By DAVE MORRISON
WHEELING - Last season may have been an aberration.
Or, it might have been a year where the competition in Wheeling Park's region was up to the task.
Maybe it was both.
Wheeling Park coach Michael Jebbia certainly thinks so.
"Did we accomplish what we wanted to? Certainly not," said the former Patriots standout, who still holds several career records at the school. "We didn't end the way we wanted to end, and we took some lumps along the way. We think we have a team this year that is going to be competitive and our end goal is always going to be playing in the state tournament."
With good reason.
Entering his eighth year at his alma mater, Jebbia has a career record of 131-47, for an winning percentage of .736. Take out last year's 11-17 mark, including a 67-51 loss to Morgantown in the Region Two final, and it's an even better 120-30 mark. The team has 99 victories in the last five years.
Anything less than a state tournament berth is deemed unsuccessful.
Yet the school has not won a state championship since Jebbia's sophomore year, when the Patriots beat Beckley in a wild final at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.
Could this be the year?
"We always like to think we have a shot," Jebbia said. "There are a lot of fine basketball programs in the state. We just want to go out and improve on a nightly basis and play our best basketball at the end of the season."
The Patriots return two starters from last year but they are a good duo to start with, in Luke Saseen and Ryan Reinbeau.
Saseen, a 6-foot-4 senior, averaged 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season. He had a career-high 29 against University and earned second team All-OVAC and All-Valley.
"He's a four-year veteran and he will be one of our leaders this season," Jebbia said. "We are going to look for Luke to increase his scoring this year and be a little more consistent."
Reinbeau is the leading returning scorer, after averaging 13 points and 5.5 rebounds as a sophomore starter. He had 40 3 pointers (he and Saseen combined for 69 3s last season) and 14 double-figure scoring games, including a career-high 25 against Brooke in the sectional tournament and was a first team All-Valley performer.
Trenton Smith, a 6-1 junior guard, Chalmer Moffett, a 6-4 junior forward, Phil Bledsoe, a 6-5 sophmore forward and Toddy Goodwin-Rowe, a junior point guard who transferred to Park from Linsly, round out the top six.
Smith averaged 7.0 ppg who will move up from his sixth-man role of a year ago, Moffett, a standout football player, will offer rebounding and a physical force in the paint, and Bledsoe lettered as a freshman and is a solid rebounder who can score from inside and the mid-range area.
Goodwin-Rowe will also help immediately, after averaging 11.2 ppg. at Linsly.
"We feel like we have a lineup where we can go big if we have to and go small and quick, depending on the matchups," Jebbia said.
Moffett is the only football player from a squad that was making a deep run in the postseason at press time.
However, quarterback Zach Phillips will be a major contributor as a senior, as well as Elijah Bell and Savion Johnson. Theo Blackston was undecided about playing.
Junior Tysaun Pugh-Davis will also contribute off the bench.
"We like the bench," Jebbia said. "We have a lot of combinations we can run in and out and I think that is going to help us in the long run."
The Patriots have a demanding schedule, with three trips to Charleston, including two in an eight-game span to play Winfield (Dec. 20 at the Charleston Civic Center) and George Washington (at G.W. Dec. 28). They also end the regular season at perennial power South Charleston, March 1.
The Patriots will also play Vincent Warren, which advanced to the Ohio Final Four last season and finished 27-2, Seton LaSalle, Pa. (a 23-4 team that returns four starters) in the Cancer Research Classic and Columbus Beechcroft in the West Muskingum Classic Jan. 18.
"It's a tough schedule but that is what we want," Jebbia said. "We want to get out and play good teams and get ready for the postseason."