BAINBRIDGE – It’s not rebuilding for Paint Valley, it’s retooling.
In the Bearcats’ final game of 2014-15 season, they suffered a 66-55 defeat to the hands of the Trimble Tomcats in a Division IV District Final, ending their season with a 16-9 record.
With back to back district final appearances, 2015-16 hopes to the year Paint Valley breaks through and captures that elusive title.
“It’s not easy to make it to the district finals, let alone in back to back years,” Paint Valley coach Dave Shoemaker said. “It’s a huge accomplishment for the kids to get there. We’ve come up against some really good teams along the way and it’s only going to get tougher for us this season since we moved up to Division III.”
The biggest challenge ahead of Paint Valley is replacing four of their six players who saw varsity time, including three starters; two of which scored more than 1,000 points in their career in Clay Stratton and Mason McCloy. The other two critical losses were Clay Archer and Trevor Medley.
“Stratton and McCloy both averaged 17 points per game, Archer and Medley added their points as well, so it’s probably 45-50 points we have to replace this season,” Shoemaker said. “We’re very seldom deep out here since we’re the smallest school in the league, but that’s something we’re used to. That’s why we have to stay in shape and work harder than anybody else.”
Replacing those four will be a challenge, but it helps when you boast the tallest and biggest player in the area on your team, which is 6-foot-10 sophomore standout Dylan Swingle, who averaged 10.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. Swingle will be the focal point of Paint Valley’s offense. As the ball goes through him, his teammates will get their shots as well.
“We would be foolish not to play through Dylan,” Shoemaker said. “As long as we can get the ball to him, it’ll make everyone else better. He’s one of the best post players in southern Ohio and he’ll be double teamed most nights, which is expected. But that allows our shooters on the outside to take their shots and it allows our other players to penetrate and drive to the basket.”
Senior guard Anthony McFadden returns to the fold this year as their leading scorer with 14.9 points per game, however, he won’t see the floor until after Christmas as he recovers from thumb surgery.
Although McFadden is a significant loss for the time being, the silver lining is that other players have to step their game up, which creates opportunities and most importantly, depth.
Juniors Andrew Brauner and Drake Purdum will both see a lot of floor time and expect to knock down shots. Senior transfer student Christian Gallagher will handle a good bit of ball handling duties with McFadden sidelined.
Seniors Adam Bales and Corbin Ackley along with juniors Jay Riley and Dylan Hannah, who will sit the first 11 games due to OHSAA transfer rules, will see floor time and are expected to contribute to the Bearcats’ attack. Freshman Caden Grubb also will log a good amount of playing time.
“We can go 8-9 deep this year,” Shoemaker said. “But that all depends on who steps up and earns their time. We have the ball handling, we have the post play and the shooters; we’re going to play the hand that we’re dealt and make it work and that’s why it’s so much fun.”
Injuries have stricken the Bearcats early on. However, once they’re fully healthy and in rhythm with one another, watch out.
“We have all the components to be a really good team,” Shoemaker said. “We just need to get healthy first. Once that happens, we’re going to be a really tough team to beat. Teams better get their shots on us early because if they wait, it’s going to be too late. We have senior leadership and kids who know their roles and understand what we’re doing here at Paint Valley. We’ll struggle through December, but get better and better and by the end of January, we’ll be a really good basketball team.”
Over on the girl’s side, they’re looking to continue building off of last season.
The girls team was last seen on the losing side of a 43-41 heartbreaker to Peebles in a Division IV sectional semifinal, ending its season with a mark of 3-20.
Coach Regina Newland, entering her second season at the helm, sees improvement and is looking to take things up a notch this season.
“We’re going to pick up the intensity a little bit,” Newland said. “We’re going to stress a little more on defense this year. We’re still working on getting better percentage shots as well as the fundamentals of the game. I like what I’ve seen but there’s always ways to improve.”
On a roster featuring just one senior, Madison Smith, nine juniors, three sophomore and one freshman, experience will play a key role for them. The Bearcats return most of their players from last year — most notably, their two leading scorers in sophomore Lexi Woods and junior Mikayla Newland, who averaged 12.8 and 7.7 points per game respectively.
Balance will play another key role. As the ball flows through Woods and Newland, juniors Ali Kirkbride, Emily Davis, Katelyn Hackworth and transfer Halo Dobbins will see a lot of time on the court and are expected to contribute to the Bearcats’ offensive attack.
“There are several girls who could step up at any night for us,” Newland said. “This group of juniors, a lot of them played together in junior high, but this will be the first opportunity for them to play on the varsity level, so we’re still working with some inexperience but we have some good veterans as well who will play well for us.”
Sophomore Alexus Rinehart and freshman Lea McFadden also will see a good bit of varsity time to add more offensive punch for Paint Valley.
“Katelyn has picked it up this year,” Newland said. “She gives you those quick spurts. Madison hustles every single night and Lea is such a nice athlete. And I’ve got my regular posts with Mikayla and Emily, so it’ll be a nice mix this year.”
This year could be the year the Bearcats take another step in the right direction. With the pieces they have and the experience gained from last season, more success will be on the horizon out in Bainbridge.
“We want to see continued improvement,” Newland said. “We work on the little fundamental things in practice, mainly on the defensive side of the ball. The coaches have done a really nice job instilling in them the focus on hustling and fighting for the ball. We got away from that last year with the kids being so young and maybe a little timid, but we’ll get that fight back into them and battle the way Paint Valley always does.
Paint Valley dropped its first two games of the season to East Clinton and West Union.