BEALLSVILLE - Optimism abounds in Beallsville.
The Blue Devils are coming off a sparkling football season, capturing the OVAC 1A title and winning two playoff games.
Such success appears more than likely to continue this winter as veteran coach Scooter Tolzda has a battle-tested and talented bunch. While the elongated football campaign threw a temporary delay into full-blown basketball practice, Tolzda's charges will still open as scheduled.
"We think we had our best offseason in a long time, competed well against quality larger schools at camps, leagues and shootouts," Tolzda said. "Most of the boys have put in time and we really have physically grown in size.
"We have a lot of potential. We realize it won't get us a free cup of coffee at McDonald's," he added. "We must work hard to put it all together."
Tolzda has become a Monroe County basketball institution. After a stellar playing career at River High, one of the game's best teachers has amassed nearly 290 varsity coaching victories.
Not to be lost in all the expectations this season is the Blue Devils will be playing most of their games in a much-needed new gymnasium.
The gym construction is not completely finished, which has played havoc with the Blue Devils' schedule.
"The new gym is exciting for all involved," Tolzda said. "However, it has led to a lot of uncertainties on when we finally get in it. Also, eight of our first nine games are on the road."
Gym and schedule issues aside, Beallsville has four returning starters, nine lettermen and a large roster.
Two of the returning regulars are seniors in Tyler Spence and Grahamm Dauch.
Spence is a 6-foot guard with three letters to his credit.
"Tyler has a great attitude and work ethic," Tolzda said. "He is a four-year guard and we love what he brings to the team."
Dauch is a 6-3, 190-pound banger.
"Grahamm is a strong, three-year post player for us," Tolzda said. "He is a great kid, good rebounder.''
The senior tandem will be joined by a pair of returning starters in juniors Teryn Jarrett and Josh Baldridge.
Jarrett is a 6-2 sharpshooter who has distinguished himself as one of the premier quarterbacks in Ohio Valley football circles.
"Teryn has the makings of a prolific 3-point shooter. He has great range and he has grown and matured," Tolzda said. "Teryn's overall game has improved and is also coming off a great football season."
Baldridge is a 6-4, 210-pound post presence. He will team with Dauch to give the Blue Devils a powerful, in-the-paint tandem.
"Josh is a horse in the lane," Tolzda said. "He is a great defensive rebounder who is working hard to refine his inside skills."
There is no lack of candidates to fill the final starting spot.
Senior Sam Jackson harbors vast potential. He is a two-year, 5-11, letter-winning guard.
"Sam has the potential to be a dynamic player," Tolzda said.
Senior Matt Burke is pushing hard for a starting slot. He is a 6-3 letter-winning guard.
"Matt is a very athletic wing," Tolzda said. "He has superb leaping ability and is a 3-point threat."
Kyle Groves is a letter-winning junior. He is a 6-1 forward.
"Kyle could be hard to keep out of the starting lineup," Tolzda said. "He has a great attitude and work ethic.''
Beallsville boasts one of the tallest small-school performers in the Ohio Valley in Gage Bates, a 6-6 forward with two letters to his credit.
"Gage has really grown. He is a good shot blocker, improving to the point he is pushing for a starting spot," Tolzda said.
The final returning letterman brings additional inside strength to an already impressive Blue Devils interior. Sophomore Dalton Sechrest a solid 6-1, 240-pound forward.
"Dalton has great versatility," Tolzda said. "He is big and strong and can play inside or out. Dalton is very athletic for his size."
The Blue Devils' varsity roster features three additional seniors.
Cory Winland is a 6-5 forward, Justin Dietrich is a 6-foot guard, while Aaron Thompson is a 6-3 forward.
"I would like to think we have a lot of depth and versatility. Competition is a plus as 10 players could battle for time," Tolzda said. "We realize the start of the year is a challenge and the fact we haven't pushed back the start of our season with the success of our football team could bring a slow start, but we feel that with winter and the OVAC deadline that not postponing was in our best interests.
"My biggest concerns are improving defensively and taking care of the basketball and team chemistry.
Six more Blue Devils will get grooming on the jayvee squad.
They are junior Kage Rush, a 5-9 swing-man, sophomore John Dietrich, a 5-8 guard, and freshmen Chad Louden, a 5-4 guard, Mikey Palmer, a5-9 guard, Tristan Palmer, a 6-forward, and Jeremy Fisher, a 5-8 forward.
Beallsville lost just two players via graduation in Evan Neiswanger and Taylor Myers.
Tolzda has a quality staff at his disposal.
Jeremy Beardmore is the varsity assistant, Casey Tolzda is the jayvee coach while Zac Carlton is a volunteer assistant. Jim Street coaches the junior high charges.