Senior-laden Colts have plenty to prove
The Marian boys basketball team members are: Front row, l to r, Brian O'Donnell, Cody Decker, Mike Lack, Mark Stawick, Chris Barletta and Mike Nesgoda. Back row, same order, Ryan Gimbi, Matt Yaich, Drew Sherkness, Vini Fital, and Tommy Gottstein.
Last season, Marian head coach Mick Stefanek saw his team repeat as Schuylkill League Division 3 champs, finish as the District 11 Class A runner-up and secure a spot in the PIAA State Tournament.
With three of its top four scorers returning and a senior-laden lineup, the Colts (16-10, 10-3) are certainly entering this season with plenty to prove.
"We have high expectations for this year's team," stated Stefanek. "The potential is there, the leadership is there and we have plenty of scoring coming back. On paper, the pieces are in place for a nice season, but it will ultimately come down to execution and accountability."
In terms of "big" expectations, look no further than 6-4 senior forward Matt Yaich and 6-6 senior forward Drew Sherkness. The two big men team with 6-2 forward Vini Fital to provide Marian with a dominating inside presence, as the Colts enter the season as one of the biggest teams in the Schuylkill League.
"Last year, we had plenty of size, but for one reason or another, we didn't play big," added Stefanek. "With another year under their belts, I'm hoping that we will finally start seeing the maturity and strength that we expect out of them."
Yaich, a First Team TIMES NEWS All Star and last year's leading scorer with 12.23 points per game, will again look to provide plenty of offense for a team that nearly averaged 50 points per game last season (49.27). According to Stefanek, Yaich should present plenty of matchup problems for opponents, as he has undergone a transformation from a pure post player to a threat from the perimeter.
Sherkness, the tallest player in Marian's lineup, missed seven games last season due to injury but averaged 6.47 points and will be looking to build on that total as he offers a huge body around the basket and aggressiveness on the offensive boards.
Returning at point guard is 5-11 junior Chris Barletta. Barletta, a Second Team TIMES NEWS All Star averaged 9.54 points per game last season and does a great job running the show for the Colts.
"Chris Barletta is one of the top point guards in the Schuylkill League and I'm not afraid to say that," lauded Stefanek. "He's our leader on the court and the kids respond to him. Offensively, he's a threat taking it to the hole, taking a jump shot or finding the open guy. His court vision is outstanding."
Rounding out Marian's starting lineup at shooting guard and small forward will be a combination of Cody Decker, Tom Gottstein, Mike Lack and Ryan Gimbi.
"At this point in the season, we don't have a starting five, but instead, we have a starting rotation of 8-9 guys," said Stefanek. "They all know their roles and they all deserve a chance to play and we're certainly going to use that depth to our advantage."
Off the bench, Mark Stawick backs up Barletta at point guard, while Brian O'Donnell and Michael Nesgoda fill in at guard.
The Colts will have to replace the offense of Evan Whilden (top outside shooter last season with 28 three-pointers), as well as the defense of Dominick Agosti and the size of Dom Richards (6-5).
While Marian offers plenty of firepower offensively, its defense remains a work in progress.
"As the season goes along, we'll get better and I have total confidence in our players that they'll respond to the challenges of playing defense," concluded Stefanek. "Right now, our defense is okay, but it's not where it needs to be if we want to reach any of our expectations."
Expectations that are no doubt bigger than last year.