Time to get out your maps or GPS, because the boys’ basketball season is upon us, and the many league shakeups means there are some new schools to visit on the schedule.
Coldwater and Marshall left the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference to face school’s closer to their own sizes in the newly-formed Interstate Eight Conference. The SMAC is now down to 12 teams, including Gull Lake.
Maple Valley and Olivet left the Kalamazoo Valley Association to help form the Greater Lansing Athletic Conference. The KVA, which still features area teams Delton Kellogg and Galesburg-Augusta, will play its final season of competition before disbanding.
And after years in the St. Joseph Valley, Bronson left to help form the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph (B-C-S) Athletic Conference.
So as many area schools said goodbye to long-standing rivalries, new ones will be created as teams feel each other out to find out who is top dog after all the league shuffling.
Here’s a closer look at the 2014-15 area boys’ basketball teams:
Coach: Major Harris (seventh season)
2013-14 record: 11-11
Top returners: Jonah Harris, sr. F; Jacob Iles, sr. G; Austin Cole, sr. G; Sebastian Hamilton, jr. C
Outlook: The Indians have some roster turnover from a team that finished at .500 last season, so the returning players will be looked at for leadership as Athens tries to contend for a Big Eight Conference crown.
“If we can duplicate last year’s player improvement, which saw us end the year winning 7-of-10 games, hopefully we can reach our goals of finishing in the upper half of the Big Eight and winning a district,” coach Harris said.
Coach: Joe Costello (fifth season)
2013-14 record: 15-7
Top returners: Tony Reid, sr. F; Chris Patterson, sr. F; Darren Sommers, sr. G.
Outlook: Coming off back-to-back district championships, expectations remain high at Bellevue. The Broncos bring back six players and will also get some help from a pair of Olivet transfers in Tate McCarn and Cam Shaw.
“The potential for this group is really high,” Costello said. “We return a lot of players with game experience, including several who played AAU ball over the summer. I think we have a chance to be a pretty good basketball team if we can find some good positive team leaders.”
Coach: Dennis Gest (third season)
2013-14 record: 1-20
Top returners: Sean Kenny, sr. C; Eric Toledo, sr. F; Jordan Alger, sr. G; Daniel McMichael, jr. G; Noah Roberts, jr. G; Branson Thenen, jr. F.
Outlook: Bronson won only one game last season, but it came against a then third-ranked and previously unbeaten St. Philip team. The Vikings were in many of their games until the final minutes, and with six returners back with valuable playing experience, the squad will look to take the next step and finish with more victories.
“This season our team has the veteran leaderhsip neede dto win and that will play a big part in how our season progresses,” Gest said. “This year’s team has more experience, speed and size than past teams, which should aid us in our defensive goals…Our ability to compete offensively will be decided on if we can limit our turnovers and spread the floor.”
Coach: Doug Thorne (first season)
2013-14 record: 10-8
Top returners: Chase Flach, jr.; Kyle Wright, jr.; Charlie Snyder, so.; Gavin Hansen, so.; Andrew Schwabaner, so.
Outlook: Calhoun Christian begins a new era under Thorne, who inherits a young group. Still, the Cougars hope to get better as the season progresses as they compete in the Mid-South Conference.
“Team has only three upperclassmen and no seniors playing a varsity schedule,” Thorne said. “The team will lean heavily on Chase Flach and Kyle Wright as junior leaders. We expect to get stronger as the season goes on as we gain experience.”
Coach: Brien Kelly (fourth season)
2013-14 record: 4-16
Top returners: Logan Targgart, sr. F; Michael Magocs, sr. G; Blaze Watson, sr. F; Morgan Sims, sr. F; Luke Beckhusen, jr. G; Nathan Waterbury, jr. G.
Outlook: The Cardinals hope a change in scenery — in their case a new league in the Interstate Eight — brings better results. Coldwater’s former league, the SMAC East, was perennially loaded, so the feeling is that the Cardinals may be able to capitalize on more balanced competition.
