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  Joining us this morning on “Sports Saturday” are high school boys’ basketball coaches Troy Schwemley of Shelby, Michael Snowbarger of Wooster, Ed Rich of Bellevue, Jason Engel of Wynford and Eric Hoover of Old Fort. Plus, pieces from Friday night with Tim Mergel of Madison, Mike Smith of Norwalk St. Paul, Joe Bedingfield of Willard, and Steve Gray of Norwalk. Samantha Bunten of NBC Sports on the Browns and Indians and Kevin Noon, publisher of buckeyegrove.com, on all things Ohio State. The show runs from 10 AM to 1 PM on www.swanonsports.com  
 

No Track Meet For Norwalk

Norwalk opens up play in a new league for them as the Truckers travel to Tiffin to meet the Columbian Tornadoes in what is now a Lake Division game in the Sandusky Bay Conference.

Their home opener is Saturday against the Madison Rams of the Ohio Cardinal Conference.

Last Saturday, the Truckers fell to the Ontario Warriors (49-43) in a non-conference game.

Coach Steve Gray says they had their chances. “You know I thought we competed. We just failed to a lot of little things,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “Boxing out with 45 seconds to go, we missed two or three layups, making some poor decisions in trying to dribble right and pass left. For the most part I was happy. I think we showed great potential. I am just excited to see how we do this week.”

The Truckers will play this weekend without the services of guard Brandon Haraway as he finishes his three game suspension. Gray says he will be back next week. “He is obviously a very talented player. Based on his decisions he didn’t deserve to play Saturday. Everything will be forgotten in another week and next week we will welcome him back with open arms,” said Gray.

Tiffin Columbian lost its opening two games of the year (56-38) to Oregon Clay and (67-35) to Upper Sandusky. Gray says the Tornadoes have some athletes and they have to make this game an examination of basketball skills. “Well, if it is an athletic event I think they beat us. They are a little bigger, a little longer, a little quicker. We have to turn it into a basketball game because I think are probably just a little more skilled. If we take care of the ball. If we take open shots and defend we have a chance,” he said.

Madison (0-1) lost in its first game to Olentangy (77-67) last Saturday.

They now have former St. Peter’s star Mason Campbell in their lineup to go with Kyle Jackson and Gray says that makes them a lot better. “Mason Campbell make them a lot different. It gives them to great scorers. You spend so much time concentrating on those two kids you run the risk of allowing someone else to go off on you. (Madison coach) Tim (Mergel) is a lot like I was four or five years ago with a very talented group and unfortunately for him he is going division one,” said Gray.

Published 12/08/17

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Ontario Holds off Norwalk

Ontario post players Jayden Jacobs and Logan Jones combined for 23 points and Ontario held off Norwalk (49-43) in a non-conference boys’ basketball game played Saturday afternoon at the O-Rena in Ontario.

The Warriors outscored Norwalk (9-3) over the last 3:46 of the second quarter to take a (27-19) halftime lead and never trailed the rest of the game

They only have two players, Jones and Chance Mott, that played much at the varsity level last season, but coach Joe Balogh says those younger kids understood what they had to do on offense and defense. “I thought our kids did a great job. We tried to stress the importance of our scouting or film work and what we put on paper. The concern with the young kids and the new guys was with how they were going to embrace that. I thought they really embraced it,” he told Swankonsports.com after the game, “I’m not sure if it was because of the scouting report or just his anticipation, but I thought a big play was in the third quarter when they ran a set for the first time in the game that we had on our scouter from last year and Tavian (Harris) shot the gap and stole it and laid it in. I thought that was a big, big, key play in the game. It kind of showed why we do the stuff that we do.”

Norwalk played without likely its best player in junior guard Brandon Haraway, suspended for the first three games of the season. Coach Steve Gray says without him their less experienced guys did the job pretty well. “A lot of that is just inexperience. When you are playing a freshman, a sophomore, a point guard that you are putting a lot of responsibility on for the first time. You know, I’m happy with the way we preformed. We competed. In the second half I thought our point guard play was outstanding. I think our pups are going to get a lot better. They showed a lot (Saturday.) I was pleased with their effort,” said Gray.

Balogh says the goal was to throw the ball inside and make the Truckers guard them there and they were able to do that. “The big emphasis we had offensively is we thought we had to play inside out. We had to put the ball in the hands of our post guys and kind of play off of them. I thought when they were able to make their run we got away from that. We started to put the ball on the floor and do too much with it. We kind of got back to putting it in Jones’s hands inside. Jalen Jacobs was really good inside. That is kind of a strength we have right now. It is kind of a calming factor that we are able to put the ball in the paint I think some good things happen for us,” said Balogh.

Ontario shot 46% for the game, equally in both the first and second halves. They held as much as a 13 point lead (34-21) with 5:05 to play in the third quarter after a basket by Mott, but Norwalk cut their deficit to (38-34) at the end of the third quarter.

It was (46-37) Warriors with 3:48 left after two free throws by Jacobs, but the Truckers cut into the lead again (46-43) with 1:03 left on a field goal by Eric Hull. “We are down three and a rebound goes off our hands. It would have given us a chance, we are down three with 40 seconds to go. We are one bucket away from making this very interesting. Joe’s kids played hard. That was a good game for us. I know more about our team right now than I did 24 hours ago,” said Gray.

Ontario held Norwalk to 42% from the field and (4-15) from behind the arch. Balogh feels they made them work hard to get shots. “We talked at the half that we needed to extend our pressure out a little bit further and make it a little bit more difficult for them to get into it. I thought we did a much better job of that. With our pressure instead of picking up at half court we kind of extended to the three quarter court and made them work a little bit harder and I thought that made it a little bit more difficult for them for them to get into the stuff they wanted to get into,” said Balogh.

Jacobs had 13 for the Warriors, Jones tallied nine.

Jacob Roth led Norwalk with 13 points. Hull added eight,

Published 12/02/17

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Norwalk Squares off with Ontario

The Norwalk Truckers are anxious to see what kind of team they have this year and playing at Ontario is what is now a non-conference game on Saturday afternoon is going to help them figure that out.

Coach Steve Gray says he told his players on Wednesday it is time to find out what they are about. “I told the kids (Wednesday) night at practice I am very pleased with their effort and their concentration and I said you guys are ready to play a game. I am excited to see how they preform when the lights come on. We are going to start a freshman and a sophomore. It is always interesting to see how young people react to that situation. We have some good perimeter players. I am just looking forward to the opportunity to compete,” said Gray.

The veteran Norwalk coach says no matter what happened in scrimmages Saturday afternoon is likely going to be different. “Like coach (Tom) Foster says all of the time you don’t win or lose scrimmages, you get better of you get worse and that is sort of how we look at it. It is always interesting to me to hear coaches say they won four out of six quarters of three out of five, or whatever the case may be. We just try to get better each scrimmage, each practice, and hopefully our process will allow them to be successful come Saturday afternoon,” he said.

Gray and Ontario coach Joe Balogh have a long relationship and he says they know each other’s programs, and what they try to do, pretty well. “I doubt if there are going to be many surprises. I think we are petty good friends and we know each other pretty well and we talk quite a bit. Joe is probably going to try and stop us from running our sets. We are going to try and stop his dribble penetration and Jones from spotting up for threes,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “I don’t think Joe is going to come out with an elaborate zone and we aren’t going to press much. It is what it is and we are going to roll it out and let the kids decide the game and it is going to be a great test for both teams I think for the opener.”

Whatever happens on Saturday afternoon, Gray says they are going to be better because of it. “The thing about Joe and Saturday is at the end of the game we are going to know a lot more about ourselves. We are going to look at the film and see what Joe liked to do and what they tried to take away. We will have a good idea of what we need to work on to get better the following week when we open up the “SBC,” he said.

Published 11/30/17

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Norwalk has an Upside

Norwalk is healthy this preseason and that is different than it has been really since they won the division two state title in 2014.

The Truckers are part of the Lake Division of the Sandusky Bay Conference, which includes Shelby, Bellevue, Tiffin Columbian, Sandusky, Perkins and Clyde. So, really the old “NOL” minus Willard and Ontario and plus Perkins and Clyde.

Veteran coach Steve Gray says he knows one thing for sure. He says his kids and going to play hard. “I know they are willing to work hard. Everybody knows coach (Tom) Foster and he says we have worked them harder this preseason than anytime he can remember in the last five, six, seven years. We have put them through the paces and they have responded well. We are excited about our potential this year,” he said.

Gray says they have some talented players to work with too, beginning with a pretty good point guard. “We have a good point guard coming back in Brandon Haraway. He has already been offered a full ride to Ashland University and he is just a junior. We have Eric Hall back and Jacob Roth and Matt Newberger and those are some kids with varsity experience. I think we have a very talented freshmen in Jarod Chapin. We have a post player in Kyler Lacy. We are in a situation where we have the building blocks. For the first time in the last three of four years we are pretty healthy right now,” said Gray.

Coaches are protectionist and there is actually a long way between now and the opening weekend of the season. Gray says there is really a laundry list of things they have to get better at doing. “The way I coach is in terms of what we can’t do and what we need to work on individually and there is just so much. Defensively, getting in on the weakside and how to defend the pick and roll, what are we going to do in the post, where are we going to double off from to help in the post. Those are just a couple of things defensively,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “Our top priority is to go get the ball off the boards. Then offensively it is how to create good shots for our best shooters. We are going to run some sets and hopefully a little bit of motion, which the kids seem to enjoy running.”

Published 11/16/17

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A Win Important to Norwalk

Norwalk hosts Tiffin Columbian in a Lake Division game in the Sandusky Bay Conference on Friday night.

Both are 0-4 in division games this year.

Norwalk (2-7,0-4) lost to Clyde (24-7) last week.

Coach Chris MacFarland says they pushed the talented Fliers pretty hard last week. “I was really proud of the way our kids played. We played very physical with them. Actually, had an opportunity when it was tied at seven in the first half and missed two field goals and they scored, so it was 14-7 at halftime. I thought the defense played outstanding. We missed some catches on some nice passes. We really kept ourselves in the game,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “I know the score doesn’t look like it at the end. Like I said we missed two field goals and had a couple of other opportunities. I was really pleased with how the kids responded against a really good football team in Clyde.”

Tiffin Columbian (0-9,0-4) got edged by Sandusky Perkins (23-21) on a late field goal last week. MacFarland thinks the Tornadoes have some solid players. They just haven’t been able to get over the top. “The quarterback I think is very good. He is a three year starter. He does a lot of good things. They have some kids that that they get the ball to that make plays. Defensively they are aggressive. Teams that are winning a lot get a lot of positive things to happen throughout the year. Teams that are struggling to win seem to be snake bit at certain times. Kind of like the end of the Perkins game for them. We are experiencing it too. You get some positive things going and you just can’t get over the hump in some of the tough games,” said MacFarland.

Although there aren’t any league championships or playoff berths available here, MacFarland says both teams are going to be playing for a lot of pride. “We think they are a good team and it is going to be a battle. They are going to come wanting to make sure they get a win this season. Our seniors are going to want to make sure they get a win in their last game of their careers, especially at home and hopefully push us right into the off season. I think it is a huge Friday night for us. There may not be playoff implications or league battle or things like that, but to end a senior year and play week 10 is very important for everybody’s program,” he said.

Published 10/24/17

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Norwalk Has Battled Adversity

Norwalk plays Bellevue in the division two district volleyball tournament on Tuesday night at Seneca East High School.

The Lady Truckers (16-8) are the defending district champions.

They won Lake Division of the Sandusky Bay Conference this year.

Coach Angie Kalizewski says she is proud of what her team has accomplished this fall. “We have had a pretty good season. We are pretty young. We have ha d a lot of injuries. So, considering our age and our injuries I am very pleased with what we have done this year,” she said.

Considering all of the injuries and other factors, Kalizewski says they had to battle a lot adversity this year and that might be a good thing for them this week in the district tournament. “That is exactly what we have been talking about along the way. In the past I have had teams where we haven’t had to do that too much and then we have had some adversity down the road at the regional and things like that and then those kids don’t know what to do and how to react. They had been so set in one rotation all year. That is definitely not the case with this group we have had a different lineup on the floor every two to three weeks,” she told Swankonsports.com, “We have had to run something different because something else came up. In the long run as a coach that is going to make us better. These kids are playing all around positions and not just being trained in one area. They are becoming very versatile. It is very fortunate in that aspect. I think I have learned a lot as a coach. That’s not always a bad thing.”

Bellevue (11-12) has been playing improved volleyball and they beat two higher seeded teams in the sectional tournament in Shelby and Willard last week. They also beat Norwalk 25-19, 21-25, 25-18 and 25-18 on October 14. Lexington plays Sandusky Perkins in the other semi final.

Kalizewski says a key for them this week is going to be their leadership, which as has been very good all year. “Our leadership is amazing with this group. My senior group, and a couple of my younger kids are just buying into everything we are trying to get them to do as coaches and they are running with it. Overall, they are very nice kids and they want to do well for one another. It is not just about them. It is very team oriented. On top of that they work extremely hard. They work day in and day out to get better. They want to know all of the time what they can do to get to the next level. That is huge in volleyball,” she said.

Published 10/23/17

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Norwalk Has to be on Game

Norwalk has to be at their best when they play at Clyde in a Lake Division game in the Sandusky Bay Conference on Friday night like they were two weeks against Sandusky.

They did not play well last week in losing (20-7) to Perkins. It was the Pirates first win of the season.

Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland says they got beat at the line of scrimmage. “We didn’t come out and play as well as we like to. We had a pretty positive week the week before and things went well during the week. We had some different things happen and we didn’t get the rhythm we have been getting into, offensively especially. I thought the defense played outstanding. We gave up too many trick plays. We just didn’t do well up front,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “Their front four and linebackers controlled the line of scrimmage. If we don’t get our running game going that kind of puts us in a different situation. Sometimes sports is about match ups and week to week doesn’t always hold true. That is kind what we saw last week. Their defensive line kind of controlled our offense.”

Clyde (7-1,2-1) lost for the first time last week to Sandusky (42-28) and now trail the Blue Streaks by one. They must have this win, but MacFarland says Clyde always plays hard. He says they might match-up better this week. “Clyde’s tradition to play hard every week anyhow. Sometimes losses do affect you more than one week. I would say they are going to come out and be refocused to try and get back on gear and hope Sandusky stumbles a little along the line the last two weeks and maybe get a co-championship. Our kids are ready for that. We are excited about being on the road. Spread teams sometimes are a little different for us than the wing-T with Perkins. I expect our kids to come out and play well,” he said.

MacFarland says the Fliers are very good on both sides of the ball and they are going to be very physical. “They are very physical on defense. They get after it. Offensively they spread you in all different ways. They are going to throw deep, they are going to throw out in the flats, they are going to run the ball well. They are pretty versatile. You can tell they kind of rest on their tradition and they are going to play as much of a clean game as they can. We have scrimmaged them the last couple of years when we hadn’t been in the same conference. They are always very physical and we have go out there and make sure we match that,” he said.

Published 10/19/17

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Norwalk Getting Solid Effort

Norwalk almost got one last week against a very good Sandusky team and it is because they continue to give very good effort.

The Blue Streaks needed a field goal at the horn to be the Truckers (17-14) in a Lake Division game in the Sandusky Bay Conference.

