It has been 21 years since Rossford last celebrated a boys basketball title and the Bulldogs are poised to end that drought.
Rossford coach Brian Vorst has all five starters back, including senior guards Derek Mack and Mack Miller. The Bulldogs have been tabbed the favorites to win the Northern Buckeye Conference, edging out Lake and Eastwood in a preseason coaches poll followed by Genoa and defending champion Otsego.
“Our overall strength will be our returning experience off of last year’s team,” Vorst said. “The high quality of players and coaches in the NBC will again make the NBC very balanced and competitive. We're hoping to be in the top half of the conference at the end of the season.”
Mack tallied 15.5 points to earn All-NBC first-team honors. Miller scored 12.5 points per contest for all-league second-team honors.
Aside from experience, Vorst said he has balanced scoring and depth.
It would be the school's first league title since 1992-93 when Rossford won the Northern Lakes League championship.
Lake, which received two first place votes, will be paced by junior guards Connor Bowen and Jared Rettig.
Bowen was named to the All-NBC first team as a sophomore after the point guard averaged 14.0 points and 8.0 assists. Rettig, a shooting guard, tallied 14.0 points and grabbed 5.0 rebounds to be named all-league second-team.
Flyers coach Ryan Bowen said his team is athletic, quick, and has good shooters.
“Our players need to settle into their roles and play solid man defense,” he said. “We will need to push the ball as much as possible.”
Eastwood, which was picked to finish third, earned one first-place vote. The Eagles have seven returning letterwinners and three starters back for coach Matt Routson.
Senior Jake Schmeltz returns after leading the league in scoring. The guard earned All-NBC first team honors and averaging 18.0 points per game.
“We will be led by six solid seniors. That experience will be huge for us this season,” Routson said.
Eastwood shared the inaugural NBC title with Lake in 2011-12.
Keith Diebler, in his second season at Genoa, has all five starters back to rebound from a tough 2012-13 season.
Defending champ Otsego has just one returning starter. But 6-foot-4 post player John Thomas led the NBC in rebounding with 7.4 boards per game.
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish based on a preseason coaches’ poll:
Coach: Brian Vorst, 16th season
Last season: 11-12 overall, 9-5 NBC
Top players: Seniors Derek Mack 6-0, G; Mack Miller, 5-11, G; Brian Burks, 6-5, P; Matt Enderbury 6-4, P. Juniors Nate Childress 6-4, P; Ryan Niese 5-10, G; Marty Linthicum, 6-4, F. Sophomore Erik Davis, 6-0, G. Freshman Cota Sinclair 6-0, G.
Outlook: Among nine on the varsity are four seniors and six letterwinners.
Mack and Miller return in the back court, while Burks (5.4 points and 5 rebounds) and Childress (7.0 points and 6.0 rebounds) return in the post. Both Burks and Childress earned all-district honorable mention. Niese, who averaged 3.5 points, is the fifth starter back.
“We have good balance with the ability to score both inside and outside of the paint,” Vorst said. “We are also very deep and can play nine to 10 players each game. I think that we will be able to wear teams down with a high pace and physical play.”
But he said a possible weakness may be rebounding.
Coach: Ryan Bowen, fourth season
Last season: 19-4, 11-3
Top players: Senior Cody Witt, 5-11, SG. Juniors Connor Bowen 6-0, PG; Jared Rettig 6-2, SG; Todd Walters, 6-3, F. Sophomores Aaron Witt 5-9, G; Adam Duncan, 5-10 G.
Outlook: Bowen, who is 49-16 in his career at Lake, has two returning starters among four letterwinners.
Bowen and Rettig are experienced in the backcourt. Witt scored 5.0 points per game, while Walters added 4.0 rebounds.
Bowen said he has good shooters. But he also said a lack of depth and size are concerns. The Flyers also are battling injuries to start the season.
“Rebounding will have to be by whole team,” Bowen said. “Younger players will have to gain experience quickly and we need solid leadership from veterans.”
Coach: Matt Routson, second season
Last season: 8-15, 8-6
Top players: Seniors Jake Schmeltz, 6-1, G; Steven Bradley, 6-5, P; Grant Peters, 6-5, P; Jordon Faykosh, 6-2, G; Michael Flipse, 5-8, PG. Junior Tim Hoodlebrink, 6-1, G.
Outlook: The Eagles are led by six seniors, including four-year starter Schmeltz. The guard averaged 18.0 points, 4.0 assists, and 4.0 rebounds.
Bradley and Peters each averaged 7.0 points, while Faykosh averaged 6.0 points, and Hoodlebrink 5.0. Bradley also grabbed 5.0 rebounds per contest and Peters 4.0.
