The La Roche College men's basketball team's senior class has accomplished a lot during its tenure with the Redhawks, winning two Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference regular-season titles, one AMCC tournament title, making one NCAA Division III tournament appearance and amassing more wins than any other class in its first three seasons in school history.
But this season will be different for the seven La Roche seniors. For the first time in their four years at the school, they will have the same head coach for two consecutive seasons.
Hermie Carmichael returns for his second year as head coach after leading La Roche to a 17-11 record and a share of the conference title in his first season in 2012-13.
The season before that, Harry Jenkins served as coach after taking over as an interim coach the season before when Scott Lang shockingly died at the age of 41 in December of 2010. Jenkins retired after the 2011-12 season.
"We sort of kept the same system [all four years], but it's nice to have a head coach who you know is going to be there again," said senior Neal McKown, a Plum High School alumnus.
It also helps Carmichael to have such an experienced and accomplished group of players.
The team is led by forward David Jackson, a two-time second-team All-AMCC player who already holds the school record for career rebounds. He is one of three returning starters, along with guards Andre Flanigan and Lionel Perkins.
"Those three have tallied a lot of minutes for us," Carmichael said.
Carmichael said his other two starters usually will be seniors Jean Freeman at center and Daron Tabron at one of the guard spots. Tabron is the team's defensive stopper. But during the team's first two games over the weekend, a few other players, such as McKown and Torin Smith, earned starts.
For McKown, it was the first time in his four years he had started a game.
"It was pretty awesome," McKown said. "I didn't even tell my parents. I kept it a surprise from my family, so they didn't find out until the starting lineups were announced."
McKown, who Carmichael said can play the two, three or four spots for La Roche, rewarded his coach by scoring 12 points in a 79-78 win against Hiram College Friday night. Tabron had the game-winning free throw in the final seconds.
La Roche dropped its game Saturday to St. Vincent, 71-59.
Carmichael has high hopes for this Redhawks team. In addition to the seven seniors, which also includes senior reserve Joe Dice of North Hills, the team has talented sophomores in Smith and Zaire Redding. Redding scored 27 points in two games off the bench last weekend.
A group of five freshmen, including Christian Perkins (Perry), Evan Bonnaure (South Fayette) and Sterling Henry (Kittanning), will also hope to see some playing time as the season progresses.
"We were very honest with them," Carmichael said. "It's going to be tough for them to see [a lot of playing] time this year. But as the season goes on and they learn how to play our system, hopefully they'll get some more minutes."
That would be a bonus for the Redhawks as they try to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. This season's seniors were freshmen then, when La Roche lost in the first round to Wittenberg, 74-68.
"We got a taste of it and saw what the competition is like around the nation at the Division III level," McKown said. "We feel like we can hang with anyone with the athletes we have. We full-heartedly believe we can make all our goals happen."