Southern Ohio teams hold high hopes
HUNTINGTON -- Expectations are high for Ironton boys' basketball this season, and they should be.
The Fighting Tigers return four of five starters from a 2011-12 squad that was one game away from heading to state in Columbus.
Ironton's explosive offense was tempered in a 50-40 loss to Portsmouth in the Regional Final.
While other teams are finding the right combinations and chemistry, coach Mark LaFon wants to start in stride out of the gate.
"Our goal is to make it to Columbus, that hasn't changed," LaFon said. "Our expectations are always high, but this year with so many kids coming back we expect to be a little ahead of the curve.
"In our area, our district, there are quality teams; several of them. So we want to be on the same page right away."
Two of the returning players are Zac Carter and Trey Fletcher, who proved to be nearly unstoppable last season. Carter surpassed the 1,000-point career mark as a junior.
"We've also got some guys who are role players who step up when we need it," LaFon said. "They know how to score in their roles."
Ironton possesses the physicality and the discipline to truly make playing them a miserable experience for the opponent.
"We're an up-tempo team, absolutely," LaFon said. "We believe in stretching the court and making it a full-court game."
Dec. 4, Lucasville Valley, W 84-50; Dec. 8, at Portsmouth; Dec. 11, Waverly; Dec. 21, Bell Multicultural; Dec. 22, Eastmoor Academy; Dec. 27-29, 2012 Junior Orange Bowl Basketball Classic.
Jan. 5, Ashland; Jan. 8, Gallia Academy; Jan. 12, at Peebles; Jan. 22, Portsmouth; Jan. 26, Butchel; Jan. 29, at Huntington.
Feb. 5, Wheelersburg; Feb. 9, Spring Valley; Feb. 12, at Chillicothe; Feb. 15, Fairland.
FAIRLAND: Perhaps one of Southern Ohio's biggest surprises last year was the Fairland Dragons, who in their first season in bigger Division II finished 17-6, falling just short of a district title in a loss to Waverly.
Fairland has started this season off 0-1, with 60-56 loss at perennial power Oak Hill.
But perhaps the biggest loss on the young season for the Dragons is that of big man Evan Salyers, who graduated in the spring.
In his senior season, Salyers surpassed 1,000 points for his career at Fairland.
Still, the Dragons do return plenty of weapons, including now-leading scorer Evan Maddox, who emerged from nowhere as a sophomore last year to contribute heavily to the team.
"He really matured last year as far as getting better from his freshman year," head coach Nathan Speed said. "He's been a real vocal leader in practice and he leads by example, too.
"In the early going, we're going to rely heavily on him as the younger kids get more confident in their offense."
Speed said this year's squad has to work on their defense, especially in the half-court, but is loaded with kids who can shoot from the outside. Speed is also rotating three different players at the center position trying to figure out who is going to step in for Salyers.
What Fairland lacks in experience, Speed hopes the team can make up for in depth, and he said he plans on playing nine to 10 kids in each game.
"I'm hoping by mid-season we'll have gelled as a team," Speed said. "That's when we open conference play."
Speed said he expects this team to compete for a conference title and to make a deep tournament run.
Nov. 30, at Oak Hill, L, 60-56; Dec. 4, at Gallia Academy, W 54-42; Dec. 7, Huntington St. Joe; Dec. 11, at South Point; Dec. 14, River Valley; Dec. 22, at Piketon; Dec. 28, at Wheelersburg.
Jan. 4, Chesapeake; Jan. 8, Rock Hill; Jan. 11 at Coal Grove; Jan. 12, Beasts of the Southeast; Jan. 15, South Point; Jan. 18, at River Valley.
Feb. 1, at Chesapeake; Feb. 5, at Meigs; Feb. 8, at Rock Hill; Feb. 12, at Coal Grove; Feb. 15, at Ironton.
CHESAPEAKE: Of all the teams with a lot to live up to, Chesapeake might have the most to prove.
The Panthers went 22-2 in the 2011-12 season, losing once in the regular season and again the regional semi-finals.
There's only one problem: the Panthers don't have anyone back.
That's not entirely true, they do return one starter in Javon Thompson. After that, the team is down talent-wise, said coach Ryan Davis.
That makes things tough at Chesapeake, where the fan-base expects the Panthers to be in the mix every season.
"We've been really good the past three seasons, and people still expect us to win, just maybe not by as many points," Davis said in his dour, quirky fashion. "We have to try and find a way to play that will be successful for us. We want to play like we have in the past, we just don't have the talent right now to do it."
Hopefully, that will change as the Panthers get a few games under their belts.
"Some experience will help us," Davis said. "We're hopeful we can improve as the season goes along."
The coach doesn't have any specific expectations from the team, other than what the players themselves can control.
