PARKERSBURG - Parkersburg Catholic went 16-9 last season in Rob Strcula's first year as the head man guiding the Crusader cage program.
''It went as well as I expected, but you learn a lot,'' said Strcula, a former PCHS player. ''We had a pretty good year. I loved every minute of it. I loved being the head coach. I loved the challenge of taking a group of individuals and trying to create a team, and then see it develop and get better as the year goes on, like we did last year.
''And that's what's fun - seeing the guys come together and start to develop roles, and create a team and a bond with everybody. I think that's your reward as a coach.''
Catholic's season eventually ended in regional play. ''But seven of our nine losses were to the top three Class A teams in the state - Madonna, St. Marys and Charleston Catholic,'' said Strcula. 'All year, we felt like we were good enough to maybe be in the top five, but couldn't quite make it.''
Gone from PC this season are 6-4 center Brett Wright, last year's leading rebounder; ''two really good three-point shooters,'' said Strcula, in Tony Allowatt and Eric Scott - ''that's going to hurt, we lost a lot of points there,'' added Strcula; and point guard Daniel Collie, second in rebounding, and first in assists and steals last year.
''So there's a lot to replace, but it's possible to replace everything,'' noted Strcula.
Still with nary a senior on the squad, it'll be the juniors who will lead this season for Catholic, as the varsity is made up of 11 juniors and three sophomores.
''But we do have five guys who either started or played in every game last year, and although we're young, we've got a lot of guys coming back and there's a lot of experience there,'' said Strcula.
''Our sophomores last year, they went through the trenches and got a lot of good basketball experience they brought with them this year.''
Point guard Joe Padden ''really matured last year as a sophomore,'' said Strcula, ''and we're looking for him to do better shooting threes, driving the lane and playing defense this year. He's probably one of the most improved players we've had this year. He started and played every game last year.''
Juniors Austin Luther started a couple games and Brady Kurucz came off the bench last season, and ''both of them played really well,'' said Strcula. ''Brady got a lot better last year and the second half of the season, he was probably one of most improved players we had. But he's got to continue to grow as a player in order for us to get better as a team.''
Jake Boice ''had a good year on JV as a freshman and doesn't see himself as just a sophomore this season,,'' said Strcula.
Junior Ben Collie, out all last season with a broken foot, is ''a workhorse, a 'garbage' man,'' said Strcula. ''He'll get on the ground, get every loose ball and keeps possessions alive on offense with offensive rebounds.
''Those are two guys who are going to step up and play big roles for us this year.''
Junior Carson Weyer is ''a very good three-point shooter; he's pretty deadly, so you've got to guard him,'' said Strcula. ''So we're going to put some shooters out there that you've got to able to defend.''
Plus, PC got a boost recently when junior Jake Ullman, the TVC Hocking Division co-Player of the Year last season as just a sophomore at Belpre, joined the Crusaders.
On the team difference this year from last, Strcula said, ''I think we're going to be scrappier. We've got guys that aren't afraid to mix it up, put their nose in the huddle and get after it. This year's guys will get on the ground and get loose balls; they're not afraid of any floor burns.''
''But,'' he added, ''we've got to do a better job taking care of the basketball this year than we did last year. Having the young team that we do, we can't afford to make a lot of mistakes with the basketball. We've got to protect and cherish it more, watch our turnovers and shot selection.
''But that's what's always been the MO of this team. These guys have played together for years and they never seem to be discouraged about pressure or playing against the big teams. They can handle the pressure, and they can handle the basketball and take good shots.''