Boys basketball within the Southern Tier Athletic Conference West Division has been a delight if you’re a fan of unyielding effort on the defensive end.
Last year defensive doggedness helped carry Horseheads to a division championship that was followed by the Section 4 Class AA title and a near-miss in the state tournament against Middletown.
Much like Jeff Limoncelli at Horseheads, Watkins Glen head coach John Fazzary has preached defense to his players during his long tenure as head coach. Last year that mindset helped the Senecas win the overall Interscholastic Athletic Conference Large School title and narrowly miss out to Newfield for the Section 4 Class C crown.
Those two defending champions will perhaps need to be even more reliant on the defensive end this season, with both teams losing top players to graduation. Horseheads all-stater Foster Clark is now the top scorer for Corning Community College while Watkins Glen lost six of its top seven players to graduation.
Also gone after four brilliant seasons is Elmira Notre Dame’s Darius Garvin, a first-team Class C all-state pick who is playing at Daemen College in Buffalo. Two-time Elmira High School all-state pick Tyler Moffe is suiting up for Division I University at Buffalo.
It is a different story at Waverly, which brings back most of its roster from a 13-7 team. Veteran head coach Louis Judson said the team is the deepest and most talented he has had in 13 seasons.
Southern Tier Athletic Conference
Horseheads: Replacing the 18 points and 12 rebounds per game provided by Foster Clark with a single player isn’t likely, though the Blue Raiders do benefit from the return of seven players from a 14-7 team whose accomplishments also included an appearance in the finals of the National Division at the Josh Palmer Fund Elmira Holiday Inn Classic. That list includes sharp-shooting senior guard Ben Clark, senior guard Carter McCormick, senior forward Pat Condon, junior guard Nico Limoncelli, 6-foot-4 junior forward Andrew Clark, 6-foot-3 junior forward Nate Nalbach and 6-foot-7 junior forward Brewster Marshall.
Additions to the varsity roster include freshman guards Mike Limoncelli and Lou Clearwater, sophomore forward Nate Van Brunt, junior forward Zac Granger and junior guard Nick Juan.
Nico and Mike are the sons of head coach Jeff Limoncelli, whose father, Bill, is the Blue Raiders’ assistant coach.
“We are in a rebuilding phase, but will certainly compete,” Jeff Limoncelli said. “I am very excited about the future, with kids who love to play and love to work. This is a fun group who has pride in defending our sectional crown. This league is very tough, especially being the small school, but we love to embrace the challenge of continuing our school’s winning tradition.”
Horseheads got out of the gate quickly Friday, rolling to a 54-37 road win over Ithaca.
Elmira: While seeing the high-scoring Moffe depart was tough, there is reason for optimism for head coach Ryan Johnson following a 9-9 season that saw the Express improve week by week after a slow start. Elmira had won two straight STAC West titles before last season.
Back from 2014-15 are 6-foot-7 senior forward/center Jadakis Brooks, 6-foot-7 sophomore forward/center Dan Fedor, senior guard Zach Savage, senior guard DaShaun Sutton, junior guard Reilly Collins and senior guard/forward Johnny Hall. Among the newcomers are junior guard Quinton Ellis, junior forward Chris Whitson and junior guard Jerick Guinta.
Several of those players competed deep into the fall for Elmira’s Section 4 Class AA champion football team.
“Consistency, effort and execution on both ends of the floor will be the key to our season,” Johnson said. “With this, we think we can be competitive every night in a very tough and talented league. We have excellent kids on and off the court and are very proud of that.”
Corning: This will be the second season at Corning for head coach John Fesetch as the Hawks try to become more of a factor in the STAC West after a 2-13 season that came on the heels of a 1-15 record in 2013-14.
Senior guard Danny Madden, who just signed a National Letter of Intent to pitch for St. Bonaventure, is an athletic 3-point shooting threat. Joining him from last year’s team are sophomore guard Jason Rodriguez, junior guard Jaylen Nuckles and 6-foot-4 junior forward Jon Werner.
The additions include junior guard Brendon Walker, sophomore guard Ivan Jubilee, freshman guard Jordan Haggard, sophomore forward Myles Bankston and junior forward Mike Rossi.
