PERU – Mike Kilmartin and the St. Bede Bruins are ready to take the next step.
It’s been 13 years since the Bruins have won a regional title. Last year, in a loaded bracket, they advanced to the regional championship but lost by eight points to Fieldcrest. With three of the five starters returning from last year’s team that finished 23-8, the Bruins enter the season with high expectations.
“We have a lot of experience back,” said Kilmartin, who enters his second year as coach at St. Bede. “Hopefully, that takes us through some rough spots. We haven’t won a regional in a while, and of course that is one of our goals. We were in four championship games last year in the four tournaments you can possibly play in, but we only won once.
“I think we will have a target on our back even though we didn’t win a regional,” he added. “I hope we can get a (championship), but it will be really interesting to see who comes to our regional. We had a dynamite one last year.”
This year’s roster at the Academy will be senior heavy with 10 of the 12 players on the team in their final year of high school. This is the same senior class that didn’t lose as freshmen and only once as sophomores.
The Bruins will bring back their big man in the middle Joe Pyszka (6-7, 260). The three-year starter averaged 11.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last year. Kilmartin said Pyszka has come into camp in better shape and has become more of a vocal leader.
Seniors Brad Groleau (12.3 ppg), a 6-foot forward, and Damin Smith (9.9 ppg), a 6-1 guard, also return to the starting lineup and will be key contributors. Senior guard Sam Lucas started some last year and is expected to be in the starting line along with senior guard Bobby Morrow to start the season.
“I think with Pyszka inside and with three pretty good perimeter shooters we are going to be a double-edged sword, inside and outside,” said Kilmartin. “They are going to have collapse on Joe and he is more than willing to pass the ball out of the post and hit the open man and reverse the ball. I think we are going to be able to score both ways.”
Kilmartin said senior guard Grant Bosnich would have likely been in the starting lineup to start the season because of his big-game experience, but he sprained his ankle at the Meet the Bruins scrimmage on Friday night. He is listed as day-to-day.
The Bruins have just two juniors on the team, Taggart Venegas (G) and Ethan Duttlinger (6-4, F). Both are expected to see key minutes. Seniors Eric Li (F), Logan Bima (F), Tael Lu (F) and Alex Schweickert (F) round out the roster.
The Bruins will enter the Three Rivers Conference next year along with six other teams. As for this year, playing basically with a limited conference schedule in the three-team NCIC, the Bruins’ focus will be to improve as the season progresses and be playing their best basketball when the postseason rolls around.
St. Bede will tip off its season Tuesday at the Coal City Thanksgiving Tournament against Morris, who will be short-handed with their football team preparing for the 5A championship game this weekend. Kilmartin seeks his 400th career win, including stops at DePue, AlWood and Mendota. The Coal City tournament runs Nov. 20-24.