By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Three of the four Greater Catholic League South Division basketball teams tip off their seasons tonight, the first day schools can play regular-season boys’ basketball games under rules set by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Elder and St. Xavier travel to face two Greater Miami Conference schools, La Salle plays in the first round of the Tiger Basketball Classic at Withrow High School, while defending Division I state champion Moeller waits an extra day to put its 20-game winning streak on the line against Lexington Bryan Station Saturday in the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic.
Here is a snapshot look at the four GCL South schools:
Elder (14-12 last season) – The Panthers had a solid second half of the 2017-18 season after January 20, posting an 8-4 record down the stretch that included wins against Mason and Winton Woods as part of their 3-1 record in the postseason and a second district final appearance in the last four years. Veteran Elder coach Joe Schoenfeld, however, will have to find a way to replace his team’s top four scorers – Zach Harp (Hanover College), Brett Marsh, Trevor Estep and Andrew Broxterman, who combined to average 34 points a game their senior season. But Elder has plenty of players returning who gained valuable game experience a year ago.
Elder’s leading returning scorer is senior guard Aiden Byrne, who averaged 4.9 points and 1.6 rebounds. Senior forward Michael Bittner, the GCL South Player of the Year in football after an outstanding senior season in helping lead the Panthers to the regional final, is recovering from a knee injury he suffered in the state playoffs. Bittner (3.7, 2.8) has not yet practiced and is hoping to return in December. Junior guard Matthew Luebbe (2.8, 1.5) is back, as is junior guard Willard Cluxton – who played in 10 varsity games last season. Cluxton is among a group of players being counted on to step up and help the Panthers this season.
Injuries have been an issue for Elder even before the season begins. Senior guard Jake O’Brien, a key defensive player, and senior forward Will Austing, an excellent shooter, have suffered season-ending setbacks, while junior forward Connor Keyes has a hand injury that is expected to sideline him foe a few more weeks. That said, the Panthers will have only five seniors on the team – meaning that juniors Bryson Merz, Jake Byrne and Joe Royer will all be looking to contribute.
The Panthers tip off the season tonight at Fairfield, with the varsity game set for 7:30. Elder beat Fairfield, 61-54, in last year’s season opener at The Pit, with Harp pouring in a game-high 20 points. Elder opens GCL South play by hosting St. Xavier on Friday, January 11.
La Salle (15-10) – The Lancers closed last season strong under first-year coach Pat Goedde, longtime La Salle assistant who took over the program before last season after Dan Fleming retired. La Salle won five of six and seven of nine games, falling in a close game, 60-54, to Lakota East in the postseason. The Lancers relied heavily on senior Riley Haubner, who led the GCL South in scoring averaging 21.3 points per game and was tied for fourth with graduated teammate Henry Louden in rebounding, at 5.0. This season, Goedde expects to have a more balanced scoring attack – with five or six guys averaging 10 points a game.
Returnees to watch are senior guard Nathan Vogelpohl (6.8 points, 1.5 assists last season); junior guard Derek Eddings (6.4, 2.0 rebounds); senior forward Kodyn Lambert (3.6, 1.3); senior forward Deon Campbell (2.8, 1.7); junior guard Jaylen Lemons; and junior forwards Cole Hildebrand (3.4, 1.8); and Jeff Queen. Vogelpohl (who finished among league leaders after sinking 53.4 percent of his field goals in 2017-18), Lambert, Eddings and Campbell each played in 21 or more games last season, while Hildebrand appeared in 15 – giving the Lancer plenty of varsity game experience.
The Lancers open their season tonight, participating in the Tigers Basketball Classic at Withrow High School.. La Salle will face Ponitz, a member of the Dayton public Schools, at 6:15 tonight, and then meet Withrow at 8 Saturday night. The Lancers open GCL South play at St. Xavier on Friday, January 4.
Moeller (27-3) – The Crusaders rolled to the school’s fourth state basketball championship, the first since 2007, by closing the season on a 20-game winning streak that included eight victories in the state tournament by an average of 21.5 points. In fact, only one team (Lorain, 51-44, in the state semifinals) came within single digits of Moeller – which knocked off Solon, 83-65, in the state final. And, graduation losses included Jaxson Hayes (University of Texas) and Jeremiah Davenport, Moeller has plenty of talent returning – led by senior guard Miles McBride.
McBride, a 6-foot-2 standout missed all but two games last season because of a foot injury suffered during the football season. He returned to play sparingly in the state semifinals, and then scored 14 points in the state title game. As a sophomore, the West Virginia University commit was named first team All-GCL South and All-Southwest District. McBride will be joined by senior Alec Pfriem, who led the GCL South in assists last season, at 4.1 per game, while also averaging 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds to earn all-league honors. Moeller also should get help from two reserves from last season in 6-3 senior forward Michael Shipp and 6-4 junior forward Max Land.
Coach Carl Kremer’s Crusaders have won or shared six straight GCL South titles, finishing undefeated in four of those seasons (6-0 in 2017-18, 2016-17 and 2013-14), and 10-0 in 2012-13). Moeller, which opens the season by facing Lexington Bryan Station at 1:45 p.m. Saturday as part of the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic at Hillsboro High School, is 55-4 and 77-8 the last two and three seasons, respectively. Moeller has won 13 consecutive GCL South games dating back to February 5, 2016 and a 48-43 loss to Elder at The Pit. Moeller, which opens its home season by hosting Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary at 5 p.m. on Saturday, December 8 is riding a 27-game wining streak on campus dating back to the 2015-16 season.
The Crusaders’ GCL South opener is at home against La Salle on Friday, January 11.
St. Xavier (17-8) – The Bombers begin the season under the direction of interim coach Brian Kellett, who returns to his alma mater hoping to build on the momentum from last season when St. Xavier posted a 17-8 record overall that included a 2-4 mark in the league after going the previous four seasons without a GCL South victory. Kellett knows plenty about the St. Xavier program, having been either the head freshman coach and/or a varsity assistant there from 2003 to 2015. He spent the last three season as a varsity assistant at Madeira before returning to North Bend Road.
Killett is expecting big things from senior guard Nathan Stockman, a first team All-GCL South selection last year after averaging 12.4 points (fourth in the league) and a GCL South-best 1.9 steals. He also will be counting on 6-7 senior center Luke Pellot (4.0 points, 2.5 rebounds) and senior guard Nick Frank (2.6, 2.0), who both gave the Bombers good minutes a year ago and are expected to fill bigger roles this season. St. Xavier, too, should be plenty tough on the court with senior guard Jared Kreimer, senior forward Thomas Kiessling, junior forward Noah Taylor and senior guard Chris Payne all having been members of the Bombers’ football team.
Juniors Hank Thomas, Avery Wilson and Danny Greive (3.7, 2.1) should see significant minutes, while a good sophomore class should help, too, with Kobe Rodgers getting some varsity minutes.
St. Xavier opens the season at Lakota West at 7:30 tonight. St. Xavier defeated West, 62-47, at home this past January. The Bombers’ GCL South opener is against La Salle on Friday, January 4.