By ALLIE COLOSKY
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Healdsburg’s Gus Morris, left, and Analy’s Mohannad Halaweh look to lead their respective teams to a Sonoma County League title. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)
The Sonoma County League boys basketball division long has been ruled by the Analy Tigers and although they still are at the top in preseason, the new face of the Tigers could be challenged for their title this year.
The Healdsburg Greyhounds — who finished in second in 2012-13 — join Analy, Piner, Petaluma and El Molino as the five programs that are relying on younger talent this year, while the Sonoma Valley Dragons are packed with experience in hopes of a turnaround year for the program.
Elsie Allen will have the speed and quickness to match the typical fast-pace game that Analy runs. The Lobos are currently in third with a 3-3 record as they trail Analy and Piner in the preseason.
With a powerhouse like Analy hoping to continue its success on the back of inexperience, the face of the SCL standings may be changing this year.
“Our expectations are always pretty high for our basketball team, and we have been fairly successful, but we are fairly young and inexperienced this year,” Analy head coach Brett Page said. “We are really rebuilding this year.”
A hungry El Molino team adds to the bunch of SCL teams that are licking their lips at a new opportunity to dethrone the Tigers. Without a single, obvious contender, this year’s SCL is wide open as teams battle for those coveted four playoff spots and a shot at an outright title.
Here’s a team-by-team breakdown:
Last season: 22-8 overall, 12-0 SCL
Overview: The Tigers have won the SCL title for four of Brett Page’s five years of coaching including the past three years, since Windsor and Casa Grande moved to the North Bay League.
And now in his sixth season at the helm, the expectations are still just as high, Page said, but the new and inexperienced Tigers are in a rebuilding year and the focus has shifted slightly.
“We always have high expectations for ourselves, but with the understanding that we have four sophomores and four juniors and four seniors who haven’t really played.”
Analy graduated six seniors and are now at a starting point again, Page said.
“It’s been fun to get work with them (inexperienced multi-sport athletes). It feels like we are coaching basketball again,” he said. “In the past, we had kids who knew what to do and we look for ways to expand that. Now we are getting back to the basics to start fresh.”
Seniors Theo Avila, Grant St. Martin and Mohammed Halaweh, are the only returning seniors.
Player to watch: Sophomore guards Anthony Narvaez and Dillon Carpenter have been an interesting pair to fill in, Page said. They will continue the fast-paced tradition of scoring in transition.
Last season: 27-7 overall, 9-3 SCL
Overview: After graduating five — three all-leaguers — the Greyhounds are rebuilding, said coach Nick Galvin.
“We’ve lost a lot from last year,” Galvin said. “I think my expectations are for the younger players to grow and up their game because we are so young this year.”
Senior captains Casey Koch, Daniel Schroeder and Gus Morris will help the Greyhounds as the small team looks to be aggressive.
Filling the shoes of former players Arnold Silva, Jordan Vega, Cameron Lutz, Sam Walker and Kenneth Evans is are a group of younger players who are catching on quickly.
Player to watch: Be on the lookout for freshman Landon Courtman, a 6-foot-3 14-year-old center who has already helped the Greyhounds to a 3-4 start in the preseason. Courtman has reached double-digit rebounds in multiple games.
“There’s a very high ceiling for him,” Galvin said.
“We will always be a very competitive team.”
Last season: 14-12 overall, 8-4 SCL
Overview: A small Prospectors team will be the first to test Analy’s fast-tempo game and challenge for the league title. Piner is currently in second place in the nonleague standings with a 4-4 record.
A team with big expectations, the Prospectors will rely on their quickness to be a contender.
“It’s a little early to tell,” coach Mike Erickson said, “but I think we can be competitive in our league. We have to finish in the top four to make the playoffs and I think that’s a realistic goal of ours.”
Piner’s tallest starter — 6-1 center Edoney Efrom — will be a key defensively and on the boards, while three guards will do the bulk of the scoring.
“We’re not very big, but we have speed and quickness and we can shoot the ball pretty well,” Erickson said. “Our transition game will be key.”
