Goals Remain the Same for Central Boys
By KYLE LUTZ WHEELING — Every year when basketball season rolls around, there’s always those handful of teams that don’t rebuild, but rather reload. For the Wheeling Central boys’ team, this year is no exception. After making it to a West Virginia Class A state semifinal in 2017, the Maroon Knights will return a strong nucleus of players to try and make it back to Charleston. After winning its fifth straight OVAC title, sectional tournament and regional tournament, Wheeling Central ran into eventual champion Notre Dame in a semifinal of the state tournament where it fell, 73-51. “They were playing their best basketball at the right time,” Maroon Knights coach Mel Stephens said about Notre Dame. “We just kind of ran into a hot team. I think, if maybe we don’t face them in that semifinal round and maybe in the finals and it’s a different story, but they were the better team that day, that’s for sure. You can’t take nothing away from them.” The loss ended the Maroon Knights’ streak of three straight trips to the state championship game, but with a strong depth of players, another trip to Charleston looks very bright. The Maroon Knights lost a trio of starters in John Burkhalter, who scored a little more than 14 points a game, along with Adam Jarrett (5.5 ppg) and Gabe Rohmann (8.3). “It’s always tough when you lose seniors,” Stephens said. “Those guys were with the program for four years and they definitely show a lot of leadership. But we’re usually in a pretty good position where we have a decent nucleus coming back and some of the other guys are going to have to step up and fill some of those spots.” He’s right. And it all starts with seniors Owen Gainer (6-foot-3) and Brent Price (6-3). Both became household names during the course of their Central careers and have been with the program since they were freshmen. Last year, Price was named first team all-state after averaging more than 17 points a game. Gainer is quite the scorer as well as he scored more than 15 points per contest. “We’ll definitely count on those two guys to do a lot of things for us,” Stephens said. “But like it has been in the past, even when Chase (Harler) played and those guys from last year, you always need those other guys to fill roles and step up and make plays for you.” Some role players that saw playing time from last year are Bray Price (6-0), Blake Peluchette (6-0), Cedric Williams (6-3) and Ian Georges (5-9). The Maroon Knights also welcome former Bishop Donahue players Anthony Robbins (6-3) and Logan Ruckh (5-11). Both were key components to last year Bishops team. There are also some newcomers that Stephens think could see some playing time throughout the year. Junior Domenic Mills (6-3) and sophomores Curtis McGhee (6-1), Jalen Creighton (6-0) and Clayton Abate (6-3) round out the Wheeling Central roster. “I think all four of those guys could get some spot minutes and get some playing time where they can step up and help us a little bit,” Stephens said. Practice for the Maroon Knights started Nov. 13th and as of the second week of November, the Maroon Knights will be practicing without some of their players as the Wheeling Central football team is making a playoff run. It’s nothing Stephens and his squad hasn’t seen in recent years. “We’ve grown accustomed to that situation a little bit,” Stephens said. “We are always rooting for our football guys to go all the way to the championship game and that makes it a little tougher on them and on us as far as getting them late into the practice stuff, but in the past those kids have always adjusted pretty well and we don’t miss a whole lot for them getting started.” With all the success that the Maroon Knights have had under Stephens, some things never change. And with that the goals and expectations remain the same. “We always set the goal, we want to make the OVAC playoffs and have a chance to go out to OUE (Ohio University Eastern) and defend out title. The long range goal was to make it to Charleston and compete for a state championship.” Stephens is assisted by Chip Calissie, Tyler Morando and Adam Shinsky.