Prior to last year, the St. Cecilia boys basketball team had made four consecutive state appearances, coming away with two championships, a runner-up finish, and a third-place trophy.
But graduation finally took its toll on the Bluehawks, whose starting lineup last year was mostly made up of freshmen.
With a year under their belts, the Hawks enter this season with more experience, and while STC will still be a very young squad, head coach Kevin Asher is encouraged with the growth he’s seen over the last year.
“A year’s growth for the guys that had the bulk of our playing time…has spoken well. We’re going to be a team that is still super young, especially with the injuries we’ve incurred the first two weeks of the season,” he said. “I think our maturity level as far as the practice work ethic from day to day, the understanding the speed of play and level of play we’ll have to be at every night is an added bonus of all the court time they got last year.”
In addition to fielding a young team, the Bluehawks have been plagued by injury even before the season has gotten underway. Asher said it could be some time before the squad is at full strength.
“Four of our top six guards coming back are on the shelf, so we’ll start a freshman and have a freshman right off the bench again this year,” the coach said.
The coach said 19 of the 23 athletes on the team are freshmen and sophomores. Two of the four upperclassmen are seniors, with Gus Driscoll joining the injured Burns in that class. With fellow senior Alex Burns out until after the new year, Driscoll is going to have to assume a leadership roll on the court. The returning starter tallied 2.5 points per game last year.
“Driscoll has really been a model of what we try to get our kids to understand, that it doesn’t happen overnight and they have to put in the time,” Asher said. “He’s done a great job. His leadership skills have really grown vocally. I love the fact that he’s taken this team under his wings with the injury to Alex Burns.
“We had to replace a guy by the name of Ashton Valentine that did a lot of things for us last year, and Gus is going to accept some of that role.”
Anthony Sabatka, a junior that stands at 6-2, will also play a role as a leader for the Bluehawks.
St. Cecilia has four more players withs starting experience from last season, all of which are sophomores. John Starr, Paul Fago, Garrett Parr and Brayden Schropp saw ups and downs as freshmen starters last season, but they’re hoping to take a step forward this year.
Fago is a 6-foot, 5-inch forward that led all returners with 6.1 points per game. Starr, a 5-9 guard, tallied 4.8 points per contest, and Parr (6-3, forward) added 2.9 points. Schropp — a guard that stands at 5-9 — ended last season averaging three points per game.
“The biggest thing for our sophomores is that they went out and played on some travel teams, outside of what we do as a program. They understand the day-to-day, year-to-year growth that needed to be made,” Asher said. “They have put in the extra miles to get themselves ready. Physically, they’re bigger; we’ve grown a few inches. We were pretty small last year, but we’re still not an oversized team. But they’ve done a great job getting themselves ready knowing that last year was a tough year for them, being as young as they were.”
The Bluehawks open the season with Columbus Scotus at home on Thursday before hitting the road for four straight games.
St. Cecilia ended last season with a 48-41 loss to eventual state champion Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons Decatur. It was the second-smallest margin of victory for BRLD in the regular season. Asher believes that game gave STC a glimpse of its potential.
“We look at that game as where we want to be starting this year,” Asher said. “For us to go in and play them to the second-best point total, the state champions, we felt that you can always build off the previous contest — whether it’s a learning experience or some momentum — but it really showed our kids we’re not that far off.
“We’ve still got some growing to do. I think we’re still maybe a year or two away maturity and physically. But I think the mentality now is, ‘Hey, we can play with some of the top teams in the state like we did at the end last year.’ ”