Coach Chris MacFarland says they played an excellent game gave themselves a real chance at the upset. “The kids played outstanding. Defensively, we did a nice job limiting what they did. I think they got us on a quarterback sneak, believe it or not, and they caught us on a pass later in the game. Offensively, we went out an attacked them a little bit running off tackle and outside. The offensive line hats off to them for the way they stood up. We had a chance down inside the five with about four minutes of so to go and got called for a fumble and they went down and scored on a field goal. The kids really played hard and gave us all we asked,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “That has how it has been all year. The week before with Bellevue. They have just been willing to give all we asked and give 100 percent effort.”

MacFarland says he had been very pleased with the effort he has gotten from the players all year long and that puts a smile on his face. “If they go through the motions and don’t really care it doesn’t matter how good their technique and everything is. Our kids come each day to practice. It is a long grinding season. That comes from our coaching staff that pushes and the leadership of our senior class. You know what they come out and they prepare and you know that they are paying attention. They go out and execute the defensive calls. There are a lot of different formations now with the offenses that they see and styles that they see. Our kids are honing in on that and they are going out and playing with just a lot of desire and we love it when they do that for us,” said MacFarland.

Norwalk (2-5,0-2) plays at Sandusky Perkins (0-6,0-2) on Friday night. Perkins lost to Bellevue (28-6) last week and has have trouble putting things together consistently on either side of the ball.

MacFarland says he is not fooled by the Perkins record because he has seen them on tape. “They are not their record I know that. They are 0-7 and that, but you watch them on film they move the ball very well. They have that thing where your season isn’t going well and there is a turnover here, a fumble on a great drive. I think they hand a 20 play drive the other night with a turnover in it. We are going to have to play very well. You are going to somebody else’s place and they are going to be excited about getting a chance to play again. We are going to have to match the level of intensity early. Defensively, they are going to come after us. It should be an exciting high school football game,” he said.

Published 10/10/17

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Norwalk Faces Athletic Sandusky

Norwalk is in a tough stretch of their schedule with Shelby and Bellevue back to back and now the unbeaten Sandusky Blue Streaks come to town for a Lake division gave in the Sandusky Bay Conference on Friday night.

After a halftime lead last week, Norwalk lost to arch rival Bellevue (40-28) in a Lake Division game last week.

Truckers coach Chris MacFarland says they made some mistakes in the second half of the game at “BAF” and they just couldn’t recover. “I thought we really came out and played well. We really did a great job during the week getting ready. We are 21-14 at halftime. We just kind of came out and our youth kind of showed up. They put together four drives on us and we were only able to put together one,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We had another chance at the end and dropped a pass in the end zone. We played well, we are learning a lot about ourselves, kids are giving us everything they have, I am very proud of that. We just have to learn how to win some of these big games against some of these good teams.”

Sandusky (6-0,1-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, blasted Tiffin Columbian (56-8) last week. The Streaks really have been challenged only once this season and that was on week three when they rallied to beat Fremont Ross (16-15) in a non-conference game.

MacFarland says they have athletes and they let those kids do what they are good at doing. “They are athletic. They do a good job over there. They have had a good run of athletes. The quarterback is tremendous. He is surrounded with a lot talent offensively. Defensively, they are very basic, but they are very solid. They don’t do a lot of crazy things they just let their athletes be athletes and get a lot of pressure. When you have that kind of athlete and they are playing sound football they are very difficult to play,” he said.

What is easy to say, but hard to do is limit Sandusky’s big plays. MacFarland says that is their goal and on offense they have to be able to do some damage too. “It kind of goes back to when we played Shelby. You want to make them grind out drives. If you give them big plays it puts you behind quick and you have to do things you aren’t used to. We have to win the turnover battle and get some stops on them. Offensively we are going to have to match. It’s a big challenge, but the kids are excited about it. It is a grinding schedule, but they like the challenge of playing good teams. I think they are going to come out and respond really well. We are back home, so hopefully our kids will give great effort and we will come out and play good football,” said MacFarland.

Published 10/03/17

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Norwalk Excited to Play Bellevue

Norwalk begins play in a new league, the Sandusky Bay Conference, with a game Friday at one of their most traditional rivals, the Bellevue Redmen.

The Truckers scored on the first play from scrimmage on an 80-yard run by Trevon Raymore, but after that it was all Shelby and the Whippets blitzed Norwalk (55-14) in an inter-divisional game in the “SBC” last week.

Coach Chris MacFarland says they did some good things against Shelby, especially early in the game they just couldn’t finish everything off. “We came out and played pretty well. We actually had two really good drives after that touchdown run, but ended them with penalties and turnovers and you can’t do that with a good team. We knew we were going to have to play perfect to match them. Once you get them out in front of you it is kind of hard to catch back up. We learned a lot of things about ourselves and we did improve in areas. We were able to run the ball sometimes very successfully. There are some positives that we took from it. It was a better first half than people probably think. We did a nice job moving it we just didn’t capitalize and finish,” said MacFarland.

Norwalk (2-3,0-0) plays at Bellevue (3-2,0-0,) who beat Toledo Start (50-9) last week. The Redmen also lost to Shelby (46-0) and to unbeaten Clear Fork (20-14) in overtime.

MacFarland says Bellevue is a solid program every year. “They are traditionally very strong there. Their coaching staff has been solid. The kids believe in their system. They have done a nice job there for many, many years. Going over to their place is going to be a challenge for us,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “The kids are excited about it. We are finally into league play. It took a long time to get to this point. It is kind of ironic that we are going into the “SBC” playing and “NOL” team, somebody we have played for 75 years or more. We are excited about it and looking forward to the opportunity to get over there.”

With the reconfigured league, MacFarland says there is really no question now that Bellevue is the one that is circled on their schedule. “They are our biggest rival. It has been a lot of years in all sports with good competition. We are really close in proximity. It is going to be a nice way to start the “SBC” and I know the kids are excited about getting into league play and try make that run. It is going to be nice to have that on our goal board and really try to obtain that and Bellevue is first one on it,” he said.

Published 9/27/17

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Norwalk Faces Talented Shelby

Norwalk broke a two-game losing streak with a win last week over Margaretta, but their challenge is going to be much tougher when they travel to Shelby to face the Whippets.

Last week, the Truckers beat Margaretta (38-20) and coach Chris MacFarland says he was most proud that is players were able to react to the challenges they faced. “I am really pleased with the way our kids responded from the week before. We had two tough losses in a row and really went back to some basics. The kids did a great job of preparation during the week and went out and executed. I was also proud of how the kids of the way they handled themselves during the game. We made a lot of adjustments and a lot of changes of things. It is good when your kids go out there and execute what you are doing on the sidelines. We are pleased with where we are and we are looking forward to another great week of practice getting ready for Shelby,” said MacFaland.

Norwalk (2-2) is at Shelby (4-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, for an inter-divisional game in the Sandusky Bay Conference. The result of the game will not an affect the conference standings for either.

After getting quarterback Brennan Armstrong back last week in a (46-0) win over Bellevue, the Whippets get running back “Shorty” Brooks this week. MacFarland says it’s a tall order. “They did a nice job the first three weeks. The backup quarterback did a great job. Armstrong was back in last week and they get their running back back this week. So, they will be back at full strength for us. That is good for us we like to play everybody at their best. I want to give credit to offensive line, which has played very solid no matter what athlete they put back there at running back, receiver, quarterback, they have done a nice job,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “Defensively we have a tall order to go in and really try and disrupt some things and maybe get some confusion on the offensive line, so we can try and get to the quarterback or slow them down a little bit. Offensively we are going to have to go out and try and match them. They have a lot weapons that can score. We are going to have to control the football and make sure we get our opportunities to get in the end zone also. It should be a great match-up and we are excited about getting to play them.”

MacFarland says they are going to have to play a little keep away from the explosive Shelby offense. “When look at offense like that they are going to get their stats and their yards and some of those things. Hopefully, we keep them out of the end zone and not give up big plays. Offensively we have to do our job and really control the game and make sure all of our possessions count. If we can do that and get ourselves in some kind of shootout or a balanced back and forth type of game you never know what will happen with high school kids and how they respond to pressure. We are looking forward to maybe giving our best effort and getting after it. I think special teams will be big this week also,” he said.

Published 9/20/17

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Truckers Need Consistent Effort

Norwalk has lost their last two games and they need to find some consistency if they are going to get back on the winning track when host Margaretta in an inter-divisional game among Sandusky Bay Conference teams.

Norwalk is in the Lake division and Margaretta is in the River division.

Last week, the Truckers spotted Port Clinton a (20-0) lead before rallying, but falling short in losing (27-21) on week three.

Coach Chris MacFarland says they have been giving good effort, but they are having some execution issues. “The kids I thought played hard. We didn’t come out clicking on offense at all. We missed some good opportunities. The different mis-reads, some dropped balls, penalties, things like that that you kind of shoot yourself in the foot with. Defensively, the plan we good, the kids where there and we missed some tackles. We hit the running back behind the line every time with first contact, we just couldn’t control him. They both ran very hard. I did like to see the attitude of the kids stay strong,” he told Swankonsports.com, “At halftime, the kids did a great job of taking the adjustments offensively. We came back out and had a great drive down the field. I think two out or three drives in the second half we scored. It was good to see our offense get out of that funk. Defensively we didn’t have the same kind of look that we did against Edison with our intensity. That is some of what we have been talking to the kids about. Just trying to stay consistent, that is really hurting us right now.”

Consistent intensity has been a problem area and MacFarland says their less experienced kids have to understand that varsity football is different. “Varsity football is very intense. It is very physical. There is a lot of mental drain along with the physical aspect. We have some young guys. We are playing five or six sophomores and some juniors that are maybe first-time varsity guys. We have a lot of two way players and sometimes that tiredness sets in and a player takes a play or two off. We are working on it and the kids are doing a great job. They are giving it everything they have there is no question about that. They are willing to listen and they are going hard in practices. We just haven’t found that consistent button yet to get through a whole four quarters,” said MacFarland.

Margaretta (1-2) had a big effort in the second half last week and beat Monroeville (35-12) to earn their first win of the season.

MacFarland says they know they will have to play well. “They have a good running back and their kids play hard. We have to find that rhythm early. We noticed that even in our scrimmages. We kind of came out in a couple of those flat and had to turn it on. Against quality football team you just can’t do it. We are going to need to come out and get our execution down and make sure that our game plan is set and try to find another way to get our kids mentally ready to execute at a high level. That is our challenge this week,” he said.

Published 9/11/17

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It’s About Consistency For Norwalk

Norwalk is like a lot of teams in North Central Ohio they can make good plays, but they don’t make enough of them.

Consistency is the issue and something that needs to be solved.

They lost last week (13-3) to Edison and play host to another school out of the Bay Division on Friday in the Port Clinton Redskins.

Coach Chris MacFarland says they were not able to put together any drives when they had the ball. “We played hard. The kids did a nice job. It was a very physical high school football game, but we had about that six minute span of turnovers and penalties. When you play a quality football team you can not afford to have those kinds of mistakes. They capitalized on it and we weren’t able to come back from that. We did a great job in the first half of sticking in there and kicked a field goal to go to halftime,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “Then we came out and made too many mistakes. It is something we can correct and that is the positive of it. The kids gave us all of the effort we needed. We just have go back and eliminate some over our self-inflicted mistakes and hopefully we get better this week.”

You probably are never going to get mistake free football, but MacFarland believes the teams has the fewest miscues is going to end of winning the game more times than not. “You have to play consistent for four quarters. To have two or three turnovers. We had a great interception, but with a penalty involved gave Edison a chance to extend their series. If you break down and do those things and put your team in jeopardy we just don’t have enough athletes and stuff like that to make up for those things. We just have to play solid football. That is one thing we preach every week is the team with the least mistakes and the least turnovers wins football games,” he said.

Port Clinton (1-1) beat Rossford (28-7) last week after a (41-7) loss to Sandusky on week one.

MacFarland says they good at the point of attack. “I think they are an excellent team. He does a very good job of making sure the foundation of what he has been doing the last three or four years is there. They had a lot turnover as far as starters, but their fundamentals and their schemes and still very solid. Up front they do a really good job of coming off the ball on both sides. The running back so far in two games is very impressive. They are moving the football on offense and defensively they are very sound and just make sure they don’t give up big plays,’ said MacFarland.

Published 9/08/17

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Norwalk Faces Edison

Norwalk looked very good in their first game of the season, but they understand they are going to have to be better this week.

The Truckers throttled Willard (40-6) at their place last Thursday.

They travel to Edison on Friday night to face a Chargers outfit that has made deep playoff runs the last two years.

Coach Chris MacFarland says they did a very good job on both sides of the ball against Willard last week. “Things went well. It was nice to see our offensive line come together doing a nice job controlling the front. I thought our backs did an outstanding job running hard. Quarterback Andrew (Ehrenberg) did a great job for his first varsity start really distributing the ball around and was good on his reads. I thought defensively we really swarmed to the football and gave them a lot of different looks and played real physical football,” he said.

The Norwalk coach says this is going to be their first regular week of preparation this year and Edison is a tough team to prepare for with their option look on offense and their aggressive defense. “This week getting ready for Edison there are a lot of things we want to clean up defensively making sure our alinements are right, option football causes another stress. They have the player of the year back, the running back, it’s a big, tall order against them. They bring a lot of defensive pressure, so we have to continue to clean things up,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “Going into Willard we had three weeks to prepare and now we are into that grind of one week play a game and one week play a game. So, it is going to be the first time we turn around and implement a new scheme and get our looks that we want to go out and be good with and see how they respond with just a four, five day recovery.”

Edison lost last week to Oberlin Firelands (20-17) when they got a field goal blocked in the waning seconds of the game.

MacFarland says the Chargers have a lot of players that you have be concerned with on the field. “I think they are an outstanding football team. We were able to see the game and the offense gives you problems. They get the ball into a lot of people’s hands. They are able to throw the ball deep when needed. So, it is going to be a real challenge for our defense and then when you flip it over their defense brings a lot of pressure. They have a very quick nose, they come off the edge very hard, and the secondary did a nice job keeping things in front. The kids are really disciplined. It’s a great opportunity to play football on Friday night,” said MacFarland.

Published 8/30/17

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Norwalk and Willard Tangle Thursday

Norwalk hosts longtime rival Willard in a high school football game on Thursday night at Whitney Field in Norwalk.

With both schools switching to the Sandusky Bay Conference they are no longer in the same division.

Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland says playing on Thursday night is not a problem for them as far as preparation. “We were excited about getting the Thursday night game and we just took the attitude that we have three weeks of two a days to get ready for the game. Obviously, it is not your normal first week, but we have been preparing for week one this whole off season. With a one day change we were getting all of our stuff in last week trying to prepare for this week, It has been pretty smooth. I think it would be different if it were game four and you were doing it, but being game one it has been a pretty easy transition,” said MacFarland.

MacFarland says they have still been showing some inconsistency, especially up front. “There have been some ups and downs. We have some kids that playing very well. We do have some inconsistency at some spots that we still have some competition at. It is that growing period. We have some really athletic kids that maybe haven’t been on the field for a Friday night yet, so they are having a hard time showing the consistency it takes at this level,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “They are working hard in practice for us, they are learning, and I think we will are going to see improvement each week. There are some things we definitely have to get better at. I think the most inconsistent thing we have right now is our line play, but it is always the last thing to come together. So, we are pleased with where we are at and we love the competition we have at a lot of positions, but we need to get a little more consistent up front.”

It may not be a league game anymore, but MacFarland says it still smells like a rivalry to him. “It is kind of unique we are going in a new league in the “SBC,” but they are an old “NOL” opponent that we have been playing forever. It is kind interesting that it is a rival game the first game. We have played them for many years and it was game eight or nine or something late in the season. So, I think there is going to be a lot of excitement to this playing a rival like team with some proximity,” he said.

