Middletown returns two stalwarts in junior point guard Shawn Strickland and senior forward Mikie Rhodes. Both were selected to the CCC South All-Star Team last season and Rhodes was Honorable Mention All-State. Strickland, a smooth and intelligent point guard and Rhodes, a bulldog inside who totaled 13 double-doubles last season, will be the go-to-guys in every contest. But the pair will receive a lot of support from their talented and versatile teammates.
Head Coach Dave Sytulek says the Blue Dragons strengths should be their team defense, speed and especially their depth. Four of five starters are returning for Middletown after a disappointing 10-10 season, and according to Sytulek, his team can go 10 deep.
One key returnee will be 6-4 junior center Taji Owens. Owens gives his squad much needed height and has to be Middletown’s ace rebounder to help the team neutralize what Sytulek declares its biggest weakness.
The Blue Dragons will be tested early in the competitive Central Connecticut Conference. Middletown opens on Wednesday at New Britain, followed by road games versus Prince Tech of Hartford and CCC south rival Berlin. The schedule in December is not an early one, but it will immediately give Middletown a chance to prove their goals for the season are realistic ones.
“Our goals are to have a winning record and contend in the CCC South,” said Sytulek. “We expect to be able to compete every game. By the end of the season, we hope to get a solid tournament seed and make a good run in the postseason. But it all depends on tourney matchups.”
The Falcons are loaded inside. Xavier has five key players who are 6-2 or taller. All are seniors. Needless to say, Xavier should be a strong rebounding team and have an advantage on the board in almost every game.
Jovan Santos-Knox will be the main man in the middle for the Falcons. The 6-3 senior forward earned All-SCC Quinnipiac honors last season after racking up 12.5 ppg and 9.5 rpg. He is supported in the frontcourt by 6-6 senior Michael Mannion, who grabbed just over seven rebounds per contest.
The backcourt is another matter. As experienced and reliable as the frontcourt should be, the Falcon’s lack of experience at the guard position outside of senior Pat D’Amato stands out. The team’s success this season will be determined by how quickly those guards develop.
“We are trying to find a point guard,” Head Coach Michael Kohs told the Middletown Press. “Right now Stefan Opalacz looks to be the guy, but no question, being able to hand the ball is my biggest concern.”
Other key guards who will need to play well for Xavier to succeed are juniors James Sullivan and Lucas Haneen.
Xavier went 16-9 and won the Quinnipiac Division with a 6-2 mark before falling in the quarterfinals of the Class LL tournament. With seven seniors on this year’s squad, the Falcons are leaning on that experience to help them exceed last season’s accomplishments.
“We hope to win 12 or 13 games at least,” stated Kohs to the Press. “As usual Hillhouse and Wilbur Cross, both of which we play twice, will be very good. I expect Hamden to be good and Fairfield Prep returns Terry Tarpey, who is being courted by several colleges.”
Xavier starts play tonight at home with Sheehan of Wallingford at 7:00.