After balancing an 0-3 start with three straight wins last year, the Trojans exhausted their postseason bid by losing 12 of their final 14 games. But with three of their top four scorers returning and a balance of skilled frontcourt and backcourt players, coach Rob Ruys envisions the best results since the 2010-11 Class L run ended in the semifinals.
“We’re pretty talented this year,” Ruys said. “My first six are real solid and I trust them. It’s a matter of who steps up to give them a blow.”
Resourceful guard Kevin Ransom is a leader both by the numbers (19.7 points per game) and through his comprehension of Ruys’ ideology. He’s adept from the perimeter (33 threes) and running the fast break, many of which he’ll trigger with his quickness and anticipation on defense.
“Kevin’s like a cat,” Ruys said. “He picks guys’ pockets. He’s crafty, and he’s got players around him. He makes everybody better.”
Center Cam Regan (7.7 ppg.) hit a growth spurt that has him standing 6-foot-7.
“With his athleticism, he has to beat the other bigs up the floor to get some easy transition hoops, and he has to rebound,” Ruys said.
Jake Ranney (7.8 ppg.) swings between guard and forward and Patrick Doherty between forward and center when Ruys chooses to use a small lineup.
The other two players in Ruys’ primary rotation are short on varsity experience, but through football weight training added muscle to their hustle. Austin Ruiz, the offensive Most Valuable Player for the LH gridders, and Shakespeare Rodriguez can handle and rebound the ball.
“[New football coach Bill] Weyrauch did a great job with those kids,” Ruys said. “Shakespeare is a big kid (6-1), confident and strong in the weight room.”
Ruys will sift through the talent and maturity of three sophomore reserves and perhaps a few freshmen to round out his varsity portfolio. Sophomore Tyler Parente and freshman Lucas O’Reardon have the height, but must adjust to the rhythm and speed of the game.
“We’ve got a nice blend,” Ruys said. “They’re all tough kids and they’re more skilled than any group I’ve had.”
The Trojans have been placed in Division III in the new state tournament pecking order, but the Trojans still face two regular-season games against Hillhouse and Hamden from Division I.
“I like it,” Ruys said of the five-division structure. “I like the fact that there will be an extra state champion. I like that all the big boys are in one class, although I can’t understand why Xavier isn’t.
“We’re in the middle of the pack and it bodes well for us. We play in the SCC, so we should be battle-tested. I always like playing against teams like Hillhouse. They’re super-athletic, but it gives us a chance to dictate tempo by trying to run our stuff.”
Graduation losses? Divisional changes? Rams coach Dan Lee calmly shelves the things he can’t control.
“We lost a pretty big senior class (6 lettermen) — really four starters toward the end of the year — but the situation is the same … Kids are waiting their turn,” he said. “Juniors have always waited their turn and stepped up. I hope it’s the same this year.”
The lone returning starter is forward Eric Angelone (8.1 ppg.). Forward/star pitcher Ben DeLaubell (5.1) was sidelined the final third of the season, but has gained strength in anticipation of becoming a West Point plebe next fall. A bigger, stronger Will Graikoski, also a forward with significant experience in other sports, logged significant playing time a year ago.
Among the candidates to start in the backcourt, Matt Rosadino and James Pettit played some varsity minutes.
“The first five or six games are going to be a learning curve,” Lee said. “I’d like to come out of the gate quickly, but it’s contingent on acclimating to a varsity role.”
Aiden Godfrey, a 6-foot-7 sophomore center, will get his first taste of SCC competition. His classmate Alec Frione is competing for playing time in the backcourt.
“Playing a lot of people serves us well in our system, so the sophomores will compete for some varsity time,” Lee said.
The regular-season schedule remains loaded with home-and-homes against parochial giants Xavier and Fairfield Prep, but that’s life in the Hammonasset Division. But if the Rams can qualify for the states, they’ll be in Division II and they’ll be primed.
“We’ll see how it unfolds,” Lee said. “The SCC is challenging, so we’ll be prepared for the postseason. It will be a different challenge. Most of the [D2] teams are our size and we play many of them during the season.”
Razors aren’t likely to be on the gift list for the crew that coach Joe Gaetano has returning.
“This is the youngest we’ve ever been, so we’re reinventing the wheel,” said Gaetano, entering his 23rd season leading the Titans. “I’ve never been in a spot before where I didn’t have some varsity experience.”
He has some, but very little. Garrett Molampy was in the varsity rotation as a freshman, enough to be the top returning scorer at 2.3 points per game. Center Brett Gill is next on the experience list. Starting guard Austin Lee, guard Caden Cloutier and forward Mickey Deming occasionally had chances to mop up.
Two newcomers have intriguing credentials. Kris Jackson is a transfer from Virginia and versatile freshman Jack McDonnell will play varsity right from the start.
“McDonnell can play the 2, 3, 4 or 5. Jackson’s got a big upside, but will probably play off the bench,” Gaetano said.
Mark Amodio and Tyler Carman are pressing for playing time in the backcourt. Evan Mansfield has a forward slot waiting for him when he gets healthy.
“We have a solid 10 or 11 guys,” Gaetano said. “We have a lot of cohesiveness and good chemistry. We’re working on new stuff and they take it right in, but it might take time with our schedule.”
Inexplicably in this climate of constant divisional changes, the Titans face two games against Fairfield Prep, two against Xavier and two against Guilford, which this year may be the class of the Hammonasset Division.
“I like these kids,” Gaetano said. “I don’t know if it will translate into wins, but I think it will eventually. I see them getting better from practice to practice. Leadership will come from the seniors and the others will mature. They have to. It’ll be baptism under fire.”