MacFarland says Willard has some talent on their roster and it is certainly going to be a team they are going to have to be concerned with. “They are very big up front. They have some good size offensively on the line and the defensive line. The quarterback is very athletic. Last year, on offense they kind of threw it around a lot on the perimeter. They are also showing the ability to line up with big guys and just run right at you. I think they are going to be very talented offensively and defensively they always swam to the football. It is going to be a great game one and we are excited about it. We are one of the only shows around and hopefully people will come out and see the caliber of football we have,” said MacFarland.

Published 8/23/17

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Norwalk Working in the Trenches

Norwalk is going to be a football team that has big play potential, but really how good they are will be determined by what happens up front.

Coach Chris MacFarland says they have had a good preseason so far and there has been a lot of competition for positions on the team. “It has been really positive. The kids have worked really hard. We have had a good camp. We have had a great opportunity to develop a lot of talent and a lot of depth. Obviously every football season hinges on what happens up front offensively and up front defensively. If we can continue to improve there I think we will have a successful year. I think we have a lot of skilled kids. We have a lot of underclassmen pushing, so there is a lot of competitiveness at almost every position that we have. Anytime we can build competition it benefits us,” he said.

To have success in football thing have to start up front and MacFarland says they are working hard to get those kids ready for the regular season, which starts next week against Willard. “I want our offensive line and defensive line to be more consistent. That is the hardest part that position takes so long. The offensive line is just a crazy position. You need five, six guys all working together in the same spot, picking up the blitzes, picking up all of the checks. There is a lot to the offensive line and when we get that settled in I think we are going to feel a little more comfortable. On defense, we are rotating a lot of young kids right now. We have some good seniors, but if we could get a little more consistent in those two positions that is probably the most concerning,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “All summer we allowed to throw the ball in seven on seven and we can use helmets in the summer and those types of things. We only get the two a days, and it is three four days in before we can even use shoulder pads, to develop our offensive line and they are all about contact, positioning and taking the right steps. They get the least amount of time all year, but it is the most important I think.”

Norwalk is now in the Lake Division of the Sandusky Bay Conference, but MacFarland says not a lot changes for them. “Our schedule is a little bit different. We open up with Willard next week, we play Port Clinton still, we play Shelby from the “NOL.” We are going to play Edison again. We took kind of a two year break from each other, but we are back. Four our first five games are teams that we have been playing for a very long time. The new teams of Clyde and Perkins in the big division are teams we played in the playoffs. It is really 10 games that we know each other and we have seen each other it is just going to be different with the rotation. There is no question the games six, seven, eight, nine and 10 in our division is going to be a grind. You are going to need to be prepared and good luck with health. Each week will be a playoff type of team,” said MacFarland.

Published 8/18/17

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Norwalk Still Looking to Improve

  

          Norwalk hammered Willard for the second straight day in Northern Ohio League baseball, but they really still aren’t where they need to be yet on offense.

          The Truckers scored early and often Thursday in beating the Flashes (24-2) and they had beaten them (20-4) on Wednesday.

          Coach Wes Douglas says they still aren’t hitting the baseball all that hard.  “We are still looking to get them going.  We did score a lot of runs.  To be honest we didn’t square up too many balls.  Not as many as I’d like to.  We still had a few too many strikeouts in there.  We are winning the games we should.  We are working hard on improving and I think the guys understand that we still aren’t where we need be offensively.  We have six, eight, 10 games to go here and we are still hoping to get better before the season is over,” he said.

          When it comes to their hitting, Douglas says they have to have more confidence when they get to the plate and if they have that they are going to have better pitch selection.  “The two things I see, I think our mechanics are pretty solid, there are a couple of things we can tweak a little bit, but I think our confidence and our pitch selection which comes with confidence when they are guessing a little more,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday night, “Our pitch selection has been a little better here the last four or five games.  We are swinging at strikes and taking balls.  I think most of it is confidence and try to get some of these younger guys better.  A few of our older guys are starting to grove it a little bit.  Mitchell Perry is up over .400 and Quinn Hipp is up over .400.  So, we have a few guys, but to win big games you have to be 1-9 with some quality at bats.”

          It’s a deep division two district tournament again this season.  Douglas believes they have a good chance to get a high seed and be home for the first round of play.  “I see us getting the five or the six in there somewhere.  In the last 30 games I think our program is 24-6 and those six losses have come to three teams.  Two to Shelby, two to Bellevue and two to Lexington.  To win our league title you usually have to go through a Bellevue or a Shelby.  To move on in the tournament you have to get through one of them or a Lexington or a Vermilion this year and some other quality teams in there that you have to play well to beat.  I think we have positioned ourselves to be home for the first round and then we will see who we end up with after that,” said Douglas.

 

Published 4/28/17

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Norwalk Rallies Past Sandusky

  

          Bryson Harvey’s game winning hit in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Norwalk Truckers a (2-1) win over Sandusky in Northern Ohio League action on Monday night.

          Veteran coach Wes Douglas says they were able dig down and make some big plays when the pressure was on.  “It good to get out of there with a “W.”  Sandusky is probably as good as they have been since I have been here,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win Monday night, “We saw their number one pitcher down 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh and we got a line drive single from Ian Keefer, a great bunt from Jake Roth, another great bunt from Chandler Baker and a walk off winner from Bryson Harvey and got out of there with a 2-1 win.  We are 4-0 at home and looking to get back to .500 in the league (Tuesday) at Ontario.”

          Norwalk lost a couple of tough games in the league last week to Bellevue (2-0) and Shelby (4-1) and Douglas says they need to battle to keep themselves in the league race.  “We started out with Bellevue and Shelby is league and we dropped both of those games, so for us to keep our best chances alive we need to win these other games until we get back to the top the league there.  This is the second game we have had a walk off in our last three.  We keep talking about competing and fighting like all coaches do.  They have done that for us this last week,” he said.

          Norwalk (5-3,1-2) plays at Ontario (6-3,0-3) on Tuesday and then they are home for Tiffin Columbian (3-3,2-1,) who just beat Bellevue (5-3) on Monday night.

          Douglas says they have to approach they rest of the season with confidence.  “Confidence comes with success and hard work.  I told the kids before the game (Monday) night if you ask anybody if they like to win and they say yeah.  I think the difference is how much you hate to lose.  That is kind of what we are trying to get them to do is to just fight, fight, fight and try not to lose and we will take our results if we do that,” said Douglas.

 

Published 4/11/17

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Norwalk Beat Edison; Prepares for “NOL”

  

          Norwalk is going to one of the contenders for the Northern Ohio League baseball crown this spring and they face two big games over the next couple of days, weather permitting.

          They play at Bellevue on Tuesday and at Shelby on Wednesday.

          They beat Edison (6-1) in a non-league game on Monday and coach Wes Douglas says he thinks they are going to be set up pretty well for the next two days.  “We weren’t front end loaded last week like some teams were.  We got a game in Monday.  We beat Crestview down there (12-4.)  We ended up playing over at the new Force Sports complex on Saturday.  We squeezed in one game with Lex and they put it on us pretty good 11-2.  Trying to get in that rhythm is important,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday night, “(Monday) night turned out to be a nice night and we got up early on Edison 6-0 and hung on and won against a pretty solid team.  We kick of the league (Tuesday) with Bellevue and follow that up with Shelby.  Those are some pretty serious games these next two days.”

          Douglas says they were able to beat a pretty good Edison team without having to use their top of the line pitchers.  He thinks they have built a pretty good foundation for the week.  “We played solid (Monday) night.  They are going to win some games.  We have a lot of guys doing some things well.  We threw probably our number four and five pitchers.  Mitchell Perry and Brison Harvey got the job done for us.  We saw some good things out of them.  We have the top of our rotation set up for the next couple of days.  We will see if we are good enough to compete in the league right off the bat,” said Douglas.

          It is a deep “NOL” again this year, but Douglas believes his team along with Bellevue and Shelby are the three best teams.  He says they are going to find out a lot about themselves.  “I could be wrong, but I think that is the top teams in the league on paper.  We could go 2-0, we could go 0-2, we could come out 1-1.  I think we are going to compete.  The team that makes the least errors is probably going to come out on top.  We are looking forward to some good, competitive baseball.  I think we are in good position to compete,” he said.

 

Published 4/04/17

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Norwalk Ready to Compete

  

          Norwalk ended last season by winning 12 of its last 13 games and they hope they can take some of that momentum to this baseball season, which begins in just over a week.

          Veteran coach Wes Douglas says his kids believe they are going to have success and that is half of the battle.  “We ended up with 12 straight wins down the stretch until Lexington knocked us out in the districts in a 3-2 ball game.  As far as momentum those kids might believe and trust in what you are trying to accomplish as a team, a coaching staff, and a program by that success,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “I think that part carries over.  We have a good nucleus back with four or five starters and three three year starters.  We have some young kids ready to take a step up to fill those spots and the team is coming together.”

          It can be hard to predict before the first pitch is thrown in a real game, but Douglas thinks they have a chance to be pretty good.  He says they will have some good pitching and defense up the middle.  “My line when people ask me right now about how good we will be, I say we will be good, I don’t know how great we will be, but my take right now is you are going to have to play pretty well to beat us.  I think we have some good top end pitching, solid up the middle.  These kids have played a lot of baseball.  I have a handful of kids that is all they play.  I have been wrong before, but I like what I see so far,” he said.

          As far as the league goes there are going to be a lot of good teams in the “NOL.”  Douglas says the Bellevue is likely the preseason favorite this year.  “I think everybody would agree Bellevue is bringing back a really talented team that was very successful last year and only graduated I think two seniors.  I think everything is going to have to go through them.  The rest of the league is well coached.  I think Sandusky has some talented kids that played a lot of baseball and the rest of the league you always have to play well to come out of there with a “W,” said Douglas.

 

Published 3/17/17

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Norwalk Must Slow Down Lexington

  

          Norwalk rallied in the second half to beat Shelby on Tuesday night and they face another big challenge against second seeded Lexington in the division two sectional final Friday night at Galion High School.

          They railed from a (31-18) halftime deficit to beat the Whippets (61-53) on Tuesday night. 

          Coach Steve Gray says a lot people are giving him the credit, but the win Tuesday belonged to the kids.  “Here is what I told my kids (Wednesday) at practice.  Coaches get way too much credit when things are going well and take too grief when things aren’t going well.  It came down to this.  My kids made plays, Roth hit shots, Paul and Friend rebounded their fannies off in the second half.  I think that was the difference,” said Gray.

          Norwalk (8-15) has had an injury filled season, but they have won four of their last six.  Gray says they have been growing in confidence.  “We have played pretty well for three weeks now.  Unfortunately we played Sandusky and Ontario on a Tuesday-Friday.  We were in for the most part both of those games with a chance in the second half.  Then we beat Tiffin last week and Shelby on Tuesday.  I think we are as confident as we can be,” he said.

          When first asked about the Lexington (15-7) game, Gray quipped “I wish Stover played for us.”  He knows Cade Stover, first team all district and Lexington’s leading scorer is very good and he says the Minutemen are very good at pushing the pace.  “Stover inside and when they are playing well they are playing really fast and get up and down the floor and penetrate and pitch or dump it inside.  They are a good team and Scott (Hamilton) and Dr. (Jay) Guth have done a great job with them,” said Gray.

          Gray says that Stover is a big match-up problem for the Truckers due to his size and athleticism.  “Stover does a great job running the floor.  He seems like a great kid.  Obviously he is a pretty good athlete if Urban Meyer is looking at him and Notre Dame and schools like that.  Unfortunately for us we don’t have anybody over 6’1”, so we are going to have to commit maybe two, two and half guys on him every possession,” he said.

 

Published 3/03/17

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“NOL” Rivals Norwalk and Shelby Play in Tournament

 

          Two teams playing their best basketball of the season meet on Tuesday night in Galion as the Norwalk Truckers play the Shelby Whippets in a first round game in division two.

          Norwalk is coming off one its better games of the season in beating Tiffin Columbian (55-48) in a Northern Ohio League game on Friday night.

          However, coach Steve Gray says they just can’t kick the injury bug.  “I am happy with the way we are playing.  We are playing harder with more confidence.  When you get your floor leader, you point guard, back, I think that makes a big difference,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We played extremely hard at Tiffin.  I just think that was the best effort we have had all year by far.  Unfortunately in that game, Mitchell Carey, our five man, hurt his knee and is out for the rest of the year.”

          Norwalk, more than any school this year has been hurt by injuries.  Gray says they just have to work through it.  “I tell people tongue and cheek and joking around.  I think God said we will let you guys win the state, but you will have to pay the price eventually.  It is what it is.  I don’t know if many teams in the last 20 years in the area have gone through what we have gone through this year in terms of injuries and starters missing so many games.  We are excited about (Tuesday) night and if we play up to our ability I think it will be a great game,” said Gray.

          It is the third meeting this season between the Truckers (7-15) and the Whippets (14-8.) who finished tied for second in the Northern Ohio League.  Shelby won both times (63-43) on December 9 and (51-44) January 26. 

          Gray says the Whippets are hard to guard because their players do o many things.  “Davey Hipp is one of the top players in our league.  They have five of their kids that are shooting higher than 38 percent from the three.  Their starting five man Hoffman steps out and shoots 40 percent.  They just do a great job spreading you out.  When they get you in that position they beat you off the bounce and create scoring situations inside,” said Gray.

          Norwalk has shown a lot of improvement since the return of Brandon Haraway earlier this month.  Gray hopes his point guard can be a difference maker on Tuesday night.  “Maybe the one little slight of hand that we have is they haven’t seen Haraway play this year.  He has been back now for six, seven games.  He has gotten a little bit better each week.  Hopefully Brandon can have his best game of the year,” she said.

 

Published 2/28/17

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Norwalk is Capable

  

          The first time Norwalk played a Northern Ohio League boys’ basketball game the great actress Ingrid Bergman was starring in “Gaslight,” for which she would win her first academy award.  In Norwalk, like the rest of the country, women where in the factories because men were at war.

          It was 1944.  They will play their final game on Friday night when they host Tiffin Columbian.  The league is folding after this season and most of the schools will join the Sandusky Bay Conference, including Norwalk and Tiffin.

          Steve Gray, the Norwalk coach, on this being the final year for the league.  “It is sad.  The great tradition, how can a conference that has been around, I don’t know a hundred years, come to and end, but it is a situation where schools have their own agendas and it is just sad,” he said.

          Norwalk lost to two very good teams, both ranked in the Swankonsports.com coaches poll, in Sandusky (62-54) and Ontario (55-42), last week, but in both cases challenged them harder than the first time they played.  Gray says this team is very capable.  “We had a talk before practice (Tuesday) and it was our point of emphasis that we are still capable of accomplishing some good things and it up to the seniors to lead,” he said.

          Norwalk (6-15,2-9) is battling what a lot of high school teams, whatever the sport, are battling.  Gray says they have to become a more consistent basketball team.  “I think we have gotten better, but our biggest problem is when you have gone through a season like we have gone through is to get all five guys to given maximum effort every single play,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “One play maybe our four man will miss an assignment and the next play it is maybe the two man.  We just have to get consistency on every possession.  If we have that sense of urgency we are capable of winning a couple of games.”

          The Truckers host Tiffin Columbian (8-12,4-7) in a league game on Friday night.  Tiffin won by 10 (53-43) the first time they played this year.  Gray says to be successful they have to do something to contain Ro Durham.

“I think Durham is going to touch the ball a lot.  He is one of the better players in the NOL right up there with Jayreese (Williams) from Sandusky and (Davey) Hipp from Shelby and we are going to have to do a great job on him.  The trouble with him is he plays the point at 6’5” and then he runs to the block.  He just has the ability to score from many different spots on the floor,” said Gray.

