Welcome to the 2012-13 Portage Trail boys basketball season. Almost a full schedule of games Tuesday night got the league off to a fast start in its eighth year; division play gets underway this Friday.
This season will be marked with the departure of two County Division members; Windham and East Canton. It will also be marked with the new 22-game regular season. However, the division slates will remain the same for this campaign with 14 contests to determine division crowns.
A LOOK BACK
The PTC cage season last year was very productive. Both division titles were decided on the final night of the season. Norton won its final eight regular season games and defeated Kent Roosevelt in game 20 to share the crown with the Rough Riders. The Panthers lost to a tough Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary team in overtime while Kent lost to Howland 50-47 in the sectional.
The County Division title was shared by Southeast and Woodridge who both concluded the season with 11-3 division marks after splitting with each other. The Pirates avenged an early season loss to West Branch to win a sectional game and then played Poland tough before losing. Woodridge was not so lucky losing to NDCL 59-45.
Windham and Mogadore both made a run to the regionals last season before losing on the same night in Canton to Richmond Heights and Berlin Hiland.
A LOOK FORWARD
What can we expect this season? Last year I was spot on in the Metro with my prediction of the Riders and Panthers. I must admit however that call was also made by the majority of the Metro coaches because both those squads were loaded.
Norton had five starters mentioned on the PTC All-Metro team after winning the title last season, four of them return this year.
Aaron Vanbuskirk and Tyler Sherman, both first team selections, return for their senior season while senior Matt McGlone, a second-team winner, also comes back for more action this year.
Norton opened the season with a win over Waterloo but lost to a tough Cuyahoga Falls team Tuesday night. I do believe the Panthers are a step ahead of the rest of the division and I think they will repeat as division champs. That being said, they will get tested Friday night when Norton hosts Ravenna.
Kent Roosevelt lost six strong players but do return a core of good athletes and it will be interesting to watch rookie coach Ben Dunlap take the reins at his alma mater.
Ravenna has a strong group of athletes with maybe one of the top players in the area in Jermaine Justice. Crestwood has jumped out to a quick pair of wins before division play and Streetsboro will be very competitive.
I did not make the call last season predicting Southeast or Woodridge to finish on top. Maybe I was a year premature on choosing Windham last season.
The Dogs and Pirates are defending champs and the title is theirs to lose. I know that Coach Dillon has five returning lettermen at Southeast and you won't find any team in the league that prepares like he does week in and week out.
Sean McCoy leads a very talented group of returning players at Woodridge so the Dogs are also ready to defend the county crown.
However, I am going back to my easy pick and saying the Bombers will return to the top this season. They are strong from top to bottom and go ten deep. As a division IV team they have the opportunity to make another tournament run this season.
Don't count out Mogadore and Garfield will surprise some people this year.
There are two new coaches in the PTC this year but they can hardly be call rookies. At Roosevelt, longtime assistant Ben Dunlap steps up after 13 years on the sideline. The 1994 Kent Roosevelt graduate has either played for or coach under the previous five coaches.
At Waterloo, longtime assistant Jason Wise, steps up to the plate after 16 years seated beside veteran coach John Herchek. Wise is a 1993 Waterloo graduate and former player for Herchek.
Is it recuperation or rehabilitation? For this 67-year old it can be called anything but easy. It has been a very long week for me since my knee replacement surgery. Sports editor Tom Nader sent me a 50-year old picture of one of my high school rebounds and told me that it doesn't take long to get back up to speed.
Unfortunately for me, my rebounding days are behind me and getting back up to speed will be teeing it up in April. I do look forward to getting back at courtside as soon as possible, probably in the next couple weeks, and probably in the first couple rows.