Mark "Knobby" Walsh didn't have to worry about keeping his Seton-LaSalle boys basketball team motivated during the offseason.
After securing their first section title since 2000 with a perfect 12-0 conference record last year, the Rebels went 21-3 overall but saw their season come to an abrupt end during the WPIAL quarterfinals, losing a one-point heart-breaker against Quaker Valley.
"That game did stay with us," said Walsh, who is in his third season coaching at Seton-LaSalle. "We didn't talk much about the game soon afterward, but we used it as a motivation factor. It was a tough end to a great season.
"Basically, we said, 'We'll be back.' We realized we had a lot coming back this year and we stayed motivated through the summer and fall. We put last year and that game behind us now and are looking for a fresh start this year."
Entering this season as the Post-Gazette's No. 2-ranked team in WPIAL Class AA, the Rebels jumped out to a 2-0 start last weekend at Peters Township's tip-off tournament. Seton-LaSalle knocked off host Peters Township, 63-30, Friday before slipping past Class AAAA's No. 3 Gateway, 68-66, the next night.
Senior point guard Dale Clancy poured in a game-high 31 points against the Gators.
"Our team balance was key," Walsh said. "Clancy scoring like he did definitely helped, but the guys are starting to have a greater understanding of what we need to do offensively and defensively.
"I was really happy to see the amount of energy our guys were playing with so early in the year."
With Clancy back running the point, Walsh also returned starters 6-foot-5 senior swingman Levi Masua and 6-4 senior forward Malik White. Senior guard David Boehm and junior forward Ryan Norkus round out the Rebels' starting five.
Senior guard Dom Del Greco, who saw a lot of time last year, will miss this season after sustaining a knee injury during football season.
"We're very balanced and have some size," Walsh said. "Coming into this year, I thought we would have a pretty good team. We lost some seniors, but we continue to try to stay balanced year-in and year-out."
Clancy averaged a team-best 13.6 points last season, while Masua followed with 11.5 points per game.
"We're fortunate to be very balanced in scoring," Walsh said. "We like to spread the scoring out and not rely on one or two guys. When you have more than one weapon, it makes it tough to go up against. We want to get everyone involved."
Junior guard Christian Del Greco will be a sixth man coming off the bench that also will feature senior guard Tim Rizza, junior guard Andrew Rodgers and sophomore guard Cletus Helton.
"Defense is going to be our forte," Walsh said. "We want to hold teams down without fouling. We want to pride ourselves with defense."
The Rebels finished undefeated in section play last season for the first time since 1989 and captured the Section 4-AA crown. Seton-LaSalle dives into section play tomorrow night on the road at Chartiers-Houston.
"The section is going to be a competitive one," Walsh said. "I know Washington had one of the best JV teams I've seen in a long time. Both times we played them last year it was close, so they'll be an exciting team. After that it looks pretty balanced.
"It really doesn't matter who we play as much as how we play. We want to emphasize worrying more about what we do instead of worrying what our opponents do."
Walsh, though, also knows how his team plays defensively should dictate the Rebels' season.
"Everything is really going to come down to defense," Walsh said. "We want to hold teams down and cover all defensive details.
"There might be nights we don't shoot well, so defense has to be the key.
"When it comes to the playoffs -- where every game is a road game -- defense will be the most important. Defense is the same in every gym you play in, so as long as we do that right, we're going to be in a good position to win games."