“We have a good mix of returners with a lot of game experience and solid young players that will be counted on to make a contribution,” Kelly said. “We are excited about entering a new league and are looking forward to the challenges the league will bring. The league has some familiar opponents and a few new ones; we look to be a program that is competitive on a nightly basis and are a factor in the Interstate Eight championship hunt.”
Coach: Steve Critchlow (third season)
2013-14 record: 13-10
Top returners: Ethan Vosburg, sr. G; Cody Campbell, sr. F; Chase Audette, sr. F; Dallas Froberg, jr. G
Outlook: Any talk of the Southern Central Athletic Association title typically involves Climax-Scotts, and this year should be no different. The Panthers have been a small-school power in recent years, and will look to continue that trend behind a dedicated cast.
“We are blessed to have the type of student-athletes who come out to our winter sports here at Climax-Scotts,” Critchlow said. “This year’s group is really a special one. They really get after it for 365 days. Our expectation is to meet the high standards that Climax-Scotts has on the ‘little things.’”
Coach: Mike Sowles (fifth season)
2013-14 record: 10-11
Top returners: Spencer Smolarz, sr. G; Bailey Tyler, sr. F; Gabe Keeley, jr.; Brandon Hinkley, jr.; Brett Prell, jr.
Outlook: The Magi have some big shoes to fill with the graduation of Brad Brittingham, who at one time last season led the state in scoring average. Now Colon will turn to a pair of seniors to lead the way in Spencer Smolarz and Bailey Tyler.
“(Smolarz) will be our main ball handler. He has great length and can cause a lot of trouble on the defensive end,” Sowles said. “Tyler is very athletic. He will be counted on to score inside and rebound.”
Coach: Paul Blacken (first season/sixth overall)
2013-14 record: 13-14
Top returners: Landon Grizzle, sr. F; Lucas Hansen, sr. G; Gary Egelkraut, sr. F/C; Leighton Tobias, sr. F; Noah Leinaar, jr. G; Cogan McCoy, so. G
Outlook: Paul Blacken returns to guide the program he coached for four seasons in the 1980s, and he inherits an experienced group. The Panthers will rely on six returners as they navigate a scaled down Kalamazoo Valley Association for the final time before joining the Southwestern Athletic Conference next season.
“I have only been with the team since this fall, so I am not sure what to expect,” Blacken said. “The team is working very hard and have good attitudes. There is some experience. I expect they will compete every night and if they defend and rebound they will win their share and get better as the year goes on.”
Coach: Gary Sprague (20th season)
2013-14 record: 15-7
Top returners: Jordan Taylor, sr. F; TJ Haase, sr. G; Brendan Neeley, sr. F.
Outlook: Gull Lake will have a different look with nine players new to the fold. The Blue Devils have been among the stronger SMAC teams since joining the league a few years ago, a trend they’d like to continue.
“Our strengths are our seniors who all play hard and are very competitive,” Sprague said. “We are a good shooting team and very scrappy. We lack experience and we have no true post players, so finding an inside game will be difficult.”
Coach: Jim Huffman (fifth season)
2013-14 record: 19-2
Top returners: Tyler George, sr. F; Preston Sherman, sr. F; Hunter Weeks, sr. C; Brock Ridgeway, jr. F/C; Caleb Drumm, jr. G.
Outlook: Homer comes in as a the reigning Big Eight Conference champion, but repeating the feat will be difficult after heavy graduation losses. Still, the Trojans do have some quality players back in the fold and feel they can be among the teams in the running to finish at the top of the league.
“We’ve got good size, I think we’ll we’ll be a decent team,” Huffman said. “We should be in the top part of the Big Eight, I think we can contend for a title.”
Coach: Chris Ewing (fourth season)
2013-14 record: 20-5
Top returners: Andrew Brighton, sr. G; Beau Johnson, sr. F.
Outlook: Maple Valley is coming off a 20-win season and a regional final appearance, but it will be a much different team that takes the court in 2014-15. The Lions also see some new competition as one of the founding members of the Greater Lansing Athletic Conference.
“We have one starter back from last year’s regional final team,” Ewing said. “We are young but with a lot of fight. We have worked hard in the offseason to get a team around to take of from where we left off last year. You can plan on us being quick as always, and a defensively sound team… This year we will be relying on our inside game to help out with our outside game.”
