HYDE — Clearfield Area High School boys basketball teams have provided plenty of excitement for their followers in two seasons under coach Nate Glunt, and the 2016-17 Bison should supply more of the same with four returning starters topping a nucleus of seven letterwinners.
Except for injury or illness, those seniors have been on the floor for every game during the Bison’s two-year run to District 9 Class AAA championships as well as the program’s first Mountain League title and a PIAA Tournament play-in game victory last season.
Three-year letterman Will Myers, a third-unit selection to the 2016 Pennsylvania Sports Writers All-State Class AAA Team and already the No. 8 scorer in Clearfield history with 1,002 points, heads the cast of returnees.
Classmates Tommy Hazel and Dave McKenzie also are two-year starters while Evan Brown broke into the lineup last season after coming off the bench to see extensive action as a sophomore.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with their whole commitment to the program since I started coaching them when they were sophomores,” Glunt said. “They’re so consistent in everything they do.
“They are dedicated. They work had. And they’re great leaders. Plus, they’ve worked in the offseason.
“They’ve put themselves in position to have success.”
They combined with big man Cody Spaid and top reserve Caleb Strouse for the bulk of the points and rebounds for the 23-3 team of a year ago.
Myers was named the Mountain League’s Most Valuable Player and landed on the All American Awards & Engraving D9Sports.com’s All-District 9 First Team after scoring 449 points, including 84 three-pointers that hiked his career total to a school-record 154.
He averaged 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
Hazel, who was tabbed for the All-Mountain League and All-District 9 second teams, checked in with 340 points, a 13.1 average, and a repeat would make him the ninth member of the Bison 1,000-Point Club. His two-season total stands at 679 points.
He drilled 48 three-pointers, and his next one will be career No. 100.
Hazel grabbed 167 rebounds for a 6.7 average and added 2.7 assists per game.
Brown gives the Bison a third threat on the perimeter as he knocked down 50 threes en route to averaging double figures with 275 points, while backcourt mate McKenzie (154 points) is solid on both ends of the floor.
Competing for the fifth starting job will be a pair of lettermen, senior Ethan McGinnis and junior Johny Gates, along with juniors Ryan Chew and Reese Wilson, who missed last season because of an injury.
Junior letterman Jake Sorbera is among a group of candidates for varsity action along with juniors Wyatt Porter and Josh Geppert, sophomores Keegan Hess, Taye Lynch and Ryan Lazauskas and freshman Cade Walker.
Glunt is very pleased with the makeup of his squad that boasts good overall height though lacking the size of a Spaid in the post.
To compensate for the loss of the Mountain League first-teamer and District 9 second-teamer who averaged a double-double with 257 rebounds, all five Bison will be crashing the boards, especially on the defensive end.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to do that, and they‘re doing a good job,” Glunt said, adding the Bison have worked a lot on positioning and boxing out.”
The Bison, who averaged 68 points a game last season, will continue to make the transition to offense in a hurry, though.
“Nobody’s leaking out, but once we do get the rebound, it’s time to go,” Glunt explained.
Opponents and fans should not expect to see any Bison pass up many good shots when left uncovered, even from three-point land.
Glunt has no qualms about his players taking those.
“They need to be on an attack mode,” he said. “Don’t just catch and pass. Shoot the ball when you’re open.
“If you’re good enough to play varsity basketball, you need to score. If you’re wide open, they’re playing five defenders on four, so you need to shoot. That’s my philosophy.”
Glunt stresses fundamentally-sound, tough defense that has limited foes to just over 40 points a game, and Glunt expects to see that for a third consecutive season.
Team goals remain unchanged, too, with a winning season and competing for league and district championships the most important ones, in that order.
Glunt rates Central, Tyrone and Huntingdon in the top tier of the league because of their returnees, adding Penns Valley always presents a challenge and Bellefonte and Philipsburg-Osceola will be improved.
With the PIAA adding two classifications, Clearfield will be in AAAA.
So will the other three former AAA hopefuls, and Glunt expects stiff competition with Punxsutawney returning three starters, St. Marys getting its two best players back and Bradford having its entire starting five intact.
Defending Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference champion Clarion-Limestone replaced St. Marys on the schedule, which also shows Clearfield paired against newcomer Northern Cambria and Purchase Line in back-to-back nights at Purchase Line. The latter games were booked when the Purchase Line Lions Club was unable to put together a four-team holiday tournament.
Glunt’s assistant coaches are former Bison head coach Donnie Shimmel, Erik Brown, Rob Lazauskas, Scott Way and newcomer Jason Gill.
“I’m really blessed and fortunate for those guys to be in our program right now,” Glunt said. “They do a great job helping me out. And they were with us all offseason, too.”
Spaid, who is playing for Pitt-Greensburg in the Division III Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, was one of four Bison who picked up their diplomas in June.
The others were Caleb Strouse, a member of the Penn State DuBois cage team; Carter Wood, who missed most of his senior season because of illness; and Sammy Evans.
“Carter didn’t play that much, but he was an excellent leader,” Glunt said. “He was one of those guys you have to have, a great example for younger kids to learn how to do things the right way.”
The roster, with (*) denoting letterwinner:
Seniors – Evan Brown (*), 6-2; Tommy Hazel (*), 6-3; Ethan McGinnis (*), 6-2; Dave McKenzie, 6-3 (*); Will Myers (*), 6-3; Jarrit Wagner, 6-2.
Juniors – Jake Billotte, 6-4; Ryan Chew, 5-10; Johny Gates (*), 6-2; Josh Geppert, 5-9; Wyatt Porter, 5-9; Jake Sorbera (*), 5-11; Reese Wilson, 6-3.
Sophomores – Nick Blowers, 5-8; Keegan Hess, 6-1; Barrett Kline, 5-11; Ryan Lazauskas, 6-0; Taye Lynch, 6-1; Cameron Thomas, 5-9; Mason Yocum, 6-2.
Freshman – Cade Walker, 6-0.
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The schedule, with (ML) designating Mountain League games and tip-offs at 7:30 p.m. unless noted:
9 – at Curwensville; 13 – CENTRAL (ML); 16 – at Huntingdon (ML), 7:15 p.m.; 19 – at Bellefonte (ML); 22 – TYRONE (ML); 29 – Northern Cambria at Purchase Line, TBA; 30 – at Purchase Line, TBA.
3 – at Brookville; 6 – at Bald Eagle Area (ML); 9 – at Central (ML); 11 – PENNS VALLEY (ML); 13 – at Philipsburg-Osceola (ML); 19 – CLARION-LIMESTONE; 20 – HUNTINGDON (ML); 23 – at DuBois; 25 – BELLEFONTE (ML); 27 – at Tyrone (ML); 30 – PUNXSUTAWNEY; 31 – BALD EAGLE AREA (ML).
3 – at Penns Valley (ML); 6 – CURWENSVILLE; 8- PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA (ML).