GROTON — When most coaches lose their entire starting five from a team that finished 16-7 and made it to the District semi-finals, there is an air of concern surrounding their team as the new season approaches. Then again, most coaches aren’t like Keith Woods.
Entering his 15th year at the helm of the Crusaders, Woods believes that his new-look team can surprise many in the upcoming campaign.
“We do not have a lot of varsity experience on this team as only four players have ever set foot on a court in that type of setting, but this team has a great attitude and the chemistry is outstanding,” said Woods. “I thought that we had a great summer and the team has continued to grow in the preseason. There might not be much expected from us after losing 11 players last year, but I believe we can get to the Clark and Districts and make some noise.”
Making up four-fifths of the starting lineup is a group of senior captains. Center Phil Dubay, power forward Charles Hill, small forward Coleman Hill and shooting guard Matt Conlin will be looked upon to provide leadership to an inexperienced group. “Phil has some starting experience from last season and is a good rebounder with a real nose for the ball,” said Woods. “He can run the floor and has a real nice pull-up jumper. In the post, he has some decent moves and is improving them day in and day out.
“Charles is a strong and aggressive player who will draw the opponents best post player on defense. He is a strong rebounder who works hard in the interior and is working on his offensive game. Coleman is another tenacious defender who uses his physical style of play and quickness to his advantage. I am looking for him to get most of his points in transition and be a key on our break. Matt had a great off-season, has a strong work ethic and a strong outside shot. He can score in bunches when he gets hot from the outside, but is also very aggressive going to the basket.”
Taking the other starting spot is freshman point guard Corey Romich. “What we have in Corey is a very promising young player who plays well beyond his years,” said Woods. “He has a good shot, great court vision and has become a leader on the floor for us. Corey is a competitor who is going to do anything to help his team win, and I would say his potential is unlimited.”
When Woods goes to his bench, depending on the matchup, he will look first to either juniors Clint DeLong or Scott Csaplar or sophomore Drew Moore. “Clint will play both guard and forward and has the ability to score in a lot of ways,” said Woods. “He is a good finisher at the rim and will provide and offensive spark off the bench, but it is also a strong defender.
“Scott will be a post player for us and has a soft 10- to 12-foot jumper and solid moves inside. He has displayed a great attitude and is willing to do anything we ask of him. Drew is a great athlete who can score in transition or from the outside. He is a good passer and has the tools to play either guard spot and excel.”
Providing depth in the backcourt will be senior Dan Roper, junior Matt Werner and freshman Shane Dawson. “Dan is making the transition from being a manager last year to a player this year and it is due to his work ethic and heart,” said Woods. “He had a great summer and can provide a lift to the team when he is on the floor. Matt is a solid ball handler with excellent court vision. He is working on the other aspects of his game every day. Shane is fast and aggressive. He has great potential and showed a lot of good things in the try-out stage.”
In the frontcourt, senior Jean Perssissin-Fabert and juniors Bobby Flanagan and Eric Parson will all be in the mix to contribute. “Jean is an exchange student who is very athletic and very raw,” said Woods. “He has potential and we are working to get as much of him as we can. Bobby is athletic and has a very good shot. He is learning the system and the game and is coming along nicely. Eric is a banger who isn’t afraid to mix it up down low. He also has an effective shot and good passing skills for his size.”
With all the new faces, Woods knows it may be a struggle, but he likes the hand he has been dealt. “We have a difficult schedule with a lot of early tests, so we will find out where we stand early,” said Woods. “But I think by the time we get into the league, we will be competitive and can make a run at it. This group has come together in a hurry and work as a unit, which is how we are going to have to win games. I think we have a chance to be a lot better than people may think.”