The first year was a breakthrough, the second was validation. This winter, as Centennial chases its third consecutive trip to the state final four, is the opportunity to cement itself as a powerhouse.
Returning three starters from last year's county championship squad that went 21-6, the Eagles enter this season with some inherent pressure of living up to the standard set by their predecessors. At the same time, though, this Centennial team isn't living in the past.
"I feel incredibly fortunate and I have a lot of pride in the fact that we've been able to achieve at a high level of consistency the last two years … to have the potential to be in that position again is outstanding," Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said. "But we can't forget that this is a new year and a new team still looking for its own identity.
"Nothing is a given, especially in this county, and I think the kids know that. The way I look at it, we have to prove ourselves like everyone else."
Omari Ringgold is the leader for Centennial, coming off a junior year where he averaged 17.4 points and 5.3 rebounds a game. The senior is the only returning all-county first team player from a season ago.
With Ringgold as a go-to-guy, alongside returning inside players Timi Tinuoye and Joe Eads, the Eagles certainly have the experience needed to deal with having a target on their backs.
Nothing, however, is going to come easy in a county that looks to have plenty of capable challengers.
Oakland Mills, with a bevy of transfers highlighted by Lavon Long from Mount St. Joseph, has the look of a serious contender. Long recently committed to Loyola (Md.) and is a versatile wing capable of scoring from all over the floor.
Marriotts Ridge, Wilde Lake and Long Reach were all top four teams last winter that figure to once again be in the mix and don't sleep on Reservoir or River Hill, which were both under .500 in the county last year but figure to be much improved.
"Centennial is the top dog, but the county is there for whoever is able to stay consistent and win games on the road," Long Reach coach Al Moraz Jr. said. "If you can get hot in January and February anything can happen."
After more than 30 years and over 400 wins, Jim Albert has retired from his head coaching position at Atholton. He'll be handing the reigns over to a familiar face, with his son, Jared, taking over.
"Playing for my father, coaching with my father … I've seen the tradition at Atholton from a lot of different perspectives," Jared Albert said. "It's an honor to get the opportunity to try and continue that."
Mike Coughlan, who guided Marriotts Ridge to a second-place county finish last year, has moved over to Reservoir this winter to replace Ryan Carson. In Coughlan's absence, Marcus Lewis is taking over for the Mustangs.
Lewis was head coach at Marriotts Ridge as recently as the 2009-10 season before taking the last two seasons off.
With the season starting for the public schools on Dec. 5 and already under way for the private schools, here's a look around the league:
2011-12 record: 10-9 county, 14-10 overall
Top players: Seniors Dominic Bernetti (G), Luke Casey (F) and Ethan Shapiro (F); juniors Brady Acker (G) and Justin Ballmer (G).
What you need to know: It's a completely fresh slate for new coach Jared Albert, who inherits a Raider team that graduated over 80 percent of its scoring from last winter. The good news is that Albert, who coached the JV last season, has plenty of capable guys stepping up to fill those holes.
Acker (3.8 ppg last season) and Shapiro (3.4) are the leading returning scorers, while Bernetti saw starting time last year and averaged 3.3 assists a contest. Casey and Ballmer are transfers into the program from Mount St. Joseph that are expected to contribute right away.
In all, there are five returning seniors. Kyle Courtney and Louis Florenzo join Bernetti, Casey and Shapiro in that group. "Our strength is our team. We have a bunch of hard-working guys that on any given night they might be the one to step up and lead us," Albert said.
2011-12 record: 17-2, 21-6
Top players: Seniors Joe Eads (C), Omari Ringgold (G) and Timi Tinuoye (F).
What you need to know: There are a total of nine guys back from last year's team that lost in the state semifinals. Eads, Ringgold and Tinuoye are the captains and averaged a combined 16 rebounds a game between them last year. Ringgold is an established double-digit scorer, and coach Chad Hollwedel says he expects Tinuoye and Eads to join him in that area. "Both had bright spots last year and are ready for a great season with improved consistency," Hollwedel said.