 

Published 2/22/17

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Norwalk Tries to Hold off Streaks

  

          An improved Norwalk ball club hosts Sandusky on Tuesday night with the hope of stopping the Blue Streaks from claiming an outright Northern Ohio League title.

          It won’t be easy.

          Norwalk (6-14,2-7,) getting more and more healthy, has played well lately in winning its last two and three its last five.  They beat Willard (65-50) in an “NOL” game last Friday and downed Western Reserve (51-42) on Saturday.

          Coach Steve Gray says when you get good players back on the floor it helps.  “I think coaching is a reflection on the players you have.  When you get two of your best players back it should make a difference.  Brandon (Haraway) now has six practices under his belt, which isn’t a lot, and George (Friend) has played four or fives games now.  So, yeah we are getting a little better,” he said.

          Having cleared a couple of goals, Gray says they need to become more consistent in their offensive execution.  He says they have to understand what a good shot is.  “We go through too many dry spells.  For four to six minutes where we have trouble putting the ball in the basket.  It is hard for kids to understand if you go four, five possessions in a row the fifth possession better be a wide open shot, make two of three extra passes, get to the foul line, do something to put and end to it,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “That is sort of my pet peeve right now that we don’t take care of those situations very well.  An open three in the first quarter is not the same as when you have gone six straight possessions without a score.”

          Sandusky (14-3,9-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coaches poll in the large school division, hasn’t lost a game in six weeks now.  They beat Bellevue (74-47) in a league game last Friday.  They beat the Truckers (67-53) in their first meeting.

          They have arguably the best player in this area in senior guard Jayreese Williams, the school’s all-time leading scorer. 

          Gray says the Streaks have other guys that can score, plus he says Jayreese can get a good shot pretty much anytime he wants.  “They have the other Williams kid and Croom.  They are a well balanced team.  Jayreese is really the only player in our league that can go get his anytime he wants.  He has the ability to get to the rim, he can bury a three.  One on one in my very humble opinion he is the best player in our league by far,” he said.

 

Published 2/14/17

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Norwalk Looking Better

  

          Norwalk plays host to Willard on Friday night in a battle between teams that have just one win each in the Northern Ohio League play, but both are improving at season’s end.

          Norwalk led for a lot of the game before falling to Bellevue (54-50) last Friday in an “NOL” game and then lost to “SCB” bay division leader Vermilion (56-35) on Saturday.

          Coach Steve Gray says they made some progress last week.  “I was very excited with the progress we made Friday night against Bellevue.  Unfortunately we let a 12 point lead slip away.  We just have to find a way to play a little better down the stretch.  Realistically just find a way to win,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “Saturday we played a good Vermilion team.  The problem we had there was two of our hurt kids they just aren’t in good enough shape yet to play back to back.  We made the decision we were going to use that as conditioning to get ready for the tournament and we just ran out of a little bit of steam.”

          They are stating to get a little more healthy with Brandon Haraway and George Friend working their way back into the lineup and Gray says he is very proud of how they have battled all year.  “We have faced quite a bit of adversity this year.  When you lose four starters from the summer it is difficult.  We have had to have other people step up, but here is the great thing.  Our record, we might have only won four, but I think this is an amazing stat, we have lost seven games when we were within one or two points in the fourth quarter.  With a break here or there, a made free throw, a stop, our record could be much different.  I give our kids a lot of credit for being able to compete and being in a position to win these seven other games,” said Gray.

          Norwalk (4-13,1-7) entertains Willard (3-15,1-8) in “NOL” play on Friday.  The Truckers topped Willard in their first meeting (56-53) on December 30.

          Gray says like his team the Flashes are getting better and he knows it will be a tough game when they get together on Friday night.  “I think in the division three sectional they have a chance to make some noise.  I think next year in the middle division of the “SBC” you will see quite an improvement in the win loss record.  They have some talented kids that in some cases just lack varsity experience,” he said.

 

Published 2/09/17

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Norwalk Getting Some Things Back

  

          Norwalk has been struggling all year to find some answers with a roster hurt by injuries, but as we head into February they have already gotten one kid back and could be getting another by the weekend.

          The Truckers (4-11,1-6) play at rival Bellevue (6-8,4-4) in a Northern Ohio League game on Friday.  Norwalk challenges Sandusky Bay Conference bay division leader Vermilion (14-2), #5 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coaches poll in the large school division, on Saturday night.

          Norwalk and Bellevue have developed a little rivalry in basketball, as well as other sports.  The Redmen won the first meeting (49-46) back in December.

          What makes Norwalk coach Steve Gray pleased is they are getting some players back on the floor, and some good ones.  “They got us by six the first time around.  Fortunately for us George Friend is back, he played last week.  Ben Haraway, who hasn’t played all season, has been cleared by the doctors this week.  So, we have added two more bullets to the pistol so to speak.  We are excited about the chance to compete this weekend,” Gray said.

          Haraway, when healthy, is one of the better point guards in the area, and when he plays he will make the Truckers better.  If that is this week, says Gray, is still up in the air.  “Brandon, I am not sure how much he is going to play.  We are sort of leaving that up to him and his mom if he needs another week or he is healthy enough to go.  So, we will see,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “When they are both back at 100 percent it is going to change a lot of people’s roles.  Jacob Trautman has been playing point guard for the whole season and when Brandon comes bask he is going to be a wing.”

          When it comes to Bellevue Gray believes they play better at home and he is eager to see how his team can compete with the Redmen this time out on the road.  “Unfortunately Bellevue plays better at home and we have been going against each other and it has become a good rivalry.  They will be ready to go and it will be interesting to see how we compete against them over at their place,” said Gray.

 

Published 2/02/17

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Norwalk Learning Things

  

          Norwalk is learning every week about how to become a better basketball team and how to become better kids.

          The first part is more fun, but the second part is more important.

          The Truckers lost (53-43) to Tiffin Columbian in a Northern Ohio League game last Friday.  Coach Steve Gray says due to injures and lack of height they have to pretty close to perfect to win games.  “Our margin of error is rather small, but the thing that is great about our kids is we have had about five games where it is a two or four point game in the fourth quarter or late in the third quarter and for a lot of different reasons we just haven’t been able to put some of those games away,” he said.

          Gray is enjoying the season and that is due to the quality of kids that he is working with.  “We do have great kids to work with and as long as they give a workman like effort I have no complaints with them.  It is a situation, and we talked a little bit after the Tiffin game, that if this is your biggest disappointment in life you guys are going to have great lives in front of you.  They are competing and they are playing hard and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” he said.

          Norwalk (3-10,1-5) plays at Shelby (7-7,4-2) in an “NOL” game on Thursday night.  Gray says they need to be able to guard three point shooters in order to have a chance.  “You have to get kids off the three point line.  They have five kids I think shooting over 33 percent from the three.  If you can do that you have a chance to be successful.  This year is different than two years ago.  After that good class graduated we went through a couple of years where we didn’t face any true post players, but now you look at Tiffin with Durham and other teams in the area it seems like everybody has a 6’5”, 6’6” kid except maybe us and Shelby,” said Gray.

          Shelby presses some, but they have really scaled that back over the last couple of years and there is a reason for that.  “They will double you once in a while, they will pressure you once in a while, but it is not the Helter Skelter situation they put you in two, three years ago,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “I think what most coaches realize if you are going to make a tournament run at some point and time you are going to go against people with better talent and you won’t be able to press them and if you press the press becomes less affective as the year wears on unless you have what Upper Sandusky had many years ago with two D-one players, the player of the year in D-three in football in college, another D-three player that went to Ohio Northern and play basketball, unless you have a group like that it is just very, very difficult to press.”

 

Published 1/25/17

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Norwalk Moving Forward

  

          Last week, the Norwalk Truckers lost two games, but in very different ways.

          They were hammered by Ontario (68-26) in a Northern Ohio League game on Friday night.  They were behind (37-3) at the half.  Then on Saturday, they took talented Ashland down to the very end before losing (49-47) on a last second shot by John Wolfe.

          Coach Steve Gray says he is very proud of the way his kids responded to adversity.  “Friday night was just disappointing.  Ontario shot the ball extremely well in the first quarter and it snowballed.  Quite frankly we were never in it.  We had a great talk after the game and the walk through on Saturday.  We just talked about working hard and doing the little things.  As disappointed as I was on Friday I couldn’t have been more proud of these kids on Saturday,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “They fought and the out rebounded Ashland, which is unbelievable.  We don’t have a kid over 6’1”.  Here is another amazing stat.  We only missed four two point field goals for the game.”

          Gray says the kids turned in a tremendous effort on Saturday night and he hopes they can take that forward.  “We told the kids how proud we were of them.  When we were really good our margin for error we didn’t have to play very well some games to win.  We were just that good.  Now our margin of error is minuscule.  With no starter over 6’1” and with the kids that aren’t with us any more because of injuries and etc it is a situation where we have to play as close to our potential as possible.  Our kids pay attention to detail in practice and are trying to get better.  Like I said before I could be more proud of this group,” said Gray.

          Norwalk (3-9,1-4) plays at Tiffin Columbian (4-6,1-4) on Friday night in Northern Ohio League play.  Gray says the teams have had similar seasons, but the personnel on both sides is really pretty different.  “They have had some games, especially early in the season, were they play exceptionally well.  Unfortunately, like us, they have struggled the last six games.  But, they have the “X” factor.  Durham is a 6’5” senior that is very long, very athletic, very talented. We are going to have our hands full because we definitely don’t have anybody like him,” he said.

 

Published 1/18/17

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Norwalk Faces two of the Best

  

          Norwalk, already having played a tough schedule, plays two of the best in the area this weekend as they host Ontario in a Northern Ohio League game on Friday and Ashland (8-2) in a non-league game on Saturday night.

          Coach Steve Gray says they are going to have to play well.  “It is a great challenge for our kids this week.  They good thing is we are coming off a win over Keystone.  We got a three at the buzzer by Jacob Roth.  We are excited to go against Joe’s team.  Joe’s teams are well coached.  They have great guard play and it should be an interesting challenge.  We will look at Ashland on Saturday,” said Gray.

          Norwalk’s record might not look really good, but Gray says they have been in a lot of games this season and just fell a little short.  “We have had some games where we have played pretty well unfortunately for a lot of different reasons we haven’t been able to finish,” he told Swankonasports.com on Thursday, “We took Perkins to overtime, Huron hits a three at the buzzer to beat us, Lex we are within striking distance in the fourth quarter.  There have been some games where we have played pretty well, but as I have said before our lack of height and our lack of depth has hurt us.”

          Norwalk (3-7,1-3) is at home for Ontario (6-4,2-2) in “NOL” play.  The Warriors coached by Gray’s longtime friend Joe Balogh have won their last four.  Gray says they have great athleticism.  “They have a veteran group coming back.  They have good size.  The thing that scares us is their athleticism on the perimeter.  Their guards are 6-foot, 6’1” and our guards are 5’9”, 5’10”.  They are athletic and they can get to the rack.  Joe is Joe he just does a great job every year,” said Gray.

          Gray says they need to be more consistent to beat these good teams they play.  He says they would like to make it interesting in the second half against Ontario and see what happens.  “Against Sandusky we are down two the middle of the third quarter.  If instead of playing 20 minutes we need to play better for 10 or 12 more minutes.  If we can do that maybe we have a chance to pull it out.  I would like the score to be in the 20’s if at all possible.  We are going to run with them at times and we are going to change up a little bit defensively and we will see what happens. With the way my kids have competed I would shocked if it is not a fairly close game in the third quarter,” said Gray.

 

Published 1/13/17

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Norwalk Gets Win; Prepares For Sandusky

  

          Norwalk earned its first Northern Ohio League victory last week and now they must prepare for the league leading Sandusky Blue Streaks on Friday night.

          Norwalk railed to beat Willard (56-53) last Friday.  Coach Steve Gray says they have certainly had experience in playing in close games this year and that probably helped them last week.  “Well unfortunately or fortunately we have played a lot of close games this year.  I thought we handled the end of the game rather well and we were very fortunate to come up with the win,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “Willard was the first team that really beat us up inside.  The thing with Willard they are 6’7”, 6’6” and 6’4”.  They just did a great job, so hats off to coach Long and his kids.”

          It was a good win, but not a perfect one and Gray says they have some things to work on in practice.  “It allows us to teach a lot more and we want to take this win and build upon it,” he said.

          Norwalk (2-6,1-2) plays at Sandusky (6-3,3-0) on Friday night.  The Streaks feature the talents of Jeresse Williams, the school’s all-time leading scorer.  However, Gray says they are much more than that.  “They have got some great balance inside and outside.  There are some things they do really well.  They take the ball in the paint and they do it terrific.  They go and get it really well.  They have some outside shooting.  Defensively they have the ability to pressure the ball,” said Gray.

          This is likely going to be a tempo game.  Gray says they don’t have the kind of team that can outscore Sandusky.  He says they must control the pace of the game to have a chance.  “I don’t think we can score 70 against ourselves in an hour and half practice, so that is an accurate statement.  For us to be successful against Sandusky, Ontario, etc. the game has to be in the low 50’s or lower than that,” he said.

 

Published 1/03/16

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For Norwalk it is the Little Things

  

          Norwalk is a team that has been close and competitive this year, but they haven’t been able to get over the top in a number of their games.

          They get two more tries this week as they host unbeaten Lexington, the Ohio Cardinal Conference co-leader, on Wednesday, and travel to meet rival Willard (1-7,0-3) on Friday.

          Veteran coach Steve Gray says they need to settle down and execute a little better in the fourth quarter of games.  “We practice pretty hard.  We try to do things the right way.  We don’t have kids just trying to do their own thing.  If you look at the scores we are very, very competitive, other than against Shelby obviously.  Madison, Bellevue, Perkins, Huron, we had a chance in all of those games if we just execute a little better in the fourth quarter,” said Gray.

          Gray believes the kids are doing what they need to do to be successful and if they continue to do that they are going to start winning.  “The thing is we are competing and if we keep doing things the right way we are going to experience some success this year,” he said.

          Norwalk (1-5) plays at home against Lexington (7-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coaches poll in the large school division, on Wednesday.

          Gray says the Minutemen really have the ability to spread the floor and make us really be fundamental on defense.  “They have a great inside-out combination.  Nickoli is just on a roll.  He is pretty good from the three.  Stover inside is athletic, he is physical, and if gets a chance to knock you on your butt he probably will,” he said.

          Lexington also plays very good defense and Gray says they have to be patient and make the Minutemen work extra hard to defend them.  “The one thing we need to get better at quickly is making the extra pass,” he told Swankosports.com on Tuesday evening, “I thought especially against Bellevue we rushed a couple of things.  We took some bad shots.  If we just do the little things, make the extra pass, and make Lex work inside and out, you have a chance to be somewhat successful.”

 

Published 12/28/16

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Norwalk Can’t Get Any Breaks

  

          Norwalk has suffered injuries this year to two key players and it seems even when they do things well it isn’t enough.

          They picked up their only win of the season so far in the “OCC/NOL” challenge last Saturday in downing Mt. Vernon (54-50) leading most of the way.  Madison beat them (60-46) in a non-conference game on Wednesday night.

          Coach Steve Gray says the win over Mt. Vernon was very big for them emotionally.  Then against Madison what they needed to do on defense according to the game plan and that was not enough.  “Mt. Vernon was a great win for us.  We needed it in the worst way.  We controlled tempo, were very efficient offensively and defensively we did a great job of containing their scorers,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “Wednesday night unfortunately you know you are not having the greatest season in the world when you hold Madison’s three best scorers, three leading scorers, to 22 total points and they start a new person coming off the bench and he goes off for 25.  We are working hard, we are getting better and the kids are giving a great effort.”

