---- — By George Thompson
For The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE -- Coming off a year in which the team finished below .500 and failed to make the Landmark Conference playoffs, the Susquehanna men's basketball squad will turn to a mixture of veterans and newcomers to get back on the right track.
The Cruaders' roster features four seniors -- guards Mike Perillo and Jake Eskin, forwards Wally Rutecki and Harley Sellinger -- who will all play key roles this year.
"This is a really good senior class. There as good of a group of leaders and character people as I think I've had in a long, long time -- as long as I can remember," coach Frank Marcinek said.
"They're counted on real heavily for leadership and they will all be significant contributors on the floor as well," he added.
Also returning for the Crusaders is sophomore guard Brandon Hedley, who was named the Landmark Conference Rookie of the Year last season. Hedley averaged 14.2 points per game as a freshman, and Marcinek said he is going to be a key player.
Marcinek said he is looking for Hedley to become more of a complete player this season, a player that is effective on both the offensive and defensive ends.
"I want Brandon to be a complete player. Brandon's success at Susquehanna will not be measured in points scored or honors won but rather in championships won. He needs to do whatever it takes to win and that might mean playing really, really well defensively. It's kind of tough to be the leading scorer and also the stopper defensively, but we're going to need him to do that at times," Marcinek said.
Fellow sophomore Josh Miller also saw significant time last year as a starter playing guard/forward, averaging 7.6 points per game and 2.9 rebounds per game.
It is this mixture of youth and veteran leadership that has Marcinek excited for the season ahead.
"I think we have really good chemistry," he said. "We have good leadership. I think we have a lot of players that have been in the trenches before. We can play some veterans who have been through the battles come January and February, but we also have some young guys that I think can challenge and make us better and build some depth."
The young players include six incoming freshmen, such as guard Phil Madison from Johnstown.
Picked to finish fifth in the preseason Landmark Conference poll, Marcinek said that isn't indicative of the type of team the Crusaders will put on floor, and he expects big results from this year's team.
In the past two years, Susquehanna has gone from one extreme to the other. Two years ago they qualified for the Landmark Conference tournament where they fell in the semifinals to Juniata, while last year they didn't qualify, finishing with a conference record of 5-9.
"Last year was just one of those years we never pulled it together. This year I feel like we have the makings of a good, solid team," he said.
Marcinek said while he doesn't see the first six games of the season as critical in terms of wins and losses, it will certainly help the team build chemistry.
"I think it will help our confidence. I'm putting a lot of stock on the first six games," he said.
"I'm really looking for a good start to our season," Marcinek added. "We want to take advantage of that [five game home stand]."
Marcinek said he's particularly focused on their home matchup against Scranton on Dec. 7, which is their first Landmark Conference game of the season.
"To get that first conference win, especially at home, is almost expected," he said.
When all their conference games are finished and the season comes to a close, Marcinek said he hopes the Cruasders can go out on a strong note.
"For our seniors' sake, I hope we can really finish this with a bang because they've been four great seniors to coach. I want it as much for them as I do for the whole program" he said.