“This year’s team has put together a lot of time in the offseason,” Fesetch said. “Combining this with the team chemistry that has developed should allow us to be competitive in a very deep and talented league.”
Interscholastic Athletic Conference
Watkins Glen: Six seniors from last season’s 17-2 team graduated, leaving some opportunities for new blood to take over for one of Section 4’s most consistent programs. Back for the defending IAC Large School champions are senior guard Parker Pangallo, junior guard Dominick Rolston, senior guard/forward Justin Kelly and senior forward/center Michael Taylor.
New to the varsity scene are junior forward/center Max Schimizzi, sophomore guard/forward Michael Doane, junior guard Connor Seeley-Ion, junior forward Alex Gibson and junior forward Jacob Lokken.
The Senecas play in the IAC South Large School Division, among the toughest small-school divisions in the state, with the likes of Notre Dame and Waverly in the hunt each year along with Watkins Glen.
“We want to be competitive in our division/section,” Fazzary said. “Waverly is very strong and one of the better Class B teams in the section.”
Waverly: The Wolverines finished with a 13-7 record last season, losing in the Section 4 Class B quarterfinals to champion Chenango Valley.
A majority of the scoring returns. Those back include 6-foot-4 senior center Matt McFarland, senior point guard Peyton Miller (12.2 points, 2.2 assists per game last season), junior guard Hunter Bodine (12.5 ppg last season), junior guard/forward Garrett Sutryk (7.5 ppg), senior guard Jeff Mitchell (10.4 ppg), 6-foot-4 junior forward Zach VanHouten and senior forward Austin Blauvelt.
The newcomers include 6-foot-4 junior Jon Ward, sophomore forward Matt VanHouten, junior forward Brandon Cantrell, junior guards Nate Bennett and Jared Vascoe, and senior guard Cody Czebiniak.
Six players were part of the football team that advanced to the state quarterfinals, so they got a late start to the hoops season.
“It is the deepest and most talented team I have coached in my 13 years as boys varsity coach,” Judson said. “We have team speed, shooters, length and, most importantly, experience and veteran leadership in the backcourt.
“If we can stay healthy, have responsible and committed teammates, then the season could be a very special one.”
Notre Dame: With the graduation of Garvin, the Crusaders lost more than 60 percent of their offense from last season right there when you consider his points and assists.
There are some key boys back from a team that surprised a lot of people with a 15-5 record. That includes senior guard Kyle Minchin, junior guards Derrick Stark and Pat Brown, senior forward Toby Wirth and sophomore guard Justin Bauco.
Joining them at the varsity level are sophomore guard Gary Raupers, freshman forward Ben Cook, junior guard Tim Davis, junior forward Dimitrius Stanley, junior guard Alan Lui and freshman guard Nick Clark. Notre Dame isn’t big, with the three tallest players on the roster standing 6-foot-1.
“Very young varsity basketball team that is looking to improve daily and throughout the season,” head coach Bill Hopkins said. “Intangibles such as team chemistry, trust at both ends of the floor and reliance on each other, rather than one, will be keys to watch.”
Thomas A. Edison: Three starters are back from a 3-15 team: three-year starting junior point guard Kevin Harmer, senior Chris Becker and senior Corey Garrison. Also expected to get a lot of minutes are Kobie Punchard, Josh Jurusik and Tyler Northrup.
The bench will feature newcomers Adam Houghtling, Lucas Wright, Luke Bennett, Tarryl Garner and Nate Chorney.
“With the talent, speed, shooting ability and size we have this year, I’m hoping Edison can not only return to sectionals, but be competitive in the Large School North,” head coach Lenny Smith said. “The keys for us this year are can we defend every night and can we play as a team for the full 32 minutes.”
Odessa-Montour: The Indians finished with a 7-9 record under head coach Brad Clark and count first-team IAC South Small School all-star Joel Kelly, a senior, among the returning players. Also back are seniors Bryce Elliott, Tyler Clark and Chris Foote.
Additions include sophomore forward Curtis Harris, sophomore guard Noah Angle and freshman swingman Zach Elliott.
“Our goal is to improve on our record from last year and be more competitive in the division,” Brad Clark said.
On Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare