All six Wayne County schools have reasons for optimism heading into the 2023-24 basketball season.
Centerville will return six players who played in every game last season. Richmond returns five players who logged significant playing time last season. Northeastern graduated every starter, and will reload this season with three players who saw varsity time as key reserves last year and move up several promising players from a strong JV team. Hagerstown returns six players who were in their varsity rotation last season, and will add players from last year’s JV team and a move-in with varsity experience. Cambridge City Lincoln’s two leading scorers from last season graduated, but the cupboard is far from bare. The Eagles will rebuild with several players who saw varsity minutes last year and a trio of promising freshmen. Seton Catholic returns 10 players who saw some varsity action and will rebuild around 6-foot, 8-inch four-year starter Mason Harvey, their leading scorer and rebounder last season.
1A Cambridge City Lincoln – The top two Lincoln scorers and rebounders from last season picked up their diplomas last spring, but the Eagles return several veteran players and have a trio of promising freshmen expected to push for playing time.
Head coach Rodney Klein, the dean of area coaches, enters his 13th year at the helm at Lincoln and his 27th year as a varsity coach overall, with 266 career wins.
Juniors Aiden Munchel and Evan Stuckey are the most experienced returnees and are expected to be team leaders. Both are capable of being explosive scorers with multiple double figure performances to their credit. Munchel averaged 8.1 ppg last year while Stuckey averaged 6.3 ppg.
Dustin Lunsford, who appeared in 10 games last season as a freshman, is also expected to be a key contributor. Junior Oliver Webb, a long-range shooter who played in 21 games last season, and Briar Glispie, who played in 20 games last season, also figure prominently in the team’s plans.
Freshmen Elijiah French, Noah Patterson and Ryne Sturgis will also be pushing for playing time. How quickly they adjust to the speed and physicality of varsity play could be key to the success of the team.
The Eagles will open regular season play on Wednesday, Nov. 22, with a trip to face Wes-Del. Their home opener will be on Friday, Dec. 1, when they host Indianapolis International.
3A Centerville – Brian Keiser assumed the title of interim coach in midseason last year and went on to compile a 7-6 record. Keiser returns this season with the title of head coach, and he has high expectations for his Bulldogs. There is reason for optimism. The Bulldogs return a wealth of skilled players with varsity experience. Most notable among the returnees is sophomore Shea Hollendonner. Hollendonner started every game last year, averaging a team best 17.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Classmate Ethan Vecera also started every game last season, averaging 6.7 ppg; 5.5 rpg, 5.7 assists per game and 3.0 steals per game.
Chase Clark, Nate Dickenson, Landyn Keiser and Gavin Robinson will all return after appearing in 22 games last year; Trevor Thornburg will return after appearing in 16 games last season.
The Bulldogs will join the field in the Wettig Tournament this season, and they have a regular season game scheduled with Richmond to be played in the Tiernan Center on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024.
The Bulldogs will open play on Wednesday, Nov. 22 with a road game at Eastern Hancock and will host Seton Catholic two days later.
2A Hagerstown – Mark Doerstler enters his second year at the helm at Hagerstown. The Tigers were 8-17 last season, and Doerstler has the players in place to improve on that record this year.
The Tigers return six players who saw substantial varsity minutes a season ago and expect to see improvement from other players who were JV players last season. Cole Tracy is the top returning scorer after averaging 8 ppg last season. Kaagen Kendall averaged 7.4 ppg.
Griffin Doerstler, Anthony Kelley, Landon Lawson and Isaac Schmitz all played in 22 or more games last year for the Tigers. Grant Semler, who averaged 3.7 ppg in 23 games last season at Seton Catholic, has also joined the team.
The Tigers will open their season on Tuesday, Nov. 21 at Franklin County before hosting Cowan on Saturday, Nov. 25.
2A Northeastern – Northeastern head coach Brent Ross has proven that he knows how to build a program and how to maintain it. Entering his 15th year as the head coach of the Knights, Ross has only had one losing season and that came in his first season at the helm in 2009-10. Ross has accumulated 242 wins during that span and has seen many outstanding players graduate. He replaced them with a new group of outstanding players and kept winning. The 2023-24 season could be his biggest challenge yet. The Knights won the Wayne County tournament, the Tri-Eastern Conference and the Sectional title last year en route to a 21-6 record with five seniors in their starting lineup.
Ross will reload with eight players who saw limited varsity time a season ago. Dae Lundy and Landon Scarrette appeared in 27 games last season. Michael Henry III appeared in 25 games. 6-foot-6-inch Sam White appeared in 21 games. Nolan Drake, Tre Vanlandingham and Logan Seal appeared in at least 10 games last year. Quickness, outside shooting and disruptive defense will be strengths for the Knights.
Northeastern will open play on Wednesday, Nov. 22, when they host the Seton Catholic Cardinals.
The Knights have not lost a TEC game in over three years and will start the season riding a 25-game conference win streak. The first challenge to the streak will come when the Knights travel to Centerville on Thursday, Nov. 30, to face the Bulldogs.
4A Richmond – Red Devil head coach Billy Wright will begin his third year in charge of the Richmond program with substantial proven talent. After compiling a 16-7 record a year ago the Red Devils appear ready to take the next step.
The Red Devils face a challenging schedule in and out of North Central Conference play, but they have the size, speed and scoring to be competitive in each game. They also have balance that will make it difficult for opposing defenses to try to key on any one player.
The potent trio of Mason Carpenter, Ryder Cate and Cedrick Horton are experienced players that are expected to anchor the team. Together they enter the season with more than 1,500 points to their credit.
Carpenter, a 6-foot-2-inch junior, enters the season with 540 points. Cate, a 6-foot-6-inch senior, has 513 career points and Horton, a 6-foot-six-inch junior, has scored 465 points. All three are a matchup problem for opposing defenses. Seniors Diante Smith and Zion Deloney will also return after contributing last season in all 23 games.
Senior Gavin Haynes, who came on late in the season last year for the ‘Devils, appearing in nine games, also returns and has grown to 6-foot-8.
The Red Devils will host New Palestine to open regular season play on Wednesday, Nov. 22 before traveling to Jay County three days later.
1A Seton Catholic – Head coach Josh Jurgens will be entering his 13th year guiding the Cardinals. Jurgens will rebuild around a four-year starter. It will not be a secret to opposing defenses that Mason Harvey will be the go-to guy for the Cards. Stopping him will be another matter.
The 6-foot-8-inch Harvey averaged a double-double last season, scoring 17.7 points and grabbing 10.6 rebounds per outing. Jason Moynihan, Eric Parker, Malik Walker and Andrew Warner each played in 21 or more games last season. Aiden Sanders appeared in 17 games, and all will return to give the Cardinals versatility and depth. The Cards, who were 12-15 last season, will be challenged immediately. They open play on Wednesday, Nov. 22 with a game at Northeastern and will travel to Centerville on Friday, Nov. 24 to take on the Bulldogs.
A version of this article appeared in the November 15 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.