Coach: Nick Dent (third season)
2013-14 record: 6-17
Top returners: Brandon Turner, sr. F; Terrion Patterson, sr. F; Drew DeVine, jr. G; Jacob Brubaker, jr. G; Tyler Torrey, jr. G; Chris Thomas, jr. G.
Outlook: Marshall may need to do some running and gunning this season, as the Redhawks lack much size. Still, Marshall does return one of the area’s scoring leaders in junior Jacob Brubaker, who will look to guide the team as it competes in the newly-formed Interstate Eight Conference.
“We are junior heavy and guard hevy. We’re a small group but very fast and athletic,” Dent said. “I’m pretty excited about our ability to shoot from beyond the arc. If we’re going to be successful we’ll need to take advantage of these strengths.”
Coach: Travis Brown (first season)
2013-14 record: 7-14
Top returners: Ryan Tennant, sr. F; Craig Bryon, sr. C; Brandon Whitely, sr. G; Nick Johnson, sr. G; Sam Hoag, sr. G; Deion Feldpausch, sr. G; Cam Hisler, sr. F.
Outlook: A new era begins at Olivet, as longtime head coach Brian Dartt stepped aside for Travis Brown, who will guide a big and experienced team in the inaugural season of the Greater Lansing Athletic Conference.
“Overall we have a balanced team with inside and outside presence,” Brown said. “Our strength is our senior returners — Tennant and Whitely will be leaned on for leadership. We expect to contend in the newly-formed GLAC. However, our chemistry, work ethic, and most importantly, our defense will loom large in the rest of those expectations.”
Coach: Scott Rodesiler (third season)
2013-14 record: 16-5
Top returners: Chase Cook, sr. G; Nick Haberl, sr. F/C; Jake Rider, sr. G/F; Andrew Karney, sr. F; Jake Jodway, sr. G/F.
Outlook: Quincy is coming off a successful 2013-14 campaign and is hungry for more. Led by All-State honorable mention guard/forward Jake Rider, the Orioles feel they have what it takes to contend in the Big Eight Conference and state tournament.
“Despite a great season, the team is looking to claim the elusive Big Eight and district titles that the team so close to last year,” Rodesiler said. “This group of guys are passionate about basketball, share the ball well, and are a competitive bunch of young men. I believe that we have good team speed, we play with great effort, and we are a very intelligent team.. I believe this will be the best shooting team that I have ever coached. We have numerous players who are very good shooters.”
Coach: Tim Jenkins (18th season)
2013-14 record: 4-17
Top returners: Riley Lloyd, sr. G; Cheyne Wiescholek, sr. G; Connor Jenkins, so. F; Cameron Moris, sr. F; Everett Lewis-Lanphar, jr. G; Travis Hurley, sr. F.
Outlook: The Indians will look to turn things around with a more experienced roster in 2014-15. But without a lot of size or a deep bench, that could be difficult in the always competitive Southern Central Athletic Association.
“Our strength should be our backcourt, as both Lloyd and Wiescholek have a lot of experience,” coach Jenkins said. “We do have some kids back but still lack experience as both Lewis-Lanphar and Jenkins missed most of last year with injuries. We again are not very big, as our center, Kodey Brashares at 6-foot-1, is our biggest player. Also, depth could be a factor as we will probably dress only eight players.”
Coach: Benjamin Chard (third season)
2013-14 record: 8-14
Top returners: Lucas Vaccaro, sr. F; Jalen Boes, jr. F; Kenyon Stuchell, sr. G; Jason Means, sr. F; Blake Shellberg, sr. F; Darren Austin, sr. G; Seth Bruce, jr. C; Elijah Way, jr. G; Colin Kreger, jr. F; Gavin Stuart, sr. C.
Outlook: Union City brings back a wealth of experience, with 10 players returning to the fold in 2014-15. The Chargers hope their veteran know-how results in more victories and possibly a Big Eight Conference crown.
“Led by 3-year varsity players, Darren Austin and Lucas Vaccaro, the Chargers are planning on competing for a Big Eight Conference championship,” Chard said.