Lima Senior, Central Catholic seen as top contenders


Steve Junga - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio



Last season was the most competitive title chase ever in Three Rivers Athletic Conference boys basketball.

Lima Senior shared the TRAC crown with St. John’s and Findlay.

Lima beat Findlay 70-53 on Jan. 8 in conference play, but lost at home to St. John’s 63-41 on Feb. 19 to finish a TRAC schedule that was cut in half by the coronavirus pandemic. Findlay had edged visiting St. John’s 49-48 on Feb. 17, and Lima had earlier beaten visiting St. John’s 47-41 in a nonconference game on Dec. 15.

It was the third title in a row for Lima Senior.

Riding the three-peat momentum, and entering the 2021-22 season with four returning starters, Lima Senior is favored to add a fourth consecutive conference title this season. The Spartans received five of seven first-place votes in a preseason poll of TRAC coaches, and collected 51 of a possible 56 voting points to finish first in the poll.

Central Catholic, which returns close to the entire roster from a team that shook off a poor regular season to reach the Division II regionals last March, received two first-place votes and 47 points to finish second in the poll.

Findlay was third at 39 points, and Whitmer was fourth at 36. Whitmer coach Anthony Stacey declined to vote in the poll.

St. John’s was fifth, Fremont Ross and St. Francis de Sales tied for sixth, and Clay rounded out the poll voting.

“I’m shocked we’re the favorite honestly,” Lima Senior coach Quincey Simpson said. “I see what Central Catholic has returning, and I know they will be a handful. Findlay will always be extremely well coached. St. John’s is going to be good, as is Whitmer. Again, it shows how competitive this conference is.”

Here is a look at all the teams in predicted order of finish.

LIMA SENIOR

—Coach: Quincey Simpson, eighth season

—Last season: 19-5 overall, 6-1 TRAC

—Top players: Seniors Khalil Luster, 5-6, G; Jereon Mayo, 6-3, W; Camren Miles, 6-3, W; Brent Moss, 6-6, F. Junior Anthony Mosley, 6-4, F.

—Strengths: Creating pressure, depth, ball-handling, perimeter shooting.

—Weaknesses: Post defense, perimeter defense, inside scoring, scoring balance.

—Outlook: The Spartans return four starters plus five other letterwinners in their quest for a fourth straight TRAC title won or shared. It is a veteran roster with seven seniors and five juniors, a group well plugged into the program’s successful formula of pressure defense, up-tempo offense, and strong effort on the offensive boards. Luster, a third-year fixture at point guard, averaged 13.8 points a year ago, and Mayo (9.6 points), Miles (10.2 points), and Mosley (6.1 rebounds) are proven producers.

“Our keys to being successful, winning games, and advancing on the tournament are always the same,” Simpson said. “We have to win at the glass and defend. Everyone knows our style. They know we’re coming with full-court pressure. We have to force teams to play our style of basketball. If we can, we usually are successful. … This is by far the most depth we’ve had in eight seasons. The ending could be very special, if everyone buys in, embraces roles, and accepts tough coaching.”

CENTRAL CATHOLIC

—Coach: Mike Floyd, fourth season

—Last season: 7-12, 1-6

—Top players: Seniors Sam Lee, 6-6, F; Josh Lee, 6-6, F; Micah Thames, 5-10, G. Juniors Chico Johnson, 6-2, G; Michael Greenlee, 5-10, G.

—Strengths: Depth, scoring balance, creating pressure, post defense.

—Weaknesses: Handling pressure, ball-handling, rebounding, perimeter shooting.

—Outlook: The Fighting Irish did not enjoy much success in the 2020-21 regular season, but cleared that slate with a strong Division II tournament run in which they reached the regional semifinals. Back from that squad are four starters plus four additional letterwinners, most of whom were key contributors to the postseason run. Johnson (15.5 points, 4 rebounds) is one of northwest Ohio’s top talents. Sam Lee (6.5 points, 6 rebounds) and Josh Lee (3.5 points, 4 rebounds) give Central a strong inside presence at both ends of the court, and Greenlee (9.5 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) returns for a full season after missing the team’s final eight games because of his 2020 transfer.

“We will have to figure out roles and have our guys buy into them in order to have a successful season,” Floyd said. “Dictating things defensively, and sharing the basketball offensively, will be the biggest keys for our team. …With the strong finish we had last year, it has brought on high expectations for our group,” Floyd said. “There will be plenty of growing pains along the way, as we will have to navigate a tough schedule.”

FINDLAY

—Coach: Jim Rucki, 23rd season

—Last season: 17-4, 6-1

—Top players: Seniors Max Roth, 6-1, G; Justin Roth, 5-11, G; Brock Makrancy, 6-6, F; Sam Weihrauch, 6-0, F; Terrion Ross, 6-1, G. Juniors Jake Bishop, 6-0, G; Luke Montgomery, 6-5, C.

—Strengths: Depth, scoring balance, perimeter shooting, ball-handling.

—Weaknesses: Rebounding, inside scoring, post defense, creating pressure.

—Outlook: As the Trojans look to make a run at another title share, they will rely on two players that started all season and a third who started for half the season. Three other letter winners provide quality depth on a roster that includes seven seniors. The biggest loss was the graduation of TRAC player of the year A.J. Adams. Roth (14 points) was second team All-TRAC, and Makrancy (8 points) was another reliable scorer. Montgomery, one of the nation’s top football lineman recruiting targets, returns to add inside presence after missing his sophomore season with an injury.

