) are the lone returning starters, and Rakosky and Manuella (3.6 ppg) the other letter winners returning.
Davie is optimistic about his team’s willingness to learn and compete and to play team basketball, and the Lakers will need to get the most out of those attributes to offset their lack of size and experience. Cultivating some consistent scoring sources will be the first concern.
“This year’s team lacks experience and depth,” Davie said. “This is a group of young men that will work hard night in and night out. The Lakers are looking for someone to step up between Dylan Buckley, Dominic Manuella, and Chance Mackall, who will all be asked to contribute immediately.”
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.