News flash: In what has been a recurring theme the past several years, Clay girls’ basketball once again won’t have a lot of size in 2013-14. The Eagles won’t be able to pound teams in the paint, so they will have to find other ways to win this season.
“We’ll be playing a fast, up-tempo style of basketball this season,” coach Corey Slovak said. “Our overall size is very small by varsity standards, so our guard play is very important to our success. We’re going to try to spread teams out, use our dribble attack skills and, hopefully, make some 3-point shots. Defensively, we’ll have to be very aggressive with our full-court pressure; we’re going to try and force teams to play faster than they want to and rush shots.”
“If we can minimize turnovers and shoot the 3-point shot well, we’re going to be competitive every night. Our biggest key will be rebounding on defense. With our lack of size, we’ll have to battle each night on the boards. I love our team’s energy and hustle so far in the preseason, and we are looking forward to carrying it over into the regular season.”
Slovak said Notre Dame Academy will be a heavy favorite to win the TRAC title this season, followed by Whitmer and Lima Senior.
“Realistically, I hope to see us compete in the upper half of the league,” he said. “Last season we won three league games, but we were very close in four or five of our losses. I know we are better and more experienced this season, so hopefully we can flip some of those losses into the win column this season.”
The Clay boys, who beat Waite last season for their lone victory, return three starters and five lettermen.
While the Eagles should be able to maintain with their guard play, their lack of height in the paint remains something they’ll have to overcome against several TRAC opponents. Findlay, Central Catholic and St. John’s Jesuit will all boast taller lineups.
“Lima Senior has a couple 6-6 kids,” Belegrin said, “and Fremont (Ross) has some nice size down low. We’re small compared to them. I like our guards. We don’t post a guy up; we’re a high post (offense) and we let our guards do their thing and go to the bucket. We like to pull the other team’s post guys out of position.”
The road to respectability for Clay, which won eight games two years ago, begins Dec. 6 against Toledo Christian.
“Our goals are to win games,” Belegrin said. “That’s what we want to do. How many games can we win? As many as we can. I don’t like to put a number on it. We attack every game - and every practice and every season - to win.”
Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press second team selection Patricc Booth (16.2 pts., 5.9 reb.) is one Eagle who can be a difference maker.
“Pat (Booth) is a great kid and has been in the top three in scoring the last two years in the TRAC,” Belegrin said. “He went for 16.8 (points per game) as a sophomore, and he’s a good scorer. He’s doing some good things in the preseason, getting to the rim more. If we can get him to the rim, he can get his average to the 18-point mark. He’s realizing he’s a better mid-range shooter than a 3-point shooter. He’s gotten to the line more in scrimmages, and we’ve been more successful.”
In the Toledo City League, Waite is still looking for its first championship in decades, but maybe with the field limited to the six public schools, chances have improved.
“We had a good spring and we played in some leagues (and) probably played in about 40 games,” second-year coach Adam Rodriguez said. “We conditioned all fall (and) we’re going to be more competitive this year.
“We don’t have any size, we don’t have any experience,” Rodriguez continued. “If we’re going to compete, we have to play defense and rebound. We’re going to have to be physical.”
In the Sandusky Bay Conference, Oak Harbor coach Dave Sweet says his Rockets will rely on their heavy rotation of talented outside shooters, if they’re indeed to shoot higher than their current preseason rankings of seventh and sixth in the coaches’ and media polls respectively.
However, Oak Harbor girls coach Tom Kontak, who is 107-52 in seven years as a head coach and won back-to-back Suburban Lakes League championships while at Genoa, says his Rockets are off to newer, greater things. He says he’s feeling good in his new setting.
“This Oak Harbor administration, including athletic director Drew Grahl, and principal Keith Thorbahn, have given us the opportunity to lead this Lady Rockets’ program,” says Kontak, who was out of coaching basketball and officiating games just two years ago.
“Their support has been monumental,” he adds, “and the parents and entire Oak Harbor community have really welcomed us with open arms. As a coaching staff, we are simply grateful for this ongoing opportunity, and we hope everyone is proud of our girls, in how they represent OHHS both on and off the court.”
He is joined by a staff of coaching veterans that includes Art Eli, Mark Boukissen and now Ralph Mills (head JV coach).
(Press sports editor J. Patrick Eaken and writers Mark Griffin and Jeffrey D. Norwalk contributed.)