Could this be year Gibsonburg, Stritch gets on top?
Veteran Gibsonburg boys basketball coach Brent Liskai says Ottawa Hills, Toledo Christian and Cardinal Stritch Catholic are the teams to beat in the TAAC.
“Our league is one of the best, if not the best, Division IV leagues in the state and it will be extremely competitive once again,” the coach said. “The teams are extremely well coached, and you must bring your ‘A’ game on most nights.”
But Stritch coach Dave Rieker said he gives Ottawa Hills the nod to win the TAAC this season, followed by Gibsonburg, Toledo Christian and Stritch “because of our lack of experience.”
“We have a very balanced league,” Rieker said, “one of the most underrated leagues around.”
The Cardinals, who tied Gibsonburg for third place in the TAAC last season, don’t return a ton of experience from last year but they do have good size and athleticism.
“We are very long and must take advantage of our length,” Rieker said. “To be successful we have to play good defense and control the boards, and we need to hit some shots this year. I love the makeup of our team. I might have the best chemistry I’ve had since I’ve been here. They get along very well, and practices have been very intense.”
“I would like him (6-5 guard/forward Austin Adams) to average a double-double this year,” Rieker said. “That is his goal. I think he feels he has to be that way for us to be successful. He is our go-to guy. I think he’ll be one of the best players in the league. He has improved on his jump shot, and the big thing is how will Austin adjust to being double and triple-teamed? It will be tough to guard him one-on-one. We have a lot of guys in the league like that.”
Meanwhile, Gibsonburg returns nine returning lettermen including Kreglow, a second-team All-TAAC performer, and honorable mention all-conference picks Cantrell and Tyler Ernsthausen.
“We will be up-tempo on both offense and defense,” Liskai said, “but we can play many ways and will do whatever it takes to give us the best chance to win each night. We have a versatile roster and we can adapt. Our players are smart, as witnessed by being third in the state with a 3.807 GPA last season. We need to focus on one game at a time and continue to improve as the season progresses. Rebounding is a point of emphasis. We need to compete on the glass nightly to compete.”
Northwood coach James Scharer has just one senior and two juniors in his program, and the senior and junior on the varsity do not have experience at that level.
One key football player expected to contribute, Luke Laviolette, was injured during the fall and is not playing basketball and Scharer said a couple other possible returnees were ruled ineligible. Lost to graduation are Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press second team selection Tyler Williams (16.6 pts., 2.5 reb.), a six-foot tall shooting guard, and honorable mention All-Press pick John Segura, a post player.
His numbers, including a junior varsity and freshman team are not bad, but they include 17 sophomores and freshmen. His goal is to keep them working with the program through the offseason, also.
“If they hang with it, in two years we’ll be fine,” Scharer said. “If they don’t hang with it, in two years we’ll be in pretty deep. They could be good but they have to play and have to commit themselves, regardless, that’s all there is to it. You can’t wait until October to come out and be a basketball player.
Chasing Toledo Christian
On the TAAC girls’ ledger, Gibsonburg will have good depth and quickness, but its weakness is a lack of size, coach John Ernsthausen said. The Bears will also look to avenge all those close games they lost last season.
“We lost a couple close ones to Stritch, and we lost one in overtime to Northwood that we shouldn’t have lost,” he said. “We’re looking to hopefully win the close ones and grab as many as we can get. We’re going to be switching up (defensively) to try to keep teams out of their comfort zone. I don’t have any problem subbing. I don’t think we’ll miss a beat when we sub. We’re 8 to 10 deep.”
Ernsthausen added that defending champion Toledo Christian is a big favorite to repeat as conference champion.
“I think the TAAC will be pretty good,” Ernsthausen said. “It was a young league last year and everybody has a lot of returning letter winners. I think we have a shot to vie for the league, so we’re going to have to win the close games. It’s going to be challenging.”
The Golden Bears, who return four starters, didn’t score a whole lot last season and they didn’t shoot very well, either.
“Hopefully,” Ernsthausen said, “we turn the corner this year on that.”
Northwood coach Bill Hamilton says “ditto” on the TAAC, explaining, “I feel we play in a very competitive league. Toledo Christian is picked to win it and to repeat as champions but I know the other teams are working just as hard as we are to make our league championship a tight race.”
After 21 years as an assistant coach and junior varsity coach at Clay, and two years as an assistant and freshman coach at Stritch, John Free gets his first opportunity to lead a varsity program after Terry Murnen left the program just weeks before the season started.
Free takes over a team that features seven sophomores and has every intention of dethroning Toledo Christian as the TAAC champion. The Cardinals took second in the conference a year ago.
“We could be halfway decent if we shoot the ball well,” Free said. “If we shoot decent, we’ll be OK. We’ve got good athleticism. This is the most athletes we’ve had in my three years here. They’re young and they’re going to make mistakes, but we’re hoping to cut down on those mistakes as the season goes on.”
Free said turnovers were a big issue with last year’s team, so that has to be fixed. Kali Hardy returns as the Cardinals’ starting point guard.
“We’re hoping with a year of seasoning, she’ll be much improved as far as cutting down on turnovers,” Free said. “We really didn’t have anyone last year (at point guard), so we told her, ‘this is your job. Until you prove us wrong, you’re our point guard.’ She did OK. She had a game against Gibsonburg where she put the team on her shoulders. We need to get her to do that more often.”