The 2012-2013 version of the Canfield boys basketball team will showcase six returning letter winners, including five seniors.
Although the Cardinals are OK with the school class rank of their players, they still lack the quality experience usually saved for upperclassmen. That is why getting the right combination of kids on the floor at the right time is one of the biggest concerns for third-year Canfield head coach Todd Muckleroy.
"I'm a little concerned with our varsity experience," said Muckleroy in a recent phone conversation. "I'm worried about finding the right chemistry of kids to mesh together."
No high school kid enjoys chemistry, but it may be the key to Canfield's campaign. The quintet of twelfth-graders who will hopefully provide some of that cohesiveness are Conner Kesner, Brad Hutchinson, Kaymaun Alexander, John Schiraldi and Marco Delorenzo. Schiraldi and Delorenzo are both 6-foot sharpshooters who are two of the Cardinals' team captains. Junior letter winner Cole Pryjma will join that pair at that prestigious captain rank. Having a trio like that to lean on should make Muckleroy's job of filling out his starting five much simpler.
"Our captains are the guys we look to for lots of minutes," Muckleroy announced. "They are battled tested."
Kesner's biggest test this season will be overcoming a couple injuries sustained on the football field this fall. The senior will be needed to speed up the game from his point guard spot so he will be missed until he makes his return.
"We expect to get Conner back sometime in December," stated Muckleroy. "He will play a significant role for us."
Also filling huge roles for the Cardinals will be a complimentary clan of seven juniors and one sophomore. Any or all of these youngsters could possibly be the difference in Canfield advancing deep into the Division I tournament.
"We have a large group of juniors who are going to have to grow up fast for us," Muckleroy mentioned. "They need to realize they will need to play situational minutes for us."
Setting up Canfield's situation will be juniors Pryjma, Andrew Midgley, Jarret Vrabel, Brady Clark, Cristian Labra, Alec Hammond, Ryan Kaleel and sophomore Mike Yourstowsky.
"At 6-4 and 6-5 Vrabel and Midgley provide us some needed size in the post," said Muckleroy. "Both kids have played well in the preseason. Labra can be a post player too. Clark averaged double-digit points as a JV. Hammond, Kaleel and Yourstowsky will help us as guards because we need a lot of guards to help us get up and go on offense."
Coach Muckleroy expects his team to play very up-tempo so having so many possible lineup combinations should eventually play out well for him. Having such a large group of kids to choose from has made the preseason spirited as well.
"Our practices have been very competitive," the coach explained. "We have a fun group of kids who really work hard."
That hard work will be necessary because life in the All American Red Tier is brutal. All of that fun Muckleroy speaks of will not be evident once the likes of Howland, Poland and Fitch stand across from the Cardinals on the floor. That is why improving on last year's eight-win total may be challenging for Canfield.
"We have to play well each and every night against the teams in our tier," Muckleroy admitted. "We also play a tough non league schedule with the purpose of getting us ready for the Division I tournament."
That non league slate was supposed to start with a challenge from Warren Harding, but that game was moved to game number 22 thanks to a scheduling conflict. Instead, Canfield will kick off the campaign with Federal League giant Uniontown Lake, which will be no walk by the lake either. Of course, it really doesn't matter who the Cardinals play if these inexperienced kids don't gel quickly.
"We would like to build momentum early in the season so we can build confidence later," said Muckleroy honestly. "In order for us to be successful in 2012-2013, we have to get off to a good start. We had some big wins last year and we hope to build off those this year."