By JAMES A. ELLIS
The 2011-12 season was not kind to the local boys basketball teams as they traveled the postseason road to the Glens Falls Civic Center.
St. Johnsville's Dylan Klock goes to the rim while being defended by Middleburgh’s Jared Boyles (21) during the second quarter of a WAC crossover game last season at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. (The Leader-Herald)
Of the 11 local Section II teams, nine opted to participate in postseason play but only two - Johnstown, and Amsterdam - advanced out of first-round play. The Sir Bills and Rams both fell in their respective quarterfinal games.
With fresh outlooks, veteran players and some new coaches on the benches the local squads are not looking for a repeat of last year's postseason.
The Sir Bills, who return to Class B this season, will face the challenge of playing in the always competitive Foothills Council and advancing to postseason play after graduating eight players, most of them starters.
Seniors Mike Everest, Jerry Groom, Josh Brown and Simeon Bien Aime are the lone returners from last year's 12-8 squad
"There are a lot of new faces on this team, but they will make up for their lack of experience with hard work and positive attitudes," said Scott Hale who begins his 10th season as Johnstown's head coach.
The Amsterdam Rams have a new coach this season as former Fulton-Montgomery Community College head coach Tony Orapello takes over for Joe Agresta, who guided the Rugged Rams for eight seasons.
Amsterdam returns a solid nucleus of veteran players from the squad that upset fifth-seeded Green Tech last year in the opening round of the Class A tournament and led fourth-seeded Bishop Gibbons at the half in the quarterfinals.
With seven seniors on the squad, Orapello will look to Billy Carr, who netted 15 in the quarterfinal loss, Luis Laboy, A.J. Centi and Zach Dufel to provide the offensive punch for the Rams as they vie for a Big 10 Conference title.
"We are going through a complete change of style and also a new philosophy," Orapello said.
The Gloversville Dragons battled to a runner-up finish in the Foothills Council standings last year with a 10-4 record, but all five starters from that squad have moved on. The Dragons received the seventh-seed in the Class A tournament but were upset on their home court, 59-58, by No. 10 Lansingburgh in the opening round.
Seniors Kevin Johnston, Zech Brown and Corin Smith along with junior Hunter Goodwin and Asa Barnhill return with court experience for Gloversville coach Mark Lefever, who returns for his fourth season.
"Over the years, Gloversville basketball has relied heavily on strong guard play," LeFever said. "This year we have solid post play to compliment a balanced group of athletic guards."
The Dragons will host their annual Gloversville Holiday Tournament this year, featuring teams from Fonda-Fultonville, Amsterdam and Mekeel Christian.
The Broadalbin-Perth Patriots did not participate in postseason play last year after recording only two wins on the season.
With three players returning from last season - Ben Bellandi, Mark Sylvia and Ryan Newfrock - how fast the Broadalbin-Perth Patriots find team chemistry will dictate their success this season.
"This year's team is young and inexperienced, but is eager to get better each day," said Tucker Gifford, who starts his ninth season as B-P coach. "We look to be competitive each night and be a consistent basketball team by the end of the season."
In the Western Athletic Conference, the Fort Plain Hilltoppers and Canajoharie shared top honors in the WAC North last season, while Mekeel Christian and Sharon Springs were on top in the WAC South.
The Hilltoppers and the Cougars were both upset in the opening round of Class C sectional play but both are poised to make another run at a title.
Fort Plain brings back seven players from last year's 15-6 squad, a foundation that coach Casey Russom hopes will be the key to success.
"This season's outlook will depend on how quick and how well our returning players will take charge of their roles as leaders and players," Russom said. "Our players' energy level and expectations are very high in practice and that will have to continue when it is game time."
Although the Hilltoppers lost leading scorer Harold Dettmer and Zach Strobel to graduation, Chris Hanifin, Zach Sweet, Joe Ray, Trenton Douglas, Stephen Belden, Tim Wolfe and Jacob Sardina return to lead Fort Plain as it vies for its fourth straight WAC Cup appearance.
The Canajoharie Cougars will enter the championship battle with a new coach.
Rick Palumbo stepped down as the Cougars' head coach after 13 seasons on the bench and former assistant coach Phil Schoff has moved up from his junior varsity post to take the head coaching duties.
While the Cougars will miss Ryan Hodge's 15.7 points per game average and control on the boards by Dante Binotto and Joe Horning, there is plenty of talent returning to the court.
