Longtime Western Beaver coach Joe Podolak wrote off last season as "a good learning experience" for his boys basketball team.
Featuring a younger, inexperienced group of players, Podolak witnessed his Golden Beavers post a 3-7 record in Section 1-A and finish the season 6-15 overall.
Podolak, however, knows last season wasn't a complete waste.
"We did see some positives," said Podolak, who has been at Western Beaver for close to 40 years. "When you have young guys out there, you want to remember the positives and forget the negatives."
Despite the less-than-impressive record, Western Beaver did qualify for the WPIAL playoffs by finishing tied for fourth place with Rochester. The Golden Beavers made a quick exit, however, in the first round of the Class A tournament.
"The young guys really improved since last year," Podolak said. "We're expecting much more out of them this season."
Besides struggling with an early six-game losing streak last December, the Golden Beavers ended their campaign losing seven of their last nine games, including the last five in a row. Three of those section losses, however, were decided by eight points or fewer.
"The goal is always to win games," said Podolak, whose program hasn't had a winning season since going 19-8 in 2006. "But you always want to improve each game. We did get better and I think that carried over to this year.
"The difference is how you look in practice compared to how good you look after a game. We'll have to see what happens."
Once again competing in Section 1-A with the likes of powerhouse Lincoln Park, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Rochester, Union and Cornell, the Golden Beavers (5-0 before a non-section game against New Brighton Wednesday night) have enough experience to be considered a section darkhorse.
"I think we're definitely going to be a better team," Podolak said. "But when you're in the same section as Lincoln Park, you really don't know what to expect. This section is going to be strong with Lincoln Park and OLSH, and then everyone else is pretty even, so I know we're excited."
Senior guard Nick Miller returns as a headliner in Western Beaver's starting five. A first-team all-section choice last season, Miller was one of the top scorers in the WPIAL last season with an average of 24.4 points a game.
Miller, who stands 6 feet 2, opened this season with an impressive 43 points during the Golden Beavers' 89-46 victory against Freedom Area in their season-opener on Dec. 6 at South Side Beaver's tipoff tournament. Miller knocked down eight 3-pointers against the Bulldogs.
After scoring 12 in the tournament title game against Rochester, a 77-73 victory, he has gone on a tear, with 35 in a 77-69 victory last week against Riverside and 31 in a 72-54 conquest of Deer Lakes. He had 38 Tuesday in a 79-57 rout of Eden Christian. He's averaging 31.8 points per game through four games.
"Nick is definitely our main man and we really rely on him," Podolak said. "We expect big things from him this season. He's really improved. He played some AAU this past summer, worked hard on improving his game and you can see he wants to be a better player."
Senior guards Steve Robison (6-0) and Ed Doyle (5-11) as well as junior guard John Petrosky (6-1) and junior forwards Jared Fye (6-3) and Cody Acon (6-3) will make up the rest of Western Beavers' key regulars.
Robison was a standout in the victory against Rochester, leading the Golden Beavers with 20 points in that game.
"Those six guys will see most of the action," Podolak said. "We have other guys and once our starters get into foul trouble, hopefully the other guys will step right in."
Podolak expects 6-3 senior center Jared Postupac, 6-2 junior forward Zach McComas, 5-9 sophomore guard Sean Duffy and 5-8 sophomore guard Nick Cusano and sophomore forward Corey Chaffee to add quality depth from the bench.