Players to watch: Junior point guard Keith Adams and junior shooting guard Nebi Gedlu are each averaging 12-14 points a game.
Last season: 7-19 overall, 5-8 SCL
Overview: Steady improvement is the key to a winning season for the Trojans this year, coach John Behrs said. The second key is the strong team chemistry and support.
“We’ve got a group of kids who are improving every practice and every game,” Behrs said. “We’re not going to be a team that peaks somewhere in the season, because we are going to keep improving throughout.”
The younger Petaluma squad will be a “defense-first team,” Behrs said. The defense will need to be the main source of offense.
“We weren’t blessed with a couple guys who can put up 25 points a game,” he said. “We’ve got a few solid players but we don’t have those huge offensive weapons, so defense has to come first.”
The Trojans’ guards are quick and smart sharp-shooters.
Senior Brandon Marweg leads the guards, with junior Johnny Malonari and sophomore Drake Paretti rounding out the backcourt.
Player to watch: Senior Joe Lynch walked off the football field and into the gym, and gave a surprising offensive performance immediately.
He was expected to be a defensive asset but his ability to get to the rim and his jump shot have been a pleasant surprises to the Trojan coaching staff.
El Molino Lions
Last season: 9-16 overall, 4-8 SCL
Overview: Last year, the Lions dropped five games by six points or fewer, and head coach Ruben Noles thinks that if they can win those frustrating games, the Lions can turn things around in the league this year and compete for a title.
“I think the league is kind of wide open this year,” Noles said. “Anybody could win it.”
El Molino could finish with the top four teams, Noles said, because they have the ability to outwork their opponents.
“We have the ability to play inside and out,” Noles said. “It’s one of the better teams I’ve had athletically so we can move around the floor a little bit.”
Players to watch: The Lions will look to seniors Louie Rampone, Travis McClintock and Connor Smith in order to get into the winning column, after starting the preseason 0-6. “Done a lot of work over summer and I think those guys are a little bit hungry. They’re ready to win something this year.”
Elsie Allen Lobos
Last season: 8-18 overall, 2-9 SCL
Overview: The Lobos are looking to compete with the powerhouses. Elsie Allen is currently in third place in the preseason with a 3-3 record.
“We have decent talent but we are very young,” coach Madison Lott said.
“We don’t have a lot of depth, we are skilled, but we need to get our young players up to varsity speed.”
The Lobos are led by junior center Erik De Leon — a transfer student from Montgomery High School — and junior Jalen Busby. The should be keys around the hoop on both ends of the court.
The 6-5 center and 6-4 forward are part of a new-look Lobos team, looking to make a run for the top spot this year.
“We’re looking to finish in the top four of our division,” Lott said.
“We are a little more battle-tested. This year we will be able to finish those close games. This is the closest-knit team I’ve had. I’m extremely proud of how they play for each other.”
Player to watch: Three-year varsity and two-year starting guard Joe Hoeup is looking to make an offensive charge to lead the Lobos. A 6-foot junior, Hoeup is leading Elsie Allen with an average of 25 points a game.
“The first five games he was averaging like 28 points,” Lott said. “He’s one of our leaders.”
Sonoma Valley Dragons
Last season: 4-20 overall, 2-10 SCL
Overview: The Dragons are packed with experience this year, as they only lost one senior from last year.
With five returning seniors and eight returning juniors, Sonoma Valley has high expectations for this season that will hopefully be a turnaround from last year and include an appearance in the North Coast Section playoffs.
“I’m hoping we can compete in our league,” coach Denis Housman said. “We’re playing with a few kids who have been in our program for a couple years now and adapting. We have good expectations for ourselves.”
The Dragons are a competitive bunch with some hot shooters.
Once the offense is going, the defense will be in place to ride out the game, Housman said.
Players to watch: Junior Cyle Gusse has started out the 2013-14 preseason with a burst of offensive and defensive stats as he scored 37 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in the Dragons’ 85-80 non-conference win against Mt. Diablo on Dec. 13.
A 6-4 junior guard, Gusse will join three-year seniors guard Jessie Summers, forward Jack Murphy, and guard Vinny Albano in their quest for a winning season.