Francis Scott Key's boys basketball team enters its fifth season under coach Ryan Kimble with higher expectations than ever.
The Eagles went 8-15 a year ago, which equaled the amount of wins from the previous two seasons combined. Kimble has nearly everyone returning and this could be the season he's been building toward.
"I think this is the year that we turn the corner," Kimble said. "I have the utmost respect for all the other teams in the county, but I think we are worthy of being in that talk for the county title."
FSK is the only Carroll team that returns all five starters from last year, in addition to three key reserves.
"I think it really helps to have all of the starters back," Kimble said. "I'm proud to have a group of kids that work so hard - they play a lot in the offseason. They run a lot of open gyms and play AAU together, we're really proud of the way our boys have worked."
One of those returning eight players is senior Max Bell, the only player in the county to average a double-double during the 2011-12 season. Bell averaged 11 points and a county-best 14.3 rebounds per game, but he is aiming to take his game higher.
"I've just been working more on my all-around game. Last year I was more of a post player and a rebounder," Bell said. "But now I've been practicing my dribbling and shooting and playing outside more on the perimeter now."
The high expectations for this Eagles' team extend beyond just Kimble.
"We have a lot of team chemistry and we've all been working hard since the end of last season throughout the summer and the fall," Bell added. "We definitely want to have a better record than last year. We want to beat some big teams and hopefully go far in the playoffs instead of getting knocked out in the first round like last year."
Another senior that Kimble will be leaning on for higher production is Blake Straitman, who can be a threat with his balanced all-around game.
"[Straitman] has always been a good, real versatile player on offense and has stepped up so far in the scrimmages and in practice every day," Kimble said. "He's been one of our offensive leaders and I think he is going to score a lot more."
Kimble pointed to another senior, Chris Myers, as a quality defender whom he expects to contribute offensively as well. Returning senior Justin Brown will play the point for the Eagles and will have to continue to be a consistent outside threat to alleviate extra pressure on the post players.
For the Eagles to have county and postseason success, it will take improvement from the team as a whole, and Straitman can already see some of those improvements from last season.
"This year we have a lot more focus and we are a closer team," said Straitman. "We just want it more and that motivates us to come out and do our best every day."
The Eagles will tip off their season tonight at Oakdale, and Kimble said he expects to be a competitive team from the start with his experienced players.
"After the first scrimmage, Brown came up to me and said, 'Coach, everything seems so much easier this year, everything seems slower,'" Kimble said. "I think that's the value of having kids with experience. I've never had this much experience or depth of talent on a team before."