NORTH ADAMS — The start of any sports season provides a team with optimism. That's no different for the MCLA men's basketball team.
"I think we have a lot of potential," said freshman guard Quentin Gittens from Taconic. "I think we have a lot of potential that we can turn this program around and get some wins this year."
The Trailblazers, who were 6-18 last year and 2-10 in MASCAC play, were picked by the conference coaches to finish last in the seven-team league.
"It's a new basketball season, so it's exciting," coach Derek Shell said. "We definitely have more size, we have a little bit more depth. We've got a pretty good mix of veterans and newcomers, so I'm excited going forward."
The Trailblazers will open their 2019-20 season on Friday night in Vermont. They will travel to Northern Vermont-Johnson for the first round of the NVU Classic. MCLA will play Northern Vermont-Johnson, the former Johnson State in one game Friday, while NVU-Lyndon will play Vermont Tech. On Saturday, the Trailblazers will play Lyndon, while Johnson plays Vermont Tech.
MCLA will play its first five games on the road, a run that includes playing at the Western New England Tournament Nov. 15-16.
The Trailblazers will play their home opener on Saturday, Nov. 23, against Becker.
MCLA's top two scorers from last year are back in juniors Mike DiMartinis (13.8 points per game) and Hayden Bird (10.3 points). Bird, a graduate of Drury, joins Gittens as the Berkshire County representatives on the team. Bird is the top returning rebounder, as he averaged 5.8 boards per game a year ago.
Point guard Ki-Shawn Monroe, a Putnam graduate, averaged 6.4 points and 3 assists per game, and he will lead the attack.
"Obviously, with the season we had a year ago," Shell said, "we're hopeful that a lot of different guys can share that load."
There is a familiar face returning to the fold. Noah Yearsley from Averill Park, N.Y., is back for his junior season. Yearsley, who averaged 13.5 points per game and shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range in his freshman season, spent his sophomore year at Siena, where he had hoped to crack to varsity roster.
"It feels great" to be back, Yearsley said. "I'm excited to play again. It's been a while. I'm excited to play for Coach Shell again."
Yearsley said that being around the Siena program and seeing what Division I athletes do to prepare for games will help him.
"I learned a lot because I was at a D-I program, where I learned a lot from coaches and players. I saw them in practice every day and learned from them," Yearsley said. "I'm taking a lot of what I learned from there, bringing it here and trying to help build the program here."
Yearsley is one of the veteran newcomers to this year's MCLA squad. Senior guard Damon Daniel and sophomore guard Dylan Morris-Gray both arrive in the Amsler Campus Center after spending last year at Southern Vermont. Daniel played against MCLA, scoring nine points in an 82-60 win over the Trailblazers.
Daniel, from Gaithersburg, Md., averaged 5.3 points per game in 22 games. He is a senior.
Morris-Gray is a 6-foot-1 sophomore from Port Jefferson Station, N.Y. Morris-Gray played in nine games, and also averaged 5.5 points per contest.
A third former Mountaineer is 6-foot-6 senior Hans Resignac. The Philadelphia-area product played volleyball at SVC.
Gittens is one of two freshmen on Shell's roster. The other is 6-6 center Chris Becker of Lake George, N.Y. Becker was the MVP of the Section II Class C Tournament, where Lake George beat Hoosick Falls to win the title. Becker's high school won 54 consecutive games.
"Moving forward, I'm hopeful [Gittens] will be a huge piece of the program going forward," said Shell, who starts his fourth season. "He's been great thus far. He picks his spots. He's a great kid, an all-around player, and I'm looking forward to seeing him develop."