Wheeling Jesuit men set to begin new season Monday

The Wheeling Jesuit Cardinals men’s basketball team won 19 games last winter.

By the standard they’ve set, that was considered a down season.

Danny Sancomb, who will begin his sixth season at the helm Monday against the University of Findlay at the Alma Grace McDonough Center, knows his 2013-14 squad will be one that will only get better as the season moves along.

“This year’s team is a lot like last year’s in the area that, at some point, we have a chance to be really good,” Sancomb said. “I am just hopeful that it happens sooner than later. I know our guys will work hard to get better.”

One of the big keys for the Cardinals will be how well they handle the early portion of their schedule. It’s a schedule that starts more than a week later than nearly every other college team in America.

According to Sancomb, that was by design.

“We did that because of our youth,” Sancomb said. “We thought the extra week would be helpful, especially playing a team like Findlay right out of the gate.”

After opening at home against the Oilers, they head right into Mountain East Conference play with a road trip to West Virginia State on Nov. 23 and return home to face Charleston on Nov. 25.

Then right after Thanksgiving, the Cardinals head to Erie, Pa. to take part in the Gannon University Tournament.

“Our first five games are incredible,” Sancomb said. “We’re going to learn a lot about ourselves early in the season.”

The Cardinals do return their leading scorer from a season ago. Former Ohio Mr. Basketball Justin Fritts, who starred at Mentor, pumped in 15.7 points a game. He shot 38 percent from behind the 3-point line.

“Justin is going to be better than he was,” Sancomb said. “He’s put on 10 pounds and he’s just a better player. We knew when we signed him, he could be special. We expected him to contribute and score points and now we need him to be better.”

Sancomb also believes that Zanesville High product Andre Harris is ready for a big senior season. Healthy after back surgery, Harris scored 9.8 points a game last winter.

Sophomore Eric Seifert will take over the point guard duties from his brother, Ben. Siefert scored 7.1 points a game coming off the Jesuit bench last season.

“Eric shoots it well and can play a number of positions,” Sancomb said. “He played a lot of minutes for us and toward the end of the season, he was one of our better players.”

Shadyside High product Justin Andes is someone who Sancomb spoke very highly of as well. He appeared in nine games last season for the Cardinals.

“I think we’re going to be able to go up and down and score the ball,” Sancomb said. “Plus, I think we’re going to be able to be a little bit more physical than we’ve been in the past.

The Cardinals also had a strong recruiting season, landing the likes of Mark Winters from Magnolia and Kyle Ritz of Cambridge. Cleveland St. Ignatius product Francisco Santiago and Chase Lawson from Eastern Brown.

“I think we can go about nine or 10 deep,” Sancomb said. “We’re still young, but our sophomores have played a lot of minutes, so we’re more experienced.”

As for the initial season of the Mountain East, it really didn’t hit Sancomb that it wasn’t the West Virginia Conference anymore until they went to media day earlier this month.

“The level of play is going to be the same,” Sancomb said. “Taking nine teams from the WVIAC was good and we added some quality Ohio schools. It’s just going to help widen our blueprint.”

While excited, Sancomb did admit there are some mixed emotions because of how much he enjoyed his time both as a player and coach in the league.

“The tradition of the WVIAC was great,” Sancomb offered. “It was a great basketball league that’s had a lot of great players. Some of whom went and played in the NBA or overseas, so it’s bittersweet.”

While having many of the similar faces back, Sancomb does have a new chief assistant. Chad Dickman, who was with the Cardinals’ staff for all of Sancomb’s tenure, resigned and is now working at Hood College, which is a Division III school.

Former East Liverpool standout Andrew Bobalick was hired after serving as the head coach Heartland Christian.

“It’s tough losing Chad because he did such good things, but we’re excited to have Andrew on board,” Sancomb said. “The program will continue to be successful.”