CHILLICOTHE – It isn’t a question of if Chillicothe will hit its stride, but rather a question of when.
Under third-year head coach Eric Huffer, the Cavaliers have peaked at the correct time each of the last two years before falling to central district teams in the Division I OHSAA tournament bracket in the early going.
Heading into 2015-16, due to enrollment numbers, Chillicothe has dropped back into Division II — a transition that provides much opportunity.
“Our expectations, back in Division II, we’d love nothing more than to make a deep tournament run,” Huffer said. “It’d be great to have a chance to play at the (Ohio University’s Convocation Center) again. A lot of these guys have not had that experience. And we have a great group of guys this year who are a lot of fun to coach. I’m looking forward to it.”
Anchoring the group will be seniors Nate Rosenbauer, Matt Benson and Kristian Boltenhouse — a transfer from Zane Trace — who are all in Huffer’s starting rotation as of now. Those three names will look to pick up much of the scoring duties after Tommy Bolte graduated last season.
“It’s nice to have Nate and Matt, who have done a phenomenal job of setting the culture that we want to build as a team,” Huffer said. “They’ve really led on the court and off the court. Then Kristian has came in and worked hard as well, even after having a lengthy football season.”
Rosenbauer dropped in an average of 9.7 points per game last season while dishing out 2.3 assists. With Zane Trace, Boltenhouse put up 16.6 points per contest and brought down 8.5 rebounds.
Rounding out Huffer’s starting five is junior shooting guard Jordan Johnson (5.9 points per game last year) and sophomore point guard Branden Maughmer, who will be a newcomer to the varsity team after spending much of 2014-15 on the junior varsity squad.
“Jordan has been with me since he was a freshman so this is his third year with me,” Huffer said. “He really spaces the floor well for us and does some good things off the dribble. Branden is going to be a stud. He’s really been really impressive so far.”
Sophomores Will and Simon Roderick will also see minutes off the bench alongside juniors Seth Barnes, Khaleel Danzy and Hunter Coffman. Sophomore Jason Benson will also contribute after coming back from an injury suffered during the off-season.
Even though Chillicothe will be participating with this group in the Division II postseason bracket, the Cavaliers will play a schedule worthy of a Division I team.
This year’s opponents include Gahanna Lincoln, Upper Arlington, Groveport and Pickerington Central — not to mention conference rival Wilmington twice.
“We schedule that way to prepare us, hopefully, to do good things in the tournament,” Huffer said. “We might not win them all, we won’t win them all, but it’s really all to get us ready for the postseason. We want to really challenge ourselves. If you think about it, in Division II, the regional level would be the first time we’d see a central district team. We’ve seen a central district team at the sectional level both of the last two years in Division I.”
Chillicothe opens its season on the road against Logan Elm, Nov. 27.
After losing three key seniors last season — Bri Dawes, Shay Lett and Jenna Holton — Chillicothe’s girls are looking for multiple players to step into roles and blossom into rising stars.
Head coach Pat Beard, who is entering his third season at the helm of the program, led his Cavaliers to their first sectional crown since 2004 last season before falling to Unioto in a district title contest. To reach those heights again, junior Osh Brown and sophomore Shawnee Smith will have to lead the way.
Brown, a 5-foot-11 center, set a school record during her sophomore season with 341 rebounds — or 13.9 per game. Smith came on late in the year and upped her scoring average to 6.4 per game after pouring in a total of 159 points.
Those two will team up with senior forward Jasmine Jordan (7.8 points and 4.9 rebounds) underneath the basket.
“We’re looking for (Shawnee) to come into her own,” Beard said. “She definitely will be our best scorer as long as she gets the chances to do so. Osh loves to get rebounds. There’s been multiple times where she would tell other girls to back off because she was going to clean the glass. She’s worked very hard this summer on her offensive game and has gotten more comfortable with her perimeter jump shot. We’re trying to get her to not just be a post player. We want her to maybe act more as a stretch forward.”
However, if Smith and Brown are to be the go-to scorers, Chillicothe’s guards — a mix of senior Tanea Cousins and juniors Shawntel Smith and Essence Devlin — will need to play their roles to a tee.
“Teams are game planning to stop our inside presence,” Beard said. “That makes it very tough for Osh, Shawnee and Jasmine to get clean looks inside. So I don’t want to put too much pressure on my guards, but they’re going to have to be able to step outside on the perimeter and hit some jump shots to keep teams honest or it’s going to be tough sledding for my post players.”
Also seeing a significant amount of playing time will be senior Shawna Smith and junior Sydney May.
Last year, Chillicothe went 12-2 inside South Central Ohio League play to win a conference title. It has yet to be seen whether this year’s team can match that mark.
“I’ve looked around the league and to be blatantly honest, Clinton-Massie, on paper is the number one team in the league,” Beard said. “They bring back everybody back from last year except for one post player. Then you have to look at Miami Trace, who will be good, as well as Wilmington and then Greenfield. And then you look at us. So I see us somewhere right now around third, fourth or fifth with the possibility of sneaking up on some people and playing for another conference championship.”
The Cavaliers took care of business in their 2015-16 opener by beating Logan Elm 71-49. They’ll be back in action Tuesday night against Hillsboro at home.