With more maturity, Stow boys basketball looks to climb to top of National Conference

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Stow-Munroe Falls center Van Shyjka battles for the ball with Cuyahoga Falls last season. Shyjka returns as Stow's leading scorer from last season.

Dave Close is one of Northeast Ohio's most experienced basketball coaches.

So heading into last season, Close knew the Stow-Munroe Falls boys squad could be in for some ups and downs.

"The year before we graduated a bunch of seniors," Close said. "Unbeknownst to us, we also had some transfers in. Between the youth and transfers, there’s not a lot of background into our system. That was atypical for us.

"When the season started, it was hard," Close said. "In between, we played of spells of great basketball. In the tournament, we beat Kenston and we took Shaker Heights to the last play of the game. We had a some growth."

In the end, Stow finished at 11-13 last winter. With only reserve player Carter Kline graduating, however, Close is hoping to take a big step forward in his 33rd season in charge of the Bulldogs.

Close noted COVID-19 restrictions have taken a bite out of the Bulldogs' off-season. With nearly every starter and a ton of depth back from last season, Close won't lack for options.

"We have a 15-man roster," Close said. "The toughest decision I have is who's going to be playing minutes. Just the physical maturity in a year … that’s evident. Hopefully, we don’t have to go through all those ups and downs from last year. We want to carry the experiences from last season on."

Not much will change for them tactically. Close remains a devotee of screen-heavy motion offense and aggressive man-to-man defense, though Stow has gone to a zone at times.

"Our man-to-man is always our cornerstone," Close said. "Our kids do a great job in zone, though. My kids are playing it extremely well."

As for the National Conference, Close expects another wide open race.

"I think the league is going to be very good again," he said. "Wadsworth will be very intriguing. I think Falls has a got a good core back. They played us tough last years. Breckville is always good. North Royalton has the league MVP back."

Close's assistant coaches include varsity assistant Pat Knox, junior varsity coach Tyler Boyle and freshman coach Curtis Black.

Leading the senior class for Stow will be three-year varsity player Cale Marconi. Close wants his diminutive point guard (5-foot-9) to be a floor general.

"We need him to lead by effort," Close said. "He needs to seen as the model for our team."

Senior shooting guard Jack Costa (6 foot) is back after earning honorable mention all-leauge honors.

"He's a good athlete and tough kid," Close said. "He finished up really strong for us last year."

Senior Jack Bryden (6-1) started the latter half of the season at three-guard for the Bulldogs and will provide some solid defense.

Stow also got a boost with the return of senior forward Dalen Stovell (6-4). After foregoing his junior season to concentrate on football, the University of Toledo recruit will provide length off the bench.

Junior center Van Shyjka (6-4) was a revelation for Stow last season, averaging 11 points and about 5.5 rebounds per game as he gained all-league honors.

Shyjka is built like a tank, but has the basketball skills of a true center.

"He’s a difficult matchup problem," Close said. "He posts up hard. He can do anything around the basket. He’s got tremendous feet."

Junior combo Deon Horn (6-1) averaged 11 points a game in the first half of the season, but had to sit out the second half after transferring from Cuyahoga Falls.

"He was really starting to understand our system in the last few games he played," Close said. "He knows how to score. He really drives the ball well."

Another transfer in last season was junior 6-5 guard Marvin Campbell, who came in from Archbishop Hoban. Close said he has skills and can present matchup problems with his height.

Junior Luke Abernathy (6 foot) gets the call up from junior vasity and can play multiple positions, while junior Evan Droder (6-1) could see time at shooting guard.

Junior power forward Desmond Copeland (6-3) can provide help off the bench, as he was Stow's sixth man for much of last year.

Injuries and illness derailed much of last year for sophomore shooting guard Nick Timerlake (6-1), but his shooting prowess could have him see time.

Close called sophomore center AJ Pestello (6-5) a hard worker and the best natural shot blocker on the team.

Sophomore power forward Nate Booozer  (6-3) provides Stow with another hard-nosed post player, while sophomore point guard Titus Baskeville (5-8) could push for starting time.

"He's a really skilled passer," Close said. "It's fun to watch his set up his teammates for wide open shots."

Stow will have one varsity freshman in 6-foot-5 Reece Raymond-Smith, who could develop into the prototypical "stretch 4" for the Bulldogs.

"He’s skilled," Close said. "He's very good with perimeter shooting and passes the ball well. We’re really excited about his future."

Stow will be seeing green in its first two contests.

The Bulldogs open the season by hosting Aurora Saturday Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at James G. Tyree Gymnasium.

Stow will then travel to Green Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m.