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New Catonsville boys basketball coach Evan Dougherty working with familiar faces on the court

Catonsville senior Brian Ruppel returns for the Comets at point guard where he started as a sophomore.
Catonsville senior Brian Ruppel returns for the Comets at point guard where he started as a sophomore. (Colby Ware/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Evan Dougherty’s first season as Catonsville’s varsity boys basketball coach was a challenging one since the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020-2021 season and he mentored his players virtually.

Fortunately, Dougherty was familiar with some of the players because he coached them on the Comets’ JV during the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 campaigns.

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Dougherty moved on to be the head coach at Patapsco High, where he inherited a two-win team and led them to nine victories in 2019-2020.

He is now leading a Comet squad that went 2-19 in the program’s last full season.

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This preseason got off to a rocky start for Dougherty, who replaces Dennis Keihm.

“I will admit we have been plagued by the injury bug here at the start,” said Dougherty, who teaches physical education and health at Catonsville.

“The first four days, counting tryouts, we had four guys go down and all four are pretty darn important to us,” Dougherty said.

Two of the injured players were projected starters in the backcourt, including 6-foot-1 senior Tariq Martin.

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“He is a really good player,” Dougherty said. “He’s strong, tough as nails, plays great defense and can also get up and down the court in transition.”

Martin entered concussion protocol on Nov. 29.

Dominic Brogdon, a junior transfer from Calvert Hall, dislocated his shoulder on the second day of tryouts and will go through physical therapy.

“He’s a pure shooter and has some good basketball awareness,” Dougherty said. “He plays at a high level of AAU ball.”

Fortunately, 6-foot senior Brian Ruppel is healthy in the backcourt and running the point after having a banner sophomore season.

“He’s our rock, he’s our leader out there,” Dougherty said. “He is just solid in all ways. It will be great to have him out there.”

Ruppel is coming off a soccer season where he was the goalie for a team that made it to the state quarterfinals. In the spring, he will play goalie for the defending state finalist lacrosse team before he moves on to Maryland on a lacrosse scholarship.

“We have some other quick guys in the backcourt,” Dougherty said. “We are definitely going to be a team that needs to turn you over and run you and transition and score. We are a team that is going to try and get as many paint touches as we can and get to the foul line. Those are our strengths.”

The rest of the backcourt includes seniors Isaiah Coles, William Fox, Relly Jones, Bishop Turnquist, junior guards Romhai Getachew and Aaron Mekonen, and sophomore Michael Owens.

The coach has stressed conditioning during the early practices.

“We have some quickness, so that is something we are focusing on right now, trying to get them in shape,” he said.

That includes the big men, led by Reggie Byrd — a 6-foot-4 senior who is the tallest player on the team.

“He’s our only true center,” Daugherty said. “The other ones that we consider forwards are just kind of slashers.”

Others expected to contribute in the paint include Ethan Gutberlet, Gabriel Rawson, Kenrick Smith and Sean Ryan. Ryan was the starting quarterback on the football team.

Dougherty kept 15 players, noting it is the most he’s ever had.

“We have a really good group of guys and it’s next man up here and we have a lot of good attitudes,” he said. “I think it’s better for us to have a bigger team this year. They all really deserve to be here. They are all hard workers and good kids.”

Getting to know all of his players was aided by the virtual sessions the team went through during the lost COVID season.

“A lot of this core crew that we have on my team were a part of the virtual things and it’s really, really cool to now get those guys that were committed in the virtual world to finally have them on the court and put in some of those things that we learned virtually,” Dougherty said.

The coach holds study hall before practice to develop team bonding, life skills and leadership.

“We do work on a lot of team building stuff, which is good,” he said.

Dougherty plans to showcase his boys team, along with Mike Mohler’s Catonsville girls team, on Friday, Dec. 3 at high school Midnight Madness.

The evening begins at 6 p.m. and includes an alumni game, scrimmages and fun games for the fans. The CHS Steel, Catonsville’s steel drum band, will be performing.

“It’s going to be a fun school and community event for us to kick off the season,” Dougherty said.

Catonsville opens its regular season on Monday, Dec. 6 at home (5 p.m.) against Woodlawn.

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