Utica does not return a lot of varsity experience this season, but the Redskins have two of the right players back.
Utica returns leading scorers Luke Holmes and Broc Stradley from a 12-win team, so the Redskins have some optimism despite graduating seven others and losing an eighth to injury. If the dynamic duo gets help, Utica could even compete with Fredericktown and Loudonville for a Mid-Buckeye Conference title.
“We need some younger guys to step up and some guys that played JV ball last year to step up,” Utica coach Brian Radabaugh said. “Spencer Kendall has been doing a real nice job so far.”
Holmes has good size for a guard at 6-foot-3, and he averaged more than 13 points per game, shooting 45 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3-point range. He had two 25-point games.
Stradley is an experienced slasher at 5-11. He averaged 12 ppg., with a 20-point game against Fredericktown mixed in. His 2011-12 highlight was an end-to-end run to beat Johnstown before the buzzer.
Then, it gets murky.
“There is no doubt that other teams are going to focus on those two and force other people to beat us, and we just need to keep developing people,” Radabaugh said. “Hopefully, a guy or two steps up and proves capable of doing that.”
Kendall is 6-1, and he rounds out the seniors with guards Trent Vickers and Seth Kirkendall. Intriguing freshmen are Josh Dassylva and Mitchell Marston, who is an athletic 6-4.
Utica already has been tested. The Redskins matched up with former coach Eric Sheck and a modified Newark Catholic roster at the beginning of November. The Redskins also had a spirited scrimmage with Bishop Ready and Licking Heights.
“We try to play really good competition,” Radabaugh said. “We try to get our kids up to speed as quickly as possible. I think that is the way you develop kids — letting them see the best.”
Beyond what has become a rugged MBC, Utica’s nonleague schedule will not lack for spice. The Redskins have used the expanded 22-game schedule to add games with Mount Vernon, St. Charles and Watkins Memorial.
Utica is hoping to advance in the Division II tournament this season after losing to Licking Valley 52-35 in the first round a year ago.
“We went for people that were close, and we wanted to play some good competition,” Radabaugh said. “This is no knock against our league because I think it is better than people think, but we are a Division II for the tournament. We need to go out and play other Division II schools.”