GROTON — The Groton-Dunstable boys basketball team finished four games below .500 a year ago at 8-12.
Now. the Crusaders’ confidence levels are sky-high after a 3-1 preseason weekend down on Cape Cod.
Groton-Dunstable continues play in the always strong Midland B conference, but things just got a whole lot more interesting with the league addition of “Border War” rival, North Middlesex.
So, what’s the goal for the Crusaders in the 2014-2015 season?
Qualifying for districts is on the list, but there is still one thing that has escaped the Groton-Dunstable boys the last few seasons. “We really want to make it back to the Clark Tournament,” second-year head coach Greg Gillette said. “The bottom line is we want to qualify. That is the big goal of the kids and myself this season — it’s just a great experience.”
Groton-Dunstable crept into the playoffs last season, where it suffered a quarterfinals 77-44 loss to eventual Central Mass. champion Concord-Carlisle.
That large deficit of defeat does not sit well with Groton-Dunstable, as it prepares for the regular season. Groton-Dunstable will be led into battle by its two captains, junior point guard Corey Romich and senior center Ronnie Peck.
Romich is a four-year varsity starter, who has really taken his game to a new level coming into his junior season. The 6-foot-4 junior suffered a setback during the football season, as a shoulder injury sidelined him for much of the fall season.
“Ronnie knows his role,” Gillette said. “He is a little undersized at the center position, but he does a nice job of boxing out underneath and getting the tough rebounds. He conceptually understands the game.”
Romich appears to have recovered nicely, as his shot looks to be in midseason form. He and sophomore Tyler LeClerc put in some extra shooting practice following Monday’s practice session.
“Corey is a very confident team player,” the coach said. “He’s our facilitator. Romich is our key player, who will run a lot of stuff for us. He is an excellent shooter and a tremendous leader. Romich leads the right way by example and verbally.”
LeClerc is a strong shooter and has a vast array of skills that will help the Crusaders be successful.
Sophomore forward Gavin Keough came into his own very early in the season last year. He gives the Crusaders some added size at forward.
“Gavin is just a stud,” Gillette said. “He is a very versatile player, who can do anything. He can rebound and do anything. He has a very high basketball IQ.”
If the other team has a very strong scorer, chances are senior Drew Moore will draw the honor of guarding him.
“He is our stopper,” the coach said. “He did a great job for us doing that last year. I don’t think that he let another team’s best player ever go crazy on us. We were fourth in CMass. in points allowed — that’s what kept us in a lot of games.”
Finding their niche
Sophomore Logan Higgins is a quick, scrappy point guard off the bench for the Crusaders. Higgins gives Groton-Dunstable a one-two punch with LeClerc. They’re quick natty-like guards who can provide a lot of ball pressure. Those two really did well for us this weekend.”
Junior Danny Howes is a tough physical player, who can finish near the hoop. Ethan Cook is the Crusaders’ sharp-shooter off the bench, but that’s not the only skill he brings. He creates turnovers.
“Howes drew three charges over the weekend,” Gillette said. “Danny is a heady player, I give them cheeseburgers when they draw charges — I call it the charges for cheeseburgers program.”
Senior Parker Blodgett provides Groton-Dunstable with some size and depth off the bench. Senior Joey Orlando returns to the basketball after sitting out last season with a hand injury.
“Joey can shoot it very well,” he said. “Orlando brings an added element of toughness. He will find time off the bench for us. His competitiveness and hard work will definitely be rewarded.”
Junior Brandon Medeiros is a tough, gritty defender who will give Gillette an option off the bench in key situations.
Groton-Dunstable is ready for the season to start tonight in a Midland A crossover game at Shepherd Hill.
“The Rams have a first-year head coach, so it is going to be difficult to dig up a scouting report on them,” he said. “Our biggest strength this season is our chemistry. We have good team speed, and I expect us to push the ball better.
“The league is better with NM coming in,” said Gillette, “so I don’t think we will be able to sneak into the tournament like we did last season.”
Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout: @EdNiser.