Season opener: Marietta College hosts Shrine Tournament this weekend

Coming off its second Division III national tournament appearance in three years, the Marietta College men’s basketball team has set the bar high coming into the 2013-14 season.

MC head coach Jon VanderWal has reason to believe his team will continue to add on to its recent success.

“Our staff is cautiously optimistic,” said VanderWal, entering his seventh season with Marietta. “We feel pretty good about our chances to have a really good year.”

The Pioneers’ first test of the season comes on Friday when they host Ohio Christian University at Ban Johnson Arena in the 43rd annual Marietta Shrine Tournament sponsored by BSN Sports. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.

“Ohio Christian is a tough game because they’ve played five games already,” VanderWal said.

“Having five games under their belt is a big advantage.”

While Ohio Christian will likely show up to Marietta in midseason form, the Pioneers will try to shake the offseason rust and find some rhythm.

For a second consecutive year, Marietta has big shoes to fill. The Pioneers lost four starters and five lettermen to graduation and will have to have some new faces step up and perform well.

“We feel good about the guys we have coming back,” VanderWal said, “plus we’ve added some good new guys. We have two transfers and a talented group of freshmen. From top to bottom, our roster is loaded with talent. Our biggest obstacle right now is getting guys to understand their new roles.”

One player who will adjust to a new role is point guard Tyler Hammond. Hammond has been an effective starter since he was a freshman, but will be asked to do a little bit more as a senior.

“I think Tyler Hammond is one of the best point guards in Division III,” VanderWal said.

“He makes everybody on the court so much better. We’re probably gonna ask Tyler to be even more of a playmaker than we have in the past.”

Along with Hammond, VanderWal will likely start junior Brennan McKean and sophomore A.J. Ireland at the wings and juniors A.J. Davis and Garrett Stephenson in the post.

While Pioneers will feature some new faces, they should still be able to light up the scoreboard.

“I think we’re really talented offensively,” VanderWal said. “Everybody we put on the floor can shoot it from wherever.”

That should make for an entertaining matchup Friday, as OCU is a team that can score in bunches as well.

“They’re really athletic,” VanderWal explained. “They’re gonna be a lot like us. They’re a little undersized. They really like to get up and down the floor, so it should be an exciting game. It should be a high-scoring affair.”

The Trailblazers (2-3) will likely start Wesley Russell (guard), Evan Mills (forward), Evin Bartlett (guard), Kris Carius (center) and Danny Schrock (guard).

Russell leads the team with 18.4 points per game, while forward J.J. Smith (13.2) and guard Ernie McCoy (11.6) are second and third, respectively, on the team off the bench.

Ohio Christian is coached by Tony Stockman, a former player for Ohio State. Overall, VanderWal is expecting a good college basketball game.

“We’re just excited to get it started,” he said.

NOTES: The winner between Marietta and Ohio Christian will play the winner of Earlham and Piedmont Saturday at 7 p.m. at Ban Johnson in the tournament championship. The losers of each contest will play a consolation game Saturday at 5 p.m. at Ban Johnson.