“We will be a different team this year, but have the potential to have a nice season, depending on how quickly we come together after a late start,” Rucki said. “We do have a group that knows how to compete, and we should have a more balanced offensive attack. While Lima and Central return most, if not all of their production, I believe the TRAC will be very competitive again.”

WHITMER

—Coach: Anthony Stacey, second season.

—Last season: 3-14, 2-5

—Top players: Seniors Mo Purley, 5-9, G; Cam Evans, 6-0, G; Grady Mee, 6-0, G; Tony Fisher, 6-4, F. Junior Deric Jaynes, 6-1, G. Sophomore TaMarrion Davis, 6-3, G. Freshman Antoine West, 6-3, G.

—Strengths: Ball-handling, perimeter shooting, creating pressure.

—Weaknesses: Rebounding, post defense, perimeter defense.

—Outlook: The Panthers look to rebound from a down season in which an inexperienced and undersized group improved from the beginning to the end, but not enough to make a significant impact in the win column. Returning some experienced players, and an influx of some talented younger players, should allow Whitmer to climb back toward the top half of the conference. Much will depend upon team chemistry, and if the Panthers can offset a relative lack of experience in the front court.

“Our main goal is to win championships,” Stacey said. “We focus on getting better every day, and winning the day.”

ST. JOHN’S

—Coach: Mike Schoen, third season

—Last season: 16-4, 6-1

—Top players: Senior Kenny Vaughn, 6-0, G. Juniors C.J. Hornbeak, 6-2, G; Justyn Toler, 6-1, G.

—Strengths: Ball-handling, handling pressure, creating pressure, perimeter defense.

—Weaknesses: Inside scoring, post defense, rebounding, scoring balance.

—Outlook: Of the three teams that tied for the TRAC title last season, the Titans lost the most to graduation. The lone returning starter is Hornbeak (15.1 points), who enters his third season on the varsity. Vaughn, another third-year varsity member, saw plenty of quality time as a sub last season. Toler also contributed. St. John’s may not be a true title contender, but should possess the potential to beat any conference team on a given night.

“We are excited for this group,” Schoen said. “It is a young and athletic team that will only get better as the season progresses. We need to find strong leadership for when things go good and bad. Guard play will be our strength, and finding reliable depth will be a key to our success. We look forward to the challenge.”

FREMONT ROSS

—Coach: John Cahill, fourth season

—Last season: 8-12, 1-6

—Top players: Seniors Kurt Harrison, 6-4, F; Labronze Barnett, 6-1, F. Juniors Kaden Holmes, 5-11, G; Anthony Vann, 6-2, F; Ayden Carter, 6-3, G; Bryson Hammer, 5-9, G.

—Strengths: Ball-handling, handling pressure, depth, scoring balance.

—Weaknesses: Post defense, rebounding, inside scoring, creating pressure.

—Outlook: The Little Giants made some strides last season with a young lineup, and look to continue their climb this season with three returning starters plus three other letterwinners back. Holmes (11.2 points) and Vann (9.8 points) are proven producers who will be counted on for leadership, and Hammer is the team’s top defender.

“We are fighting some injuries coming off of football,” Cahill said. “When healthy, we have a lot of depth and a fair amount of athleticism.”

ST. FRANCIS

—Coach: Jamie Kachmarik, first season

—Last season: 8-12, 4-3

—Top players: Seniors Ethan Meyer, 6-3, F; Martin Beredo, 6-7, F; Noah Kuh, 6-2, G; Jacob Ball, 6-0, G. Junior Telir Sanders, 6-1, G. Sophomore Elvis Syroka, 5-7, G. Freshman Jameson Heck, 5-6, G.

—Strengths: Ball-handling, scoring balance, perimeter shooting, perimeter defense.

—Weaknesses: Inside scoring, rebounding, post defense, creating pressure.

—Outlook: The Knights transition to a new head coach with Kachmarik, the former longtime college assistant who was 132-41 in his seven seasons at Cardinal Stritch. What he inherits at St. Francis is no returning starters and just three returning letterwinners.

“In my 25 years of coaching [college and high school], no team that I have been associated with has had the injury bug like this team,” Kachmarik said. “We currently have six players out due to injuries, two of which were season-ending injuries. We have seven seniors in our program, and they have all bought into how we do things as a new coaching staff. We will continue to teach fundamentals and work to improve daily. This group is hungry to learn and will compete.”

CLAY

—Coach: Joel Visser, first season

—Last season: 5-12, 2-5

—Top players: Seniors Ben Jones, 5-8, G; Max Alm, 6-4, C; Garret Long, 5-11, G. Juniors Colin Berryman, 6-0, G-F; Lucas Measel, 6-4, G-F.

—Strengths: Scoring balance, perimeter shooting, depth, perimeter defense.

—Weaknesses: Inside scoring, creating pressure, post defense, rebounding.

—Outlook: Last season, the Eagles had their deepest group of veteran talent since joining the TRAC, but made no major jump in the conference standings. Clay returns no starters and just one letterwinner, and transitions to a new head coach in Visser, who was head coach at Swanton last season.

“We are working to establish a culture that has expectations to become competitive, and win,” Visser said. “Our five seniors have done an awesome job of buying into what we are teaching, and have led the way in getting our young guys on board to trust the process.”

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Steve Junga

The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

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