Last season was a down year for Leo terms after back to back trips to semi state before it. New faces were thrust into the lineup and the familiar faces were pushed into tougher, lead roles. But with many of those. same guys back now for a second or third varsity year, expectations have risen again that Leo will compete at the top of the Northeast 8 Conference.
“We return quite a few players. Last year, we were very inconsistent and that will have to improve. This year we will need to be able to defend, rebound, and take care of the ball better than we did a year ago to have success,” Leo coach Cary Cogdell said.
Leading the return group are seniors Jackson McGee and Trey Hiteshew, who both played roles on the last Lion semi state run two years ago. McGee is coming off a tremendous junior season where he averaged 18.3 points per game and was one of the area’s best scorers. Hiteshew helped add offensively with 13.4 points per game, but really helped slow down and balance the team when running a lead guard position.
Joining them in the senior class is guard/forward Ayden Moore, a capable shooter who can add some important physicality on the interior as well.
Three sometimes starters are back as well with juniors Sol Richard and Brock Schott as well as sophomore Nolan Hiteshew. Richard has been used as a steading presence for the Leo offense and has really improved his shot in the last season after averaging 3.3 points last season while Schott (3.8. ppg) will be coming off a stellar football season after a couple of clutch games leading the Leo interior last season. Nolan Hiteshew (6.8 ppg) split some time with varsity and JV to start last season but quickly became another solid offensive weapon for Leo when they needed a little extra.
Leo will also look to three new faces from the junior class who primarily played junior varsity last season. 6-foot-4 Landon Ruoff is going to help on the inside, something Leo has leaned on in the recent past. He can be a high volume shot blocker and his rebounding will help Leo significantly. Grant Johnson and Colton Wallace will add back court depth, both very rough and tumble players. Johnson has a great mid range shot and Wallace’s success shooting the three has opened him up a drive and score threat.
“It will be important for us to build good chemistry and be willing to do the little things to be able to compete in our conference and our sectional,” Cogdell said.
It starts with two of the top 15 players in the area with McGee and Hiteshew. Their by example leadership is great as they are big time tone setters and it is clear Leo will lean on that. Its a great place to start.
Behind them, there is a lot of potential with guys who had to get used to the varsity level last season and guys that have to get used to the varsity level this season.
The Lions have physical interior bodies, high quality shooters and defensive spark plugs. If they all get clicking, then Leo is an absolute favorite in the NE8.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
Leo struggled to be consistent last season, as noted above by coach Cary Cogdell. For them to rise up this season, they have to show that they can put big runs together in single games and they can put multiple games together where they are finding consistent success offensively.
They did not win more than two games in a row last season and were just 2-9 when held under their 54 point per game scoring average. With more consistency, Leo could be a really dangerous team.
December 9 vs. Woodlan
This may be a silly one too many. It isn’t a conference game and it isn’t Leo’s first game against a high end opponent as they get Wayne very quickly on their schedule.
But over recent years, Woodlan and Leo has become a very good neighbor rivalry of the two EACS teams. They’ve had some high end battles with clutch performances and big time scoring.
Just Leo’s fifth game of the season and before they head into any NE8 meetings, this game will be a good representation early of how this Leo team can rise to the occasion as, based on recent experience, Woodlan is going to come with their absolute best to try and top the Lions after beating them the last three regular season meetings in a row.
And if Leo can end that streak, it is major momentum for them very early in the season.