PITTSBURG — The St. Mary’s Colgan boys’ basketball team is relying on experience in the program to make up for the Panthers returning one part-time starter for the 2016-17 season.

Colgan finished last season with a 13-8 record. SMC graduated seven seniors from a year ago, including nearly every starter, but that isn’t leaving the Panthers void of depth. It’s quite the opposite, as nine players return with varsity experience.

“We are very excited to get things going,” Colgan head coach Wayne Cichon said. “We’re going to be very competitive. How competitive, that will depend on how the kids learn to play together as a team.”

Senior guard Dominic Piccini is the lone returning starter for SMC this season. He will be joined by eight more seniors, giving the Panthers nine players in their fourth year in Cichon’s program.

Seniors Alex Brown, Josh Hayes, Simon Higginbotham, Billy Dickey, Zach Hizey, Austin Lindsey, Logan VanBecelaere and Brandon Ngo are expected to fill out much of the rotation for the Panthers as well as the leadership role for younger, inexperienced players.

“I think the whole senior class is going to be a group of leaders, more so than just one or two kids,” Cichon said. “All those kids played for us at the lower levels, and then last year even made contribution at the varsity levels. The cupboard is not bare. We have a lot of kids with a lot of varsity experience, that should pay well for us.”

While the senior class is rather large, Coach Cichon has a group of juniors who he thinks will be key contributors to this year’s team — forwards Bradley Beykirch and Peter Ford as well as guards Jeremiah Buche and Jacob Dellasega.

“Bradley Beykirch is a good-sized player for us. I think he is going to be a big factor,” Cichon said. “We’re hoping Jake Dellasega can come in healthy for us after missing the last two seasons with bone injuries.”

The experience SMC has this year is expected to be the team’s biggest strength, according to Cichon. Defensive aggressiveness by the five on the court as well as perimeter shooting are also areas in which the Panthers will try to exploit against opposing teams.

“The defensive ability of this group is extremely good,” Cichon said. “I think our perimeter, probably for several years, is going to be the best we’ve had in quite some time.”

The biggest threat to success for Colgan comes in the early portion of the season, where maintaining concentration throughout possessions and finding a groove on the court together as the season progresses will be at the top of the priority list.

When asked what it would take for SMC to be competitive on the floor this year, Cichon had a simple response which you would expect from a coach who is entering his 34th season at the helm — controlling the paint.

“I’d say they’d be able to have to defend the inside better than we have in the past,” he said. “We haven’t had the size that we’ll have this year, but we’ve had strong inside play … We’re going to have a little bit of an inside presence, and, hopefully, we can command the inside game.”

Colgan opens up its season on the road, traveling to rival Frontenac for a 8 p.m. matchup Friday.

-- Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at ldavis@morningsun.net and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.