The county’s high school boys’ basketball teams head into the season with different levels of expectations.
State College has high hopes after winning league and district championships to go with a state playoff win last season. Bellefonte is looking to continue to improve after taking a step forward a year ago and Penns Valley has its sights set on another winning season, while Philipsburg-Osceola and Bald Eagle Area are both aiming to be more competitive after disappointing campaigns.
Grace Prep will need to replace its top player from a winning season, and Centre County Christian Academy is working to establish a different mentality under a new coach.
Here’s a look at the area’s teams going into the year:
The Little Lions are looking to put together another memorable season after winning the Mid Penn championship and District 6 title and reaching the second round of the PIAA playoffs last year.
With five of their top-six scorers back, they have the talent and experience to make a deep postseason run.
“They don’t want to leave anything on the table or have any regrets,” State College coach Joe Walker said. “So maybe some of the things as you’re a little bit younger, you take for granted. I think they’re really focused on what we need to do to improve the team and kind of maximize our potential this year.”
State College finished the 2016-17 season with a 21-5 record — and all five losses came against teams that advanced to the second round of the state playoffs. The Little Lions became one of the state’s top teams last year, and they’ll be led by one of the state’s top players in Drew Friberg again this year.
Friberg, a 6-foot-6 senior who is headed to Princeton, averaged 17.3 points and 6.1 rebounds to earn third-team all-state honors in Class 6A in 2017. Walker said Friberg is even better this year — he’s extended his shooting range — and called him the best player in the Mid Penn.
“I think he is a top-10 player in the state,” Walker said. “I would like to see him end up maybe first-team all-state ballot, but I think he’s that good, especially in terms of importance and how much he makes his teammates better. He’s not reluctant to make an extra pass to get a better shot even though he’s a great shooter.”
Friberg will be surrounded by 6-foot-5 senior Ryan McNulty, 6-foot-5 junior Tommy Friberg, 6-foot-4 senior Brandon Clark and 6-foot junior Keaton Ellis this season. They’ve all been productive for the Little Lions, who lost their top 3-point shooter and second-leading scorer Tommy Sekunda to graduation. Walker believes McNulty can step into a bigger role, and the coach said 6-foot-4 senior Max Benner will also be a crucial part of the team’s rotation this season.
The Red Raiders are approaching this season with cautious optimism — they return four starters and have plenty of depth, but they’re still developing as a team.
“We feel good about the experience that we return, but also understand that it’s a process,” Bellefonte coach Kris Glunt said. “We have to come together. We have to jell. We have to build our chemistry back to where we were as we closed out last season.”
The Red Raiders finished with an 11-12 record in 2016-17, improving throughout the season and putting together a strong run at the end of the year. Nate Tice, Caleb Rockey, Ben McCartney and Cade Fortney are all back after starting in Glunt’s first season at the helm. The second-year coach said he’d like to play at a faster tempo this year since he has 10 players who can contribute. The Red Raiders will use a press defense more and look to push the pace on offense when they can.
And they’re looking to build on last season.
“We’re hopeful to always be in the conversation in the district as one of the district contenders,” Glunt said. “We’re hopeful to be in the front of the Mountain League each and every year, but we understand that our one goal really has to be to get better every single day. We have a lot of room for improvement right now.”
The Rams return a solid group who contributed to the program’s 21st straight winning season last year.
Starting point guard Aaron Tobias is back along with Cameron Shaffer and Logan Snyder. All three gained experience last year and improved their games during the offseason. They’ll be part of the Rams’ answer to replacing last year’s leading scorer, Luke Snyder.
“Luke was pretty much the go-to guy a year ago,” Penns Valley coach Terry Glunt said. “But I definitely think we’re a more balanced team.”
Logan Snyder, a sophomore who was the team’s sixth man last year, can drive to the rim better this season. Aaron Tobias and Shaffer will also be threats on the perimeter, while Matthew Tobias will take over at center.
“Matthew got caught in a numbers game last year and probably should have played more than what he did,” Glunt said of the 6-foot-5 Tobias. “He has good height, he’s got a pretty solid outside shot, and he’s a tough kid.”
Matthew Tobias and his teammates will look to make their mark and maintain the Rams’ streak of winning seasons this year.
“The kids know that we have a tradition of doing things a certain way, and that tradition has given us a lot of success,” Glunt said. “I think they’ll buy into things that we ask them to do and hopefully at the end of the day, that’ll lend itself to us winning more than we lose.”
Heading into his fourth season at the helm, Mounties coach Matt Curtis thinks this could be his best team.
The coach sees that potential with a combination of athleticism and height on this year’s roster. The Mounties have five players who are at least 6-foot-1, including 6-foot-6 senior Dane Soltys, 6-foot-5 senior Marcus Wisor and 6-foot-5 sophomore William Harkins.
