Sports Editor

ARLINGTON -- Losing eight seniors off any team is difficult.

For Arlington Memorial High School boys basketball coach Chris Taft, losing those players to graduation can change the dynamic of a program.

"It's tough to fill that in a Division IV program," said Taft, who enters his second year leading the Eagles. "To lose eight people in the program when the school only has 50 boys total is tough."

Arlington had a terrific season in 2012-13, reaching the Division IV semifinals before falling to West Rutland, traveling to Barre for the first time since 2007. To return, Taft will need contributions up and down the lineup.

DJ Jennings, a three-year starter, is the lone senior for the Eagles. Consistent with last season, Taft expects opponents to focus on the 6-foot-6 center.

"Obviously we know teams will scheme against him, so in practice we mock that stuff, hopefully we have him so he knows where his options are," Taft said. "It starts with his shoulders, he obviously [has] a big stature, but he moves really well for his size, which surprises some people. I'd argue he's the best rebounder in D-IV, maybe even the state."

Taft said Jennings has worked hard to fill out his game and not just be a player who can only succeed in the paint.

"He can finish with both hands and he's worked on his free throws over the summer, which is a big help because he gets to the line a lot," Taft said.

With five sophomores, the Eagles, who finished 14-9 last season, will need the young guys to grow up fast.

One is sophomore point guard Austin Hawley, who got some valuable minutes last year as a freshman at the varsity level.

"He can handle the ball, he's a hard worker, he put in a lot of time over the summer," Taft said. "He plays with a lot of intensity and he needs to be big for us, hopefully we can carry that into this year."

A major difference is the work players did in the offseason, with some playing in a summer league and others joining AAU teams in Burlington or Albany, N.Y.

"Pretty much last year, we all [had] played together for quite a while," said Jennings, who averaged a double-double last season. "We have good team chemistry, but it's different this year. It's a good group, and they're willing to learn."

"I did AAU along with other guys, going to Burlington, Albany, Saratoga, all over the place," Hawley said. "I was always going to the park trying to improve my game as much as I could too."

While most know about the exploits from Jennings and Hawley, there is a lot of talent in the Eagles' Nest that have the ability to surprise some people.

Sophomores Nate Mattison and Lucas Stroffoleno, along with junior returner Konnor Andrews and freshman point guard Jared Lacoste will make noise, Taft said.

"Nate is a real solid player, should slot in at the 3 or 4, he's a taller player for us," Taft said. "He runs the court well, has good ball skills, probably our most skilled player with fundamentals. Jared, an eighth grader in JV last year, has a lot of growing to do physically, but he's looking to improve as well."

Jennings said he's looking forward to playing with some of the younger guys.

"Nate is definitely one of the most athletic kids I've ever seen. And Konnor, he took last year off, but he has a great outside shot. We're going to have to run the ball and be very athletic, that's going to be key."

Arlington doesn't start their season until Dec. 21, but open with state finalist Rochester right out of the gate. They also play Division II opponents Fair Haven and Otter Valley, along with Division III Green Mountain.

"Most of our schedule is tough, we usually play up a lot and that helps us come playoff time, we're pretty battle tested," Taft said. GIRLS BASKETBALL

Coach: Larry Andrews (3rd season)

Last year: 14-9, reached Division IV final

The team: After reaching the Division IV final as a No. 6 seed last season -- the lowest seed to do that since 1994 -- Arlington only lost two players to graduation. But those two were Jennah Lacoste and Rayleen Sherman, a major piece to the Eagles road to Barre last spring.

"That's two huge pieces, 400 points we'll be looking for," Andrews said. "We're still looking for someone to step up."

Andrews has 10 on varsity, so the bench will be a bit thin. But with a roster with only one senior, there's a ton of room for growth during the year.

"We're young and small. We're going to utilize our speed. I'm hoping Molly can step up as a leader," Andrews said. "She had a fantastic year last year, so we know her and Julia Lacoste will be a focal point for opponents."

The one senior is Savannah Pike, returning to the Eagles after two years away.

Three players, including freshman Riley Lane, will switch between JV and varsity as well.

"She going to be a swinger to start, get minutes on JV, and that'll pay off halfway through the season," Andrews said.

Brooke Hawley and Becca Solari, both juniors, will be integral pieces as well, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

"Becca is going to be our spark on defense, she loves to get in your face," Andrews said. "She's going to guard teams' best player most times."

Avery Bucchieri and Hannah Andrew should provide strong minutes from the bench.

First game: 12/16 at Black River