RIMERSBURG — It’s a new administration with some familiar faces running the show now for the Union Golden Knights basketball team.
Brent Saylor, a 1992 Union graduate, moves up from the junior high staff where he was the past two seasons to take over a team coming off a 7-14 season. He has two former head coaches on the staff with him in Jeff Hepler and Josh Meeker.
Saylor coached under Hepler two different tenures while working with Meeker at the junior high level the past two seasons. He’s also been on the baseball coaching staff the last few years with Ange Salvo.
Saylor is looking forward to getting the season started, although not necessarily from a coaching standpoint considering a later end to the football season set his schedule back some. The Knights open with Commodore Perry in their own Tip-Off Classic Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“When I walk out into Don Stemmerich Gymnasium, I don’t know how that’s going to go, let’s put it that way, but I’m excited about it” said Saylor in an emotional salute to his former and legendary coach for whom the gymnasium and recently dedicated and refurbished floor was named.
Saylor hopes to reinvigorate the style that made Stemmerich famous.
“We’re Union,” Saylor said. “We’re an up-tempo team and we’ve always been that way. And we got to get back to that, in my opinion, and we have to play good defense. That’s something I’ve been stressing. I’m defense guy. Back in my days when I played, that’s the only reason I was on the floor. I’m trying to stress to these kids that that’s more important. I don’t care if you score 20 points, if you can’t play defense and give up 22, that’s negative-two.”
So he and the rest of his staff is trying to rush through preseason practices to get ready and a playoff season by the football team added a pleasant wrinkle, so to speak.
“About 90 percent of my players played football, but the football program did a great job, getting seven wins and a playoff berth and that’s going to help us and pay dividends,” Saylor said. “I don’t want to say it’s scary, but we haven’t had a whole lot of time. That’s the bad part of it with our football team going into the playoffs this year … I’ve only actually had my whole team here for two weeks.”
What Saylor has is a 17-man JV/Varsity roster that returns four of its top six scorers from last year along with two others who saw some varsity playing time. Sophomore Caden Rainey (team-high 13.3 ppg.), seniors Luke Bowser (8.7 ppg.) and Truman Vereb (8.5), and junior Karter Vogle (6.4 ppg.) scored the bulk of the team’s points while senior Layton Stewart and junior Brock Jordan saw limited time.
Rainey and Vogle will handle a lot of the ball-handling chores, although Saylor prefers to have his offense looking more toward position-less setups offensively. Bowser is a shooting guard/small forward type of player while Vereb and Stewart, both over 6-foot-1 or 6-2, brings physicality and size at the power forward and center spots.
Saylor believes he’ll go deeper in his rotation with his juniors in Jordan, a 6-foot-3, 285-pounder, and junior guard Gaven Bowser. Sophomore Carter Terwint is another big man to give the Knights depth inside while his sophomore guard and son Isaac Saylor will also vie for playing time. Senior Colton Hoffman and junior Kevin McNaughton are also in the mix with two freshmen moving up to JV/Varsity this year in Skyler Roxbury and Bailey Crissman.
It’s been since 2015-16 since the Knights made it to the postseason when they won the KSAC-South, finished fourth in D9 Class 1A and reached the state playoffs. That’s sort of the order of things for Saylor, whose not satisfied with just a .500 record to reach the postseason.
“When I talk with the kids my first statement will be that I want to be in the KSAC championship game. I want to win a KSAC championship,” Saylor said. “Everybody says we have to be 11-11 to get to the playoffs. Well, 11-11 to me is just mediocrity. And it’s easy to be average, in my opinion, and I don’t want to be average. If we can get to the KSAC championship, if we’re in that discussion, everything else is going to take care of itself and that automatically means we’re in the D9 playoffs anyway.
“I don’t want to get just 11 wins and I don’t want the kids to have that mindset.”
The realigned KSAC divisions have Union and A-C Valley moving to the North with North Clarion, Clarion-Limestone and Forest Area in a sort of big school-small school setup, but not really. It’s Redbank Valley, Clarion, Karns City, Keystone, Cranberry and Moniteau in the South.
Seniors: Luke Bowser, Truman Vereb, Colton Hoffman, Layton Stewart.
Juniors: Gaven Bowser, Karter Vogle, Brock Jordan, Kevin McNaughton.
Sophomores: Isaac Saylor, Carter Terwint, Caden Rainey, Logan Terwint, Joe Morrison, Ben Mason, Aiden Weaver.
Freshmen: Skyler Roxbury, Bailey Crissman.
6-Commodore Perry, 7:30 p.m.
7-Maplewood, 4 p.m.
11-at Venango Catholic
13-at North Clarion
19-at Forest Area
27-28-Host Christmas Tournament
17-Redbank Valley (DH), 7:30 p.m.
23-Venango Catholic (DH), 6 p.m.
25-Mercer (DH), 1:30 p.m.
7-at A-C Valley
10-at C-L, 6:30 p.m.
JV games begin at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted. DH indicates a varsity doubleheader with the girls and the starting time listed.