Life has been tough on the Pleasant Valley boys' basketball program as of late.
Head coach Ken Piontkowski and his players have faced their fair share of hardships over the past couple of years, as the Bears have won only four games in each of the last two seasons. Still, with three returning starters, Piontkowski is optimistic about his 2009-10 squad and is expecting better results.
"We will need to win a few of our early season games in order to gain some confidence after two consecutive four-win seasons," said Piontkowski. "I think it's safe to say that nobody expects to win only four games. It takes its toll on you, but you have to stay positive.
"Nick Stanovick and Eric Wild will need to step up and show that a year of varsity experience has them ready to be leaders. We aren't as athletic as some of the other teams in the conference, so we must win the battle on the boards and fight for loose balls in order to win those close games."
Stanovick and Wild, along with leading scorer Pat Kregeloh, are the returning starters. Stanovick started a few games last year as a freshman last year and should benefit from the experience this time around. Wild and Kregeloh started practically every game up front, though Wild has the ability to step outside from time to time.
Jon McQuay also returns for his senior season. McQuay missed time last year with a broken wrist, but returned to play 20 games and ran the point.
"Team chemistry and a positive attitude have been our strengths this far," said Piontkowski. "Stanovick and Wild should benefit from having varsity experience, as well as just being a year older and a year stronger.
"But in the end it's about Pat Kregeloh. He is a tremendous competitor and will be the team's emotional leader."
Pleasant Valley should have more depth this year as well. The Bears have three juniors - guards Richie Irving and Allen Conklin and center Mike Sharpe - who are all capable of starting and seeing major minutes. Conklin and Sharpe have made great strides from last year as JV's and are looking to become immediate contributors. Still, they have yet to play a minute of varsity basketball.
The Bears will have plethora of seniors off the bench in Zach Knudsen (forward), Ruben Garcia (forward), Chris Biney (forward) and Brandon Castner (guard). Knudsen and Garcia each played in nine games last season, but didn't score more than a couple of buckets.
Rounding out the squad are juniors Jalen Blot, Tarik Williams and Brandyn Bok - along with sophomore Caleb Knudsen. Blot, Williams and Knudsen can play either of the three guard positions while Bok will do his work down low.
Pleasant Valley lacks height, with Sharpe (6-5) and Kregeloh (6-4) being the team's tallest players. The Bears will have to make all of the 'hustle plays' if they want stay with the more competitive teams.
"We could use one more physical big man to help on the boards, but you have to play with the cards you are dealt," said Piontkowski. "We have some younger players who are still struggling to understand defensive fundamentals. Their physicality has improved, but we still need to improve on our overall toughness."