RUSHVILLE — A year after taking their lumps because of playing so many younger players, the Fairfield Union boys basketball team is more than ready to take the next step.
The Falcons return four starters from a team that finished 9-14 overall and 5-9 in the Mid-State League-Buckeye Division. They went 6-5 in their final 11 games a year ago.
Second-year coach Alex Eversole feels said the expectations are a lot higher this season and he feels like the Falcons are primed to battle for a league a championship.
“The fact that our younger guys were thrown into the fire and understand the speed of the game at the varsity level is huge,” Eversole said. “Anytime you can gain varsity experience, it’s a plus. Our guys have been there and they understand what it takes to be successful.
“We had a really good summer and we made an effort to seek out really good competition to play against. It was a big step for us, as far as our progression and the process of becoming the team that we want to be.”
Seniors Thomas Green and Matt Smith, junior Hayden Price and sophomore Colin Woodside are returning starters, while sophomore sharpshooter Lucas Thompson, who saw plenty of varsity time, also returns. Senior Logan McNeal, who played a lot of varsity minutes as a sophomore and missed last year due to a knee injury, should also give the Falcons a big lift.
“We have high expectations and our guys understand that,” Eversole said. “We know we have to be mentally tougher than we were a year ago, and the number one thing we have to do each night is defend. There are some talented teams and players in our league.
“We feel like we have some talented offensive guys, but on the nights when our offense isn’t clicking on all cylinders, we have to be able to defend and rebound, especially in close games. If want to be a part of the upper teams in the league, we have to buy into that philosophy.”
Lancaster: The Golden Gales were 4-18 a year ago, but they return four starters in seniors Coy Kitchen, Ashton Walker and Nash Wilson and junior Jacob Arter. Cole Reinschell, who also saw plenty of playing time, returns. Junior Nate Anderson and sophomore Austin Gootee will provided depth.
Lancaster should be much improved, especially at the offensive end, but Lancaster coach Luke Truex said the Gales will need to be more consistent, especially playing in the always-tough Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division.
“We had a solid offseason and the guys gained a lot of confidence,” Truex said. “I really think we will be able to score more than we have in the past and we have a better understanding of what we need to do.
“We just have to be consistent each night, which is our biggest battle. We are capable of competing and beating teams in our league, but we just have to be consistent.”
Bloom-Carroll: The Bulldogs were 17-8 a year ago and finished 12-2 and tied for the league title in the Mid-State League-Buckeye Division.
Bloom-Carroll returns two starters in senior Grant Dozer and junior Jared Laski. The Bulldogs received a big lift with the addition of transfers, Gavin Brown, a sharpshooting junior and 6-foot-7 Matt Smith. Other key newcomers are juniors Griffin Dozer, Justin Harvey, Cole Williams and Caleb Downs.
“One of our strengths will be the ability to shoot the ball,” said veteran Bloom-Carroll coach Tom Petty, who won his 600th career game last season. “We don’t have a lot of depth and we will need to rebound the ball, as well as have kids that were role players last year, they will have to step up.”
Berne Union: The Rockets were 16-7 overall a year ago and 7-3 in the Mid-State League-Cardinal Division, but they lost all five starters.
Seniors Hanson Holter, Joey Ricker and Jordan Mosack and junior Hunter Mahlerwein will be asked to pick up the slack after getting plenty of varsity time last season. Newcomers Braden Little, Nathan Romine, Blake Mathias, Trevor Blevins and Jacob Tharp should provide plenty of depth.
“We obviously aren’t going to rely on just one guy this year and I feel like we will shoot the better as a team than we did last year,” Berne Union coach Tracy Blevins said. “We will need all nine guys in the rotation to contribute. We have to be able to do the little things right.
“It will be interesting at the beginning of the year because we will have to find out which guys work best with each other. I feel like we will be a better team as the year progresses.”
Amanda-Clearcreek: The Aces were 2-21 a year ago and welcome first-year coach Cody Blackburn. The Aces lost all five starters from a year ago.
Blackburn will count on seniors Jacob Lamb and Lance Clevenger and sophomore Braden Neff, who saw varsity minutes last season. R.J. Martin and freshman Will Riffle, are expected to start, and 6-foot-5 freshman Alex Smith, will get plenty of playing time as well.
“We’ve kind of been a rollercoaster in the preseason as far playing well at times and not so well at times.” Blackburn said. “We are just trying to build confidence and improve each day. When you are playing younger kids, there is always going to be some inconstant play, but hopefully, we will show up each night and take things as they come.”
Fairfield Christian: The Knights, who reached the district championship game a year ago and finished 16-9, return three starters in seniors Landon Conley, Jacob Thompson and Andrew Gerkin.
Juniors Isaac Naayers, Connor Stevens, Luke Kumler and Niko Moxley and freshman Evan Conley should provide depth.
“Our biggest strength will be our depth,” Fairfield Christian coach Roger Hooper said. “We feel like we can go 10 deep and should help because we want to play an up-tempo style. We have good guards that shoot the ball well, but the key will be our defense. We have to be able to defend because we have a tough schedule.”
Liberty Union: The Lions were 6-15 a year ago and welcome in new coach Seth Martin.
Senior guard Tyler Brehm is the lone returning starters, but Tanner Denney, Caleb Fox and Charlie Kilger saw plenty of playing time a year ago, which should help.
“The kids have really worked hard, but the biggest thing is they haven’t had a lot of success, and that is something we need to change,” Martin said. “We have to have the attitude that we belong and we can compete. We have to be mentally tough.
“We have to play more physically and not let teams push us around. We just need to play hard, have belief in ourselves and keep improving every day.”
Millersport: The Lakers were 3-20 a year ago, but they do return four starters in seniors Mike Seeger and Beau Thorne, junior Steven Shaloo and sophomore Zane Purvis. Cory Jude, Steven Berry, Noah Jewell, Alec Harrison and Ammon Keller should all see plenty of playing time.
“We have a lot of quickness and we have kids that can shoot it, but our lack of size and depth is a concern,” Millersport coach John Kaminsky said. “We were in a lot of games last season, but we would run out of gas at the end of the game because of our lack of depth. We do have more guys this year so hopefully, that will help.”