Kendall DeVries, Bradley Benson, Zach Olmstead and Kyle Ruygrok are all seniors that will play a variety of roles. Juniors Walter Fletcher, who can run the point, and Chase Conley each were called up from JV at the end of last year.
Before the 2010-11 season, Centennial had never made it to the state semifinals. This winter, the Eagles will be trying to make it there for the third straight time.
2011-12 record: 6-13, 6-17
Top players: Senior Colin Randle (G); sophomores Matt Hammert (G), Nick Oates (G) and Daine Van de Wall (F).
What you need to know: The Gladiators feature four sophomores in their regular rotation to go along with just one senior, Randle, that saw regular playing time last winter. Spreading the ball around will be among the keys. "We don't have a go-to-guy right now, hopefully Colin will eventually step into that role, so that means we've got to be unselfish," coach Jansen McMillan said. "We're going to make games scrappy, ugly and definitely use that 3-ball."
Randle (6.7 ppg last year) is the leading returning scorer, while Oates and Hammert each averaged 4.0 points a game playing starter's minutes. Van de Wall is an intriguing prospect as a wing that can play inside and out. Also keep an eye on sophomore sharp shooter Dom Napolitano.
"We don't have an identity yet, but it's a good group. They work hard," McMillan said.
2011-12 record: 8-11, 9-14
Top players: Seniors Teddy Howard (F), Simon Minasse (G), Jimmy Rollin (F), DaRay Ross (F) and Nate Washington (G).
What you need to know: The Golden Bears are starting back at square one after getting hit as hard as any other county team by graduation and transfers. Only five guys from last year's varsity roster are back and none of them averaged more than two points a game.
What Hammond lacks in game experience, though, it should make up some of that in its work ethic and defensive intensity according to coach Karl Friedheim. "This is a special group of guys and they have been working extremely hard each day to improve," he said.
There are seven seniors expected to see major time, with Mike Anderson and Naji Jackson joining the returning core group of five upperclassmen. Other guys to keep an eye on are junior guards Dontae Ross and Andre McFadden.
2011-12 record: 6-13, 7-17
Top players: Seniors Mike Anderson (G), Duke Bartnik (G), Jake Crisco (F), Kyle Seeley (C) and Jake Spalding (G).
What you need to know: No county team lost more close games last season than the Lions, who dropped 10 games either in overtime or the last minute of regulation. With a new offensive system being put in designed to maximize possessions, coach Matt Jens is hoping to change that trend this winter. "We have a lot of guys that are hungry for some success," Jens said. "We are looking to be better in our half-court sets to hopefully improve in those games that are decided in those final few possessions."
Aside from tactical changes, there is also a completely different look in terms of personnel after last year's top seven scorers graduated. It's still an experienced group, however, with seven seniors. Bartnik saw starting time as a junior and will run the point, while Crisco and Spalding will each see expanded roles after playing limited minutes off the bench last year. Anderson, who starred on the football team this fall, and Seeley are both returning to the program after not playing last year. Also keep an eye on sophomore Jared Noble, who could see starter's minutes at shooting guard.
2011-12 record: 12-7, 14-9
Top players: Seniors Avery Allmond (F), Jalen Brown (G) and Brian Green (G).
What you need to know: Despite losing its top scorer, Devaughn Nowlin (14.0 ppg) and top rebounder, Daquan Hargrove (10.5 rpg), the Lightning bring back plenty of experience. Brown is a three-year varsity guy that runs the point, is relentless on defense and can score all over the floor.
Green, a transfer from Hammond after averaging 15.8 points a game as a junior, is "extremely athletic' and should be a "go-to guy," according to Long Reach coach Al Moraz Jr. Allmond, though, another three-year varsity guy, may be the x-factor. "The sky is the limit with him … he can really do a little bit of everything," Moraz said.
Expect Alex Neal and Kevin Betters, both seniors, to provide support at the guard positions. In the frontcourt, Stacy Woodland (Hammond transfer) and Charlie Kwanteng will both be counted on to help in the rebounding department.
