MIDDLETOWN >> Both Middletown and Xavier had winning seasons last winter and both look to be in position to win more than they lose this time around.
Middletown’s advantage seems to be size up front. The Blue Dragons, however, are inexperienced at guard. For Xavier, it appears to be the opposite with strength at the guard position, but with a lack of experience up front.
In an irony, both were eliminated from the state tournament last winter by teams that went on to win state championships in their respective classes.
Middletown was 11-9 in the regular season, then beat Naugatuck in the Class L tournament before losing to eventual Class L champion Woodstock Academy in the second round to finish at 12-10.
The Blue Dragons return 6-foot-4 senior forward Brandon Simmons, an All-Central Connecticut Conference South player last season, 6-1 senior guard/forward Antonio White, 6-foot-8 senior center O’Brien Watson and 6-foot-1 senior forward Naim Edens.
The newcomers – all guards – include 5-foot-9 junior Savon Williams, 5-foot-10 sophomore Caylen Williams, 5-foot-9 sophomore Makai Mickens and 5-foot-10 junior Jordan Robinson.
“We have the size to compete for the CCC-South title,” said Middletown coach Dave Sytulek, now in his seventh season. “But the team’s success will heavily depend on our talented, but inexperienced guards.”
In addition to CCC-South opponents Bristol Eastern and Central, Maloney, Platt, Berlin, Plainville and Bulkeley, Middletown gets strong CCC intra-divisional opponents because MHS’ record the past two years is significantly above .500. Both the CCC and SCC assign cross-over games from that criteria.
The Blue Dragons intra-divisional games included matchups with New Britain, Northwest Catholic, East Hartford and E.O. Smith.
Middletown’s two out-of-league games are with Pomperaug of Southbury and Prince Tech of Hartford.
MHS opens at home on Wednesday with East Hartford at 7 p.m..
Xavier ended last year with a bang, knocking off St. Joseph and Windsor in the Class LL playoffs before losing to Hillhouse, the eventual Class LL state champion in the semifinals.
The Falcons were 16-9 overall and 5-3 in the Quinnipiac Division of the Southern Connecticut Conference.
The key returning players include 6-foot-2 junior guard Elijah Pemberton (13.6 points per game, second team All-State), 6-foot- sophomore guard Thomas Jackson (5 ppg), and 6-foot-3 senior forward Brandon MacPherson (10 ppg, 6 rebounds per game).
Xavier coach Mike Kohs, now in his 15th year, said that other key players are 6-foot-3 senior forward Karl Sturm, 6-foot senior guard Joe McCormack, 6-foot-4 junior center Kaleb Lutton and 6-5 sophomore forward Alex White.
Senior Joe Carbone, who saw considerable action last season, decided not to go out for the team this year.
“Our strength should be at guard,” said Kohs, who goes into the season with a career mark of 219-111. “I’m concerned about our lack of experience and depth. And we have to improve our free throw shooting from last year’s 58 percent.”
Xavier also faces a tough schedule with Fairfield Prep and its 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu and sophomore star Ryan Murphy, plus Wilbur Cross, which is loaded, along with Hand of Madison and the usual Quinnipiac division suspects such as Hamden and Notre Dame-West Haven.
Xavier opens up at home Wednesday at 7 p.m. with Cheshire. On Dec. 27 and 28, Xavier will host the Art Kohs Holiday Tournament with Ledyard, Glastonbury and East Hartford.