ConVal boys’ basketball shows potential, but more scoring needed

ConVal junior captain Ryan Close goes for a first-quarter layup as Manchester West's Max Shosa, left, and Nathias Obando defend during the Blue Knights' 59-43 win over the Cougars in Peterborough Friday, Dec. 15.

ConVal junior captain Ryan Close goes for a first-quarter layup as Manchester West's Max Shosa, left, and Nathias Obando defend during the Blue Knights' 59-43 win over the Cougars in Peterborough Friday, Dec. 15. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Ryan Close dribbles past Manchester West's Tevin Edmunds. 

ConVal's Ryan Close dribbles past Manchester West's Tevin Edmunds.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

 ConVal head coach Jason Starr talks to his team during a second-half timeout. 

 ConVal head coach Jason Starr talks to his team during a second-half timeout.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Max Cail goes for a layup against Manchester West. 

ConVal's Max Cail goes for a layup against Manchester West.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Max Cail goes for a layup against Manchester West. 

ConVal's Max Cail goes for a layup against Manchester West.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Zach Collins looks to pass against Manchester West.

ConVal's Zach Collins looks to pass against Manchester West. —PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

By BEN CONANT

For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 12-18-2023 11:35 AM

The ConVal boys' basketball team showed early season poise and bright potential in Friday's hard-fought home-opening loss to Division II power Manchester West. 

"We knew they were one of the top teams in our division coming in here," ConVal head coach Jason Starr said after the 59-43 Blue Knights victory. "Overall I thought we fought for 32 minutes and they hit a couple big shots. I think that the big difference was they were -- even early in the game -- hitting tough shots that we weren't hitting. We all thought we were playing pretty good defense. They had some really nice finishes over the top and we weren't really doing that offensively."

After graduating nine seniors in both 2022 and 2023, the Cougars no longer have the embarrassment of riches the program has been known for in recent years. ConVal's star-studded, tall and experienced rosters got them to the state semifinals in 2019, a shared COVID title in 2020 and an overtime finals loss in 2022. Now, the Cougars don't even have one senior on their roster, and while that bodes well for the future, it's a little tougher sledding when every kickout pass doesn't go to a knockdown shooter. Manchester West took advantage of that, cheating off the corner three and sagging into the paint to clog the lane. 

"We've been preaching spacing," Starr said.  "That's a big thing with any team is spacing on offense. And the other team isn't really going to go out on some of our players because they know they're not really the best shooters. They're not really going to knock them down like we've had here the last couple years. Offensively, we've just got to step it up."

Seniors or no, the Cougars do have some experience and leadership, starting with junior captain Ryan Close (16 points), who ran point guard with confidence despite Manchester West's full-game full-court press. 

"Ryan handled their pressure really well," Starr said. "He does a really nice job. He's really stepped up his leadership this year."

Sophomore Max Cail also looked good to start his second season, cleaning the glass, scoring a team-high 17 points and playing well in a tough matchup against Division II Player of the Year candidate Max Shosa of West. 

"We've been pushing [Cail] to be more aggressive to get to the paint, be a little bit more selfish offensively," Starr said. "He has to average 15, 16 for us to get where we want to be. He played a great game."

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Cail contained Shosa through a quarter-and-a-half, holding him to six points and adding a big crowd-pleasing block. But once the West forward saw a couple free throws go down, his confidence grew, and the smooth scorer started striding through the lane with ease, throwing down a pair of dunks and hitting second- and third-quarter buzzer-beating threes to finish with a game-high 31. 

"He's got this really calm demeanor about him," Starr said. "I don't think you could really frazzle him and take him off of his game. He just stays even-keeled."

Junior Zach Collins, who could turn out to be one of ConVal's most-reliable outside shooters going forward, added seven points, and sophomore Sam Davis played hard despite not cracking the scoresheet.

ConVal came into the season ranked 10th in Division II (West was second behind defending champion Pelham), and that prediction looked accurate Friday night. But with the same level of effort they showed against West, and some improved shooting, the Cougars could make their way up the ladder a bit.

"We've scored 44 and 43 now the first two games," Starr said. "We need to score a little bit more than that to win games."

ConVal (0-2) is at Oyster River Tuesday.