ALLPORT — One year ago, the West Branch varsity boys basketball team finished the year at 18-8 and played in the PIAA Class 2A state tournament. They’ll look to build on momentum from last season as they return six letterwinners out of the 16 total players on the team.
Of the returning letterwinners, only one was a starter last season — senior point guard Ayden Gutierrez.
Others include seniors Dalton Kristofits, Eddie Dale and Chance Eboch, and juniors Trenton Bellomy and Doug Kolesar.
Gone from last year’s team due to graduation include then starters Larry Cowder, John Arnold, David Guerra and Matt Fluck.
West Branch head coach Danny Clark said it’ll be tough to replace them, especially Cowder, who was the 2018-19 Progressland Player of the Year and finished his career with 1,485 points.
“Well when you lose a player like Larry Cowder — who is one of the best players in our program history — that’s irreplaceable,” Clark said. “I expect all my letterwinners and a few others to be a key part of our success.”
Clark said the preseason practices have been going well so far as they gear up for their first game.
“We are getting familiar with each other and learning how to play as a team and being in the correct spot on both ends of the court,” Clark said. “For basketball coaches we have a lot of holidays to deal with, but I am very happy with the commitment right now.”
Clark said they won’t have a consistent guy on the floor scoring like they had with Cowder in years past, but he expects to count on Kristofits to pick up some of the void.
“Our team will go as he goes,” Clark said of Kristofits. “But I have many guys that can score like Doug, Trenton, Chance, Travis (Rothrock) and Cam (Kopchik), which is a great asset but not sure on any given night who that might be.”
Clark said he’s looking forward to Gutierrez being the “floor general” of the team at point guard — as he has been for the past few years.
“This is a newer team that (Gutierrez) has not really played with yet as we had the same starting lineup the last two years,” Clark said. “So he gets to lead two different teams in his time, which is rare.”
Kristofits looks to do damage in the paint and on the boards.
“He is our big guy and go-to guy,” Clark said. “He really stepped up the second half of the season last year having a double-double in a district playoff game. He is our best rebounder and he can run the floor. We are counting on him to do a lot for the team.”
Clark said Eboch had big games for the team last year and, as a three year letterwinner, will be counted on each night.
“He can shoot the three, drive to the basket, and push the ball up the floor,” Clark said of Eboch. “I’m expecting a big year for him.”
Bellomy was the “big shot maker/play maker” in last year’s district/state playoff run and Clark expects that to continue.
“The sky is the limit for (Bellomy),” Clark said. “His energy and passion sparks our whole team and makes everyone play better.”
Clark said Kolesar is similar to Bellomy in that his energy and passion lifts up the team.
“Doug is such a rhythm shooter,” Clark said. “His touch/release is like no other. We expect a big year for Doug and he has put the work in and it’s ready to pay off. Trenton and Doug came up as freshmen and their time has come to step up for our program and continue the success.”
Other expected to contribute this season include Dale, Kopchik and Rothrock.
“Eddie is a role player and is a major part for our team,” Clark said. “We are excited about his growth from last season and will play a pivotal part in our success. He just needs to be confident. Cam is so instinctive and can read the play. He’s a streaky player and confident player. We’re just looking for him to keep positive on the mental side of the game and once that happens he is going to be a dominant player for the team. Travis can anticipate on both ends of the court. He’s another streaky player that can go off on any night. He’s working on limiting turnovers and knowing when not to force situations.”
Clark said this season, he feels a team strength will be bench quality in terms of depth, shooting and team quickness in transition.
However, while shooting can be a strength, Clark said they’re working on not living and dying by the three-point shot, as well as needing to get better at rebounding and defensive toughness as a whole.
“Our team lacks experience playing together, but I see that being a strength as the season goes on,” Clark said.
As the team made the state tournament last season, Clark said they will continue to set high goals.
“Our goals have not changed for a long time,” Clark said. “We have the same expectations every year and this year is the same. We expect to be at the top of our leagues, get a home district playoff game, and make a run in the district/state playoffs. If we are playing our best team basketball into February, we’ve got a great shot at doing it again. We were 0-2 and almost 0-3 to start last season and started playing our brand of basketball. Just because you start slow does not mean anything — you need to be resilient as it’s a long season. Our motto is ‘whatever it takes.’”
Clark said he’s excited to get going as they will host Bald Eagle Area Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The Warriors will also have Eric McCracken returning as assistant coach and Dave Catanzaro as junior high head coach. Catanzaro will then have former player and West Branch all-time leading scorer Kody Trude as an assistant, with Clark stating it’s “always nice to have former players — especially a player of his caliber — back in the program.”
“This is a new type of group for me,” Clark said. “I have had the same type of team the last eight years and this is a different type of team. It is kind of two teams molding into one. My JV guys last season — who won 18 games — got some varsity minutes but really didn’t play with some upperclassmen as much. I am excited to see our growth as the season continues and playing our best basketball January into late February. It might not be your night and that’s okay — you still have to play hard and play team basketball on both ends of the court.”
*Eddie Dale, *Chance Eboch, *Ayden Gutierrez, *Dalton Kristofits.
*Trenton Bellomy, *Doug Kolesar, Cam Kopchik, Draven Renolds, Travis Rothrock, Eli Williams.
Jackson Croyle, Dakota Fetterolf, Owen Graham, Anthony Guglielmi, Zach Tiracorda.
6—Bald Eagle Area. 9—Bellwood-Antis. 12—at Claysburg-Kimmel. 13—at St. Marys. 16—Moshannon Valley. 18—Curwensville. 19—at Harmony.
2—at Mount Union. 8—at Juniata Valley. 13—Williamsburg. 15—Harmony. 16—at Glendale. 21—at Bellwood-Antis. 22—Claysburg-Kimmel. 24—at Northern Cambria, 7:15 p.m. 27—at Curwensville. 28—at Moshannon Valley. 31—Mount Union.
3—Clearfield. 4—Juniata Valley. 7—at Williamsburg. 11—Glendale.
Games begin at 7:30 p.m. unless noted.