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Northern Tier Sports Report
Canton boys’ basketball coach Brock Kitchen had some light viewing during a pandemic ridden summer.

It was the videos of their 1-point loss to Wyalusing in the District IV, Class AA semifinals and their overtime loss to Sayre in the third place game.

“Those last two game tapes are the only two game tapes I’ve watched all offseason,” he said. “They were both games that the guys felt we should have won, especially the last one.”

Their postseason a year ago was the perfect microcosm for their up and down season.

They upset NEB on the road in the first round. Then, in the semifinals, they lead most of the way against Wyalusing only to lose it at the end.

Then, in the third place game, they lead most of the way against Sayre, only to lose it at the end.

“Sayre just had our number last year,” said Kitchen. “And that’s the way it is. We were lucky to have Northeast’s number last year and Sayre turned around and had our number.”

The returning players feel Kitchen’s pain.

“We’re all pretty mad about losing to Wyalusing by one,” said Brendan Matthews. “And not making the  state playoffs. We all worked hard all summer and we’re back together this year.”

They were a young team a year ago with the only seniors who saw regular playing time were guards Zach Rentzel and Reese Allen.

They return their starting front court, which is one of the biggest in the area, featuring 6-foot, 5-inch Isaiah Niemczyk and 6-foot, 3-inch Caiden Williams. Though, they will be without starting center, 6-foot, 5-inch, Ben Knapp, who is having surgery.

Still, Niemczyk and Williams are a formidable duo in a division without a lot of size.

“We’re going to feed our bigs,” Matthews said about their game plan.

Niemczyk is an inside/outside threat who likes to drive with his length and athleticism. He averaged a team high 13.2 points per game as a sophomore a season ago.

Williams acts more as an old style power forward, doing the dirty work and little things to help teams win.

“We have to get it in the post more,” said Tyler Jannone. “Get it to the big guys down low and just use that to our big advantage.”

And then when teams collapse Canton’s shooters should have open looks. When they knocked them down they did well, however, that wasn’t always the case.

“The middle third of the season I thought our outside shooting let us down a little bit,” said Kitchen. “Teams were able to pack the paint on us a little bit and take Ben and Isaiah and Caiden away a little bit more and I don’t think our outside shooting pulled them back out for us.”

Shooting always varies throughout the year, especially at the high school level.

“I understand shooting can be hot and cold,” remarked Kitchen. “But I need to find enough consistent guys that can keep teams from packing the paint on us.”

That’s where Matthews and Cooper Kitchen come in. They led the team in 3-point percentage a year ago at 33 and 31 percent.

“I’ve been shooting a lot,” said Matthews. “I’ve been working on my shot good.”

They’ll also need to replace Rentzyl’s scoring, at nearly 8-ppg, as the team’s third option a year ago.

Regardless, though, Canton expects to be in the NTL Small School Division title hunt. They took second in the division a year ago and bring back several from that 10-man rotation.

“I think we have a good group of kids now,” Jannone said. “We just have to carry the same energy to what we had last year and bring it this year.”

It won’t be easy, though, as both divisions in the NTL expect to have strong teams.

“Liberty is still the favorite,” said Kitchen. “Wyalusing dropping down throws another big wrinkle in that.”

Throw in perennial contenders NEB and a revamped Sayre squad and the top looks pretty crowded in Division-II, much like how Division-I looked a year ago.

“The league is going to be very competitive night in and night out,” said Kitchen. “But I feel we can compete with any team, large or small school.”

Of course, everybody’s opponent, Covid-19, will likely have the final say of how, or if, winter sports go.

“We have to take it one game at a time because we don’t know how many we’ve got,” said Matthews.

However, they are determined not to let the stops and starts get to them.

“We’ve got to keep focused,” said Jannone. “Keep going and stick together as a team and play for next week. Take everyday day by day and keep working.”

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