          With the Christmas break underway for the Truckers, and everybody else for that matter, Gray says this is an important time for them to be able to find some momentum.  “I think it is important for every team in the state.  I think what you find out at Christmas teams do one of two things, they get better or they get worse.  Some of the reasons are out of the routine, not eating right, not sleeping right, maybe waking up a half hour before practice starts, those types of things.  I think we are fortunate we play (Friday) night against Bellevue and next week we have Lex on Wednesday and another league game on Friday.  So, we are going to have our routine that should help us out a little bit,” said Gray.

          Norwalk (1-4,0-1) is at home for Bellevue (3-2,2-0) on Friday night in Northern Ohio League play.  The Redmen have won both of their “NOL” games so far, including a (50-45) win over Ontario last Thursday.

          Gray says the Redmen present a lot of match-up problems for his team, especially in the post.  “They are a lot better than maybe some people thought they would be.  They have a 6’7”, 6’8” post in Hartley that is doing an outstanding job.  I saw him last week against Ontario and he goes off for 28.  We are going to start Mitchell Perry on him, who is 6’1”.  So, it will be crucial to our success that he gets a lot of help,” he said.

 

Published 12/23/16

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Norwalk Remaking

  

          Norwalk, a team still trying to find what works, plays a new opponent the Mt. Vernon Yellow Jackets in the “OCC/NOL” challenge on Saturday at Ontario High School.

          The Truckers (0-3,0-1) lost (63-43) to the Shelby Whippets in their first Northern Ohio League game last Friday.

          Coach Steve Gray says the Whippets gave them a lot of problems with their up tempo approach.  “Shelby got off to a great start.  I give Shelby a lot of credit they played exceptionally well.  They have the ability to get down the floor and knock down shots and that was just a little too much for us.  We are in a state of rebuilding a little bit and it going to take a little bit of time,” he said.

          With point guard Brandon Haraway out of the game due to injury, Gray says they have had to make a lot of changes in their lineup and they are still adjusting to those.  “When somebody goes down with an injury we have to find a new point guard.  When we moved Troutman to the point we had to find a new wing and then we had to find a new sixth man.  It is sort of a domino effect, but that is high school sports and we are getting better and hopefully in a short period of time we will be much better,” said Gray.

          Mt. Vernon (1-2,0-1) plays West Holmes in an “OCC” game on Friday night.  They lost by two (62-60) in triple overtime to Mansfield Senior last week.

          Gray says the Yellow Jackets do a lot of things on both offense and defense.  “We scrimmaged them last fall in Columbus and they had a good point guard last year and it is good for us that he has graduated.  They are about the same size as we are,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “They run motion.  They do a lot of cutting.  Their defense is mostly man to man and switching off picks.  They do some things that are going to be a little bit of a challenge to us.  It should be an interesting game.”

          Other games at Ontario on Saturday include Clear Fork vs. Tiffin Columbian, Madison against Bellevue, Ashland taking on Shelby, Ontario hosting Lexington and Mansfield Senior playing Sandusky.

          Gray says it would be a lot of fun for a basketball junkie.  “I wish I were single and not coaching for a day because I would go down there and watch five or six games in one day and eat a lot of popcorn.  For me I would be in heaven,” he said.

 

Published 12/15/16

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Norwalk Opens “NOL” Against Shelby

  

          Norwalk is a team that is going to execute what it does pretty well and they are going to try and force you to do something that you are uncomfortable in doing.

          Last week, they played without point guard Brandon Haraway due to a injury that will keep him out most of the season and they took both Sandusky Bay Conference bay division favorite Sandusky Perkins and Huron to end before losing.

          Perkins beat the Truckers (48-46) in overtime last Friday and Huron beat the buzzer and Norwalk (70-67) on Saturday.

          Veteran coach Steve Gray says they did a lot of good things last week in both games.  “I thought we played really well against Perkins.  I thought we played hard.  We missed some free throws with seven seconds to go that probably would have won it in regulation,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “Against Huron it was probably an A- on offense and a B- on defense.  They made a three at the buzzer to beat us.”

          Gray says when reviewing last week with the players they outlined the good things, but also the things they could have done better.  “We did a lot of good things we pointed that out to them, but at the same the same time there are things have to get better if we are going to be successful,” he said.

          Shelby (1-1) lost last week to Madison (61-49) on Friday and beat Wynford (59-36) on Saturday.

          Gray says the Whippets do a lot of things that force you to execute on offense and defense.  “I think this is a pretty good Shelby team.  They are going to push it, they are going to penetrate and pitch, they are going to shoot a lot of threes, they are going to trap.  It should be a very interesting game,” said Gray.

          Shelby wants to be up tempo and take the first available good shot.  Gray says he have to work really hard on defense, force a tough shot and then get a rebound.  “They are not going to make a lot of passes.  We are not going to have to defend for two minutes as they make 15 passes.  They are going to get their shots up pretty quick.  If we can defend for a set period of time and rebound we should be okay,” he said.

 

Published 12/09/16

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Norwalk Ready to be Tested

  

          Norwalk has been forced to make a number of changes during preseason play, mostly due to injuries, and they are ready to find out what their next step will be in terms of becoming a better team.

          They open the season with a pair of non-conference road games against bay division teams in the Sandusky Bay Conference in Sandusky Perkins on Friday and Huron on Saturday.

          Veteran coach Steve Gray says he has seen a lot of good things in the gym so far based on the changes they have made and he is interested in seeing what they do in a real game.  “We have had a very good preseason.  I am happy with how hard they have worked, their attitudes, and I am excited to see what happens this weekend.  When you have injuries or sickness, or whatever it may be, it’s an opportunity for someone else to step up.  We have some kids having to step up and I am really excited to see how we perform this weekend,” he said.

          There will be kids new to the varsity floor and with new or different roles with the Truckers this year.  Gray says it will be a chance to see what those kids can do and then what changes need to be made next week.  “I think every season is a new opportunity and sense of excitement for the new kids involved.  Like I said before I just can’t wait for the weekend to see how we perform,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “The great thing about this weekend is they are both non-league games and it is going to give us as coaches an opportunity to step back next week and see what we need to work on, see how we can get better, and see how we can put these kids in an even better situation to be successful.”

          Three years ago Norwalk won a state championship in boys’ basketball and they have never shied away from playing a tough schedule with the likes of Perkins and Huron.  Plus, Gray says there will a number of challenges in their future too and that is how you become better players.  “We take great pride in our schedule.  When you talk about those two teams and the rest of our non-league schedule with Mt. Vernon, Ashland, Lexington, Madison, and the list goes on.  Our kids just want to compete and we just want to see how good we can be.  We will get a good indication this weekend,” said Gray.

 

Published 11/29/16

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Norwalk Battling Adversity

  

          There is no doubt the Norwalk boys’ basketball program is dealing with a lot of adversity so far this season, mainly injuries.

          Veteran coach Steve Gray says the relative success of their season will be dictated by how they handle the situation.

          Gray says they have two players that will either be out for the season or most of it and another kid who is going to try and play with pain.  “It has been worst than a disaster is sort of what we have gone through.  We were supposed to have a 6’5” kid come out for the team and he got hurt in football and he is done for the year.  Our starting point guard Brandon Haraway has a tendon torn away from his elbow.  We may get him back at the end of January, we may get him back who knows.  So, we just have had the injury bug,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Griffin Renner, who unfortunately has had some knee problems over the years, tore his ACL in football, but he is going to give it a try.  He is playing right now.  He has had some really good weeks of practice.  We are just fighting through some things in terms of trying to figure out if the players we have are best utilizing their ability.  They are working hard.  It is a situation where they want to be good.”

          This season for Norwalk is like life.  Gray says they must battle adversity to have any level of success.  “That is the important thing that kids get out of athletics.  You could pack it in.  We have lost some kids who are hurt or we could take the other attitude and have somebody step in.  When something negative happens to one person it opens the door for another.  We have some kids that are eager to earn playing time.  In life I think about adversity and how you handle it.  Most of my kids are going to go to college and maybe they are not going to get into the college or program they want.  You deal with adversity with sickness in the family.  It could be any of a number of avenues.  It is a situation where if you play through it now the next time in becomes a little easier,” said Gray.

          When it comes to individual players Gray says they just have to be as good as they can be.  He says that is all he wants.  “In basketball and football it is a lot about competing and doing the best that you can.  It is trying to achieve your true potential, whatever it may be.  If you are going to be a garbage collector be the best you can be.  If they are fortunate enough to go to college and maybe be an orthopedic surgeon, be the best you can be.  That is all we expect out of all of our kids.  Brandon Haraway is one of the better point guards around and the situation with Brandon is whoever takes his place you don’t have to be Brandon.  Be the best you can be.  If we do that we are going to have a lot of fun this year and compete.  I don’t want to put a number on how many games we can win.  Teamwork, adversity, trying to achieve team goals are so important,” said Gray.

 

Published 11/24/16

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Norwalk Focusing on Limiting Mistakes

  

          Northern Ohio League champion Norwalk faces Celina of the Western Buckeye League in the volleyball division two regional semi finals on Wednesday evening at Ontario High School.

          It will be the second match of the night.  Parma Padua and Ottawa-Glandorf open the doubleheader.

          Norwalk (20-5) beat Lexington 19-25, 27-25, 24-26, 25-19, and 16-14 in a district final last Thursday at Seneca East High School. 

          Lady Truckers coach Angie Kalizewski calls it a great match where they played with a lot of heart.  “You always want to have those matches it only makes the kids better.  You can see what areas of strengths and weaknesses you have and what you need to work on for the future.  It shows them the kind of heart and ability they have that they never thought they did.  We use those as great teaching moments.  The kids really pulled together and worked together as a team.  They were not ready to be done.  They played extremely hard, met a lot of the goals, and just kept fighting no matter what.  Lexington was a great team and worked really hard.  They always are and we knew we were going to have a battle on our hands.  We really enjoyed the matched and learned a lot,” said Kalizewski.

          When it comes to Celina, Kalizewski admits it is not a team she knows a lot about.  However, she does understand what teams that make it to the regional level are made up of.  “It is definitely hard to tell what you are going to see.  Celina is not somebody we had seen even in the preseason or things like that.  So, I have to go off of what I have heard and what I get from people that I know.  They are going to control the ball, they are going to be scrappy.  When you get to this point everybody is scrappy and wants to really keep the ball off the floor.  Obviously when you get to this point you have to have a lot of heart,” she told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “To me that is a big part of volleyball, the kids that really put it out there and work extremely hard and really love what they do.  They love their teammates and their coaches.  That is how they get there.  I expect to see a lot of that, a team that is not going to give up no matter what.  That is kind of what we are looking at.”

          Norwalk has won seven straight league titles and been the regionals many times.  Kalizewski says they are going to play their kind of match and try and make Celina adapt to them.  “That is always the main goal.  You can have anybody you want on the other side as long as you play your game and you control the tempo you can play with anybody.  By the time you start stressing about what they do a little more you start worrying about mistakes.  Volleyball is a game a complete game of mistakes, we talk about it all of the time, it is who is going to make fewer.  That is what we focus on.  How can we make the fewest number of mistakes and control the tempo of the game,” she said.

 

Published 11/02/16

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Norwalk and Lexington Play for District Title

  

          Norwalk and Lexington, the number one and three seeds in the district, have advanced to the division two volleyball district final on Thursday evening at Seneca East High School.

          The winner advances to the regional semi-final next week at Ontario High School against either Celina or Lima Shawnee.

          Norwalk (17-5,) the Northern Ohio League champion, needed five sets to subdue Oak Harbor 23-25, 25-13, 26-28, 25-16 and 15-5 in Tuesday night’s semi finals.  Coach Angie Kalizewski says they went out and followed the game plan petty well.  “We had a very good match.  Our kids met a lot of our goals we had set for the night.  We stayed focused and they were able to control their emotions.  Once you hit the tournament the emotions kind of take over.  Sometimes it is hard to control those and we have some veterans on the floor and that always plays a factor in it and they all did a good job of staying focused, controlling the ball, controlling the outcome and that is what we were looking for,” said Kalizewski.

          Lexington (19-4,) the Ohio Cardinal Conference champ, took out the number two seed in Vermilion, who had beaten Norwalk in a regular season match, in three sets 25-23, 25-18, 27-25 in the semis.  Lady Lex coach Jennifer Moore was impressed with their play.  “Our second set was probably our best set.  We started out a little slow and had to catch up.  The third set was were actually down 22-15 and came back to win 27-25, so they played really well,” she said.

          Kalizewski calls Lexington a team that hustles well all over the court and she says in order to win they will have to stick with the same strategy that has made them successful all year.  “Lexington is a very scrappy team.  They work very hard to keep the ball off the floor.  They have some experience after going to the state last year.  We are going to have to work very hard,” she told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “We are going to have to make sure we run a very quick offense, stay focused, run our game plan, we have to make sure we stay aggressive.  All of those things play a big roll in letting us be the ones that control the ball.  I preach control a lot with my kids.  We want to control the offense and in order to do that we have to keep the ball off the ground, communicate with each other and control the defense just as much as we do the offense.”

          Moore says the Lady Truckers play fast and they need to take them out of their rhythm.  “Norwalk as a really fast tempo offense and what it will take to beat them is a good defense.  We have to make sure we move to block and pass the ball up.  I think if we do that and keep them out of their system by hitting hard at the net I think we can take them,” she said.

 

Published 10/27/16

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Norwalk has to Control Sandusky Athletes

  

          Shelby football coach Erik Will said he would get Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland the biggest Christmas present and take him out to dinner too if the Truckers beat the Sandusky Blue Streaks this Friday.

          That win would give the Whippets a share of the Northern Ohio League title.

          However, the Truckers have a lot to play for themselves, namely a division three playoff spot.  They stand seventh this week.  The top eight make it.

          The Truckers (6-3,3-2) would rally and beat Willard (30-19) last week in league play.

          Coach MacFarland says they were more physical in the third and fourth quarters of the game.  “We were really proud of how the kids came together.  The offensive line really stepped up in the second half.  They didn’t play very well early.  We had some different problems with injuries and things like that.  The kids really stepped up and played really physical.  We told our kids Saturday in our film work and Monday at practice in getting ready for Sandusky that we are really going to have to match that level the entire time.  That is something we are really going to stress and it something where are kids are really going to have to step up ands take over for an injury or something else that might be going on.  Just step in and play and help the Truckers get a victory,” said MacFarland.

          Quarterback Brandon Hardaway was injured his arm last week in the game against Willard and he was replaced by Trenten Morrow, who was the starter the beginning of the season.

          Sandusky (8-1,5-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, beat Ontario (36-6) last week in “NOL” play and they have scored at least four times against everyone in the league this year.

          MacFarland says they stretch the field with their athletes and that makes them very hard to defend.  “They have tremendous athletes.  On offense they spread the field out both vertically and horizontally.  They can put the ball in a lot of athlete’s hands.  The quarterback runs the option around the end.  Defensively they are going to play six in the box and be very physical.  The secondary is able to play man or play zone.  They are just going to put athletes on the field,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We are going to really have to emphasize the team aspect.  Try to make sure that defensively we team tackle and pursue the football and make sure these big plays don’t happen.  Our offense going to have to go out and control the ball and try and move the ball and establish our offense.  They are an outstanding team and we are going to have to go out and play at a very high level.”

