There will be no easing into the season for Tim Tessmer or the team he coaches.
Trinity High School’s first-year basketball coach will put his young team against a talented Washington High School squad at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the first of two games in the Canon-McMillan Tip-Off. The Big Macs take on Burgettstown at 8 p.m.
Tessmer, who replaces Stan Noszka, is retooling the Hillers after graduation took the core of last year’s group: guard Christian Koroly, forward Corey Hunsberger, forward Jared Deep and forward Steve Vorum. Koroly averaged 15.7 points per game.
“I’m looking forward to this game,” said Tessmer. “When the two crosstown rivals play, it’s always a good thing. We’ve talked to them about making this a home-and-home series. We’re a young team and we have to be ready to play.”
The Hillers, who finished 11-11 after losing seven of the final nine games, will start three seniors and two juniors. In that first group are Avery King, a 6-2 power forward; Mitch Kendra, a 5-10 shooting guard; and Chuck Fullerton, a 6-2 center. Nick Moretti, a 5-10 guard, and Beau Baldwin, a 6-2 swingman, round out the starting five.
“I’d like to have an eight or nine-man rotation,” Tessmer said. “It will be dictated on who is ready to play. We’ve lost a lot, but we’ll see. We’re putting kids into situations they haven’t been in before.”
The Hillers saw a strong running team in a scrimmage with Uniontown last week, and it gave them a chance to gauge what Wash High’s uptempo offense will be like.
“Uniontown is fast and pressed us all over the place,” said Tessmer. “But all the mistakes are correctable.”
The Prexies also were hit hard by graduation, losing forward Jaylin Kelley and guard Josh Wise, who was the Observer-Reporter’s Player of the Year after averaging nearly 22 points per game.
“We’ve got a solid nucleus coming back,” said Wash High coach Mark Gaither. “I think we’re going to surprise some people. We’re not young, but we don’t have a lot of (experienced players). I think we have a lot of depth this year.”
Wash High does not have a player returning who avgeraged in double figures last season so the opportunity is there for a leader to emerge. Senior Dupree Jenkins, a 6-0 senior, will be the shooting guard and Jonathan Spina, a 5-7 junior, will be the point guard. The frontcourt will be made up of Quorteze Levy, a 6-1 senior, and two 6-3 players in sophomore Nate Swart and junior Elijah Gordon.
“We have some length,” said Gaither, “and I feel we can go 10 deep.”
Two players to watch will be the cousin tandem of Matt and Anthony Popeck, two guards whose fathers Mark and Chris were part of the Prexies’ state championship teams of the 1980s. Matt is a 5-9 freshman and Anthony a 5-10 sophomore.
Canon-McMillan lost eight seniors and four starters from last year’s 11-12 team that made the playoffs.
“A lot of teams in our (section) are in the same situation as we are,” said C-M head coach Rick Bell. “Every team has lost three or four starters, and every team that made the playoffs has lost their leading scorer.”
In the Big Macs’ case, that would be Brett Haney, a first-team selection on the O-R’s All-District Team who averaged 17 points a game. Sam Bohn, a 5-10 junior point guard is the only starter back.
“I like this team,” said Bell. “They worked hard in the offseason. There is an opportunity there for them.”
Maybe the most intriguing player for the Big Macs is Costa Karanikos, a 6-0 senior guard who lived in Australia before arriving at C-M last year. He’ll be on the wing with 5-10 junior Alex Hammers.
In Querraun Talley, C-M has a 6-4 senior who can play the 4 or 5 spot. Talley missed the last two seasons with injuries.
“We’re a real, young team,” said Bell, “so I’m focused on us right now.”
Tessmer won’t be the only area coach to make his debut when the winter sports season begins tonight. Among the other newcomers is former West Virginia and California University player Drew Schifino, who is in his first season as head coach of the Waynebsurg boys team. The Raiders play Chartiers-Houston in the first round of the McGuffey tournament.
At the opposite end of the boys basketball coaching spectrum is Carmichaels’ Don Williams, who begins his 39th season with the Mikes. Carmichaels plays Renaissance Christian Academy in the first round of a tournament at Jefferson-Morgan.