Coach: Keith Diebler, second season
Last season: 3-19, 0-18
Top players: Seniors Casey Gose, 5-10, G/W; Grant Adams, 6-4, P. Juniors Luke Rightnowar, 6-2, W/G; Amos Kauder, 6-2, W; Noah Goodrich 6-5,W/P; Jordan Brennan, 5-10, W. Sophomores Jimmy Heninger, 5-10, W; Jarod Brossia, 6-0, W.
Outlook: Along with five starters, Diebler has eight letterwinners back.
Rightnowar averaged 17.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. He earned all-league second team honors. Gose tallied 13.7 points and pulled down 7.1 rebounds per game.
Adams (8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds), Kauder (7.9 points and 7.0 rebounds), and Goodrich (7.2 and 3.3) also started last year.
Heninger, Brossia, and Brennan also saw significant varsity action.
“We have 60 points a game back,” Diebler said. “They are a year stronger and understand the system.”
Coach: Jim Bostdorff, ninth season
Last season: 20-5, 12-2
Top players: Seniors John Thomas, 6-4, P; John Myers, 5-11, W; Cody Downs, 6-1, PG; Austin Hefflinger, 6-0, P; Schyler Scherff, 6-0, P/W; Logan Hosley, 5-8, G.
Outlook: The Knights claimed the NBC title last season but only one starter and three letterwinners are back. Thomas scored 11.5 points per game to earn All-NBC second team honors.
Myers (4.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game) and Downs (4.0 points) also saw time on the varsity.
Hefflinger is rehabbing a knee injury, while Hosley was out for much of last season also with a knee injury.
Bostdorff, who has a 89-88 career record at Otsego, said he likes his team's defense and leadership.
“We have three solid players and Thomas is one of the best in the league,” he said. “Myers and Downs were key players off the bench for our league championship team.”
But lack of depth and varsity experience could prove to be difficult to overcome. Ability to consistently rebound also may be an issue.
Coach: Ty Traxler, sixth season
Last season: 14-9, 8-6
Top players: Seniors Aaron Arnold, 6-5, W; Sebastian Baxter, 5-10, G. Juniors Trevor Robbins 5-5, G/W; Keyon Camden 6-0, G/W; Brandon Palmer 6-0, P; Ryan Aufdencamp 6-1, P. Sophomores Deven Peter, 5-10, G/W; Derek Sheldon 6-0, G/W; Philip Buckingham 5-6, G/W; Jarrett Childress 6-2, P; Trevor Solether 6-2, P; Brett Jones, 6-0, P.
Outlook: Traxler, who has a 65-44 record with the Royals, lost four starters and two bench players to graduation.
Arnold averaged of 11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. He was all-league and district second team.
Baxter returns after chipping in with 2.0 points per contest. He will not be available until mid-to late December due to a football injury.
Traxler said he has two juniors, Robbins and Camden, vying for wing/guard spots along with sophomores Peter, Sheldon, and Buckingham.
The following players will be vying for a post spot: Palmer, Aufdencamp, Childress, Solether, and Jones.
Coach: Brad Sander, fourth season
Last season: 9-14, 6-8
Top players: Seniors Erich Gruelich, 6-0, W; Drew Speaker, 5-9, G; Phil Thorbahn, 6-4, W.
Outlook: Sanders said preseason practice and scrimmages are even important this year with only three letterwinners returning. The trio accounted for an average of just over 4.0 points per game last season.
He said positions and playing time are wide open and will sort themselves out.
“The team will be expected to improve as the season progresses and it will truly take a team effort in all phases of the game,” he said.
Gruelich has earned two letters, while Speaker and Thorbahn each have one letter.
“We have so many unknowns at this point in the season that it is going to be exciting for our staff to see things unfold each day,” Sander said.
He said the first three weeks of the season will be important.
“It is a wide open competition,” Sander said. “The one thing we can control this season is how well we play defense, and we will have to defend at a higher level than we did last season.”
Coach: Rick Renz, 10th season
Last season: 4-20, 2-12
Top players: Seniors Tony Mauricio, 6-0, G; Hunter Abell, 6-3, F; Drew Stennett, 6-3, F; Voshon Cousin, 5-9, G. Juniors Kaleb Bemis, 5-9, G; Rayshon Martin, 6-3, F; Deandre Cannon, 5-10, G; Kageb Brown, 6-2, P; Ricky Medina, 5-11, P; Clay Renz, 6-1, W. Sophomore Kobey Bermis, 5-11, G.
Outlook: Renz said he has a hard-working group that is very coachable.
“It's the hardest working team we've seen in awhile and we expect them to steadily improve,” he said.
Five players return: Bermis (4.0 points and 3.2 assists), Mauricio (4.5 points, 2.0 assists, and 2.0 rebounds), Martin (5.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks), Abell (4.3 points and 4.0 rebounds), and Stennett (3.8 points and 4.2 rebounds).
Renz said he has some younger players that should contribute valuable minutes.
There is not much varsity experience for a team that also lacks height. Consistent shooting could be an issue as well.