SCOTT TRUXELL/independent sports editor
With a wealth of returning talent and some promising newcomers, the Van Wert Cougars can be considered bona fide contenders for the 2017-2018 Western Buckeye League basketball title.
Four starters are back from last year’s team that went 13-11 (4-5 Western Buckeye League). Highlights from last season included victories over state semifinalist Perry, regional runner up Marion Local and district runner up Crestview.
Jacoby Kelly (5) is a four-year starter at point guard for the Van Wert Cougars. (Bob Barnes photo)
Fifth-year head coach Mark Bagley has four starters back from that team, and he’s optimistic about the upcoming season.
“The complexion of our team will be speed, quickness, size, and athleticism with players who are versatile enough to play both inside and out,” Bagley said. “We hope to have the ability to score from all five spots on the floor and to improve our consistency from the perimeter as we look to play fast and attack the defense inside and out. The versatility of the team should make for some tough match-ups by using depth, size, and quickness.”
After averaging 16 points, five assists and five rebounds per game last year, 5-10 point guard Jacoby Kelly is back for his senior season. The four-year starter earned second team All-WBL and first team All-District 8 honors as a junior.
6-2 junior wing Nate Place is the second of the four returning starters. He averaged 15 points and three rebounds per game last season, and was named third team All-WBL.
6-4 junior post Drew Bagley is a threat inside and out, and averaged nine points and five rebounds per game last season.
6-6 junior Blake Henry is the fourth returning starter, and like Bagley, he can score both inside and outside. He averaged six points and four rebounds last season.
As far as the fifth starter, the elder Bagley plans to use a combination of several other of those players for at least a few games. The list includes seniors Jonathan Lee and Thane Cowan, junior Joey Schaufelberger, sophomores Tanner Barnhart, Clayton Proffitt and Jake Hilleary, and freshman Owen Treece.
“All players in the entire program have worked hard in the off season to become better athletes, basketball players, leaders, and are anxious to begin the season,” Bagley said.
The Cougars will run a variety of sets and motion offensively, and will play man-to-man defense.
The non-conference schedule will again present some challenges, with the likes of Lincolnview, Crestview, Delphos St. John’s, Wayne Trace, Columbus Grove, Carroll (IN), Marion Local, Bryan, Kalida, Coldwater, St. Henry and Lima Central Catholic.
In terms of the Western Buckeye League, perennial power and two-time defending champion Ottawa-Glandorf is expected to contend for the title, along with Van Wert and Wapakoneta.
“There may be times that teams are more talented, but we will play together and work harder in order to find a way to compete and win each night,” Bagley said. “As you watch this team play and develop over the course of a long season, you will see a great group of kids who like each other and who will play hard and give it their best effort every second of every game.”
Van Wert’s scheduled opener against Crestview has been postponed until Friday, December 8, meaning the Cougars will open the season this Saturday against Lincolnview.
All Van Wert boys’ basketball games will air live on WERT 1220AM and 104.3FM, and will stream live at www.thevwindependent.com.