For the first time since the 1980s, the Swanton Bulldogs will be defending a Northwest Ohio Athletic League championship. Last season, Swanton shared the crown with Archbold and Wauseon after the three teams each lost to one another and sported identical 7-1 records.
“We have high expectations for this team,” said head coach Matt Smith. “We enjoyed a great season last year and won the first NWOAL championship in boys basketball since 1988. We want to compete for another league title this year and make a tournament run at the end of the year.”
The Bulldogs will be led by a three-headed monster of Bryce McComb, Robbie Gilsdorf, and Gunnar Oakes that opposing teams will be tasked with stopping.
McComb, a senior guard, is coming off two straight NWOAL scoring titles and was NWOAL Co-Player of the year last season. He averaged 18.5 points, 4 rebounds, 2.7 steals, and 2.1 assists per game, while also being named first team All-NWOAL, first team in District 7, and All-Ohio special mention.
He is joined in the backcourt by Gilsdorf, a senior point guard. He was first team All-District 7, and second team All-NWOAL while averaging 10.1 points, 6.3 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game.
Oakes, a junior wing, was honorable mention all-league after averaging 10.2 points and 6 rebound per game last season.
“We have three very talented and experienced players coming back including the leading scorer in the league, one of the top point guards in the area, and a great inside/outside scorer in Gunnar Oakes,” said Smith.
“Robbie has been an area leader in assists for the past two seasons. Bryce has now led the league in scoring the past two seasons and is 40 points away from his 1,000 point going into the season. Gunnar Oakes might be the biggest key to our season. He has unlimited potential and can score in a variety of ways. If he has the type of season he is capable of we will be difficult to beat most nights.”
There are some holes to be filled with five letter winners lost to graduation. Gone are honorable mention all-league performer Dylan Sanderson (7 ppg, 6 rpg), Clayton Ringle (8 ppg, 5 rpg), Thomas Bryant (6 ppg, 6 rpg), Liam Bloom (6 ppg), and Cody Arnold.
With those players lost, front court production will need to be replaced.
“We have no experience in the post position coming into the season,” said Smith. “We lost a good deal of rebounding and experience from last year’s team. I am very concerned with our overall depth as we are filling many spots with people who will be playing their first meaningful minutes.”
Newcomers looking to contribute for the Bulldogs include senior post Devin Jones and junior post Zach Dziengelewski.
“We are hoping Devin Jones and Zach Dziengelewski can man the inside for us and give at least the same production we enjoyed last season,” said Smith.
Mark Lair and Antonio Cervantes are both seniors the coach expects to play big roles this season. “Both young men had great summers,” said Smith. “Mark is a very good outside shooter and Antonio is a great rebounder and defender for us on the wing.”
Tanner Prentice and Duyane Goings are juniors that will need to step up from JV and give the Dogs quality minutes, according to the coach. “Tanner is a three-sport athlete and recent boys soccer Co-Player of the Year; he is one of our better defenders. Duyane has size and length that could be a match up problem for opponents as he gains experience.”
Smith sees the Bulldogs, Wauseon and Archbold as the top three teams in the league this season.
“The league looks very strong this year with multiple teams hoping to be in the mix for a championship at the end,” he said. “Our goal is to be that team at the end. We have made it very clear to our players that this is a new year and we have a huge amount of work ahead of us before we can even approach the subject of league titles. We can’t worry about anyone else in the league, because we have so much work to do for us to get better.”
Swanton opens the season at Evergreen Thursday in non-league action.
Drew Stambaugh can be reached at 419-335-2010