MANSFIELD – The Ontario Warriors won the last two Northern Ohio League championships, and they look pretty stout for 2015-16, especially after surviving the opening weekend with a pair of wins over Mansfield Senior and St. Peter’s.
“As always the key to a successful season will be focused on our ability to defend and our willingness to share the ball and play together at the offensive end,” Ontario coach Joe Balogh said.
Beating the Tygers and the Spartans by a combined three points proved they can win the close ones.
They return six from last year’s squad that went 24-2 overall and 12-0 in the NOL. Senior post Andrew Rathburn, senior forward Corey Thomas and junior guard Trey Jordan return along with senior Griffin Niss, senior Alex Vredenburgh and junior Quan Jackson.
“We feel that the strength of this team will be its depth and ability of players to play multiple positions,” Balogh said, who is now two wins away from 500 in his career.
Mansfield Senior may be 0-2, but they won’t be sub-.500 for long. The Tygers are too experienced for that kind of dropoff.
All-Ohio guard/forward Mario Young will lead a group that includes six others who have varsity experience.
“We’ll fly around. The way we win games will be the same formula,” Mansfield Senior coach JT Reese said. “We’ll try to get the game sped up; we’ll try to score easy baskets and get to the basket and guard the snot out of it.”
As always, the Tygers will be a favorite when it comes to the Ohio Cardinal Conference race, but so will Lexington.
The Minutemen are loaded off a team that won 14 games a season ago. Senior guard Joey Zahn and senior forward Jonah Yaussy are coming off big junior seasons. And speaking of big, Lexington features five players who are 6-foot-4 or taller.
“Community expectations are high. We need to stay focused on each game individually,” Lexinton coach Scott Hamilton said.
Madison brings back its top two scorers in junior guard Tyrell Ajian and senior guard Billy Buckley, but coach Tim Mergel hopes the rest of the roster can catch up as inexperience is a concern. Still, the hope is for a conference and district title.
Shelby looked strong in beating an undermanned Madison squad in the opener.
“We return four players from last year’s team that went 15-9,” Shelby coach Troy Schwemley said. “Our defensive pressure and guard play should be strong.”
The Mid-Buckeye Conference race will be intriguing.
St. Peter’s went unbeaten in winning the title in its first season in the league and brings a lot back from that squad.
“We have some experience,” Spartans coach Joe Jakubick said.
Seven letter winners are back, led by sophomores Mason Campbell and Jared Jakubick.
Mansfield Christian won 15 games last year and finished as MBC runner-up, and they bring back five key contributors, but will be without senior point guard Stevie Brown, who injured his knee in soccer this fall.
Loudonville will be intriguing as it welcomes back 19-points-per-game scorer Shawn Swindall and four other letter winners from a .500 squad a year ago.
“The league will be very competitive each night,” Loudonville coach Kelly Seboe said. “We have the capacity and experience to compete at a high level this season.”
The Mid Ohio Athletic Association Blue Division will be wide open with Highland, Cardington, Fredericktown, Mount Gilead and Northmor all thinking they can win a league championship.
The same can be said of the Northern 10, as Colonel Crawford, Buckeye Central and Wynford all have designs on competing for a league championship.
Hillsdale will factor into the Wayne County Athletic League race, especially with eight letter winners back from a 15-win team.