96 W's in four years gets people's attention. Most notably if their teams wear some shade of purple with gold or white. The Panthers are now a 'national team'. Translated simply it means "The Boys" are a target every night. Some of the Panther faithful, still giddy from last season's ride, wonder if there'll be an encore.
The Nescac has been rated as the toughest conference in the country based on the last 3 seasons members beating up outside foes at an alarming rate, so obviously we've got to take care of that business first, if there's to be another ncaa run.
Before we get there The Boys open with four ncaa-bid squads in their first six games. It all begins in about 72 hours with Gwynedd-Mercy and then Ramapo State in their building in Jersey. Gwynedd lost 3 major guys to graduation and everybody knows that the trio of Locke, Wholey and Jamal Davis were a giant part of that 96 W. total. The Panthers return with their first pre-season All American, Ryan Sharry. He is maybe the best player that has ever laced 'em up for Midd. That includes the immortal Sonny Dennis, and the incomparable Tom Hart. And if he's not the best, he's in that conversation. My take is that he still has an untapped part of his game that will become evident as the year unfolds. He is 'The Big Dog' in our house and will be accorded extra attention from every opponent.
The real news at Pepin is that he's got a lot of support. Having seen 'The Boys' run recently, it's clear that Jake and Nolan and Joey are better individually and together. That makes life easier for everybody else at both ends. Peter Lynch looks like he can finish in traffic, that ought to help his minutes. Jack Roberts has benefitted from his trip to the weight room and was a factor on defense. Jensen appears to have focused his terrific energy, and Nate Bullock, who showed flashes of great athleticism last year, looks like he's growing into his Middlebury experience. And both Winslow and Carl, reliable old soldiers, still bring their passion to whatever time they've earned. It is a great core of guys.
Enter the new frosh. Size, more size and talent. All between 6'5 and 6'9. Yes this is Middlebury not UConn or Duke. Dylan Simmickson and Dean Brierle (both 6'5) look like they may be able to contribute
right away. Eamon Cuddy looks like he can play, as does Hunter Stone a scorer from L.A., although he might need more time. Of course scrimmaging isn't the same thing as when they're using live ammuntion so we'll see how the new pieces fit in. Not mentioned above-Luis Alvarez and Albert Nasciemento were on the sidelines with injuries. Luis's defense was excellent last year annd there's no reason to think, once healed, he won't be more capable this time around. Albert still has one of the better release and range seen in a while and just needs to be able to put it together.
A lot of programs would like to have the size, ability and depth that JeffB. will have every night. Those elements don't automatically make you a 24 or25 win team. The chemistry has to be right, and that's really determined under fire, but one gets the sense that this group knows what it takes and wants to deliver an encore performance. Now that would great. It all starts Saturday, so get over to Ramapo and see The Boys live rather than on the small screen. Talk soon. Clubbo.