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MAIT tips off Friday

November 27, 2003|by TIM KOELBLE

koelble@herald-mail.com

Open the Gael Center doors.

It's time for the 21st annual Mid-Atlantic Invitational Tournament as St. Maria Goretti hosts defending champion St. Joseph's Prep (Pa.), Roanoke (Va.) Catholic and Chambersburg Friday and Saturday.

The event tips off with St. Joseph's facing Roanoke Catholic at 6:30 p.m. Friday, followed by the Gaels' season opener against Chambersburg. The losing teams return Saturday at 6 p.m., followed by the MAIT title game.

Gaels coach Cokey Robertson begins his 30th year with 706 victories under his belt after coming off last year's 17-17 season. Derrick Davis and Joey Breslin have graduated, leaving Goretti lacking in experience as the year unfolds.

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"There have been a few sleepless nights toying with how we'll replace Derrick and Joey," Robertson said. "This will be the biggest challenge at Goretti in recent memory, but the nice part is we have 10 competitive kids and they love to play."

Most of the experience returns with two of Goretti's three big players - 6-foot-5 senior Mike Nelson and 6-7 senior Joey Spierenburg up front with 6-8 senior Mason Herman coming off the bench.

Robertson will choose from 5-10 junior Trevor Cobb and 5-9 sophomore Tim Alexander at the point, with 6-0 junior Corey Tornetta at the shooting guard spot. The small forward will come out of a battle between 6-0 sophomore Andy Chambers, junior Tim Kellinger and sophomore Jake Hume.

"We'll come into this tournament against people that will be quicker and put pressure on the younger guys," Robertson said. "Derrick always took care of the ball and that's a concern right now ... transition .. handling pressure."

It's a preseason outlook Robertson hasn't had to deal with since the 1987 Rodney Monroe-era ended when the starting five graduated.

"This is a similar situation to 1987 when we had very young players the following year and finished less than .500," Robertson said.

Chambersburg, 14-10 last season under coach Shawn Shreffler, has a trio of returning starters to give the Trojans reason to project a bright picture. None of the returnees are seniors.

Sophomore Jonathan Motichka (6-1) and juniors Chas Rauhauser (6-2) and Alan Bender (5-9) are the key returning ingredients for the Trojans.

St. Joseph's is coming off a 30-2 campaign, good for a No. 10 national ranking by USA/Today.

However, the Hawks were hit hard by graduation and have only two returning starters in guards John Griffin (6-0) and Chris Clark (5-8), who averaged 14 and 11 points last year.

"It will be baptism by fire for us," said St. Joseph's third-year coach Speedy Morris, who spent 17 years as head coach at LaSalle University and has been a high school head coach for 19 years. "We don't have a lot of depth and there are many question marks."

One of the stars lost via graduation was Mark Zoller, who is now at Penn.

Roanoke Catholic, 15-10 last year, will bring experience to its first MAIT, including a "seasoned vet" who is a freshman.

Deangelo Robinson, a 6-1 wing, played as an eighth-grader and went to the Nike Jamboree this summer. He joins returnees Turner King (6-3 sophomore) and Steven Nowlin (6-3 sophomore). Add 6-7 Paulius Morkeliunas from Lithuania to the mix and coach Dick Hall expects good things from the Celtics.

"It's hard to project the opening games but we have a deep team that is quick," said Hall, who has coached 105 victories in the last five years at Roanoke and has sent eight players on to the college ranks, including J.R. Reynolds to Virginia.

The MAIT is sponsored by Wachovia Securities.

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