The Clay Eagles started out the season against two City League perennial powers
— St. John’s Jesuit and Libbey.
Although the Titans routed the Eagles 73-42 and the Cowboys defeated the Eagles 68-51, first year Clay coach Rob Belegrin is liking what he sees so far.
“I’m real happy with the effort against St. John’s. I thought we played pretty well. They just hit every shot they took, almost, and they were three’s so that’s the game,” Belegrin said.
Belegrin took over for long time coach Joe Guerrero this season after spending six years as the junior varsity coach in the Clay basketball program. He’s enjoying his chance to oversee a program which competes in one of the state’s best leagues.
“I’m liking it. The fact that I’m in more control, that’s real nice,” Belegrin said.
Plus coaching in a league with local legends like Ed Heintschel and Jim Welling puts among the state’s elite. Welling, now in his second season at Central Catholic, won two junior college national championships when he was at Owens Community College, and Heintschel has repeatedly taken his St. John’s Titans to Columbus for the Division I state final four.
“It’s a privilege. It’s an honor,” Belegrin said.
Besides the two CL losses, his Eagles have a win. They opened the season defeating Fremont Ross 52-49 on the road, and are now 1-2 heading into another non-league game this Tuesday at Springfield.
Belegrin doesn’t like to think his team is playing Northern Lakes Leagues to prepare for City League games, because he believes winning against NLL opponents can be just as difficult.
“We’re always prepared for those. We always played those well before. As far as that’s concerned, we don’t look at it that way. The NLL is every bit as good as the City League. All we’ve got to do is prepare,” Belegrin said.
Springfield is on fire — 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the NLL, plus they must be getting better every game. The Devils opened losing big to an improved Rossford team, 70-46, but two weeks later in a rematch routed the Bulldogs at home, 77-60.
After losing the season opener, the Blue Devils have won four in a row. Other wins have come over Maumee (48-44), Northview (60-47), and Anthony Wayne (77-60).
“They are fairly athletic,” Belegrin said. “They are very quick at the guard positions. They’ve got a very young team with a lot of experience. (Junior Chester) McFadden is a big-time player. You know, if he gets hot, look out. He can shoot it and also score off the bounce.”
McFadden earned first team all-league and second team all-district status as a sophomore last year when he averaged 17.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.3 steals per game.
An impressive 135 of his 359 points came by way of the 3-pointer.
Springfield also returns sophomore LeRoy Alexander, who was quarterback on the football team. As a freshman, Alexander averaged 9.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.2 steals.
Other top players for Springfield are 6-foot-7 senior forward Mike Tripp, junior guards Quinton Green and Dontai Renfroe, and 6-3 junior forward Kevin Outly.
Belegrin knows he has some work to do in 2009-10. Clay graduated 10 seniors from last year’s team and returned zero lettermen, so opening with the win over Ross with limited experience is a good sign.
“We play hard, we hustle and we are aggressive,” Belegrin said. “We will work hard to compete. We are building a program, not just a team. This team can do some good things this year if they believe in themselves.”
Belegrin said Taylor Schabel is becoming their leader on the court. He had 14 points in the win over Ross and 11 in the loss to St. John’s.
“He has to keep his motor going for 32 minutes,” the coach said. “He is a bang the glass player and he keeps the ball alive on the offensive boards. He has to be disciplined. He’s going to get 12-16 points a night.”
Bruno Marotta, an exchange student from Brazil, has been another blessing at point guard. St. John’s was not the only team making treys in its win over Clay, Marotta found the net behind the arc as well in that game.
“He’s a 6-2 point guard who gets to the rim, and he can create,” Belegrin said.
The Eagles are also getting steady play from Doug Waldmannstetter, Jordan Wamer, Austin Achter, and sophomore Ross Achter, also. Austin Achter had 10 points in the win over Ross, and in the loss to St. John’s, Austin again scored 10, Wamer had eight points, Waldmannstetter scored five points, and Ross Achter had three points.