When Brian Beany took over the Fitch boys basketball program a year ago his first order of business was to instill a winning attitude in his players.
Fitch had averaged only three wins per season in the five years preceding Beany's arrival so a change of culture was certainly necessary.
"Getting back to a winning mentality was one of the goals of the coaching staff from the get go," Beany said recently. "We got the kids to believe in themselves. It was an exciting year."
It was exciting for Beany's Falcons because they improved to an 11 win campaign. Even more exciting was that single digits decided nine of Fitch's 10 losses and numerous games were decided in overtime. The next step in the process for the Falcons is to build on last year's winning record. That task may prove difficult, however, since Fitch lost almost 80 percent of its offense from last season to graduation.
"The six seniors we had last year helped establish us as a program," Beany lamented. "We had two guys, Will Mahone and Dan Chepke, who accounted for 67 percent of our scoring. We hope to find kids who can produce like that."
The second year coach will at least have a couple returnees who saw considerable minutes last winter to lean on in 2012-2013. Juniors Alex DiFrancesco and Jesse Driver will be back to make up two-fifths of Beany's starting lineup. The 6-f percent shooting from the field in 20 games a season ago. Driver will drive the Falcons from his guard spot as he did most of last season. He is Fitch's leading returnee in points, rebounds, assists and steals.
"Jesse has the most experience (of Fitch returnees) and does a lot of things to get the other kids involved," said Beany. "DiFrancesco has a lot of varsity experience too. But we have no superstars. We have seven or eight kids who are solid across the board."
Two of those solid Fitch soldiers are seniors Kyle Moore and Curtis Beverly. Other Falcons who coach Beany will be banking on are juniors Gabe Chepke, Quincy Higgins and Austin Hogan. Although this group consists of a lot of upperclassmen, they are still relatively young in varsity basketball years. The coach hopes to make up for that lack of experience with cohesiveness and a desire to succeed.
"This is a good nucleus," Beany said confidently. "They are a younger group, but they're still juniors. They have great chemistry, they work very hard and are athletic."
Another athlete that Beany bragged about is 6-4 paint player Anthony Pangio. He will join DiFrancesco as the biggest bodies under the boards for Beany's bunch. Pangio's only problem is that he is a freshman.
"We would like for (Pangio) to get some minutes," said Beany, "but we'll have to work him in slowly. He's a big kid inside."
One thing that Pangio and the rest of his toddler teammates will learn quickly is that the varsity high school basketball pace is a lot faster than in youth leagues.
"Varsity ball comes at a different speed," explained Beany. "That's where a lot of the inexperience shows up. But we have some kids with skill who should be able to adapt."
The Falcons adapted fairly well in their first season in the All American Red Tier last season and season two in that tier seems to be wide open.
"Howland is the so called favorites because they return a lot of kids," Beany said while handicapping the conference race. "Poland, Struthers and Canfield are young like us."
Fitch will not see a conference cousin until late December. The Falcons start the season Dec. 4 at home against Alliance. Last year, the Aviators and the Falcons played an epic that ended up 84-81 in favor of Alliance in triple overtime. That game was one of many extra session showdowns for the Falcons, which had the team worn down by the time the Division I tournament started.
"Hopefully we don't have to go through as many overtime games as we did last year," Beany said with a laugh. "We will be thrown right into the fire from the start against Alliance. I would prefer to not have to play them in our first game, but we have to play them sometime."
Beany's boys will also have to play well, not only against Alliance in the opener, but against their Red Tier opponents too. That is the only way the Falcons will be able to ascend past last year's win total.
"Our goal is certainly to win a league title," Beany announced firmly. "But I'd also like to see our kids give their best effort each game."