BY YANEEK SMITH, BEACON CONTRIBUTOR
Head coach: Eric Sweet, 10th season
Last year: 19-4 (8-2 SBC Bay)
Key returning players: Blake Booker, 5-10, G; Sr.
Forecast: Oak Harbor had one of its best seasons in recent memory last year, winning its first league title in nearly 20 years behind a special group of seniors that led the team to 19 wins.
Gone are the likes of Jac Alexander, Clay Schulte and the Dowling brothers, Will and Gabe, and other key contributors. The returning Rockets, save for sharpshooter Blake Booker, are very inexperienced.
Booker, a 5-10 guard, will be the primary option offensively. Last season, he averaged 11.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Booker will be joined in the starting lineup by four of the following five players — 5-11 forward/wing Collin Fauver; 6-1 wing Max Hallett-Szymanski; 5-8 guard Brenen Ish; 6-1 forward Ryan Ridener; and 6-2 wing/guard T.J. Hallett.
“We’ll rely on Blake Booker, an all-league player who averaged 11 points and set numerous records for 3-point shooting. We’re going to run our offense through him,” said Oak Harbor coach Eric Sweet. “T.J. Hallett should be able to fill the role of scorer. Each player has his own little dynamic. Max can drive to the lane — is he going to be a high scorer for us some games? Some games, Brenen Ish will fill in with a lot of assists as the point guard. I feel the rest of the guys can step up and get 6-10 points because of things opening up because of our ability to shoot the basketball.”
Sweet has confidence in his starting lineup, but also likes who he has on the bench.
“Obviously, we lost a lot of seniors. This group of seniors we have coming in have really stepped up and are working hard,” said Sweet. “T.J. Hallett, Grant Belcher, Keegan Durdel, Isaac McHale and Kyle Glaser give us a team that is able to reload. I’m excited for the year because they’re putting the time in right now. We have kids that didn’t get a lot of varsity minutes last year; some of them weren’t in the rotation from game to game.”
Defense is Oak Harbor’s calling card and has been since Sweet took over.
“I brought this matchup zone to Oak Harbor and the kids have taken to it well. We’re going to be a half-court defensive team. Our kids are working hard on the defensive end,” he said. “It’s up to the seniors taking the lead. We want to be one of the better defensive teams in the area, and we’re working towards that.”
For the Rockets to be successful this season, Sweet says that his team must shoot the ball well, move the ball on offense and wreak havoc on defense.
The Bay Division features a number of teams that lost key players.
“The league is going to be interesting,” he said. “Willard has a lot of kids returning, but they also lost two studs, Huron lost two seniors, but they always have kids that step up. Margaretta is good, but they lost Mitch Raifsnider (to an injury), and Port Clinton has Adam Thorbahn. We tied Willard with an 8-2 record (in the division) and they beat us by one and we beat them by one. Against Huron, both games went to overtime.”
Sweet has overseen a turnaround that’s included a Sandusky Bay Conference Bay Division championship, a sectional title and a 52-19 (.732) record the last three years.
“I’m excited where this program is headed. I think we had good kids in the past, but some things had to be straightened out. I feel that we’re heading in the right direction,” he said. “We won the league title for the first time in a long time, and we’re getting around 15 wins per season. Our numbers are really good.”
The interest in basketball in the community is growing, said Sweet.
“I think the program, as a whole, is changing the direction,” he said. “I give that to the kids and the community. I feel that we’re on (an upward) trajectory.”