          The goal is to make the Blue Streaks have to drive the ball.  MacFarland says they can’t allow the big play.  “Not only in their offense but their special teams they have playmakers so, we are going to have to make them earn it.  It is hard to have eight, 10, 12 play drives and be successful.  For our part of it we are really going to try and control the ball and do those things.  Lots of times something is going to happen with a penalty or a turnover, you know, third and long.  We have to get them in a situation where they aren’t as comfortable as they have been and change things up and put them under pressure,” he said.

 

Published 10/25/16

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Norwalk Back to “NOL” Play

  

          Norwalk travels to Willard to play the Flashes in a Northern Ohio League game on Friday night.

          The Truckers (5-3,2-2) picked up a non-conference win over winless Columbus East (46-0) last week.

          Coach Chris MacFarland says they had to have some focus and they had their heads in the right place.  “We felt really good about last week’s game.  We had a good plan and really worked hard during the week.  It is kind of different to have league play and then have a week that doesn’t have league play.  It was about having focus and not worrying about trying to win the “NOL” or position yourself for future games in the league, try an position yourself as high as you can then you have a game that is a different kind of atmosphere and a different kind of mindset.  We did a great job of focusing in.  There are only 10 opportunities in high school football to play.  You have to have has much focus as you can and just know that that Friday night is the most important.  We got a chance to play a lot of different kids and came out healthy and that was a positive for us,” said MacFarland.

          Willard (1-7,0-4) lost (62-0) to Bellevue last week and have had trouble competing in league games. 

          MacFarland says they are playing a lot of young kids who play hard.  “I do think they are competitive.  They are playing a lot of young kids that are athletes.  They have some nice size out there.  In the past we have not always given our best performance when we play them and they play hard every week and we expect the same thing.  We have tried to emphasize that.  You can’t look at records and I think this team has been pretty good with that,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “Not worrying about what other teams have done and just focusing on ourselves and trying to go out and play at a very high level no matter who are opponent is.  We respect Willard very much.  It’s a tough place to go play.  The weather is going to be kind of wet and damp and maybe not great field conditions.  We have to go out and be fundamental and execute our game plan.”

          The last time Willard won an “NOL” game it was at Norwalk (21-20) last year.  MacFarland says they remember that.  “Last year they had no wins coming into our game and knocked us off.  It is kind of big for them, a big rivalry.  It is the last year we are together in the “NOL”.  It is going to be important for us to stay focused and make sure we do things the right way and try to play as good a game as we can,” he said

 

Published 10/21/16

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Norwalk Giving Great Effort

  

          Norwalk has played some good football this year and more than that the coach feels his players are giving it all they have got.

          Last week, the Truckers played a very solid second half and came up just short in losing to rival Bellevue (34-28) in Northern Ohio League play.

          Coach Chris MacFarland says they made the adjustments to get back in the game, they just ran out of time.  “We are proud of the effort the kids gave.  They came out and scored first possession, we scored first possession.  Then we kind of faltered.  We had some decent drives, but didn’t come away with any points and they scored the next three possessions and we got ourselves in a hole in the first half.  There was a touchdown right at the end of the first half that probably shouldn’t have happened that put us in more of a bind than we needed to be,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “We made some great halftime adjustments and the kids did a great job of finding some energy and going back out.  We played really well in the second half against a good football team and got it back within six and then kind gave up a big play then went down and scored again, just kind of ran out of time.  The energy and the effort of the kids was just outstanding.”

          With four wins in seven games it is certainly and up tick from last year and MacFarland is proud of what they have been doing on the field this fall.  “It is obviously not the record we want, but I’m proud of what we are doing.  Of three losses we have Port Clinton is undefeated, Shelby has one loss, and Bellevue has the two, they are three outstanding teams.  We played all three well.  We have some good wins John Hay is ranked high in our region in division three, Lexington is playing very well.  We have some things we have had to deal with with some injuries.  The kids have just done a great job battling and trusting the coaches.  The coaches have done an outstanding job preparing.  It was been a pretty rewarding season so far.  The kids are giving the effort that we want,” said MacFarland.

          Columbus East (0-7) comes to Norwalk (4-3) for a non-conference game on Friday.  They have scored only two touchdowns in the last four weeks, but MacFarland says they have some athletic skill.  “They are very athletic.  The quarterback is outstanding as far as making things happen.  He is going to control their offense.  Defensively they are aggressive.  They linebacker play is very aggressive.  They will blitz one, two, maybe three linebackers at a time and put some pressure on us, which is always tough on an offensive line.  We have to make sure we pick those up and play sound football.  We have to go out and really execute what we want to do this week and try an improve some more and get ourselves ready for this last three game run,” he said.

 

Published 10/12/16

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Norwalk and Bellevue Battle for Position

  

          Norwalk and Bellevue both trail Northern Ohio League leader Sandusky going into their meeting on Friday night at Whitney Field in Norwalk.

          The loser likely falls out of the “NOL” race, at least for now.

          Norwalk (4-2,2-1) held on to beat Tiffin Columbian (20-13) in league play last week.  Coach Chris MacFarland says they were able to make some big plays at the end to get the win.  “We had three really good drives where we ran the ball affectively and mixed in the pass.  We actually had some really good series.  In the second half I believe we shut them out.  They moved the ball on us.  I thought the quarterback had an outstanding night for them.  The receivers did a nice job, but our kids never quit on defense and made a big play at the end.  We broke up a pass and were able to hang on to a seven point victory,” said MacFaland.

          Bellevue (4-2,1-1) lost a tough one last week (28-26) to Sandusky then the Streaks scored with less than a minute and then the Redmen drove inside the Sandusky 20, but couldn’t get it in.  MacFarland says Bellevue is a traditional power that is fielding another very good team.  “They are outstanding.  Coach Nasonti has done a great job there.  Their quarterback, running back, they have great receivers, offensive line.  They understand that brand of football.  They really get after it,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “They have two losses, but they are team that you have to be able to get by.  They are the measuring stick.  Sandusky beat them last week, but they are still one of the top programs.  They are coming to our house and I hope we have the opportunity to play some top football and come away with a victory.”

          Bellevue runs an up tempo, no huddle offense, and MacFarland says quarterback Alec Foos makes good decisions with the ball.  “The quarterback does a nice job of running the offense, reading defenses, and finding that bubble.  They do a lot of formation things to make sure they can out number you.  It is going to be a physical game.  They are not going to get away from what they do.  They have a lot of runs with their quarterback and their blocking is just very physical,” he said.

          MacFarland says he and the players understand this is game they have to win if they want a league title.  “We have talked about that with this being the last year for the “NOL” to position yourself for an “NOL” championship.  As of right now before Friday night we are still in that position.  We have a chance at home to defend our territory.  If we win we will position ourselves for two more “NOL” opportunities.  We are going to have to play at a very high level though.  We know Bellevue is going to come in wanting to rebound from last week and we are going to have to match that,” said MacFarland.

 

Published 10/05/16

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Norwalk Has to Keep up

  

          If they can win at Tiffin Columbian this week, the Norwalk Truckers will keep themselves a game behind either Bellevue or Sandusky in the race for the final Northern Ohio League football title.

          Last week, Norwalk led Ontario (20-0) at halftime and went on to beat the Warriors (34-14) in a league game. 

          Coach Chris MacFarland says they did a lot of good things on both sides of the football.  “The kids came out and played really well.  The defense did a great job of really containing the quarterback.  They just did a nice job of taking the keys and formations and recognition that we did all week with the coaching staff and playing really aggressive football.  Offensively, we had a big play on a pass for a touchdown.  Drove the ball pretty well with some nice other drives and handled the ball really well.  Just had a nice effort the first half and come out and kind of finished it up and got some of our younger kids some time on the field and give them a chance to figure out what it is like on a Friday night of varsity football,” said MacFarland.

          Norwalk’s losses come to Port Clinton (28-17) and Shelby (29-15) and MacFarland likes the direction they are headed.  “We are moving forward.  We have two losses to very good teams and played them both well.  We have bounced back from adversity.  Our kids are stepping up and making plays for us.  We are actually developing some depth.  We are happy were we are at the halfway mark and hopefully we can get ourselves more wins and put ourselves in position for the “NOL” in the last run of that championship,” he said.

          On Friday night, Norwalk (3-2,1-1) travels to Tiffin Columbian (1-4,0-2) for an “NOL” game.  The Tornadoes, under new coach Judd Lutz, lost (48-14) to Bellevue last week.  MacFarland agrees that Tiffin has allowed some points this year, but knows they better be ready to play.  “They have had some breakdowns.  We are going to have to go out and play very well against them.  Tiffin has a long tradition of winning football games.  (Lutz) played at Mount Union, coached at Avon, played at Tiffin.  He knows what he is doing and as they go on you will see improvement.  We will really have to play a sound football game.  First of all it is on the road.  We have to take care of all of the little things and play fundamental football,” he said.

          “NOL” co-leaders Bellevue and Sandusky play each other this week and MacFarland says they need to win to stay one game back of whoever wins that game.  “We want to go out and just be as sound as we can this week.  Go in with a simple game plan.  Hopefully Brandon Haraway will continue to grow as our quarterback and defensively continue to get better and special teams, especially on the road you really have to make sure your special teams are sound,” he said.

 

Published 9/26/16

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Important Game For Norwalk

  

          Norwalk entertains Ontario in a Northern Ohio League clash on Friday night at Whitney Field.

          Norwalk lost quarterback Trenten Morrow to an injury and he was replaced by Brandon Haraway in the Truckers (29-15) loss to the unbeaten Shelby last week.

          Coach Chris MacFarland thought his team responded to pretty well to the adversity they faced.  “I had a chance to go back and look at film.  Obviously that night it is a rush as you are trying to get somebody else into that position and defensively we are trying to get new guys into positions and you are focused on that.  When you set back on watch film and kind of reevaluate what we did and there were a lot of positives,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “There were one or two drives there in the second half that we weren’t able to stop Shelby on, but overall pretty pleased with all of the different things that happened with the adversity we had to handle.  Really pleased with the way the team handled things.”

          Ontario (2-2,1-0) beat Tiffin Columbian (40-14) in their “NOL” opener last Friday.  The Warriors are now coached by Chris Hawkins, who has installed a new offense and defense.  MacFarland says they are improving.  “When I first got here Galion was going to leave and coach Hawkins was there, so we have kind of seen him before.  Those kids are getting used to playing in that system and they are definitely better from week one to now.  I think both teams are going to show improvement and it will be an exciting football game,” he said.

          Ontario scored almost 60 the week before and MacFarland says they clearly getting used to the new system.  “Their kids have been executing.  You can tell they know their assignments.  The quarterback has been doing an outstanding job of orchestrating the offense.  Defensively also they have been doing a good job of being aggressive and going downhill.  With a new coach it takes a couple of games to get the flow of how things go.  You have practicing, but there is nothing like game experience,” said MacFarland.

          With the loss last week, MacFarland says it is very important they get a win this week against Ontario.  “We need to get our first “NOL” win.  There is a lot going to happen these next four or five weeks with match ups every week with teams that have to battle each other.  It is going to be very important for us to get that first “NOL” win to put us in position to keep climbing up the latter and watch this unfold,” he said.

 

Published 9/22/16

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Norwalk Comes to Lexington

  

          Norwalk becomes the third Northern Ohio League school that Lexington will see this year as the Truckers head south to face the Minutemen in non-conference play on Friday night.

          After losing to Port Clinton (28-17) in their opener, the Truckers rebounded to double up Cleveland John Hey (40-20) last week.  Coach Chris MacFarland says they certainly made some strides in the right direction.  “We definitely saw improvement.  Our offensive line played at a much higher level, a lot more physical, understanding concepts and played a lot more together.  Our quarterback I thought really had an excellent game.  He really focused in on coverage and found open guys and threw some very nice passes.  Defensively we were right on, especially on a short week.  It was the first time we have had that,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “We had three weeks of two a days before our Port Clinton game.  Now we are in our schedule of week to week to week having to change.  We are happy, but we are never satisfied.  We still have a long ways to go.  We are back at it this week trying to simplify it again and see if we can make another step this week because we are playing an outstanding team this week in Lexington.  We are going to have to go out and execute at a high level.”

          Lexington (1-1), #5 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, lost to Shelby (17-14) last week in a game when they had a number of chances to take the lead.  MacFarland says the Minutemen have all kinds of athletes.  “We think they are outstanding.  Last year, they were very young and they came to our place and beat us.  Most of that team is back.  They have size, they have athletes.  They are very impressive to look at on the field.  They play power football.  So, our kids are really going to have to step up and match that level.  Hopefully we can hold down the errors and the turnovers and the mistakes and it will be an exciting football game,” said MacFarland.

          Lexington’s defense has given up a big play to Ontario and two short field scores to Shelby last week.  MacFarland thinks they are aggressive and will force them to execute in order to score.  “Their line does a good job of playing downhill and being destructive.  Their safety sits back and really controls some of the runs in man coverage and on the perimeter.  They get after it.  One again we are going to have to talk and communicate and pick up the blocking.  Our backs have to protect the ball and really exploit anything we can,” he said.

 

Published 9/07/16

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Norwalk Committed to Being Better

  

          Norwalk lost its first game of the season, but they have been very dedicated this week to getting better for their home opener Friday night against Cleveland John Hay.

          Port Clinton downed the Truckers (28-17) last Thursday in the season opener.  Coach Chris MacFarland says they had good effort last week, but they didn’t make the plays when they had the chance.  “Defense played well in the first half and kept us in the game even in the second half.  They never quit.  We had a lot of opportunities on offense and we are going to have to take care of those.  That is the thing we have talked about this week.  Our players have to be players this week.  They have to make plays when it is presented to them.  We didn’t do that last week.  We are really excited about getting out there on the field again.  We have had a good week of practice and we are excited to go back out and show how we can improve.  I think between week one and week two is the biggest improvement of the year,” said MacFarland.

          Film review is an important part of football and MacFarland says they have done a lot of that this week.  He says the players have worked hard on their technique.  “Special teams on week one is so different because in no scrimmage do you do them live.  One film we have the ability to go back and critique and get them to understand the difference of how it is in practice compared to game.  Even our offensive and defensive practice this week has been a lot more physical,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “Kids saw themselves on film.  In scrimmages you are trying to figure out your depth and in games you are going to be a little more on your starters.  We spent a lot of time on film and I thought the kids did a great job of responding to coaching.  We have had some really physical practices this week.”

          John Hay lost to Orange (21-14) in their first game.  MacFarland says they have some speed in the backfield and on the perimeter.  He says their defense will be challenged.  “Last week they had the lead a lot of the game.  They are very athletic.  They do a nice job running the ball and they are committed running it.  Then they have some speed with their receivers and they can take it vertically.  Our defense will have to play very well.  Our offense against their defense they just line up and come at you.  They bring a lot of linebackers and people off the edge.  We are expecting a good game.  I think the kids are excited about the home opener at Whitney Field and show the improvement that they have made from week one to week two,” he said.

 

Published 9/02/16

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Norwalk With Some Weapons

  

          Norwalk, trying to rebound from a down season a year ago, opens the 2016 football campaign on Thursday night at Port Clinton in non-conference play.

          Coach Chris MacFarland will have a more veteran lineup this year and he has been pretty happy with their progress this month.  “We are actually pretty happy with the progress we made in each of our scrimmages.  Through the three weeks we improved each day.  The kids are very coachable.  They are watching a lot of film with us and taking things that we are showing them and using it.  So, we are excited about where we are at for game one.  Hopefully, we will continue to improve the rest of this week and get ourselves a victory on Thursday night,” he said.