"The Cougars have an experienced group of dedicated players this year with a deep lineup of quick and aggressive guard and a trio of big, fundamentally sound post players," Schoff said. "With many changes within the program, look for us to utilize our ability by controlling tempo, pressing, fast-breaking and being fundamentally tuned in, while upholding an emphasis this year on being respectfully competitive."
Kevin Shannon and Dillan Veeder will captain the team this season and make up the front court for Schoff, while Karl Gustafson and Zach Bowerman return to their guard positions. Big men Josh Gonzalez and Zach Folts will look to continue their dominance in the paint.
The Cougars will host its tournament this year, featuring teams from Johnstown and Schoharie.
The Mayfield Panthers look to be in the thick of the battle for the WAC North title with a solid group of returning players including WAC first team all-star Dylan Toscano, Ryan Hennessey, Brandon Smith and Jake Palmer.
The Panthers opened the season with a strong showing Friday against Maple Hill in the opening round of the Hoosic Valley Tip-off Tournament.
Though the Panthers fell, 65-63, in overtime to Maple Hill, second-year coach Brian VanNostrand got standout double-digit performances from Toscano, Palmer and newcomer Luke VanNostrand who hit six 3-pointers in a team-leading 18-point effort.
"We should be a very competitive team in the strong WAC North this year," Coach VanNostrand said.
The Northville Falcons lost Todd VanNostrand to graduation but with four starters returning and a deep bench, coach John Karbowski III sees great potential in the Falcons.
"They are a competitive group who will do whatever it takes to be successful," Karbowski said. "They have been working extremely hard so far and if they continue to dedicate themselves, the possibilities for this team are endless."
The Falcons will host the John Woodward Holiday Tournament featuring Northville, Duanesburg, Doane Stuart and Galway.
After three consecutive winless seasons, the St. Johnsville Saints found a winning combination to post a 7-12 overall mark last season before falling to Fort Ann in the opening round of the Class D tournament.
The Saints will be a combined team this season as players from Oppenheim-Ephratah join the squad and will enhance a solid team.
"We will build off last year's experience and success," Coach Jason Brundage said. "We will play in Class D again and, come sectional time, should make some noise this year. We have eight kids on the team and all of them could be starters. It will be hard to replace the leadership that was provided by James Looman and Robert Jaiken, who graduated, but each player will have a role on this team and this will be an enjoyable season."
Ricky Jasewicz and Kyle Smith, who played for O-E last season, join Brandon Campione, Alex Hart, Justin Priddle, Johnny Vicciarelli, Dylan Klock and Kevin Blair on the Saints' roster.
Former Oppenheim-Ephratah coach Darren Brown takes over the head coaching duties at Dolgeville after the retirement of Brian Ellis, who spent 15 years on the Blue Devils' bench.
Shane Jaquay returns to the court to help the Blue Devils compete for a Section III Center State Conference crown.
"The team works hard and is willing to play team basketball," Brown said. "They will become more and more competitive as they lean the system."
Alex Johnson, Mackenzie Ferguson, Brandon Lewandowski and Reid Johnson are among the players vying for a spot on the Blue Devils' squad.
While the Fonda-Fultonville Braves lost the team leadership of Jarett Ladd and Charles Parslow, not only on the scoreboard but as floor generals, coach Eric Wilson is confident his returning players are ready to step up to meet the challenge of playing in the hotly contested Colonial Council.
"This team will need strong leadership from the returners," Wilson said. "There is a lot of inexperience, but if these guys mature and figure it out, we will be a much better team down the stretch."
The Braves return 6-foot-7 junior forward Will Turner to the floor along with seniors Jake Sammons, Ryan Derby and Zack Nowak.
J.C. Parslow starts his second season on the bench for the Wells Indians as they battle for the Section VII Class D crown.
The Indians finished with a 5-9 record under Parslow last year and did not lose any players to graduation.
Jake Earley averaged 21 points per game last season and returns to the Indians' lineup along with Ben Brenan who averaged 12 rebounds and two blocks per game last season. Wells shows an 18-player roster, which gives Parslow the opportunity to put different combinations into play.
"Hopefully, we will compete with all teams," Parslow said. "Schroon Lake, Elizabethtown and Willsboro are the top teams, but our goal is to play well against all. We are motivated and eager to play."