Watterson High School boys basketball coach Vince Lombardo isn't sure if his team will be able to match last season's 28-1 overall record, which set the program record for wins in a season.
After all, the Eagles' schedule includes contests against 2013 Division II state semifinalist Vincent Warren (Dec. 23 at home), 2013 Division IV state champion Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph (Dec. 28 at Massillon Jackson) and Division I opponents Middletown (Jan. 11 on the road) and Westerville North (Jan 18 at home).
Lombardo, whose team opened Nov. 30 with a 74-63 win over Bexley to extend its program-record winning streak to 24 games, said he can live with more losses than last season as long as they help the defending Division II state champion Eagles make another postseason run.
In its first state tournament appearance in its 55-year history last season, Watterson defeated Kettering Alter 53-42 in a semifinal and beat Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 55-52 in the final.
"Our overall record may end up not being as good as it was last season because we've toughened up our schedule," Lombardo said. "But ultimately, our goal is to become a better basketball team and to prepare ourselves for the tournament, and I think playing a tough schedule is the best way to do those things."
Watterson has returned four starters in 5-foot-11 senior point guard Cody Calhoun, 6-5 senior post player Matt Hughes, 6-4 senior wing player Matt Lehmann and 6-3 senior wing player Andy Grieser. Also back is 5-9 senior point guard Tommy Geraghty, who started both state tournament games last season.
Last season, Hughes averaged 10 points and seven rebounds, Lehmann averaged 10 points and six rebounds and Calhoun and Grieser each averaged eight points.
Calhoun, Hughes and Lehmann all were named first-team all-CCL and honorable mention all-district and Grieser was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
The Eagles lost two players to graduation, including starting post player Bryan Jackson, who averaged 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks and was second-team all-state and first-team all-league and all-district.
"We're fortunate to have several experienced players returning off our state championship team," Lombardo said. "This senior group is a very dedicated group of players and they had a real productive offseason."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Joe DiOrio (6-3, post player), Mason Fisher (6-0, wing player), Ryan Lewis (6-2, wing player) and Greg Oman (6-2, wing player) and juniors Matt Froehle (6-2, post player), Avery Janning (6-4, post player), Ben Kaminski (5-11, guard) and Noah Matteson (6-6, post player).
"We definitely have some good size and quickness, so physically we should match up well with most of our opponents," Lombardo said.
Watterson, which begins CCL play Dec. 13 at Hartley, is aiming for its third consecutive league title. Last season, it went undefeated in league play (8-0) for the first time during Lombardo's 20-year tenure.
"It was just one of those magical years where we played well and everything seemed to go our way," said Lombardo, whose team was ranked second in the final state poll behind Dayton Thurgood Marshall last season. "We have high expectations for this season, but I've told our players that it's important that they enjoy this experience and not put too much pressure on themselves.
"We're not even thinking about the tournament right now. Our first goal is always to win the CCL, and that's always a big challenge. Ready, St. Charles and Hartley all return some quality players, and DeSales has a new coach (Joe Bills) who will bring them along. With the strength of our schedule, we've got to be prepared to play well every game."
Numbers growing for wrestling team
The wrestling team has nearly doubled in size since last season.
Watterson has gone from seven wrestlers at the end of last season to 13 this season.
The Eagles have returned four letterwinners in seniors Seth Cones (138 pounds), Mark Guza (126) and Michael Guza (132) and sophomore Ben Kring (120).
Last season, Cones had a 7-20 record at 138, Mark Guza finished 22-16 at 132, Michael Guza went 24-18 at 126 and Kring went 7-14 at 120.
Rounding out the roster are senior Michael O'Brien (160), junior Jack Haley (182), sophomore Karrington Norwood (170) and freshmen Will Fortkamp (heavyweight), Spencer Gregory (120), Aiden Heidel (126), Michael Massinople (195), Cal McAnninch (113) and Jason Mullenix (145).
"We have a pretty young team, but they've been in the room working hard since early November and we're seeing a lot of improvement so far," first-year coach Tom Martin said. "Our numbers are up from last year, so I think we're heading in the right direction.
"Although we have a fairly inexperienced team, about half of our kids are freshman, so we have a nice base to build on for the upcoming years. We still have a lot of work to do, but I'm happy with what I've seen up to this point."
Last season, Watterson finished last (79 points) in the five-team CCL tournament behind champion St. Charles (263).
The Eagles had two Division II district qualifiers in Michael Guza, who went 0-2 at 126, and 2013 graduate Nicky DiCarlo, who went 2-3 at 145 to place sixth, as the top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
Mark Guza was a district alternate at 132 last season.
"We are looking to build this program back up and make it relevant again, and it all starts with getting kids into the room," Martin said. "We've started reaching out to the feeder schools in an effort to drum up interest for our youth program."