          Two years ago when the Truckers won the Northern Ohio League title they were able to put up a lot of points on the board.  MacFarland thinks that this year they can be pretty explosive too.  “I think offensively we are going to have a lot of perimeter play that is very solid.  Blake Obringer had a great year for us last year at receiver.  We are expecting good things from him.  Griffin Rinner is back in the lineup from injuries.  He is just an outstanding athlete.  Brandon Haraway is doing a great job, young athlete.  Rashod Raymore and Trevon Raymore can both play.  We have some weapons,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday evening, “We think we can put the ball in a lot of people’s hands.  Trenten Morrow at quarterback got seven games last year.  He is really comfortable with what we are doing.  I think that is going to be our strength.  If we can get out and put some pressure on some teams by putting points on the board hopefully we can get them out of sink.”

          Port Clinton has been a program on the rise out of the Sandusky Bay Conference and MacFarland thinks the Redskins will be able to do some things too and looks for a good match-up.  “They have done a nice job the last couple of years.  They have an outstanding running back.  They have a couple of new players as far as linemen and quarterback and stuff.  They do have a nice perimeter player, receiver, they kind of put in jet motion and get him the ball.  He is very athletic.  I think Port Clinton is pretty sound.  They play pretty basic football and really get after the ball.  I think it is going to be a great game one,” said MacFarland.

 

Published 8/23/16

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Norwalk Looking for Depth

 

          Norwalk was ravaged by injuries a year ago and they hope this year if they get some players hurt it won’t be so devastating.

          Over the first couple of weeks if the preseason coach Chris MacFarland believes they have looked pretty good and have already shown they a more veteran team.  “Our camp has gone really well.  We have already had one scrimmage, we will have another one (Friday.)  Things are going in the progression that we would like.  We have a lot of veterans that got a lot more experience last year then they probably should have.  They have that experience that is really paying off in practice, film study, and really kind of that knowledge they gained from getting on the field last year.  We are excited by where we are and hopefully we can continue to make positive moves forward,” he said.

          While they are always working on their execution, MacFarland says a real goal in this preseason is to become a deeper team on both sides of the ball.  “We are always trying to improve.  We are always trying to have that perfect game.  It is always something that is out there in front.  We just need to take care of ourselves.  We got hit by the injury bug last year losing six two way players in the first two weeks.  We had to play sophomores and kids that really weren’t ready to go.  We think our off season training really helps.  In camp we are doing a much better job as far as our technique and that will help us eliminate some of the problems that we had. We are trying to build depth,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “That is really kind of our goal this year to make sure we have enough depth if somebody does get injured that we are ready to plug someone in that is ready to be on a varsity football field on a Friday night.”

          MacFarland says it can be difficult for kids to understand there is such a jump to varsity football.  He says they just have to go through it themselves.  “Kids kind of get a false sense sometimes.  They come up playing little league and they are champions and then there is junior high.  They are always just playing the grade level that they are in.  Even if you have a good freshmen team or JV none of that really equates to the varsity level.  Friday night varsity football, especially in the “NOL” and our part of Ohio, there are physical, fast, very athletic kids playing.  They are 18-year-olds playing out there.  You really have to emphasize that it is like no other level that you have played.  Varsity football in Ohio is fast and physical.  We try to make sure we have that going on practice.  I love scrimmages because it is easy to get kids excited.  It gets that game speed with another team.  It is a chance for us to show them what it is like on a varsity football field,” said MacFarland.

 

Published 8/11/16

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Norwalk Bounces Bellevue From the Lead

 

          Norwalk, likely the hottest baseball team in North Central Ohio, won its 12th in row (6-4) at Bellevue on Monday night, knocking the Redmen out of a share of the Northern Ohio league lead.

          Coach Wes Douglas says it was a really big win for his club.  "Anytime you can get a win over Bellevue, especially at Bellevue, it is a nice feather in your cap.  It was also our 12th in a row and got our program to 20 wins on the season.  It is the eighth time in school history since 1972.  There was a lot to be proud of (Monday) night for our team," he said.

          Norwalk hasn't lost in May and Douglas says things are going the right way for them.  "There is a good air of confidence and a lot of different guys contributing.  To be honest with you the baseball gods smiled on us.  There were a couple of line drives that found our gloves or were just a little bit foul.  It just seems that we are in a good mojo right now.  We are just trying to keep it going and stay positive.  Things are definitely falling our way right now," said Douglas.

          Norwalk is not a team led by one or two guys.  Douglas says this is a team that has pretty good chemistry.  "Our guys do play the game the right way.  They bring their passion everyday to the field and that's what we ask of them.  It's definitely a team.  We pitch by committee.  We score by committee.  The defense has been very good overall.  There has been a lot of good coaching from my assistants and the guys are having fun," he said.

          Norwalk (20-6), #3 in the final Swankonsports.com baseball coaches poll in the large school division meets Lexington (18-7), #2 in our poll, in the division two district semi-finals at Heidelberg College on Thursday afternoon.  Douglas says Lexington has the kind of athletes that can make things happen.  "Lexington always has athletes.  They are well coached by Kevin Morrow.  I think they expect to win every time they take the field," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday night, " The little bit of information I have on them they sound kind of similar.  They have a lot of athletes that can run and make things happen.  They have pitchers that will allow you to stay in the game.  A break here or there is probably going to the difference."

 

Published 5/17/06

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Norwalk Bests Shelby in Sectional Final

 

          Blake Obringer got the win on the hill and likely the biggest hit of the game as Norwalk beat Shelby (6-2) Thursday in a battle of "NOL" powers in the division two sectional final at Shelby High School.

          It was the 11th straight win for the Truckers.

          Norwalk (19-6) scored five times in the second inning, Shelby committed three costly errors, and never trailed in the game in earning their first win against their league rivals since 2014.

          Coach Wes Douglas says they were able to take advantage of some situations in the second.  "We have been playing with the lead well lately.  All of those runs came with two outs.  We got a leadoff walk and bunted him over and got a big rally after that.  The big hit was by pitcher Blake Obringer, who hot a line drive single with the bases loaded, that cleared the bases after a throwing error.  That five spot there allowed us to play a little looser," said Douglas, who has been the Norwalk baseball coach for more than 20 years.

          All six Norwalk runs were unearned and Shelby coach Jon Amicone says you can't make mistakes against quality teams like Norwalk and expect to win.  "We made too many mistakes to be sectional champs.  When you make mistakes against a great team like Norwalk you are not going to win.  I really love my team and I wish I could have taken them farther.  Norwalk will do a great job representing "NOL" baseball in the district," he said.

          During this winning streak many times Norwalk has been able to take the lead and Douglas says that has allowed them to be less tense.  "I think every team will tell you that they just play looser.  Every pitch and every ground ball isn't in a 2-2 tie.  You just let your talents flow and that is kind of where we have been.  Obringer walked five hitters, but he had very good stuff.  There was a fine line there on whether we were going to pull him out, but he worked out of it.  He fought through some contact and competed and only gave up three hits to a very good hitting Shelby team," said Douglas.

          Shelby (17-6) loaded the bases in fifth, but didn't score.  Douglas says Obringer was up to the challenge.  "He really wanted to finish the game (Thursday) night.  Of their three hits, one never left the infield, kind of in no man's land, a little blooper, and that led to their two runs.  If not for that they don't score at all.  He fought through.  They had guys on base.  Our defense played pretty well behind him.  It all added up to a pretty good win after five straight losses to them," he said.

          Norwalk now meets Lexington (18-7,) a (8-4) winner over top seed and state ranked Vermilion on Thursday, in the district semi-finals next Thursday at Heidelberg College in Tiffin.  "I have a lot of respect for coach (Kevin) Morrow and the Lexington athletes.  We have played them over the years in doubleheaders.  That is the only game on the schedule that we didn't get in this year.  It was the day it snowed and neither one of us has been able to work something out.  There is good baseball played in that league and they are well coached," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday night after the win over Shelby, "They have talented athletes and they beat a very good Vermilion team.  Once again it is going to take our best to come out of there and advance.  Between now and then we go to Ontario on Saturday and we go to Bellevue Monday night.  So, we have two good opponents to keep us sharp.  We will practice up a little bit and then at two o'clock Thursday at Heidelberg we will take on the Minutemen."

 

Published 5/13/16

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Norwalk Hammers Sandusky; Ready for Shelby

 

          Norwalk, one of the best hitting teams in the area, blasted Sandusky (12-2) in six innings in a Northern Ohio League game on Wednesday night.

          They play in one of the more interesting games in North Central Ohio on Thursday, weather permitting, as they travel to Shelby to meet the Whippets, the "NOL" co-leaders, in a division two sectional final game.

          The win over Sandusky was the 10th in a row for the Truckers and coach Wes Douglas says they really believe in themselves.  "We are playing with confidence.  We have been playing with the lead over the last 10 games here.  We are a lot more relaxed when we have the early lead and let their talent come to the top.  That is kind of how we have been playing.  Sandusky looked a little tired (Wednesday) night.  They have been knocked out of the tournament already, so we jumped on them early.  It was senior night and we got to play all seven of our seniors and they all contributed.  So, it was a good night all of the way around," said Douglas.

          Norwalk not only has a deep everyday lineup, but they have number of guys who have pitched well too.  Douglas says they have their rotation set up the way they want.  "We have seven different pitchers with two wins now.  Jake Roth, a sophomore, had pitched only 14 innings, and he was in command all of the way.  He looked sharp.  So, we have our top two, three guys lined up (Thursday) for Shelby," he said.

          Shelby (15-5,10-1) beat Bellevue (9-3) on Tuesday to move into a share of first place in the league with the Redmen. 

          They beat Norwalk in a sectional final last year and twice in they regular season this year.  Douglas says they know what they are up against.  "I got a chance to go over and watch that game (Tuesday) night because we had a game cancelled down at Ontario.  I am impressed with Shelby.  Jon Amicone is getting all he can out of those kids.  They have kind of had our number last year and this year," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday night, "They are a very talented team with two very good left handed pitchers.  They are solid from top to bottom.  It will take our best effort on (Thursday) down there.  We are not going to have much room for error.  Our kids are excited and it should be a good ballgame."

          Norwalk (18-6) beat Upper Sandusky (7-0) in a tournament game on Saturday and Douglas says if they limit their mistakes they have a real chance to knock off the Whippets.  "That one error, that one popped up bunt, whatever it is.  It is a fine line.  I hope it is that close of a game and we have the chance to make those plays.  We saw them back to back nights earlier in the year.  The first was a 6-3 game and Dillon Thornsberry hit a two run bomb on us in the sixth for the win.  We played them the next night at their place and lost 8-5.  It was probably our worse defensive night of the season giving them eight unearned runs.  So, we are capable to playing with them, but again there isn't much room for error," said Douglas.

 

Published 5/12/16

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Norwalk Earns Quality Win

 

          Norwalk proved they are going to be part of the Northern Ohio League baseball race on Thursday when they beat Tiffin Columbian (8-5) in an "NOL" game.

          Veteran coach Wes Douglas says it was really the first game they have won against a solid team this year.  "We were 5-3 coming in and we beat five teams that we were a little bigger than and should have beat and lost three games to teams that we needed to beat.  So, (Thursday) night against an always solid Tiffin program it was a signature win.  It was the best game we have played all year," said Douglas.

          Columbian (4-2,1-1) has a solid pitching staff and Douglas says the Truckers had an excellent days with the bats, hitting the ball hard and driving in runners in scoring position.  "We had nine hits, but a lot of them were with guys on second and third and two outs.  I think Obringer and Marcus McClain had a big hit there.  So, we hit with guys in scoring position.  We hit the ball hard, they weren't bloopers or ground balls that found a hole.  We drove some balls in the gap.  I think we gained some confidence (Wednesday) night," he said.

          Norwalk (6-3,2-1) plays at Sandusky in an "NOL" game on Friday.  The Blue Streaks lost at Shelby (4-2) on Thursday and they have been competitive.  Douglas says they will need another good effort.  "What I hear and what I have seen in the past with Sandusky you are going to have to play your "A" game to get out of there with a "W."  The depth of our pitching staff is one our pluses," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday night, "Now, that we are playing three, four games in a row we have Brandon Hafner, one of our top pitchers settled in for (Friday) ready to go.  So, we feel pretty good about the depth of our staff when things get backed up like this."

 

Published 4/15/16

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Norwalk Gets a Boost of Confidence with Win

 

          After some tough losses, Norwalk responded with a (10-2) win over Port Clinton in non-conference baseball action on Wednesday.

          Coach Wes Douglas says it was a game they need to win and they did just that.  "It was one of those games that we needed to get under our belt, have some good at bats, build a little confidence.  We lost 4-3 to Amherst Steele and 5-4 to Bellevue (Tuesday) night.  I think we are right on the verge of putting some good things together.  Hopefully, a game like (Wednesday) night will help us get over the hump and get some confidence," he said.

          Norwalk (4-3,0-1) has played some good baseball this year, but Douglas says they have not made the big plays at critical times and that has cost them a couple of wins.  "Our ERA is under 2.00, we are fielding the ball at about a .960 clip, we are hitting about .290.  It seems like we haven't had the big hit at the right time yet.  The few errors that we have made they have been at the wrong time," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday night, "We are looking for some leadership too.  We had some seniors leaders (Wednesday) gain some confidence and kind of take control of some things.  I think that will go a long way because I think we have the talent to some things this year."

          Rain is predicted for Thursday, but if Mother Nature allows Norwalk is scheduled to play at Willard (0-5,0-2) in a Northern Ohio league game.  Douglas says if they are to be a contender this is a game they have to put in the win column.  "I think the league is as balanced as it has ever been in my 20 years.  The top six, including Sandusky, can beat anybody on any given night.  We would like to even up our record in the league (Thursday) and head into next week with a little more momentum," he said.

 

Published 4/07/16

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Norwalk Looking Good

 

          It likely will be a very balanced Northern Ohio League this year in baseball and the Norwalk Truckers feel like they can be in the mix this spring.

          Veteran coach Wes Douglas says her has seen a lot of good things from the Truckers so far this year.  "I am very, very optimistic right now.  As coaches we usually pick on things that we need to work on, and obviously we still do, but overall our coaching staff is pleasantly surprised with where our kids are at right now.  I think we are ahead of the curve based on my years of experience to where we normally are," he said.

          The things that sticks out to Douglas the most right now is they are a very athletic team and they have pretty good chemistry and those are both good things.  "Number one we are very athletic.  I think we run very well.  We bring back eight lettermen with a good deal of experience.  We only graduated two every day players from a 16-10 team.  We are bringing back some good attitudes right now, some good chemistry for our team so far.  We have some pretty high hopes that we can play some good baseball," he said.

          Douglas, who has been around the "NOL" for 20 years, says he thinks at least six of the teams are going to be a factor in the race this year, including the Truckers.  "I definitely think we will be in the mix and have something to say with the outcome," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "It's going to be hard to predict.  I think the top end of this league will be really balanced this year with Tiffin wit two good arms, Shelby with a wealth of experience, Bellevue will reload, Ontario will reload, Sandusky is going to be competitive, I think we are going to be right there in the mix.  I could be wrong, but I think it is going to be really balanced."

 

Published 3/15/16

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Norwalk Expects Pressure from Madison

 

          Norwalk expects to see pressure defense form Madison and they have to handle without a bunch of turnovers if they expect to win.

          They play the Rams in a first round tournament game in division two on Tuesday night at Ashland High School.

