On paper, it would appear to be a rebuilding year for the Philomath High School boys basketball program.

The Warriors must replace four impact seniors, including Oregon West Conference player of the year Cal Stueve, off a team that reached the 4A state tournament for a fifth consecutive season.

But the departure of Casey Croy, Austin Gerding, Clark Hellesto and Stueve doesn’t spell certain doom for the Warriors, who began practicing last week. A reloaded Philomath is set to open the 2017-18 season with a 7 p.m. home game against Marshfield on Saturday, Dec. 2.

“If you look at our past success and how many guys we’ve lost, maybe you’d think we won’t be as good,” Philomath coach Blake Ecker said. “But I think we will be a lot better than people give us credit for and I am very excited for what this group can do.”

The Warriors rolled to their fourth consecutive OWC title a season ago before a disappointing result at the state tournament. Philomath, the 2016 4A champion, went two-and-out at last year’s tournament to close with a 20-6 overall record.

Croy, Gerding and Stueve were all starters on the 2015-16 squad, which captured the program’s second state title in three seasons. Stueve, who now plays for Oregon Tech, and Gerding were both first-team all-OWC selections as seniors while Croy and Hellesto received honorable mention.

“We certainly lost quite a bit from last year’s class,” Ecker said. “But at the same time, we have some guys back, which is exciting and a couple of newcomers that are looking very good.”

Philomath’s top returner is senior guard Nolan Jackson, a second-team all-OWC pick last winter. Fellow senior Tyler Pfarrer is back at point guard.

Ecker believes Jackson has the potential to contend for OWC player of the year.

“Nolan is very, very athletic and has improved his outside shot. He is going to be a good one,” Ecker said. “Tyler Pfarrer really improved as the season went along but now he definitely has more confidence and is doing a lot more things on the positive side this year. He can really shoot it and is not a guy you want to leave open.”

Junior forward Marshall Brattain will be in the starting lineup after coming off the bench a season ago.

“He has only gotten bigger and stronger, which is something that we really needed to have,” Ecker said of Brattain. “He is really going to be a tough guy inside and it’s nice to have that physicality in there.”

Senior forward Kenan Conner, a key reserve on the 2016 title team, is back with the Warriors after missing last season. Newcomers Ethan Manning, Calvin Snuggerud and Toby Stueve will also be asked to contribute.

Manning is a 6-foot-4 wing who can play multiple positions. The left-handed Snuggerud and Toby Stueve, Cal’s younger brother, can handle the ball and have brought great energy in practice, Ecker said.

“These guys don’t want to be the group that doesn’t win the league title, doesn’t make it to the final eight,” Ecker said. “They want to continue that tradition, that expectation and culture that’s been set by previous groups, and I’ve been really happy with them so far.

“We’ve had some tough practices and we’ve been stepping up to the challenges and working hard.”

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