The Newcomerstown Trojans may have gone 5-18 last season, but they also started four sophomores for 23 varsity games and that experience is a bright spot for the boys' basketball squad.
Third-year head coach Rod Bonamico believes that the playing time his young players received last year will benefit them this year.
"We played a lot of young kids, giving them valuable experience," Bonamico noted. "That should help us immensely and we should improve since last year."
The Trojans lost three seniors to graduation including Zach Gibson (Eastern District D-III special mention and District 5 honorable mention), Austin Zufelt (East District honorable mention) and Tyler Wheeler.
With that leadership gone, juniors Bryce Barbera (6-1 forward), George Brode (6-2 forward), Branden Septer (5-8 guard) and Brennan Wilkin (6-1 guard) are prepared to step up and be leaders on the team.
However, Brode was also the quarterback for the Newcomerstown football team, sustained an injury that is going to sideline him for a portion of the season and there is no timetable for his return to the court.
"George is a double-double waiting to happen," Bonamico stated. "Unfortunately, he might be out for a while."
Brode, who was an honorable mention all-East District selection last winter, recorded a double-double in the Trojans' tournament game last year against number two seed Fort Frye as he tallied 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Bonamico has high standards for his team and expects an improvement from last year.
"I think we will be competitive every night," the Trojans' coach offered, "especially if we keep progressing and growing as a team.
"The kids worked hard in the off-season and did what we asked them to do," he continued. "Teams will have to prepare for us."
With Brode out, Septer is going to be counted on to lead the offensive attack.
"Septer is really active and we want to teach him how to run the offense rather than worrying about scoring," Bonamico related. "Branden is probably our best defender as well."
Along with Septer, Barbera is going to be in the post while Wilkin takes the guard spot.
Barbera collected District 5 first team honors a year ago while also securing a special mention Eastern District and honorable mention Inter-Valley Conference laurels.
Newcomerstown's four seniors who are also going to be key leaders are Tanner Birch (5-10 forward), Ben Hartline (5-11 forward), Nick Matchett (6-2 forward) and Braeden Taylor (5-10 forward).
Joe Kyle (6-1 guard) is a junior who is working to earn a key role during the campaign.
"Kyle and Hartline are both going to help us this year," Bonamico said.
Levi Kilpatrick (6-2 forward) and Nick Millender (5-9 guard) round out the varsity line-up as the only two sophomores.
"Kilpatrick played in last year's tournament to give him a taste," the coach offered. "He has a chance to start for us."
Newcomerstown's schedule is no walk in the park as they face conference foes such as Hiland, Garaway, Tuscarawas Central Catholic, Sandy Valley and Malvern, just some of the teams Bonamico believes are going to be solid in the IVC.
"Our league is very good," Bonamico stated. "We finished last a year ago, so we want to improve that.
"The bottom half of the conference got better too," he added. "On any given night, you have to know what you are doing because it is not going to be easy."
Even the non-conference schedule is going to challenge the Trojans as they go to battle with Indian Valley, Claymont, Buckeye Trail, Conotton Valley and River View.
"Hopefully, by the second half of the season we are hitting on all cylinders," Bonamico shared. "We want to be playing our best basketball come tournament time."
Players that are starting the season on junior varsity with a chance to make the jump to varsity are sophomores Chase Arnold (5-9 guard), Parker Norman (6-0 guard) and Kaden Shepherd (5-8 guard) along with freshmen Jacob Robinson (5-10 guard) and T'Anthony Birch (5-7 guard").
Two years after winning the District 5, Division III "Coach of the Year" award in his first season at Newcomerstown, Bonamico looks to get back on track and it looks like he has the right pieces around him to do just that, including a top- notch coaching staff.
Coaching the junior varsity and assisting at the varsity level is Chris Bryant, with Jason Peoples and Tim Kilpatrick as assistants.
Newcomerstown was to open the season at home against Indian Valley on Friday, Nov. 27.