That's how many observers view the Mt. Hood Conference as the 2001-02 boys basketball season gets underway.
One such observer is HRV head coach Tom Ames.
"We have the talent and the work ethic to compete with every team in this conference," he said. "But we have to show up to play every night because we know the other teams will."
Defending league champ David Douglas should again be strong, while Barlow, Central Catholic, Gresham and Sandy will likely battle HRV down to the wire for the four MHC state playoff berths.
One of the biggest differences between this year's squad and the team that finished 7-9 in conference last year is the players' positive attitude and feeling of unity.
"This team really has it together mentally," senior center Eric Nelson said. "There’s no in-fighting or egos. We're all friends and we're going after the same thing. We played together all summer and fall, and we like our chances this year."
Another difference for the Eagles this season is that they have a true point guard — junior Andy Holmson -- who is capable of dominating a game. Holmson is Ames’ first natural floor general since he arrived in 1998, and believes his presence could turn the Eagles into a legitimate league-title contender.
"Andy is the best point guard I've had since I’ve been here," Ames said. "He's as good as anyone else in the league. Not only can he run the floor and distribute, but can also get involved on the boards."
Joining Holmson in the starting backcourt will be 6'2" junior Mitchell Bohn, who missed multiple games last year due to injury.
Senior swingman Nate Armerding will occupy the three, and the Eagles will often look to him for a lift from the outside. The silky-shooting Armerding can also play tough inside on both offense and defense.
Returning starter Brendon Charles will handle the power forward spot and may be asked to shoulder much of the scoring load this season. He is also a skilled passer and solid rebounder who can take the ball up court.
"Brendon is really maturing as a player," Ames said. "He's seeing the court better and has been finding the open man. Plus, he can take some of the pressure off Andy by starting the offense when teams deny Andy the ball."
Rounding out the starting five is Nelson, a 6'6" post player with a knack for rebounding and a soft touch inside. Ames said he’s been impressed with Nelson's improvement and will look to him for leadership this season.
Ames will use three primary subs in his rotation -- forward Todd Shyppertt, guard Jarrod Fogle and post Ryan Goe -- and is hoping to get significant contributions from each of them as the season moves along.
Other potential contributors for the Eagles this season are sophomore post Heath Goin and junior guard Tyler Monzie. Both will help guide a strong JV squad along with Todd Price, Sam Murillo, Chris Mason and Ryan Pratt.
The most important factor for the Eagles in their state playoff run this year will be controlling the tempo and creating mistakes with high-intensity defense.
"It's no secret that we like to run the floor," Ames said. "We'll try to be opportunistic and force turnovers so we can run the fast break."
The Eagles will also look for solid rebounding production from Nelson, Goe and Charles to jump-start the fast break and give them second opportunities on offense. HRV begins its conference run Dec. 11 at David Douglas.