"I expect them to be in the gym everyday working their (tails) off and improving on the mental aspect of the game," Davis said. "I want them to improve not just their skills, but what we can do as a team and what we can do against other teams. I want us to be as mature and good as we can be by the end of the season."
Dec. 4, Huntington St. Joe, W 72-46; Dec. 8, Athens; Dec. 11, Coal Grove; Dec. 14, South Point; Dec. 15, at Warren; Dec. 18, Gallia Academy.
Jan. 4, at Fairland; Jan. 5, Meigs; Jan. 8, River Valley; Jan. 11, at Rock Hill; Jan. 12, Beasts of the Southeast; Jan. 22, at South Point; Jan. 29, at Coal Grove.
Feb. 1, Fairland; Feb. 5, Minford; Feb. 8, at River Valley; Feb. 12, Rock Hill.
Dec. 3, at Rose Hill (Ky.), W 78-18; Dec. 4, at Portsmouth West, W 61-57; Dec. 7, Ironton St. Joe; Dec. 8, Symmes Valley; Dec. 11, at Chesapeake, Dec. 14, Rock Hill; Dec. 27-28, Richard Paulus Heart of Champions Classic.
Jan. 4, at River Valley; Jan. 8, South Point; Jan. 11, Fairland; Jan. 14, Rose Hill; Jan. 18, at Ironton St. Joe; Jan. 19, at Symmes Valley; Jan. 25, at Rock Hill; Jan. 29, Chesapeake.
Feb. 1, River Valley; Feb. 8, at South Point; Feb. 9, at Deming School (Ky.); Feb. 12, at Fairland.
Ironton St. Joe
Dec. 1, Eastern, L 73-53; Dec. 4, at Scioto Community; Dec. 7, at Coal Grove; Dec. 10, at Glenwood; Dec. 11, Clay; Dec. 15, at Rock Hill; Dec. 27-28, Richard Paulus Heart of Champions Classic.
Jan. 2, at Notre Dame; Jan. 5, Glenwood; Jan. 8, Raceland; Jan. 12, at Green; Jan. 15, Rock Hill; Jan. 18, Coal Grove; Jan. 19, Sciotoville Community; Jan. 22, at Fairview; Jan. 29, at Wellston.
Feb. 1, at Rose Hill; Feb. 9, Symmes Valley; Feb. 12, Notre Dame; Feb. 15, at Rose Hill.
Nov. 30, Gallia Academy, L 56-40; Dec. 4, at Symmes Valley, L 67-43; Dec. 11, River Valley; Dec. 14, at Coal Grove; Dec. 15, Ironton St. Joe; Dec. 18, at Wellston; Dec. 21, Green; Dec. 28, Oak Hill.
Jan. 2, at Portsmouth West; Jan. 4, South Point; Jan. 8, at Fairland; Jan. 11, Chesapeake; Jan. 12, Southern; Jan. 15, at Ironton St. Joe; Jan. 19, Clay; Jan. 22, at River Valley; Jan. 25, Coal Grove.
Feb. 1, at South Point; Feb. 2, at Minford; Feb. 5, Symmes Valley; Feb. 8, Fairland; Feb. 12, at Chesapeake.
Dec. 4, Rose Hill, W 92-19; Dec. 7, Elliott County (Ky.); Dec. 11, Fairland; Dec. 14, at Chesapeake; Dec. 15, at Lewis County (Ky.); Dec. 18, at Portsmouth; Dec. 21, at Notre Dame; Dec. 28, Fairview.
Jan. 2, Huntington St. Joe; Jan. 4, at Rock Hill; Jan. 8, at Coal Grove; Jan. 11, at River Valley; Jan. 15, at Fairland; Jan. 18, at East Carter; Jan. 22, Chesapeake; Jan. 29, at Rose Hill.
Feb. 1, Rock Hill; Feb. 2, at Boyd County; Feb. 5, Greenup County; Feb. 8, Coal Grove; Feb. 12, River Valley.
Dec. 4, Rock Hill, W 67-43; Dec. 7, Sciotoville Community; Dec. 8, at Coal Grove; Dec. 11, at Oak Hill; Dec. 14, at Clay; Dec. 18, Green; Dec. 28, at South Gallia.
Jan. 4, Eastern; Jan. 8, at Glenwood; Jan. 11, Western; Jan. 15, Notre Dame; Jan. 18, at Sciotoville Community; Jan. 19, Coal Grove; Jan. 22, Clay; Jan. 25, at Green; Jan. 29, at Eastern.
Feb. 1, Glenwood; Feb. 5, at Rock Hill; Feb. 8, at Western; Feb. 9, at Huntington St. Joe; Feb. 12, South Gallia; Feb. 15, at Notre Dame.