“With those three, we have the ability to get the ball inside,” Curtis said. “I think from years past, we’ve been more of a jump-shooting team. Now we’re trying to get the ball in and work from the inside and then out, and we want to try to dominate the rebounds every night. We have an advantage there.”
Wisor is a returning starter for the Mounties along with senior guard Michael Durlin. Wisor is making more of an effort to play inside this season, while Durlin has improved his jump shot. Six-foot-3 freshman Ryan Whitehead provides another big body who can play on the perimeter or in the paint, creating mismatches for opponents. And the Mounties also return Carson Jones, who was the sixth man last season.
They’re also working to become a more disciplined team on the offensive end to improve after going 4-18 last year.
“We’re not going to back down anymore,” Curtis said. “I think those years past where we got intimidated by people being physical with us or just trying to bully us, I think those days are over. I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Bald Eagle Area
If Jordan Jones scored last season, Bald Eagle Area stayed in games. But if he wasn’t at his best, the Eagles were in trouble.
It resulted in a long season for the Eagles, who finished with a 2-20 record.
“He was too easy to shut down because we had nobody else stepping up,” BEA coach Bill Butterworth said.
This year, Butterworth believes the Eagles will have a more balanced attack. Jones will still lead the way on the perimeter, but he should have more help from his big men, especially 6-foot-8 center Mark Eminhizer. Butterworth said Eminhizer is “100 percent better” than he was last season. He’s stronger and developed into a threat in the post over the summer.
“He can dominate a game if he wants to,” Butterworth said. “And that’s what we’re stressing to him — that he needs to.”
Eminhizer will be crucial to improving another weakness for the Eagles this season. BEA struggled to rebound last year, contributing to its poor defensive performances as teams capitalized on too many second-chance opportunities. Defense and rebounding have been a focus heading into the year as the Eagles aim to improve after their two-win campaign.
“I’ve been trying to be positive,” Butterworth said. “I was a little hard on ’em all of last year because we were having a rough season. I kind of changed my attitude a little bit and said, ‘Hey, let’s make this a little bit more exciting and fun for the kids and let them get a little more involved in speaking out on things.’”
This St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy team looks different than the Wolves have in the past.
SJCA coach Richard Ciambotti said his players look more mature on the court. They’re seeing things quicker and playing with confidence.
“They don’t play timid,” Ciambotti said. “They don’t back down to anybody. I really think that for the first time, we’re kind of able to take it to people rather than just constantly feeling like we’re reacting to what’s going on. That’s been pretty neat.”
It starts with juniors Jack Mangene and RJ Marsh, who both averaged about 12 points per game last season to lead St. Joseph’s. Ciambotti has been watching them play since seventh grade, and now, the coach said they have a “varsity feel to their game.” They’ve led by example for the Wolves during the preseason.
“They’re both going to take a big jump,” Ciambotti said. “It’s not really about production necessarily because they’ve been producing for us. It’s more about their maturity level and that calmness that they bring to the rest of the team.”
With the Wolves’ confidence and speed, Ciambotti said his team will be able to play tougher defense this season. And offensively, he said they’ll be relying on Mangene, Marsh and Ethan Khoza.
“Ethan had his moments,” Ciambotti said. “Ethan had games where he was in the 20s, but he’s just much more consistent and, again, mature player this year.”
In the past few years, Grace Prep went into the season aiming to finish with a winning record.
But with uncertainty surrounding this year’s team after losing three starters who helped the Storm go 12-8 last year, Grace Prep hasn’t talked about its goals for the 2017-18 campaign.
“Every year’s a little different with each team kind of how we do goal-setting,” Storm coach Dave Gindhart said. “I think at this point, I don’t want us to get too hung up on wins and losses right now. We need to focus on fundamentals and being a team and just focusing play by play on executing well.”
Grace Prep used to be able to count on Jake Stormer to score 15-20 points every night last year on the way to a winning season. The Storm won’t be able to replace Stormer — who is an assistant coach this season — and his production with one player.
So Grace Prep will need to play well as a team to have success.
“It’s a lot of emphasis on teamwork, really focusing on passing well,” Gindhart said. “The other thing is you really got to do all the little things well, so your tolerance for mistakes is even lower.”
Gindhart said the team’s potential top-scoring options remains a question mark heading into the season. The Storm return two starters in point guard Zac Sechler and big man Carl Oelhaf. Josh Mikhail will be a key contributor in the backcourt, too.
In his first season leading Centre County Christian Academy, coach Benjamin Black is trying to build a foundation for a winning program.
His players didn’t grow up playing basketball, so Black is starting with the basics. He’s working with his players on their defensive stances and teaching dribbling, passing and how to get open on the offensive end.
