CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's hard to call a team with an entire starting lineup of seniors inexperienced, but outside of Nick George and Garret McCarty, that's exactly what Class A Charleston Catholic is dealing with, according to coach Bill McClanahan.
In McCarty, a point guard who recently committed to Le Moyne (N.Y.), the Irish have a returning second-team all-stater to run the show.
In George, Catholic has a versatile and experienced wing player who is looking to expand his game after being a first-team all-state selection last season.
But the rest of the starting five, consisting of center Patrick Herlihy (6-foot-5) forward Aaron Persily (6-2) and guard Russell Miller (5-11), is experienced only by years and not by playing time.
"It's going to be a bit of a learning curve for these guys," McClanahan said. "We understand it's going to be an uphill climb and we've got to get better every day. Right now our target and goal is kind of close and we will expand that as the season goes forward."
If any program seems equipped to handle a bit of bumpiness early in the season, it's Catholic, which is looking for its 10th straight state tournament appearance, winning three titles since 2006. After winning the Class A title in 2012, the Irish made it back to the championship game only to fall to Tug Valley last season.
Gone from that team are Zach Casto (11.8 points per game), David Godwin, Andy Hoyer, Michael Tupta, Nelson McKown and Kiefer Hovorka.
In addition to an increase in production, McCarty and George will be looked to for larger leadership roles this season as well.
"Part of the learning curve on this team is watching Nick and Garret in their development as leaders," McClanahan said. "We've been very fortunate in that the leadership has been handed down in such a positive way. Each team passes on to the next team the understanding of expectations and the attention to detail in terms of worth ethic in practice and effort in games. All those pieces add up to being successful in March."
Juniors Justin Snyder and Cameron Imani, as well as sophomore Hayden McCarty, figure to make significant contributions this year for Catholic.
South Charleston was the only other Kanawha Valley school to advance past the first round of the state tournament last year as the Black Eagles made it to the semifinals before falling to Woodrow Wilson.
The Black Eagles lost several top players to graduation, including Ra'Shaud Kincaid, Trevond Reese, Neil Brown, Hunter Moles, Devyn Harris, Isaac Cosby and Honore Dean.
Returning third-team all-state selection A.D. Cunningham (13.2 points, six rebounds per game) will be looked to do the bulk of the work for South Charleston, especially early in the season.
"Our team shared the ball maybe too much last year," coach Vic Herbert said. "With A.D., he's a kid that has to be our bell cow this year. With all that experience and being a returning all-stater, he knows he's got to be the man for us. He's what I call the type of kid that's a mismatch problem. If you guard him with a big guy, he's too quick and if you guard him with a small player, he's too strong."
Returning players Brandon Knapper, Kentre Grier and Kevin Williams should provide some experience and Grier and Knapper will try to fill the vacated SC backcourt.
Anthony Billings, a 6-5 senior forward, hasn't played since his freshman year but will provide some size up front for the Black Eagles. But with so many unknowns in the rotation, Herbert said his squad is a work in progress at best right now.
"Anytime you lose five out of the top six players from the year before, you're going to be a little shaky," Herbert said. "We were 24-3 and stayed at No. 1 a good part of the year last year and wound up third. I'm not saying we can't get to that point this year, but we're far from that right now. I'm hoping that once we get a little time in, they can get to the point where they can have a pretty good year."