The Magnolia Blue Eagle Boys' Basketball Team, with three starters and four of its top six players returning this year, appear primed and ready to make another run at a OVAC Class-AAA title and another trip to the state tournament.
MHS Head Coach Dave Tallman and assistant coaches Mark Blair and Larry West have 110 years experience, two state titles, 11 sectional championships, and have been in the final four every year that the OVAC went to a tournament format. And think they may have that special team once more.
Returning first team all-state is Mark "Special K" Winters (6'6"), who has worked on his game even more than the past and that means trouble with a capital "T." He averaged more than 23 points and 10 rebounds a game as a junior, when he exceeded 1,000 career points.
Winters is only as special as the supporting cast around him and he has quite a few to go around. The roster begins with the all-time MHS football wide receiver Stephen "Rogo" Rogalski (6'). Rogalski was hampered by a football injury to start the season last year and it took him awhile to get back healthy and ready to compete.
Then, there is power forward Zach Wilhoite (6'6") who is a player. He, like Winters, plays AAU ball and has worked on his game virtually 24-7 and gives opposing teams fits with his inside game and his relentless rebounding.
Lost to graduation last year were starters Jayson Keller, Nick Blatt, and sixth man Hunter Campbell, along with Tyler Myers off the bench.
It appears that Tallman might fill those slots with a number of players, starting with Drew Keller (5'9"), Kyle Elliot (6'1"), and freshman Preston Boswell (5'9").
Keller played a lot of varsity ball last season and played a key role in the Eagles' game plan. Elliott missed last season because of an injury, but will fit in nicely with the Blue Eagle run and shoot system. Boswell will give Magnolia a type of guard they have needed. Someone who can dish out the ball, play good defense, take care of the ball and breakup that last minute stall.
The Blue Eagles also have Garrett Emch (5'5"), a Linsly transfer, who will also see time at the point guard position. Mike Winters (6'6"), twin brother of Mark, will man as a second starting center.
In addition, there is junior guard Eric Smith, sophomore guard Spencer Campbell, and freshman forward/center Kyle Ritz (6'3").
Smith saw some varsity time last season, while Campbell paced the freshman team with more than 24 points a game. Tallman is high on Ritz, who will give the Eagles another big man who can rebound.
"As you can see, we can go big or we can go small. There are not many teams that have the size we do. Versatility will be one of our strengths," said Tallman.
He went on to explain," Rogalski and Elliott can score and will take a lot of the load from Mark on the floor. But, if he gets in foul trouble, we are still going to have a talented group out there."
Making things a little tough on the Eagles is their schedule. Since dropping down to a Class-A schedule, the Eagles lost a good portion of their home games and will only have 7-20 inside the MHS HammerDome this season.
"I think it will be great in preparation, but I feel for our loyal fans," said Tallman. "My players have worked so hard and we get such great fan support. That's why it's important for us to get off to a good start so we can host an OVAC game and a sectional game.
"It has been difficult in the scheduling, but we are going to have to be road warriors this season," concluded Tallman.
The Eagles open their 2012-13 season on the road against Wheeling Central Dec. 11 with the junior varsity game set to tip off at 6 p.m.