With the team's roster nearly depleted by graduation after last season, Noah Tomlinson knew he would have to handle more of the workload for the Grove City Christian School boys basketball program this winter.
Although the Eagles have struggled at times, Tomlinson is leading them in scoring and rebounding and has emerged as the team's emotional leader during games and practices.
The 6-foot-5 senior forward is the only returning starter from a team that reached a Division IV regional semifinal last season, losing to Portsmouth Clay 100-97 in double overtime to finish 22-5.
"In (Tomlinson's) mind, this season is more significant than the previous (one) because it's his opportunity to take the group on his shoulders and he accepts that," coach Chris Timlin said. "It's evident in practice every day. He's the voice of the program. He enjoys being the voice of the program, but he wants to win.
"Noah is a high IQ, very coachable young man. I'm going to miss him to death when he's gone. He's terrific."
The Eagles, who lost eight players from a season ago to graduation, fell to 4-8 overall with a 56-46 loss to Worthington Christian on Jan. 15 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Senior guard Isaac Harmeyer led with 12 points.
With his increased leadership role, Tomlinson took the blame for a 69-43 loss to visiting Fisher Catholic on Jan. 11 that dropped Grove City Christian to 1-5 in the MSL-Cardinal Division.
Tomlinson was forced to the bench with two early fouls and picked up his third foul early in the second quarter. Tomlinson and senior guard Riley Peters each finished with 10 points.
"This was on me in the first half," Tomlinson said. "I had three fouls early on. I got to play about four minutes in the first half. It's probably one of the worst games of my career. I didn't score in the first half and I played pretty badly in the second half, too. This one is on me."
Tomlinson and Harmeyer each scored eight points in an 83-43 league loss to visiting Harvest Prep on Jan. 6.
Through 10 games, Tomlinson was averaging 16.3 points and 9.2 rebounds. Last season, he averaged 9.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Tomlinson plans on playing in college and has received offers from several schools.
Despite the Eagles' disappointing record at the midway point of the season, Timlin believes they still can be a force in the postseason.
His confidence is boosted by the fact that former Division IV powers Harvest Prep, Newark Catholic and Wellington have moved to Division III.
"If we keep working, keep practicing, keep watching film, I still think we're going to be a really difficult team to deal with in February," Timlin said. "I don't know if anyone is going to want to see us in (the first two rounds of the district tournament). It may not seem that way right now, but we have some things that we're going to start shaking up and we're going to keep working hard."
Fisher Catholic remains a contender in Division IV, and it will play host to the Eagles on Feb. 13. The Irish were 7-4 overall and 5-1 in the MSL-Cardinal before playing Harvest Prep on Jan. 16.
Last season, the Eagles won their first district title and second consecutive MSL-Cardinal championship. They shared the league title with Harvest Prep for the second year in a row, as both went 9-1.
This season, it appears Grove City Christian will be relegated to playing a spoiler role in the league.
"We're all disappointed in ourselves," Tomlinson said. "We all think that we can compete at the highest level against any team in Division IV. Everybody is disappointed with our play, but we're getting better as the season goes along.
"These are my brothers. I wouldn't trade this for the world. I wouldn't want to do this with any other guys, win or lose."
Girls basketball team earns first league win
The girls basketball team fell to 3-11 overall with a 47-33 loss to visiting Delaware Christian on Jan. 13 as Naomi Carter scored 10 points.
The Eagles are 1-7 in the MSL-Cardinal. They defeated visiting Millersport 34-23 on Jan. 9 for their league win as Maddie Lewis led with 10 points.
The Eagles lost at Wellington 52-20 on Jan. 11 as Cotter scored 11 points.
Below are the coming schedules for the Grove City Christian boys basketball and girls basketball teams:
*Jan. 18 -- At Millersport
*Jan. 20 -- At Zanesville Rosecrans. The Eagles defeated the Bishops 58-45 on Dec. 9.
*Jan. 20 -- At Rosecrans. The Eagles lost to the Bishops 54-34 on Dec. 9.
*Jan. 23 -- Home vs. Fairfield Christian. The Eagles lost to the Knights 70-25 on Dec. 12.