“One thing I’ve been trying to instill is the mindset of a basketball player and learning the game of basketball instead of just running plays,” Black said.
Black is also aiming to change the mentality of the boys’ basketball team and the rest of the athletic programs at CCCA. He’ll be taking over full-time as the school’s athletic director next year, and he wants to develop a culture of winning.
“The mindset here has kind of been, ‘Yeah this is fun to do and we’re not too good at it, but we have fun doing it,’” Black said. “To tell the truth, whenever you’re not winning games, it doesn’t become too fun.”
So he’s starting with the fundamentals in his first year coaching the boys’ basketball team. Black said Chad Weaver will be a versatile player for CCCA, and Isaiah Smith will lead the team at point guard. The coach wants to see his team improve while being competitive this season.
“They’re responding well and are learning and getting better,” Black said.
High school boys’ basketball
Head coach: Joe Walker
Assistant coaches: Sean Hanna, Rudy Burrus
Last year: 21-5
Key losses: Eli Bokunewicz, Tommy Sekunda, Rian Scanlon
Returning letterwinners: Drew Friberg, Tommy Friberg, Brandon Clark, Max Benner, Keaton Ellis, Ben Shaffer, Ryan McNulty
Key newcomers: Nate Lusk, Johnny Friberg, Cam Villarouel
Head coach: Kris Glunt
Assistant coaches: Brian Stover, Steve Christ, Craig Lahr, Ben Gibboney
Last year: 11-12
Key losses: Tyler Kreger, Logan Mathieu
Returning letterwinners: Cade Fortney, Jaymz McClelland, Noah Nadolsky, Nate Tice, Ben McCartney, Caleb Rockey
Key newcomers: Joey Maggs, Nick Fisher, Bailey Decker, Noah Badger, Chris Persiko
Head coach: Terry Glunt
Assistant coaches: Bob Sealy, Robert Sauerwein, Troy Kauffman, Ben Barnhart
Last year: 13-11
Key losses: Luke Snyder, Andrew Tobias, Garret Fleck, Trevor Fleck, Marcus Woodford, Braden Stodart, Keith Butts
Returning letterwinners: Logan Snyder, Aaron Tobias, Cameron Shaffer, Charlie Romig, Jared Kines, Cole Breon, Matthew Tobias
Key newcomers: Gage Ripka, Stephen Ripka, Austin Fisher, Caleb Narber, Hunter Zimmerman, Sam Martin, Andrew Long
Head coach: Matt Curtis
Assistant coaches: Troy Butterworth, Jon Whitman
Last year: 4-18
Key losses: Josiah Davis, Noah Jeffries, Payton Guelich
Returning letterwinners: Marcus Wisor, Michael Durlin, Dane Soltys, Carson Jones, Bubba Slogosky, Tyler Doyle, William Harkins
Key newcomers: Kaleb Richardson, Ryan Whitehead
Bald Eagle Area
Head coach: Bill Butterworth
Assistant coaches: Dave Jones, Mike Habovick, Ernest Greene
Last year: 2-20
Key losses: Mitch Jenkins, Blake Roberts, Jared Gettig
Returning letterwinners: Jordan Jones, Jaden Jones, Drew Bucha, Logan Fetzer, Cale Burkett, Mark Eminhizer, Garrett Barnhart, Andrew Dubbs
Key newcomers: Mike Habovick, Nick Maynard, Luke Wilson, Shane Seeger, Aaron Skrtich, Nate Hoover, Miles Stover, Keith Greene, Everett Herr
Head coach: Richard Ciambotti
Assistant coaches: Dennis Bender, John Straub, Dom Aiello
Last year: 12-12
Key losses: Nick Shearer, Rocky Chirieleison, Christian Chirieleison, Malachi Scott, Lance Hamilton
Returning letterwinners: Ethan Khoza, Carl Engstrom, Jacob Cusatis, RJ Marsh, Matt Steyers, Zane Thornburg, Jack Mangene, Jason Thomas, Ryan Peachey
Key newcomers: Sean Scanlon, Brendan Scanlon, Cameron Khoza, Aidan Cross, Sergej Rakanovic
Head coach: Dave Gindhart
Assistant coach: Jake Stormer
Last year: 12-8
Key losses: Jake Stormer, David Weaver
Returning letterwinners: Josh Mikhail, Zac Sechler, Carl Oelhaf, Tyler James
Key newcomers: Nate Gray, Jung Jung, Isaac Maas, Nick Mason, Rieli Redman, Andrew Summers
Head coach: Benjamin Black
Assistant coach: Martie Maholic
Last year: 1-20
Key losses: Dwaine Lose, Drew Evanko, Jacob Berzas
Key returnees: Chad Weaver, Isaiah Smith, Matthew Hodges
Key newcomers: Michael Henry, Landon Reed