The Pleasant Valley boys' basketball team improved its record by four games from 2008-09 to 2009-10.
If the Bears can do that again this year, they will be heading back to the district playoffs.
If Pleasant Valley was ever to play in its first district game since 2005-06, this would be the year and the group to do it. Ken Piontkowski, now in his 16th season as the Bears' head coach, has four starters back from last year's 8-14 club. They, along with a handful of other juniors and seniors, should have the Bears clawing for a .500 record.
"Senior leadership is plentiful on this year's squad," said Piontkowski. "We have three starting seniors and three more that will come off the bench and see major minutes in some cases.
"The team should benefit from a 'now or never' mentality. This is probably the best group of players that we have had in a few years now. Most of them are seniors and this will be their last go-around."
Senior forward Eric Wild and junior guard Nick Stanovick have two full seasons of varsity experience under their belts. Stanovick, who has been on the varsity roster since he was a freshman, averaged just over nine points-per-game last year. Wild averaged just under six.
Center Mike Sharpe emerged as an all-MVC caliber player last season and will be looking to build upon his reputation as a big man who can step outside and knock down the three. The senior led the Bears in scoring last year (11.45 ppg) and was second on the team in three-pointers made with 24.
Senior Allen Conklin and junior Selwyn Wright round out Pleasant Valley's preliminary starting lineup. Conklin started at the beginning of last season and finished averaging four points-per-game. Wright will be playing at the varsity level for the first time, but is very aggressive offensively and has the strength to finish on a consistent basis.
"Conklin, Wright, Richie Irving and Jalen Blot give us four very good athletes at the guard-forward position," said Piontkowski. "We also have another newcomer in Tevin Franklin. So far he has shown signs of being an exciting offensive player."
Irving and Blot, both seniors, started working out late since they were a part of the Bears' football team. Blot may miss the first few games with an injury. Irving looks to be the first off of the bench. Franklin, a junior, is long and can slash his way to the rim.
Pleasant Valley's frontcourt may need some work. After Sharpe (6-5) and Wild (6-4), the Bears lack height off the bench. Senior Brandyn Bok (6-4) and junior John Guadagna (6-4) are the next tallest on the team and will be counted on to provide depth at the forward and center positions. While the Bears have good depth at the perimeter spots, they will lack depth inside if Bok and Guadagna struggle.
"We still need to improve on our toughness and show that we are willing to do what it takes to win games down the stretch," said Piontkowski. "That means doing the little things, like getting on the floor for loose balls or boxing out taller men in the paint. We lack some size, so we will have to make up for it with hustle."
As most coaches will say, winning basketball games comes down to rebounding, playing solid defense and taking care of the ball.
"We must win the battle of the boards and the battles for loose balls if we want to win close games," said Piontkowski. "On top of that, our defensive intensity must improve and we must limit our turnovers in order to be successful."