ST. CLAIRSVILLE -- The Ohio University Eastern Panthers have reached the Ohio Regional Campus Conference tournament Final Four the last two seasons and each season they have lost to the eventual champions, Cincinnati-Clermont and Miami Middletown, respectively.
"Each year our ultimate goal is to win the ORCC championship," stated Panthers' coach Donnie Madzia. "We have gotten to the final four and know what it takes to get there so we want to hopefully get that step farther.
The season's performance makes the difference because of tournament seeding, so we just need to stay consistent throughout the year, so when you get to that final four spot maybe we can get over the hump this year."
OU Eastern graduated just one player last season, but it was Barnesville product Collin Hudson, who finished his career with more than 1,800 points and was a mainstay all four seasons he played.
The good news is that the Panthers return four starters last season, and one from the year before.
Steve Luckhardt is back on the Eastern campus after playing for Ohio Valley College last season. The 5-11 senior from Shadyside played for the Panthers his sophomore year and returns to the starting lineup at guard. He will be joined in the backcourt by Harrison Central's Dan Milleson (6-0 junior) while Beallsville's Zach Tolzda (5-11 sophomore) also will be the third starting guard.
Dave Barcroft, a 6-3 senior from Harrison Central, worked his way into the starting lineup last season at forward and ended up recording three double-doubles in the final four home games. He is joined on the blocks by dynamic sophomore Jason Shaw. The 6-4 forward from Caldwell played well last season, and took little time getting into form this season, including a 20-point effort against D-III Slippery Rock.
"Shaw is a very good player," said Madzia. "He has the ability to play at another level. He is a good shooter, a good penetrator and is just an all-around good player who makes the people around him better."
A pair of former Cambridge Bobcats will be in heavy rotation for Eastern in freshmen Thomas Norris and Carter Baldwin. Norris is a 5-7 guard and Baldwin is a 6-5 forward.
"Thomas is a very, very good athlete," complimented Madzia. "He accelerates very well and is also a very good leaper. The only 5-7 guy I remember dunking the ball is Spud Webb and this guy can do that. In our first two games, Thomas took steals the other way, bounced the ball off the backboard and threw it down with two hands. I've never been around something like that that wasn't on TV, so his athleticism is a nice addition.
"Carter, for his size and frame, I'd say is very athletic," offered Madzia.
"He has some areas to pick up on fundamentals, but his athleticism and size are a great addition."
Barnesville grad Josh Wells (6-4 sophomore) will also see plenty of time off of the bench.
"Josh gets better the more he plays," noted Madzia. "He improved by leaps and bounds from the beginning of last season to the end and I look for more of the same this year."
Rounding out the Panthers roster are Pec Schmitt (5-10 junior) of Union Local, who will get plenty of playing time at guard and small forward, and New Mexico State transfer Grant McCroskey. McCroskey is a 6-5 freshman forward who will work his way into the rotation.
Also joining OUE for the second half of the season will be West Muskingum's Tim Theobald, a 6-3 senior who played for the Panthers last season.