In 23 years of coaching Centennial boys basketball, Jim Hill can't recall a challenge that is similar to the one that is now upon him this season.
This he does know: It's a welcome challenge.
With five of his six top players gone from last year's surprise county title team, Hill and his staff have the chance to teach the basics of basketball. He's encouraged by the response he's received from an inexperienced, but eager group.
"We're starting at square one with our team-defense philosophy," said Hill, who has guided the Eagles' program to six county titles. "We see this as a challenging year and it's really exciting for me because it really does mean I have to rely on teaching."
The veteran coach estimates having about 10 points per game back from last year's team with senior forward Scott Swinson, the lone starter returning, averaging seven.
Gone is roughly 45 points, including the 16 points that county Player of the Year Chris Moore took when he transferred to Howard. All-County guards Drew Seter and Rick Anderson graduated and the Eagles' top big man off the bench last year, Matt Cross, moved to South Africa to live with his father.
Expected to fill the void will be junior guards Alex Bechta and Pat Speiter; along with frontcourt players Luke Beckmann, Korey Conyers and Riley Fritts.
With the varsity and junior varsity running the same offensive sets, Hill isn't overly concerned about his team scoring points. The emphasis in practice has been playing strong team defense with weakside help a must.
The Eagles will open their season at 5:30 p.m. today against visiting Wilde Lake.
"I really believe it's a great chance to spend time with the kids and teach new techniques. And by the second half of the season, we hope to be in sync and see what happens next," said Hill.
Looking to 2006
It wasn't long after his Hawks lost a disheartening 30-21 decision at Gwynn Park of Prince George's County in Saturday's Class 3A state semifinal that River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen was looking to next season.
"We have several key guys back in our quarterback, tight end-receiver Greg Nowak and Zach Martin, a linebacker who will step in at fullback for us next year as a junior," said Van Deusen, who led the Hawks into their first state semifinal and a school record for wins (11-2). "Martin should be a big back for us. So, we expect to be in this position again next year."
Quarterback Dan Hostetler ran for a touchdown (his 11th) and tossed two touchdown passes, to fellow junior Greg Nowak (18 yards) and senior Josh Hostetler (25 yards), his cousin.
Dan Hostetler, who also played linebacker and had three interceptions, finished the season with a school-record 17 touchdown passes, breaking the record of 16 set by his older brother, Ben Hostetler, last season.
Nowak led the Hawks in receiving with 34 catches for 497 yards and seven touchdowns.
Martin led the Hawks in tackles with 157, 87 unassisted with 20 for losses. Martin, 5 feet 9 and 165 pounds, also had six sacks.
River Hill had a total of 20 underclassmen on its 35-man roster this season.
Howard County was well-represented on the Maryland Association of Coaches of Soccer All-State teams, placing 19 players, including seven first-team selections.
River Hill defender Matt Stara and midfielder Tyler Meade, both seniors, were first-team picks on the boys side, joined by Atholton senior midfielder Grayson Schmelzer and Mount Hebron junior defender Zach Barnett.
First-team picks on the girls side were Centennial forward Lily Boleyn and midfielder Danielle Rosanova, both seniors, and River Hill junior forward Erica Thiesen.
Chosen to the boys second team were Mount Hebron junior forward Justin Martinelli and River Hill senior goalie Matt Moss, while Oakland Mills senior defender Kevin Gibson, Long Reach senior midfielder Orlin Cruz and Atholton junior forward John Beltran made honorable mention.
Making the girls second team was Glenelg junior defender Alissa Bourne, Mount Hebron junior defender Kara Passarelli and Wilde Lake senior defender Nikki Welch. Honorable mentions were senior goalie Chelsea Binder and junior midfielder Kathryn Lally from Mount Hebron, along with Glenelg junior forward Diana Apel and Centennial senior forward Sarah Thomas.
Oakland Mills boys soccer coach Mike Libber has stepped down after two seasons.
Libber, who took over for longtime coach Don Shea, said the daily commute from his home in Middle River in Baltimore County became too much of a burden. After a 3-10-1 season in 2004, the Scorpions rebounded with a 7-6-2 mark this fall.
Sun reporter Pat O'Malley contributed to this article.