CHILLICOTHE – Unioto’s boys basketball team hasn’t lost a Scioto Valley Conference game since a 57-56 overtime loss to Zane Trace on Dec. 7, 2013.
Since then, the Shermans have ripped off 27 straight wins — six away from a conference record — inside the SVC and 35 straight in the regular season. Heading into 2015-16, Unioto will once again enter as the favorite to win a conference crown, meaning a large bright bulls-eye has been drawn on their backs.
“Every season you go into, you’re either the hunter or the hunted,” Unioto coach Matt Hoops said. “But either way, you’re still motivated. It’s just a different motivation. We feel like we want to continue to be the best we can be and we’ve worked really hard to try and get some of the achievements we’ve had. But this a new year. So we want to continue our theme of every time we go out, we want to be 1-0.”
Last season, Unioto’s magical 26-1 run ended in a Division II regional semifinal at the hands of Walnut Ridge 46-45. Gone from that team are graduates Nick Corcoran, Nick Overly, Kyle Strange and Alek Adkins.
Replacing those four players will be seniors Cole Cottrill, Erique Hosley, Sawyer Lovely and Isaac Wheeler.
“We can’t let that (regional semifinal) loss linger,” Hoops said. “We’re using that as a practice tool. We lost four great seniors but we’re bringing back four great seniors. A lot of the responsibility will fall on their shoulders. We have 11 guys on our roster who were on the roster last year. They’ve been through some success and we’re hoping that it will continue to breed success.”
Cottrill averaged 10.4 points per game last season while dishing out 3.3 assists. Hosley scored 9.4 per game and brought down an average of 7.7 boards per contest. Those two will anchor Hoops’ starting lineup along with Wheeler, a center, and sophomore guards Logan Swackhammer and Brandon Kennedy.
Also contributing minutes will be defensive specialist Clay Edler, standout sophomore Gabe Fisher and 6-foot-5 sophomore Peyton Hill — a transfer from Zane Trace.
“Logan and Brandon have done nothing but play basketball since last March 19 when our season ended,” Hoops said. “They’ve concentrated a lot on their physical makeup while trying to get stronger. They’ve had a really good off-season and we’re looking forward to seeing them grow on the court.”
On paper, Unioto may look like it’s far and away the best team in its conference. However, according to Hoops, that can’t be the case.
“You really can throw the records out the window when you talk about SVC basketball,” Hoops said. “On any given night, you could have a team who’s the eighth best team on paper beat or play with the first place team. The amount of talent that separates first and eighth place is not that much. Everyone knows everyone and everyone has been playing against one another for a long time. You have to come to play each night or you’re going to lose.”
The Shermans start their season Nov. 28 at home against Logan.
While Unioto’s boys have reloaded, the girls could be looking at a rebuilding project.
One year ago, the Shermans were 22-5 overall before falling in a Division II regional semifinal to West Holmes, 45-33. However, four of the Tanks’ five starters from that night have graduated including 2014-15 Co-SVC Player of the Year Alexis Overly.
In total, Unioto will be searching to replace a combined 38.3 of the 52.8 points they averaged a season ago.
“We’re working extremely hard,” Unioto coach Jeff Miller said. “We’ve got so many kids in different roles this year. So they’re still trying to get use to that and that’s a challenge. Last year, their role was to take a couple of shots game and play good defense. This year, that has expanded and it’s something they’re not used to and it’s going to take awhile for that to happen.”
This year’s team makeup includes seniors Kassidey Winegardner, Taylor Britton, Bri Thomas, Kaylee Valentine and Makayla Beavers. Winegardner, Thomas and Valentine all saw valuable minutes last season and 6-foot-2 sophomore center Caroline Thiel acted as Miller’s fifth starter.
In order to succeed, Thomas, Valentine and Thiel will have to take over scoring responsibilities.
“That’s something in the preseason that we’re still trying to figure out; who will step up and do that,” Miller said. “I don’t think it’s going to be one kid that steps up and scores 17 or 18 a game. It’s going to have to be a collective thing where five or six kids score four or five more points a game than they did last year.”
Sophomores Carly Adkins and Summer Sigman will also see playing minutes and will contribute heavily on the defensive side of the ball.
“We do have Caroline (Thiel) in the paint to protect the rim which allows us to do some things in the perimeter,” Miller said. “But the kids are buying into the defense and this year, that’s going to have to be our identity. We’re going to have to limit teams to one shot and keep them off the glass. If we can do that, we’ll stay in the game.”
Unioto could experience growing pains. But in the end, there’s still a tradition to be upheld. Miller is 70-26 as a head coach.
“On paper, there are better teams than us right now,” Miller said. “For us, we need to take care of our home court and win those games. If we go on the road and we’re favored, we better win that game. We can’t go and get knocked off by a team that we shouldn’t get knocked off by. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night.”
Miller’s Shermans will open up the season at 7 p.m. Friday at McClain.