"We won eight out of our last 10 (last season) and I think it gave this senior group some confidence," Moraz said. "This is their opportunity to step up and shine."
2011-12 record: 14-5, 18-6
Top players: Seniors Robert Davis (G), Connor Delaney (G), Sean Harrison (F), Ryan Miller (G) and Sam Willsey (F).
What you need to know: Marcus Lewis returns as coach of a Mustangs' team that graduated three guys that averaged nine or more points a game last season. The good news is that Davis also was a double-digit scorer (10.1 ppg) and is back to run the offense. "He's the key for us, no question," Lewis said. "The funny thing with him is we are actually trying to get him to be more selfish. He's been able to defer to those around him in the past, but he needs to be a scorer this season."
Also working in the team's favor is having five guys on the roster that were starters on the soccer team that captured the program's fourth consecutive state title this fall. Four of them, Delaney, Harrison (7.3 rpg last year), Miller and Willsey, are expected to play major roles this year. "That winning mentality that they bring you can't replace," Lewis said. "The hope is some of that rubs off on the rest of the team."
Other guys that are expected to play significant minutes are guards R.J. Bryant and Alex Caffes, along with forward Markquice Stringfellow.
2011-12 record: 8-11, 9-12
Top players: Senior Diara Woodard (F); junior Zach Andreas (G); sophomores Connor Maloney (G), Aaron Smith (G) and Joey Trapuzzano (G).
What you need to know: It's been a tough offseason for the Vikings, who lost three of their top six scorers to graduation and then lost another two this fall to injury. Malik Gilmore, who would have been the team's top returner (11.8 ppg as a junior), tore his ACL playing quarterback for the football team and Brian Shade (4.1 ppg) is recovering from a concussion.
That leaves Woodard (7.6 ppg) and senior Colin Dohner as the lone holdovers that saw significant time a season ago. With five sophomores expected to see expanded roles around those two, coach Mike Linsenmeyer says it could take a little time for this group to hit its stride. "There is going to be a learning curve and some growing pains, but they are a good kids," he said. "We just have to try and get better every day and set realistic goals."
2011-12 record: 6-13, 8-15
Top players: Seniors Dajuan Dent (F), Lavon Long (F) and Joe Zayatz (G); juniors Michaud Reyna (G), Daivon Tapscott (G) and Marvin Williams (G).
What you need to know: For the third straight year the Scorpions feature a player of the year candidate. Long, one of three transfers into the program that are expected to make major impacts, can literally play all five positions on the floor and has already committed to play at Loyola next season. And while Long can certainly score with the best of them, coach Jon Browne says its not going to be a one-man show. "We won eight games last year with Antonio (Manns) scoring over 25 a night, so we need other guys to score if we want this year to be different," Browne said. "I have no doubt we will be a far more balanced team."
The speed and athleticism Oakland Mills can throw at teams will be downright scary at times, with the team's guard-tandem of Williams and Reyna looking to constantly push the tempo. Tapscott is the team's leading returning scorer (6.4 ppg as a sophomore) and Dent looks like one of the county's most improved players from a season ago. Zayatz will also be a key role player, excelling as a lock-down defender.
"It's going to be fun … the magic is back at the Mill," Browne said.
2011-12 record: 9-10, 13-12
Top players: Seniors Matt Christian (F), Brandon Franklin (F), Cody Toler (G) and Josh Williams (G); junior Aaron McDonald (G).
What you need to know: The Gators were the most balanced team in the county last year, featuring seven guys that averaged between four and 10 points a night. New coach Mike Coughlan expects much of the same again with this year's group. "I truly feel like we have two starting fives," Coughlan said. "The depth is a huge strength and we have guys that allow us to do a number of different things and give teams different looks. We're not going to be asking any one guy to do it all for us."
