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December 5, 2018

The winter sports season has started and I couldn't be happier. You see, basketball has always been my favorite sport, and I believe that we have quite a few teams that will have good seasons. There is not one team I feel will go winless this season, and I believe a few will win more than they lose. That's a good thing for our area basketball teams.

Starting with Magnolia, there is winning in the air as both the boys and girls teams looks pretty good to me this season. I will then be covering Hundred and Valley next week.

After getting to the state tournament last season, the Magnolia girls look like they might get there once more. They must have higher expectations than just getting there. They want to go even further, but they now understand they must take it one game at a time, while getting better and better every game if they want to get back to Charleston and the state championship.

They have what I believe two of the best players in the state in Mady Winters and Kyndra Pilant. They both had good success in volleyball while also winning a state title. Now they want even more. The loss of Logan Riggs, her leadership and spot-on "playing as hard as you can every night" philosophy, will be missed.

However, Head Coach Merideth Pilant and Assistant Coach Mark Winters have a season under their belts and will work to get that type of philosophy into, not only guard play, but from each girl on the team. They do have a few girls who will try to fill the shoes left by Riggs.

They have the talent, but will it come sooner or later? I just don't know. What I do know is they will work their tails off to get that grit and determination. They also must work together and believe what their coaches are telling them. If they can do that, and Winters and Pilant have the same work ethic as they had a season ago, this group of girls looks like they just might repeat their quest of another state-bound season.

For the Magnolia boys, you would have thought, prior to the start of the season, they could not only win a game, but another shot at a state berth could be in their grasp. They lost a lot to graduation, but what I have seen is they have the ability and the desire get back to where the Magnolia boys basketball has been for quite a few years.

It all starts with the coaches and trickles down to the players. They don't have that one go-to player to get a point, but they do have several who can score or get open to score to field that void. They don't have that one big man that is Mr. Go-To.

Enter Matthew Gaiser. At 6-4, he isn't the tallest Class A big man, but he works harder than most. I don't see any big men that can do the things Matthew can do. He just needs playing time. If he continues to get better and better, and Jake Gamble can do the things we all know he can do, the Eagles will be better than okay.

However, they have a few more that I believe are the ones that can turn this team around and win-win-win.

Trenton Scheibelhood, Eli Nice and Silas McKeever are three of these guys who will help put the Magnolia boys basketball on the map, but let's up that with a freshman in Trevor Williamson. Scheibelhood got his feet wet a little last season and has come into camp a player who wants to win. He is working hard and loves the game and is competing with Gaiser for a starting job.

Coach Tallman has to be excited the way his big guys are working their tails off, and you can bet your bottom dollar that those two will be on the court at the same time. Nice is the one guy every good coach would ever want, a hustler. Eli never gives up a play. He is, what I say, a coach's player. He might not have the greatest basketball skills, but he has every other thing that is needed to have a solid team.

McKeever is another outstanding player who has everything needed to be a special player. He has average height, but he is a rebounding machine who can start and end a fast break. He can handle the rock as well as shoot the ball. If you need a steal, he is your guy. If you need a quick three, he also is your guy, because he can drain the bonus bombs too.

Then there is Williamson, who is another coach's dream. He, along with Gamble and McKeever ,will keep two great ball handlers on the floor that can shoot the outside shot as well as distribute the ball, run the floor and finish off a fast break. He has quick hands and plays a very good defense. The one thing I have seen that bothers me a bit, is he is too unselfish, and he doesn't take the shots he should while passing it too much. Opposing teams will catch on, and he will need to take the shot a bit more than passing it.

Like I said earlier, the Magnolia boys have quite a few others who can make the Blue Eagle team better, but I will leave it to these guys and make the rest work harder. Either way, I look for the Blue Eagle boys to win more than they lose, and will challenge again for sectional and regional spots, as well as a state playoff appearance.

The River Pilots' girls team has the bulk of the team that won their first OVAC Class AA title. They have depth everywhere, and they have Division VI Player of the Year Lauren Flannery back to lead the way.

Flannery has signed her letter of intent to further her academic and athletic careers at Lake Erie (Storm) College, Ohio, and she can just play good basketball.

She will have six other letter-winners to rely on, especially junior Alli Long to go along with return seniors Carsyn Reynolds, Riley Lollathin, Candace Caldwell, Hanna Straub, Livi Rose and junior Makenzie Cieszeski.

With all that firepower, it looks like these guys can have a spectacular season, and hopefully another OVAC crown.

Mark Romick's bunch from across the river lost a spectacular player in Lukas Isaly, who has taken his talents to Marietta College. Along with the graduation losses of Cody Hupp and Drew Dietz, you would think, "How are they going to compete with the "big dogs?"

For starters, they return their big man John Murphy, who had a break-out season a year ago before being injured in the district. Also back are a pair of sharp-shooters in Stone Thompson and Colton Lawrence.

Looking to fill the void of Isaly are Michael Johnson and Carter Dennis. They look to take a backward step early in the season, but like all good teams, rely and learn from their coach, will be just fine.

The Paden City girls team has had some discomfort the last several years, playing a young team with many of their best athletes choosing not to come out. But Head Coach Allan Miller and assistant Jamie Natali have got the best out of what they have each year, and this might be the season the Lady Wildcats will need to put it all together. With the Lady 'Cats go-to player Hannah Loy moving on to college ball after graduation, the time is now if they are going to challenge.

Miller does have some weapons besides Loy. He can work with Paige Leonard, Abbe Stackpole and Raven Fulks; he has some younger ones who can help out in a hurry.

The Paden City boys basketball team is just the opposite; they don't have that one player who does it all, but they have the bulk of their players back from last season who will keep Paden City on the map in basketball.

Second-year coaches Jeff Hohn and Brent Coasmun have all their top players back in seniors Matt Saxon and Trey Slider, but also return juniors Ethan Cross and Anthony Newman. They also have a couple players who can help out in a hurry in senior Jacob Greene and sophomore Ty Cain.

It won't be hard for them to score, but only time will tell if these 'Cats can shuffle their feet and play defense.

I will talk about the non-river teams in Hundred and Valley in my next column.



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