CAMERON- There is a lot to like about small school basketball in the Ohio Valley.
Last season, West Virginia Class A, Region 1 had the state's top team, Wheeling Central.
Two of the top scorers were just sophomores in Central's Chase Harler and Magnolia's Preston Boswell, two first-team all-staters.
This winter, Region I one as a whole boasts several schools who have the talent to make a run at the Class A crown, including the defending state champion Maroon Knights, Magnolia, Bishop Donahue, Madonna, and Cameron. And that is just one section.
One the other side there in state tournament semifinalist Clay Battelle, Paden City, St, Marys and Trinity.
That is nine teams who think they have a legitimate shot at making it to Charleston.
"There are seven, maybe nine teams, that are going to be really good," said Paden City coach Fred King, who was counting his own team among those squads. "We're going to have a fine team, but - geez - look who we are in with. This region is loaded with talented players and talented teams."
"Every night you know it's going to be a battle," said Magnolia coach Dave Tallman, who has won two state championships at Magnolia. "Every year our expectations are to win the championship. You know when you get there you had to go through a heck of a schedule to make it and you feel prepared."
"It's never easy when you play in this Region," Cameron coach Chad Clutter said. "We're going to compete. It's day-in, day-out, when you play the teams in this area. We can play Madonna to within five and the next game they lose to Wheeling Central on late free throws. That's just the way it is."
Here is a first look at three of the schools hoping to use the summer as a springboard into a huge winter.
Logan Routt actually grew this summer.
"While we were in Marietta, he gave his height at 6-foot-10 1/2," Clutter said. "I said, 'When did you grow a half-inch?' I told him to keep it up and he might get seven feet by the start of the season."
Whether or not he reaches the seven-foot mark likely won't, Routt, a third-team all-stater will still be a shot-blocking machine.
Last season he blocked 114 shots 5.4 per game (he has the school season and career blocked shot records already), in addition to averaging 14.4 points per game.
Routt, a three-sport standout who was the tallest high school quarterback in the nation last fall, summer has been spent perfecting his post moves and also working on a mid-range jumper.
"He has really worked hard to improve his post game but he is also working on extending his game," Clutter said. "Not that we want him to settle for taking 15 footers, but if he can stand out there and be consistent it's going to make his all-around game that much better. Nobody is going to step out and defend a 6-10 player shooting a jumper. That will make him a better play inside when they have to respect that part of his game."
Cameron had a nice late run last season, at one point winning eight straight, before falling to Madonna is the sectional tournament.
The team played in Marietta's team camp "situational" championship, a series of games where one team is on defense, one on offense with a minute on the clock and then the role's reverse. If the teams split, the advancing team is determined by a one-minute overtime period that begins with a jump ball.
The team also returns the Clutter twins, Ryan and Cole.
Last season Ryan Clutter averaged 12.9 points and hit 35 percent of his 3-point attempts and 80 percent from the line.
Cole, a defensive specialist, hit on 40.7 percent of his 3s, and shot 72 percent from the foul line.
Kennedy Cain certainly turned heads at the Marietta team camp.
The 6-foot-6 swingman played well enough to get invited to join a Columbus area AAU squad and will travel to Myrtle Beach and Las Vegas with the team next month.
It's the start of what will be an eventful summer for Cain, a third-team all-state player.
"The coach is out of Parkersburg, and they just happened to be looking for a point guard and a swingman," King said. "Kennedy had a couple of really good games and he impressed them. It is a big opportunity for him. Those guys play in some outstanding tournaments. He'll have to play hard but I have no doubt that is exactly what he'll do."
Last season Cain averaged 21.6 points per game, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
He will also be attending an elite camp at Marietta in August.
It's also a big offseason for Paden City, which returns all five starters (the Wildcats had no seniors on the team) and both bench players.
Zach Heasley, Like Cooper, Hayden Hizer and Craig Allen all return to the starting lineup next season with Cain.
King is excited about some added depth this season as well.
"We have nine (varsity players and six freshmen)," King said. "We had a couple nice players come back out for the team and they are doing a good job. I want to us to be better and deeper this season and I think we will be deeper and better."
The Blue Eagles return a bulk of a squad that won 17 games last winter and lost to Bishop Donahue in a much-hyped game at the John Marshall Fieldhouse.
Back are outstanding guards Boswell and Spencer Campbell, as well as big man Mitch Winters, Kyle Ritz and Chase Miller. With Derek Blain and Tyler Anderson back, the Blue Eagles return seven of its top eight players.
So far this summer, Magnolia has put together a 17-3 mark, and beat perennial Class AA power Wyoming East in a team tournament in Morgantown, where the Blue Eagles lost to a pair of out-of-state teams.
"We've had a great summer, the attitude's been good and the kids are working hard in the weightroom, getting bigger and stronger," Tallman said.
The team participated in the West Virginia University team camp, a shootout at the Elite Center in Parkersburg and are playing in the St. Clairsville Summer League.
Obviously, Boswell will be big for the Blue Dons. Along with Campbell, they form a legitimate guard combo.
How far they go will depend on the contributions from the other players.
To that point, Tallman said Winters has showed marked improvement, working with his brother Mark, a Wheeling Jesuit player and captain of the 2012 Class A all-state team.
"It's like he is turning from a boy to a man this summer," Tallman said. "At times this summer he has been dominate inside. He and Mark are going to a personal trainer in Wheeling and they both look stronger."
Ritz is one of the area's best young football talents and several players are also competing in Legion baseball.