Walton and football go together like peas and carrots.
But Walton and basketball ... well, that's more like corn and cabbage.
Until last season, that is. The Warriors boys won their first league title in 45 years by beating Oxford, 46-42, in the Midstate Athletic Conference championship game.
The question is, can Walton reload the way its football program does year in and year out?
"I think so," fifth-year Walton coach Gary Williams said. "The JVs had a nice year last year and we have some of those kids up. We've won 15 games the last couple years on JV and the varsity won 17 games last year. Our JVs are off to a 3-0 start this season and so is the varsity. The kids are doing a lot in the spring and summer and it's starting to pay off all the way around. You can see their basketball experience."
Walton is one of several teams expected to contend for the MAC Division I title, along with Greene, Sidney, Delhi and Unatego.
"What it allows is if you do lose a game, you don't feel like you're out of it," Williams said of Division I, which the Warriors won with an 8-2 record last season. "You know you can get some help down the road and a loss may not end your chances."
Oxford has several players back from last year and appears to be the favorite in defending its Division II title from a year ago.
The MAC lost several standout players to graduation in Daily Star First Team All-Stars Bryant Winans (Afton), Pat O'Brien (Walton), Kody Westcott (Sidney) and Raffi Perry (Unadilla Valley), and second-teamers Drew Hammond (Walton), Kyle Falkenmeyer (Unatego) and Mason Wyman (Unadilla Valley).
The following is a team-by-team look at area MAC teams:
The Bulldogs, who went 6-14 last season, return seniors Luke Burns, Sean O'Connell and Mike Morales.
Forward Burns averaged 10.8 points and 8.5 rebounds en route to being named a first-team all-MAC performer a year ago. He earned MVP honors in leading Delhi to the championship of its Ed Shalkey Tournament to start the season.
O'Connell, a guard, averaged 4.5 points and 2.6 assists last season. Morales will man the point for the Bulldogs.
Among the newcomers is sophomore center Jacob Haynes, who scored 15 points in Delhi's 47-40 victory over Middleburgh in the Shalkey final.
Don't let the Warriors' 0-4 start fool you.
Sidney, coming off an 8-11 season, opened against Southern Tier Athletic Conference teams Johnson City, Chenango Forks and Norwich, and Section Three Class B school Oneida. And the Warriors played their first three games without Quinn Dorsey, a 6-foot-4 swingman who could be one of the top players in the MAC this season. Dorsey, a senior and one of two holdovers from Sidney's Class C state championship team from two seasons ago, went out of town following football season and did not have enough practices to play in the team's first three games.
Dorsey scored 18 points in his first game back, a 74-69 loss to Oneida in the consolation of the Tom Schwan Memorial Tournament at Norwich on Dec. 6.
Sophomore Dylan Umbra returns for his second year as a starter. Umbra has averaged a shade under 12 points through Sidney's first four games.
After taking a year off from basketball, senior guard Mike Guerriere is back. He's averaged 11.5 points early on.
Junior guard Aaron Wood, the top scorer off Sidney's JV team a year ago, has scored in double figures twice this season.
"I have some athletes, but we're struggling to defend," said Sidney coach Mike Brazee, whose team has allowed 68 points per game thus far. "Not defending is our biggest problem."
The losses of Perry and Wyman, who combined for 30 points per game last season, will be hard to replace for the Storm, who went 14-7 in 2007-08. Perry is playing this season at Onondaga Community College.
Seniors Paul Smith, Josh Thomsen and Jimmy Jachim are the team's top returners. Smith, a point guard, averaged five points and three rebounds last season. Thomsen, a 6-5 center, contributed four points and five rebounds.
"We will struggle if we cannot find a consistent scorer," UV coach Matt Osborne said. "Defense will be a key to the team's success."
The Spartans, 14-7 a year ago, graduated four starters who combined for 34 points per game _ including Falkenmeyer's 14.1, Alex Hendrickson's 8.6 and Kyle Palmer's 7.6.
Unatego's top returners are senior forwards Kyle Ray and Chet Davis. Ray averaged 10.7 points and 6.6 rebounds last season, which Davis missed with a knee injury.
Sophomore guard Will May also returns. He averaged 6.8 points a year ago.
"It may take a while to get going and get everyone on the same page," fourth-year Spartans coach Jim Knight said. "We should improve as the season goes on."
Junior guards Cody Chambers, Cody Komenda and Dale Rifenbark are also expected to contribute.
The Warriors lost four starters off last season's 17-5 squad, which fell, 48-33, to Union Springs in a Section Four Class C semifinal.
The biggest departure was left-handed point guard O'Brien, an eighth-team all-state selection in Class C who plays for Clinton Community College. Hammond, Brad Hodges and Casey Killian also graduated.
The lone returning starter is Chad Gardepe, a senior guard.
"He's playing more confidently," Williams said of Gardepe, who averaged 15 points in helping the Warriors to a 3-0 start this season. "With the seniors gone, he's taken it upon himself to step up and emerge from a role player to a go-to guy."
Classmate Jon Howard, a senior forward, also has taken on a larger role this season. A third-year varsity player, Howard scored a varsity-high 17 points in Walton's 52-47 victory over Tri-Valley in the final of its tournament Dec. 8.
Juniors Dan Gehl, a 6-4 center, and Steve Kaminsky, a guard, also will be counted on this season.
"It's really a different kind of team," Williams said. "Last year, we were big. We have a little bit of size this year, but we may be quicker all the way around than last year. With our big guys last year, we played a lot of half-court basketball. But this year, we're going to try to pick up the tempo more."
Without Winans, twice named the MAC's Division II MVP and a first-team all-stater in Class D last season, the Crimson Knights could struggle offensively.
Winans, a two-time Daily Star First Team All-Star who plays for Cazenovia, averaged 25 points, five rebounds and five assists last season in helping Afton to a 14-8 record.
Senior Casey Mohrien and his sophomore brother, Corey, return for Afton, which received 13 points from 6-5 junior swingman Adam Rupakus in a 52-34 loss to Walton on Dec. 9.
The Bobcats are off to a 1-3 start this season, their lone victory a 62-51 triumph over Gilbertsville-Mount Upton on Dec. 2.
Justin Pepper has scored in double figures in each of B-G's first four games, including a 25-point night against G-MU. Steve Patten and Ryan Porter also have hit double digits in scoring this season.
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.