Todd Muckleroy’s first season as head coach at Canfield did not start very well.
Muckleroy’s club had to endure a bad losing streak to start the season, which it never could climb back from. Canfield finished 8-14, but what it did in the second half of the season gave the rookie coach some cause for optimism. The Cardinals came back to finish 5-3 in the All American Red Tier and even captured a win in the state tournament before bowing out in the sectional championship. Coach Muckleroy hopes to use that season ending success as a springboard for better things in his sophomore season.
“I thought we’d have a better year (last year),” said the coach after an afternoon practice. “We improved a lot in the second half of the season and getting that win let us end our season on a high note. Now we must build on that.”
In order to build, coach Muckleroy will have to use some inexperienced labor. Only three seniors return from last year’s bunch, but at least the coach thinks that trio will gel well together.
“Our core group play well with one another,” said Muckleroy.
That group is led by leading returning scorer Will Yobi. The senior forward will be counted on to once again be at the top of the scoring ladder for Canfield and his coach have no doubts that he can do it.
“(Yobi) is fundamentally sound and is a good shooter and rebounder,” said Muckleroy.
Senior Matt Yourstowsky hit 35 percent of his three-point attempts a year ago and once again will be needed to hit his shots from behind the arc.
“(Yourstowsky) is a three-point shooting threat,” said Muckleroy. “He has done a nice job this offseason.”
A “newcomer” to the Cardinals is six-foot, three-inch senior frontcourt player Kyle Brown. Brown may be new to the starting lineup, but he is not new to Canfield. He has spent the past two seasons battling injuries, but Muckleroy can’t wait to see what Brown can do for him.
“(Brown) would have lettered if he wasn’t injured,” the coach announced. “He is 100 percent healthy now and is a nice player underneath.”
As many as six juniors can find their way into Muckleroy’s rotation throughout this season and that class of Cardinals brings something that is quite unique to the Canfield basketball program.
“We have good athleticism especially with these juniors,” Muckleroy said excitedly. “We may be able to use the element of surprise on some people because we are so athletic.”
Possibly the most athletic of the sextet is starting point guard Conner Kesner. The diminutive five-foot, eight-inch eleventh-grader will be tabbed the team floor leader from day one.
“(Kesner) runs the floor and runs the offense so well,” said Muckleroy.
Another athletic junior is six-footer Kaymaun Alexander who Muckleroy sees as a major contributor either as a starter or as a first choice off the bench.
“(Kaymaun) is such a good athlete,” he said.
Six-foot junior Marco Delorenzo is another player who has a very good chance at seeing starting minutes. Coach Muckleroy likes Marco on both ends of the floor.
“(Delorenzo) is a nice defender and can shoot well from the outside,” Muckleroy said.
Other helpers mentioned by Muckleroy are six-foot, five-inch frontcourt player Pat Hagy, six-foot guard Jon Wagner and five-foot, eight-inch backup point guard Brad Hutchinson who was noted for his defensive skills.
This diverse group of upperclassmen will get their first opportunity to make the people of Canfield proud when they hit the court at Uniontown Lake on Dec. 2. Playing Lake in their first game is a sign of things to come for these Cardinals because opposing top notch Division I teams is something they will have to do all season before starting the post season.
“We play a lot of Federal League teams in our district,” explained Muckleroy. “With the experience we will get playing those teams and with the right draw, maybe we can win a sectional (championship).”
Before the second year coach gets too far ahead of himself he must first contend with his brutal conference. Poland and Howland are always solid and pose a threat to the Cardinals in each home-in-home matchup. Struthers is on the slate this season and newcomer Austintown Fitch, who hosts Canfield two days before Christmas, should add to Muckleroy’s uneasiness.
“Our conference is always strong top to bottom,” the coach said honestly. “Now I’m concerned with Fitch coming in.”
Those concerns will be alleviated if the young Cards can make up for a lack of experience and their traditional lack of size. Perhaps their newfound athleticism will help with that shortness of tall players, but coach Muckleroy knows of another way that can happen.
“If these kids come into the gym everyday ready to work hard, which they do, then good things will happen,” Muckleroy insisted. “We have confidence and I’m very optimistic.”