GNADENHUTTEN -- The Indian Valley High boys' basketball team finished last season with a 13-12 record and after notching two playoff victories to begin the tournament, they were handed a defeat in a nail biting district semifinals by Dover. Even with the loss, Braves' head coach James Herman thought his team played well down the stretch and hopes to play that well from the start of the season this time around.
"We finished the season strong," Herman noted. "It seems as if every year I have been here, we finish better than we start and I need to fix that."
Herman is entering his 18th season as a coach and his fifth season with Indian Valley and in those years of coaching, he has never had as many returning lettermen as he does this year with six experienced players taking the court.
"We have great leadership coming back and expect to have a good season," Herman offered.
Even with those letterwinners coming back, they need to fill the roles of the four graduated seniors from a season ago.
Caden McGuire was the leader of the Braves as he averaged 14.5 points per game to earn a third team Eastern District Division III honors and Coby Eckstein was the big man in the middle.
"Eckstein was a 'no stat guy,'" Herman shared. "He did all the little things that we needed him to do to help the team and he was a beast of a kid.
"He was 6-2 and could take on a 7-0 opponent and beat him," he added.
Brandon Anderson is another player lost to graduation for the Braves. He was a 5-9 all-Ohio tackle during football season and a District 5 honorable mention pick in hoops who provided some "beef" in the middle. Jared Byers also graduated off of last year's team.
"With losing those two big guys, we do not have much of an inside game," Herman stated. "However, we are much faster as a team this year which leads into how we want to play by getting up and down the court."
Leading the Braves' up and down that court will be senior two-year letterman Dalton Bolon (6-4, guard), who led the team in scoring last year while grabbing school records for most points in a single game (38), most points in a season (443) and most points per game (19.2).
Bolon also managed to shoot 35 percent from three-point range and 89 percent from the free-throw line and is a big reason why Indian Valley has been in the top 20 in the state in free throw shooting in the past two years.
"Dalton works so hard on fundamentals," Herman noted. "He has a solid all around game, can shoot the ball and has a non-stop motor.
"He is very humble as well and wants to see his teammates do well," the coach added.
Bolon. who recently signed with West Liberty University, was selected as an All-Ohio Division II special mention, first team Eastern District Division II, District 5 and Principal's Athletic Conference and he looks to build off of that impressive resume this year.
Another two-year letterwinner returning for Indian Valley is senior Brady Cotsmire (6-0, guard), who is coming straight off a football season where he led the Braves to a 9-1 season and a playoff berth as the quarterback.
Cotsmire tallied 4.8 points per game during his junior campaign, hitting on 41 percent of his three-point shots.
"Brady is the key defensive stopper for us and his athleticism makes him almost impossible to stop in the open court," Herman said of his senior guard.
Two seniors coming off of letterwinning seasons are Evan Neininger
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(5-11, guard) and Conner Ferguson (6-1, forward) are expected to have break-out seasons as both of them put in a lot of work in the offseason.
Ferguson averaged 5.3 points per game last year and gained Eastern District Division III honorable mention while Neininger produced 1.4 ppg.
Returning lettermen in the junior class are Jerrett Helter (5-9, guard) and James Metzger (6-1, forward).
Helter is returning as the floor general for IVHS after delivering on 50 percent of his shots from the field, generating 2.7 points per game and 39 percent of his three-point attempts.
Sophomore Connor McGuire (5-10, guard) is expected to make a charge at the starting rotation.
"McGuire is a solid backup point guard," the Herman said. "Not many high school teams have that, but we do."
Other squad members who are working for playing time are seniors Tobie Myers (6-0, guard), Dakota Skelly (5-8, guard) and Andy Couts (6-4, forward); sophomore Jordan Swinderman (6-1, forward); and freshmen Cade Williams (6-0, guard) and Karson Hartrick (6-0, forward).
"We have good depth with some young talented kids who should come on as the season progresses," Herman noted. "Our goal is to reach our full potential and be as good as we can be and not compare ourselves to other teams.
"When we play great teams, we want to play great and when we play bad teams, we still want to play great," he added.
Herman expects tough battles every night from PAC opponents, which he believes can only prepare his squad for the postseason.
"Tuslaw only lost one senior and has several players taller than 6-3," Herman declared. "Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy always seems to reload and I believe the PAC will be good from the top to the bottom."
Herman's coaching staff consists of assistant coaches Rich Gilmore, who is in his fifth year with the team and has been coaching with Herman since day one, and third-year coach Scott Long, an Indian Valley graduate. Aaron Hreha is coaching the junior varsity squad while Steve Carlisle is the strength coach.