Boys basketball teams west of the Caloosahatchee River are all judged fairly equal to each other as the start of the new season looms next week. It should make for some interesting and highly competitive games among the Cape schools.
"It seems like everyone lost quite a few players," said Ida Baker coach Brad Seiss. "Every team is relatively young, but anyone can beat anyone on a given night."
That sums it up neatly when looking ahead to tipoffs on Monday and Tuesday.
Island Coast and Mariner appear to be in the catbird seat as far as talent, experience and size goes. Island Coast has two of its top scorers back. Mariner has the most size around, centering on 6-foot-10 senior Kendrec Ferrara and 6-6 junior Rick Moore.
New district lineups will figure into the postseason opportunities, too, with most districts having five or six teams contesting for playoff appearances.
Island Coast Gators: Everyone in Southwest Florida now knows about the competitiveness of the Gators after they earned a regional playoff berth as a district runner-up last season.
"We have changed our offense a bit from last year," said Gators coach Greg Coleman. "We are going to attack more. I am more confident this year that we can play with a lot of teams in this area."
Coleman, entering his second season leading the Gators, believes they kind of sneaked up on a lot of teams last year as district runner-up. Not so this season with plenty of experience to go around. Eleven seniors and two underclassmen make up the roster.
"Most teams don't keep 11 seniors, but seven of them are guys who made the playoffs last season," said Coleman. "We have our point guard back from New York and he is looking good."
Isaac Aponte was the designated point guard for last season, but moved to New York before school started in the fall. He averaged 16 points a game for his team last year. His family decided to move back to the area again.
The Gators also have their leading scorer back in Tim Dal Bon, who averaged 15 points a game last season. Then there is Terrell Griffin, who averaged 13 points and eight rebounds.
"I'm sure we can score with any team around here," said Coleman. "We had to try to keep it in the 50s last year, but we scored 83 points (in a preseason game) this week. We're working on our defense. We tried to use a mix of zone and trap defense last year, but we will become more of a man-go-man team and not use gimmick defenses this year."
The Gators remain in a five-team district (6A-13), but the schedule is much tougher.
"Last year it was Bishop Verot," Coleman said. "This year it is Fort Myers, Ida Baker, South and Riverdale. There aren't that many gimmie games. We don't play Gateway Charter and LaBelle now."
The Gators finished 13-15 with a 57-50 loss to Hardee in the quarterfinals of the regional playoffs.
The Gators get the season rolling Tuesday at North Fort Myers.
Mariner Tritons: Claiming a district championship remains the goal for the Tritons after a couple of years of narrow misses.
The Tritons, who lost the district final to Fort Myers by a close margin last season, finished 19-9 after dropping their regional quarterfinal game to Barron Collier.
"This year we are in the same position. I just hope we find our identity sooner than later," said Tritons coach James Harris. "We've gotten off to great starts before, but then bounced around. We have toughened up our schedule to prepare us for that district final."
The Tritons will relay on four key returning players in 6-10 senior Kendrec Ferrara, 6-6 junior Rick Moore, and seniors Donald Minto and Tyler Bender.
"We're kind of young for the first time in a long time, which is always a question mark," said Harris. "Our core players are skilled enough to carry us in the early stages until the others catch up."
The Tritons have tried to eliminate the soft games with out-of-district games with the likes of Barron Collier, the City of Palms Classic Division and Bishop Verot.
"Any time you play your city rivals you can throw out the records," said Harris. "We'd like to get back to the 21-win plateau again."
The Tritons must travel to Estero for their season opening game Monday.
Cape Coral Seahawks: Look for the Seahawks to use their speed on the court to create shooting opportunities this season.
The Seahawks, who lost in the district quarterfinal round to Ida Baker a year ago to finish 13-12, will shoot a lot of threes using a motion offense.
"We can shoot pretty well and we are skilled, but we are just undersized," said first-year Seahawks coach Darrin Wallace, who coached at Gateway Charter and FGCU before joining the Seahawks. "Rebounding will be huge for us. We can score, but the question is rebounding against the bigger, stronger teams."
The Seahawks have four seniors on the roster for this season and four returning starters, including juniors Chase Galuzny and David Flynn, and senior point guard J.J. Bailey. At 6-foot 3, Galuzny is the tallest player.
"We have smart players who play hard," said Wallace, a 1998 Cape High graduate who also played at FGCU. "We like to play uptempo if we can. Of the 12 guys I consider more than half to be shooters."
The new five-team district lineup is evenly matched and equally competitive, according to Wallace. The lone exception, he said, would be Mariner with the 6-10 Kendrec Ferrara.
The Seahawks make their season debut Monday at Dunbar.
Ida Baker Bulldogs: With one returning starter back from last year's squad, and just four seniors this year, the Bulldogs have a lot of growing, maturing and learning ahead of them.
"We're not very big, so rebounding will be the tale of every game," said Bulldogs coach Brad Seiss. "We'll be able to score. We are a good shooting team of mostly juniors. Early we will have to get that experience and grow with it."
Angel Inchausti is the lone returning starter for the Bulldogs, bringing a 10-point scoring average. He's joined by returning juniors Jordan Lugo and Nathan Evans along with senior Tyler Mantle.
The Bulldogs go up against Fort Myers, Island Coast, South Fort Myers and Riverdale in the new District 6A-13 alignment, making them an underdog to reach the playoffs.
The Bulldogs open up Tuesday at Lehigh.
Bishop Verot Vikings: Anything can happen, of course, but the Vikings seem headed for another good season on the hardwood.
Vikings coach Matt Herting believes that with a lot of hard work they have a very good chance to be a solid team and win their new five-team District 4A-11 championship.
"We have a nice mix of size and skill, so I think we will be all right," said Herting. "We have a lot of talent and lost four seniors from last year. We mostly have the same group of guys that have been with the program for the last couple of years."
Having three double-figure scorers back for another season helps immensely. Senior Mark Wagner, junior Mason Taylor and sophomore Ricky Doyle will bear the bulk of the offensive game plan.
"It's a nice core group," said Herting. "As far as the district goes, it's about the same for us, very similar to last year."
The Vikings are competing against Dunbar, LaBelle, Clewiston and Gateway Charter for the district championship this season.
The Vikings host Fort Myers in the season opener Tuesday night.