Mike DeStazio and Jim Gracyk are good friends and respect each other, and they are both extremely competitive.
The two battled for years when they were the head girls basketball coaches at Woodmore and Eastwood, respectively, in the former Suburban Lakes League. DeStazio is now at Genoa and Gracyk is at Lake, and the battles between the two veteran coaches have resumed.
“Mike and I talk a lot before, after and sometimes during the games,” Gracyk said. “There is mutual respect.”
The Comets and Flyers split a pair of regular-season games as members of the Northern Buckeye Conference. DeStazio got the last laugh last Saturday when Genoa upset second-seeded Lake, 63-42, in a Division III sectional final at, of all places, Eastwood High School.
“I'd really like a do-over,” Gracyk said, “or a best-of-five series. Next year will be WW3.”
Genoa won the first meeting with the Flyers this season, 50-35 at Lake, while the Flyers won the rematch on the Comets’ home court, 51-39.
Genoa (8-14), which had lost nine in a row after beating Lakota on Jan. 14, faces NBC rival Elmwood on Thursday in the district semifinals at Central Catholic. The Flyers and Royals split two regular-season meetings.
DeStazio clearly was thrilled that his underdog squad, which has struggled closing out games all season, won the sectional championship against Gracyk’s Lake squad. Ciara Albright led all scorers with 26 points, while Genoa teammates Haley Pickard and Haley Gerke added 14 and 11, respectively.
“I think the difference was we took the ball to the basket and Lake settled for jumpers,” DeStazio said. “I don’t think anybody expected us to beat Lake, and then beat them the way we did. The kids played very well. With this game being at Eastwood and both of us now coaching at different schools and sitting at different benches, it brought back some very good memories.”
Albright, the NBC scoring champion (16.1 ppg.), hit 14-of-16 free throws as the Comets went 26-of-38 from the line. Lake, which got 11 points from Jordan Taylor, was outrebounded by a 44-28 margin and ended the season with a 13-11 record.
“Genoa played with a chip on their shoulder,” Gracyk said. “They had lost nine in a row and they lost to Fostoria in their last game. A week earlier we beat Fostoria by 35. All the teams Genoa lost to during their skid, we beat. I don't think the team listened to me when I told them to ignore the scores, because Genoa will come after you.”
Genoa is building some momentum for next season. Albright, Katie Jensen and Brynn Skillter, the NBC rebounding leader (9.8 rpg.), are juniors, and Carly Gose, Gerke and Pickard are freshmen. Pickard had 10 rebounds against Lake.
“At one time we had three freshmen on the floor, and they did a tremendous job,” DeStazio said. “Gose hardly played any varsity and she played four quarters that night. These kids never quit.”
So will the Genoa-Lake rivalry heat up in the years to come?
“Jim and I are very good friends,” DeStazio said. “We could go have a burger and a pop after a game. We’re very competitive on the floor, but we walk away and could ride home in the same car. Is it going to be a rivalry? It could be, but that’s because Jim and I have a mutual respect for each other as coaches. We’ve coached a lot of games between us and we do a great job getting kids prepared for games.”
The Flyers, who had back-to-back 20-0 regular seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10, started this season by losing eight of their first 11 games partly because of a difficult non-conference schedule. They finished the season by winning 10 of their last 13 games.
“We spent a lot of time at practice working on fundamental skills, and we changed our offensive and defensive things too many times as the year progressed,” Gracyk said. “I believe the girls will commit to major individual and team improvement between now and next November. The ball is in their court.”