Toler is a dangerous 3-point shooter, making 26 from beyond the arc as a junior on his way to 6.8 points a game. Williams (6.5 ppg) and Christian (5.4 ppg) have also shown the ability to put points on the board, putting together five double-digit scoring nights apiece as juniors. McDonald, who is up from the JV, and Franklin, a transfer, will help offensively as well.
Not the biggest team in the county, Reservoir will wreak havoc in an up-tempo style that takes advantage of the team's athleticism. Junior Kyle Reilly, who came on strong at the end of last season after being called up from JV, is another guy to keep an eye on from his wing position.
2011-12 record: 4-15, 4-19
Top players: Senior Walt Moody (F); sophomores Gary Sandler (G) and Charlie Thomas (C).
What you need to know: On paper the Hawks are young, with two sophomores and a freshman slated to play major minutes this year, but the truth is that they are the only county team bringing back its three leading scorers from a season ago. "If you look at the classes you would think we were in a rebuilding cycle, but in reality that was actually last year with our freshmen being thrown into the fire," River Hill coach Matt Graves said. "They are ready for the challenges this year."
Moody (14.7 ppg and 7.3 rpg last winter) and Thomas (12.8 ppg and 7.0 rpg) are the team's horses down low and have the potential to be as good as any interior duo in the area. Everything runs through them, with plenty of capable role players slotted around the perimeter to make teams pay for double teams. Sandler was a starter last year and averaged 4.8 points a game. He will get backcourt help from fellow guards like senior Blake Coddington, junior Mike Titus and freshman Mike Heitzmann.
2011-12 record: 14-5, 17-6
Top players: Seniors Kalonji Callaway (G) and Eric Handy (F).
What you need to know: It was a breakthrough year last winter for the Wildecats, who improved by seven county victories and finished tied for second in the league. The bad news is that the top four scorers from that squad graduated, including a pair of double-digit guys in Dante and Devaughn Garner.
That means guys like Handy (7.8 ppg as a junior) and Calloway (2.7 ppg) will be asked to step up as leaders. Those two, along with forward Nick Matthews, are the only seniors on the roster. Support will be provided by several standouts from last year's strong JV team. Devon Groves and Khari Jackson lead that group.
Expect the Wildecats to rely on their guards, play a lot of man-to-man defense and push the tempo.
2011-12 record: 8-8 MIAA A, 18-14
Top players: Seniors Kevin Boyd (G) and Warren Powers (F); junior Chancellor Barnard (G).
What you need to know: The Dragons bring back their top two scorers in Powers and Boyd, along with a talented wing player in Barnard. Those three combined to average nearly 35 points a game last season and are the backbone of the team's defense. "Our strengths will be experience and defense, which is at the foundation of our basketball program," coach Kevin Quinlan said.
In all there are three guys on the roster who are four-year varsity guys, with Miguel Flores joining Boyd and Powers in that group. In addition to the star power, Glenelg Country has depth as well. Junior Boris Rajovic is a 6-foot-9 post-player from Montenegro that is in his first year with the program. Also keep an eye on sophomore guard Darryl Williams, who Quinlan says "made tremendous strides in terms of skill and agility in the offseason."
2011-12 record: 7-10 MIAA B, 15-16
Top players: Seniors Gordie Frierson (G), Chika Obi (C) and Traye Russell (G); junior Terrell Willis (G).
What you need to know: With a balanced mix of returning experience and talented younger players, the Yellowjackets certainly have the pieces to improve on last year's .500 record in conference play. Gordie Frierson, who made 58 3-pointers last winter, and Russell are the team's captains, while Obi is a multi-year starter that averaged 9.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game as a junior. Fellow senior Brinton Amobi is also expected to play a key role.
Willis is new to the program, having transferred in after spending time at Dematha/Archbishop Spalding earlier in his career, and is expected to make an immediate impact. He leads a group of underclassmen that also includes junior Chris Grandy, along with sophomores Malik Grandy and Matthew Frierson.
Consistency may be the biggest key, as Chapelgate failed to string more than three wins in a row together at any point last season.