“I don’t know that it is realistic for people to expect this team to get to the sub-state finals for the third season in a row,” coach Chuck Kern said. “But if we get 100 percent healthy and a couple of our younger guys step up, we should be a tough team to beat come late February, early March.”
If that outlook doesn’t seem so bright on first blush, consider that Canton-Galva graduated four major contributors from last year’s 14-9 team.
“There are really two ways to look at our team going in to this season,” Kern said. “If you look at the glass half-empty, you would see that our two returning starters are beat up—and that will put pressure on a lot of young guys to step up their game.
“If you look at the glass half- full, you would see that eventually our guys are expected to get healthy and that our young guys will only improve as they earn more playing time.”
With Ted Regehr primed for success heading into his senior season—although also a little bit banged up—the Eagles are sure to challenge their opposition.
“Ted is going to be the guy our opponents key on,” Kern said. “He sees the court well and can shoot the ball off the dribble or pass.”
While Regehr’s physical tools will make him tough to stop, the effectiveness of those around him will have even more to say about the direction the coming season takes.
“The toughest challenge in Ted’s high school career may be the one he faces as the leader of our young, inexperienced team,” Kern said.
Injury is already compounding the team’s lack of experience, as 5-feet, 11-inch senior Andrew Westbrook—the only other starter returning from last year’s team—will open the season on the sidelines with a knee injury. Westbrook may not be cleared to play this season.
“Andrew got banged up pretty bad midway through the football season,” Kern said. “We hope to have him on the court after Christmas break if surgery goes well. But we will not put him on the court until we know for sure we will not injure him further.
“Once he returns he will be able to help take the scoring load and leadership load off Ted,” Kern said.
In Westbrook’s absence, the team will focus on rebounding.
Destin Nightengale, a 6-1 junior, logged major minutes last season.
“Destin is going to have to play well on both ends of the court for us to compete this year,” Kern said. “The team will need him to be a major force on the boards and finishing off shots around the basket in order to be competitive.”
Bryant Baldwin, a 5-7 sophomore guard, lacks only experience.
“Bryant has great speed, especially his lateral movement,” Kern said. “He has a knack of getting to the basket. We will need him to finish his offensive plays in order to take some scoring pressure off Ted.
“He also has solid shooting technique, so if we can get him to shoot in the upper 30s (percent) from behind the 3-point line we could really spread out our opponents,” Kern added.
Riley Nigh is also looking at a larger role.
“He is going to be thrown into the fire this year,” Kern said. “He is a very accurate shooter from the outside and he is starting to become more confident attacking the basket.
“He is lanky and has that ability to hang in the air,” he added. “We’ve told Riley since he was a freshman that he has the tools to be a successful high school basketball player. Now it is up to him to prove us right.”
Lacking experience does not impugn either the Eagles’ skills or smarts.
“This team has the potential to be the smartest team I have coached,” Kern said. “They seem to pick up on our offensive and defensive schemes quickly. Their off-ball defensive positioning is some of the best I have seen at this point in a season since I’ve been here.”
It helps, of course, to take care of the important little details and to work hard at what does not come naturally.
“The biggest surprise has been their commitment to boxing out,” Kern said. “They really do a good job of putting a body on someone when a shot goes up.”
Time will tell whether this young group’s skills, smarts and work ethic can make the most of its opportunity to put the experienced teams of the Heart of America league to the test.
“Depending on how sub-state schedules work out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four HOA teams make it to the state tournament this year,” Kern said.