Last year’s Carroll County Athletic League boys basketball season saw one team win 20 games, and another advance to the state quarterfinals. The 2019-20 campaign also featured a senior surpass 1,000 career points, and another lead the county in scoring and rebounding en route to earning Times Player of the Year.
Those seniors are gone, and those teams have new faces in starting positions. Plus, the county has a modified schedule that’s about to tip off amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So let’s take a look at some things to watch for CCAL boys basketball for 2021.
Plenty of hoops in a short time
The season begins Wednesday with three games, highlighted by the Century-Liberty rivalry adding its latest chapter. Carroll teams are preparing for six weeks worth of games, with contests scheduled on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The winter season is slated to conclude Feb. 12, and county officials recently agreed to make the games count — a Carroll County Athletic League champion will be determined by winning percentage.
Each team has 12 games on its schedule, and there won’t be any traveling outside of Carroll to compete. Century, the reigning county champ, has crosstown rival Liberty in their season opener. Last winter the Knights went 11-1 in CCAL play and hosted Liberty in the Class 2A West Region 1 final, a game dominated by the Lions in a 54-38 win. Liberty captured its first regional crown, after losing twice to Century during the regular season, and became Carroll’s last boys team standing.
The Lions bowed out in the state quarterfinals March 7 against New Town; everything changed the following week. But games are back and county teams are eager to play.
“We’re all really excited and pumped up,” said Ryan Rill, a junior forward at Francis Scott Key. “We’ve been waiting a long time. We’re just glad we can finally get to it.”
Pivotal players returning
The Times’ all-county first team graduated half of its 2020 selections, but four players are back from that squad as well. Rill is one of them, having averaged 14.2 points and 7.6 rebounds as a sophomore. He also shot 50.7% from the floor, second best in the county a year ago.
Also back from the most recent first-team all-county picks are Century senior guards Colby Owings and Noah Riley, and Liberty junior guard Shane Stewart. Riley’s 17 points per game were second most in Carroll last winter, and he led the county in 3-point shooting percentage at 44.3. Riley also averaged 3.4 assists, while Owings averaged 10.8 points and 2.5 assists, and shot 78% from the free-throw line.
Stewart came in a 8.8 points per game and shot 47.6% for the regional champion Lions.
A few key names of players that are gone include Manchester Valley grad Brett DeWees, the reigning Times Player of the Year who led Carroll with 17.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in 2019-20. Also graduated is Westminster alum Chandler Gentzel, who last season surpassed 1,000 career points (he finished with 1,116) and averaged 11.6 points per game.
Recent grads Denio Blaney (Westminster), Peyton Scheufele (Liberty), Connor Stewart (Liberty), and Justin Wunder (Century) were also on the all-county first team last winter.
Familiar faces along the sidelines
Carroll has two new boys coaches this winter. David Wynne is the new coach at Winters Mill after coaching the Falcons’ girls basketball team for the past nine seasons. Wynne played varsity basketball at Westminster High (Class of 2000), and he’s taking over for Devon Lesniak after the former Falcons standout coached his alma mater for three seasons.
Meanwhile, Steve Byrnes is back at helm at Westminster. Byrnes was the Owls’ coach for six seasons, from 2009-15. He replaces Brett Kanther, who ended his second stint (10 years combined) as Westminster’s coach following last season’s 16-7 (10-2 CCAL) campaign. Byrnes led Westminster to the county title in 2013.