ST. CLAIRSVILLE - St. Clairsville enjoyed a season that no one will soon forget.
It was actually a season of many firsts for the Red Devils, including the school's first state tournament appearance and OVAC title.
The bizarre thing about it for Coach Kim Clifford's team was that it might have come a year ahead of schedule.
''We knew this was going to be a good group, but I think last year's team overachieved somewhat to accomplish everything it did,'' Clifford said. ''I don't even know that last season has fully set in yet. It might actually be several years down the road before we truly look back and realize just how special of a season that was.''
The Red Devils finished last season with a 23-3 record and welcome back every member of that squad, which has certainly raised the level of expectations, but that's OK with Clifford.
''This year shouldn't be a surprise,'' Clifford said. ''All of the kids have experience and they've worked hard to get better. Getting back to Columbus (for the state tournament) is the main goal and I am not one of the guys afraid to say that. I really think you have to think big.''
Clifford, who is beginning his 22nd season at St. C., realizes that there are absolutely no givens in the process.
''It's definitely our goal, but does that mean just go ahead and pencil us in?'' Clifford said. ''No, it doesn't mean that. It means we do have high expectations and we're going to work hard to get there.''
The Red Devils put a lot of time in during the offseason and summer to hone their craft. They might be better shooters, dribblers and rebounders. Heck, they might have gotten a little bit bigger and stronger, too. But, according to their coach, none of those are the best characteristics of the 2012-13 Devils.
''Undoubtedly, the best thing about this team and these kids is their character,'' Clifford said. ''These guys genuinely like each other and root for each other. Don't get me wrong, they're talented and athletic, but I really think the chemistry of these kids is why we're having the success we're having.''
The Red Devils are playing this season with a solid understanding that nothing is promised and Clifford has been stressing one idea to his squad.
''We're going on a little saying that says, 'if you're going to eat an elephant, you have to eat it one bite at a time,''' Clifford said. ''It's all about one step at a time, one practice at a time. We used that approach last year and had some success with it, so we're going to try to emulate that kind of scenario. There are definitely a lot of factors that go into a season.''
The Red Devils are normally one of the deeper teams around and this year will certainly be no different since Clifford as a rotation of nine solid players he can use for varsity minutes.
The unquestioned leader of the Devils is senior standout Dan Monteroso. Coming off a brilliant junior season in which he averaged 26.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and four assists a game en route to a myriad of post-season honors.
Monteroso has scored 1,663 points in three seasons, was a first-team all-Ohioan and named as one of several state co-players of the year.
''Dan absolutely had a great season, but he also has room to get better and he knows that,'' Clifford said. ''What's so special about Dan is he takes it personally when you tell him to do something. He'll do whatever it takes to get better.''
Senior Riley Carlton (5-foot-11) netted 14 points and passed out six assists a game last season. He'll be back to run the Red Devils' offense this winter.
''Riley has gotten a lot stronger,'' Clifford said. ''He's been like my assistant coach in practice and has worked well with the younger kids. His leadership skills have gotten a lot stronger and he's shooting the ball really well.''
Senior Adam Jeffries (6-1) is a swing player for the Devils. He netted 10 points a game and was a consistent threat from 3-point range.
''Adam has really improved,'' Clifford said. ''He had a really good summer. He played a lot of point guard for us because Riley played a lot of baseball. His ball handling skills have improved tremendously.''
Senior Jerrid Marhefka (6-0) is one of the most unsung players for the Devils. He's a tireless, athletic defender. On the offensive end, he scored 10 points a game, passed out three assists and grabbed a like number of rebounds.
"Jerrid went from being a role player to making huge plays in big games for us," Clifford said. "I thought he could have a big season last year and he didn't disappoint."
Junior Joel Giffin (6-2) is the Devils' post presence. He's not asked to score much. He's a solid post defender and rebounder.
''Joel's gotten a lot bigger and stronger,'' Clifford said. ''He'll do everything you'll ask him to do. He's gotten a lot more athletic over the summer. We'll need him to get into basketball shape in a hurry.''
Senior Dylan Campbell (6-1), who hit some huge shots last season, will be one of the top subs off the bench this winter. Jared Burghy (5-8), who is a sound on-ball defender, also can provide a spark off the pine.
Senior Zach Keylor (5-9) and junior Jared Derosa (5-10) round out the expected varsity rotation.
Other juniors vying for minutes include: Tanner Nemeti (5-8), Dylan Panepucci (6-0) and Steven Campbell (6-0). The sophomores, who will be ticketed primarily for reserve action, include: J.C. Coleman (6-0), Michael Monteroso (6-2), Travis Hothom (6-4) and Alex Gazdik (5-9).
Clifford's coaching staff returns in tact. Kevin Sacco, Ryan Clifford and Eric Gay are back to work with the varsity and reserve. Adam Vincenzo and Josh Johnson are the junior high coaches.
Dec. 11: at Martins Ferry7:30 p.m.
Dec. 14: Edison7:30 p.m.
Dec. 15: Columbus Africentric7:30 p.m.
Dec. 18: Buckeye Local7:30 p.m.
Dec. 22: Claymont7:30 p.m.
Dec. 28: Upper Arlington *7:45 p.m.
Jan. 4: at Harrison Central7:30 p.m.
Jan. 8: Bellaire7:30 p.m.
Jan. 9: Steubenville7:30 p.m.
Jan. 11: Union Local7:30 p.m.
Jan. 15: at Indian Creek7:30 p.m.
Jan. 18: Martins Ferry7:30 p.m.
Jan. 22: at Edison7:30 p.m.
Jan. 25: at Buckeye Local7:30 p.m.
Jan. 27: at Cleveland St. Ignatius **7:30 p.m.
Jan. 29: Harrison Central7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1: at Bellaire7:30 p.m.
Feb. 2: Cambridge7:30 p.m.
Feb. 5: at Union Local7:30 p.m.
TBA: Indian CreekTBA
* at Marietta
** at Walsh