          The Truckers (11-11) had two tough defeats in Northern Ohio league play last week when they had a chance for a big upset of league co-champion Ontario before losing (43-39) at their place last Tuesday and then fell to Tiffin Columbian (57-48) in their final regular season game last Friday.

          Coach Steve Gray say the basketball gods weren't with them.  "Last week was frustrating.  We had the ball with a chance to win it against Ontario and unfortunately we didn't convert.  Unfortunately for us at Tiffin we had three kids with the flu and our bench was depleted, but I will give Tiffin a lot of credit their posts played really well.  They shot the heck out of it.  Basketball sometimes is a cruel sport," said Gray.

          Norwalk lost to Madison (13-9) in the "OCC/NOL" challenge at Lexington (56-49) in December.  Gray says the Rams have some talented players.  "Tim (Mergel) does a great job with those kids.  With (Tyrell) Ajian and (Billy) Buckley especially they have two outstanding players and scorers.  The (Kyle) Jackson kid has played well the last couple of games.  We are going to have our hands full, but it should be fun.  If we play well, we have a chance," he said.

          Buckley did not play in the second half of Madison's (55-49) win over Willard last Saturday night due to a broken nose.  His availability for Tuesday is uncertain.

          Gray says he expects Madison to try and force the tempo of the game.  "They scouted us against Ontario and we were very, very deliberate.  I would expect them to come out with some kind of pressing, trapping defense.  I think in Tim's mind the faster the tempo the better off they are going to be.  We look for them to really try and push the situation," said Gray.

          The biggest limitation Norwalk has had this year is their inability to score the ball.  Gray says they have handled pressure pretty well and they are gong to have to do that on Tuesday night in order to win.  "I know we don't shoot the ball really well this year, but there are a couple of things that we do exceptionally well.  We take care of the ball.  We only average 10 turnovers a game.  Our guard play in terms of handling pressure has been really good.  If their pressure does hurt us than we have no chance," he said.

 

Published 2/23/16

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A little at a Time for Norwalk

  

          Norwalk has found its shooting eye just in time for a big game with Northern Ohio League co-leader Ontario Tuesday night at Norwalk.

          The Truckers lost to Sandusky (69-45,) the other "NOL" co-leader, last Friday.  But, coach Steve Gray says they rebounded for their best offensive performance of the year in a win over Huron (55-38) in a non-league game on Saturday night.  "We struggled Friday night against Sandusky.  Sandusky I thought just played extremely hard.  Obviously, they played exceptionally well and we did except that challenge.  Saturday night, offensively we played our best game of the year.  The passing was crisp.  We had a lot of assists and for the first time this year we shot more than 50 percent from the field," said Gray.

          When it comes to answers to why they shot it better on Saturday, Gray says it's hard to tell.  "We had practice (Monday) morning and we talked about what was the difference because Huron is a good team.  What allowed you guys to play free and easy offensively?  They said confidence and all of the right things.  What brought about this confidence after Friday night's performance?  If I knew the answer to that I could make a lot of money," he said.

          Norwalk (10-10,6-4) is at home for Ontario (17-3,9-1), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division, on Tuesday night.  Gray says Warriors have the whole package.  "They have great balance and I mean across the board.  They can score inside an out.  They have many different options offensively and kids coming off the bench.  They can beat you with defense, they can beat you on the boards, they can beat you with pressure, they are just a very well balanced team.  We are going to have to play well Tuesday night to put ourselves in the position to be successful," said Gray.

          Ontario won the first meeting pretty easily (63-35) on January 16.  Gray says they are trying to break the game down into segments hoping they can still be in it come the fourth quarter.  "That is what we have talked about.  Let's put ourselves in a position to steal one on Tuesday night. We are really trying to break this down into eight minutes.  Really our only concern Tuesday is the first eight minutes," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "Then after the first quarter we will sit down and talk about eight minutes.  I think when you try and keep things simple like that I think the kids say we can play with them for eight minutes.  Then you gain confidence and see what happens."

 

Published 2/16/15

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Norwalk Challenges "NOL" Co-Leader

 

          Norwalk is one of the better defensive teams in North Central Ohio and they will have to be when they travel to Sandusky on Friday night for a Northern Ohio League game.

          The Truckers are coming off a (45-44) loss to Western Reserve, of the Firelands Conference, in a non-conference game on Saturday night.  Coach Steve Gray says they suffered through another night when they just didn't shoot the ball very well at all.  "Western Reserve is a good team and unfortunately for us we just didn't shoot the ball very well, which has been our tendency most of the year.  But, I'll give out kids credit they defend, they take care of the ball and when we make shots we are pretty good," said Gray.

          Norwalk (9-9,6-3) will be at Sandusky (13-3,8-1), #3 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division, on Friday night.  Sandusky beat Tiffin Columbian (66-53) on Tuesday night in a league game.  Gray says the Blue Streaks are outstanding and it begins with the play of one of the better guards in this part of the state in Jayrese Williams.  "I would start with Jayrese Williams.  He is one of the better point guards in our league.  He is an extremely talented individual and like most good players he makes everyone around him that much better," he said.

          Williams scored 54 points in a game against Toledo Bowsher earlier this year and Gray says he has improved his perimeter shot.  "That is the continued growth of a good player.  We have a freshman Brandon Haraway, Ben's little brother.  He is not a real good perimeter shooter yet, but I think by the time he becomes a sophomore, junior or senior, you will see the same improvement in his game as you do with Jayrese," Gray told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday.

          He says the Streaks are not a team hat presses in the full court a lot, but they do come after you once you get over that time line.  "They are a half court defensive team and they will just deny the wings and switch off picks and they create a lot of their offense from their defense," he said.

 

Published 2/10/16

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Norwalk With Willard and Western

 

          Norwalk picked up a win on Saturday and now the goal is to be able to take some much needed momentum into the postseason tournament, which begins in three weeks.

          The Truckers beat Bellevue (48-43) in Northern Ohio League play and coach Steve Gray says it was a win they really needed.  "We needed that for just a little shot of confidence.  We really haven't been playing that bad unfortunately we have been playing really good teams.  The win lifted everybody's spirits and practice has went really well this week," he said.

          Before that win, Norwalk had lost seven of eight.

          Gray says they really have played some pretty good defense all year and he thinks that will continue.  "We have defended well all year.  We are giving up 48 points a game.  I think we are either first  in the "NOL" or second, but really put forth a good effort at the defensive end and we try to do things the right way," he said.

          Norwalk (8-8,5-3) is at Willard (5-12,2-7) on Friday night in a league game.  Willard had beaten Tiffin Columbian (60-58) in overtime in a league game on Saturday and then lost to Marion Harding (76-54) on Tuesday night in a non-conference game.  Gray says the Flashes are a team that plays hard.  "I saw them play Marion (Tuesday) night and I thought they gave great effort, but unfortunately for them Marion Harding is pretty good.  The only thing against Marion Harding is they are division one.  If they were two or three around here I think they would have an outstanding record.  They just shoot the heck out of the ball.  The Crimson Flashes with (Conner) Robinson with 20 points a game they just do some things really well," said Gray.

          Norwalk is at Western Reserve (11-5,) in second place in the Firelands Conference, for a non-league game on Saturday night.  Gray says they will learn some things about their basketball team.  "I think Chris (Sheldon) does a great job.  Chris was one of the few coaches that when we went through the time when we were really good that begged us not to drop them," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "Chris's teams are always ready and the only reason that we play Western Reserve is because of Chris.  I enjoy going against him and I know at the end of the game we will know what he is trying to do to us offensively and defensively and expose some of our weaknesses.  It is a good game for us in preparation for the tournament."

 

Published 2/03/16

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Norwalk Battling Through Difficult Times

 

          Norwalk has hit a dry spell and they working hard to find a way score more and get back to becoming a more competitive team as we turn and head for home here in the boys' basketball regular season.

          After losses to Shelby (52-44) in Northern Ohio League play and Port Clinton (56-48) in a non-conference game last weekend the Truckers have lost six of their last seven, coach Steve Gray says they need a shot of confidence.  "We got off to a great start and we probably won a couple of games that we shouldn't have.  Then we hit that spell were we played Lexington, played Madison, played a great Northwestern team.  We sort of got on a negative roll.  I think right now we are hurting a little bit it terms of confidence.  We just need a great outing on Saturday night," he said.

          He says nothing does more for the confidence than getting a win and that's what they need Saturday night against Bellevue.  He sys it would be nice to see to see the ball in the hole a few times early in the game.  "We need a win in the worst way.  To be honest we need to see the basketball go in the hoop once in a while," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "We are just not shooting it very well.  We have known each other for a long time and I don't make excuses very often.  We are pretty banged up.  Jaycee (Jordan) our post has a broken hand and he probably shouldn't be playing, but he wants to play, and we are playing him.  Griffin Redder, who could be one of the better player around, unfortunately has had back to back "ACL" tears, so in reality we are playing without two of our top two players."

          Bellevue (5-9,2-5) heads down U.S. Route 20 for a game with the Truckers (7-8,4-3) in "NOL" play Saturday night.  After a loss to Willard (55-47) in league play on Friday night, the Redmen responded with a (51-45) non-conference win over Galion on Saturday night.

          Gray says Saturday night will be about them finding a way.  "They will be coming in with some confidence.  They won on Saturday night in come from behind fashion.  Right now, it is more about us finding a way to get better," he said.

 

Published 1/26/16

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Banged up Norwalk Plays Shelby

 

Click here to listen to an interview with coach Steve Gray

 

          It seems like Norwalk just can't catch a break lately.  And that streak continues.

          After a breaking a four game slide with a (56-35) win over Tiffin Columbian on Friday night in "NOL" action on Friday, they ran into a buzz saw in Ontario on Saturday night.

          The Warriors beat them (63-35) and coach Steve Gray says Ontario really was at the top of their game Saturday.  "I thought Ontario was outstanding.  They spanked us pretty good to be quite honest it was never a game.  They were just outstanding on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively.  They shot the heck out of it.  That is as well as I have seen Ontario play in a long time," he said.

          On top of that, the Truckers (7-6,4-2) have now lost one of their better players in Jaycee Jordan.  Gray says he will be out for an undetermined amount of time and they will miss him.  "We just need great individual improvement.  Unfortunately, our post, 6'3", Jaycee Jordon broke his hand," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "He tried to play against Ontario and gave a gallant effort, but he finally got his x-rays back and it is broken and we aren't sure how long he will be out.  So, it's back to small ball and we are just going to have to have everybody play better in all aspects of the game."

          Norwalk beat Shelby (42-41) in their first meeting in December.  The Whippets (6-7,3-3) are coming off a (70-65) win over Bellevue on Saturday night.  Gray says with the number of shooters they have, the Whippets are always going to be dangerous.  "I think every team that scores is dangerous.  Shelby can definitely put up big numbers.  They had 14 threes last week against Bellevue.  When they shoot it they are awfully tough to beat," he said.

 

Published 1/21/16

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Time to Get back to Winning for Truckers

 

          Norwalk has went through a murderous part of their schedule, which has included Lexington, Mansfield Madison, Northwestern, and Sandusky, 0-4 and they need to get back to winning.

          They play at home against Tiffin Columbian on Friday night and at Ontario on Saturday night in Northern Ohio League games.

          I asked coach Steve Gray about the work ethic of the kids after the four losses, all against good teams.  "They are working hard.  Their confidence is a little shot.  What they need more than anything else is a win Friday night against Tiffin.  Tiffin is a good team, has good players, and is going to be a difficult challenge fort us," he said.

          Like any team, the Truckers get their confidence from winning games and Gray says they really need one on Friday night against Tiffin Columbian.  "It is interesting the writer for the Norwalk Reflector asked me the same question.  We have played some really good teams in the last two weeks in Madison and Lexington, Sandusky, Northwestern.  We just need a win in the worse way," he said.

          Saturday's visit by the Truckers (6-5,3-1) to Ontario (8-3,2-1), #4 in Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division, features he last two "NOL" champs.  Ontario won it last year and the two shared it two years ago.

          Gray says the Warriors are very good again this year.  "(Coach) Joe (Balogh) does a nice job with them.  They do what they do on offense.  They have good guard play.  They run the floor, they shoot the ball.  It is tough to go into Joe's place and come out with a win," he said.

          With the number of big games these two have played over the last two years, is there a rivalry that exists between the two schools?  Gray says each has a  good perspective on the opponent.  "I think there is a healthy respect.  Our kids love playing Ontario," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "I think Ontario kids love playing us.  It started a couple of years ago, when obviously we were really good.  The year we won the state we split with them during the regular season.  I think things have grown and it is a healthy respect.  There are no shenanigans.  There is no Cincinnati-Pittsburgh type of behavior.  It is a game we all enjoy."

 

Published 1/1/316

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It's Another Tough One for Norwalk

 

          When you have won a state title recently it should come as no surprise that your schedule is going to be pretty tough and that is certainly the case with the Norwalk Truckers.

          After losses to Lexington (55-34) and Mansfield Madison (56-49) last week in the "NOL/OCC" challenge, the Truckers lost (63-56) to Wayne County Athletic League co-leader West Salem Northwestern on Tuesday.

          Norwalk coach Steve Gray says Northwestern was just better than they were Tuesday night.  "We played really well for 26, 28 minutes.  Northwestern is very talented.  The Koch kid is 6'8" and has offers from all of the "MAC" schools and they have a great point guard in Smith.  We were up six with about six minutes to go and they unfortunately hit some big shots against us, but our effort was good, our executions was good and we are happy with the way we are going," he said.

          With their kind of schedule the Truckers probably aren't going to win them all and Gray says they are looking for more than just wins and losses.  "As long as we give effort and concentration we are usually pretty happy with the kids.  When we don't give the effort and don't do the little things that is when it gets frustrating.  We have played some good teams," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "Perkins has lost two, Vermilion winning record, we played Lexington, undefeated, Northwestern, they have some big time players.  I think Ashland and Shelby before it's all over are going to be really good too.  We have played quality opponents and we think we are getting better."

          Things don't get easier either.  Norwalk (6-4,3-0) is the co-leader in the Northern Ohio League and they host the other co-leader in Sandusky (5-2,3-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division, on Friday night.  The Streaks are very good and Gray says they are led by an outstanding guard.  "It starts with Jayrese Williams.  He is averaging about 25 points a game and he is one of the better players in our league.  They do a couple of things really well.  They go to the basket, they rebound, and they can really pressure the ball.  So, we are going to have our hands full and if we don't come ready to play we are in trouble," he said.

          One thing when defending a player with the talent of Williams, Gray says you want to limit his touches.  "No matter what defense we are in we use the same philosophy.  Try to make him give it up and work as hard as we can to put him in position that maybe he won't receive a second pass." he said.

 

Published 1/08/16

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Lex Hammers Norwalk

 

          A.J. Nickoli scored eight points in the first quarter as unbeaten Lexington raced a (18-7) lead and never looked back in pounding Norwalk, the Northern Ohio League co-leaders, (55-34) on the first night of the "OCC/NOL" challenge at Lexington.

          Norwalk coach Steve Gray said before the game they couldn't guard Joey Zahn and Jonah Yaussy man to man, so some other guys would be open.  Lexington coach Scott Hamilton says they were able to take advantage.  "In the first quarter Joey Vore stepped up and made some big shots.  A.J. Nickoli hit some big shots and on down the line.  A couple of guys just stepped up when they left guys open.  We told the guys in preparing that their defense was probably going to try and do that, take away our top performers if you, will and we let them know hey if your open you have to be a threat and step up and do it.  The guys had the confidence to do it (Tuesday) night, which is really good," said Hamilton.

          Vore had three big baskets in the second quarter.

          Zahn led Lexington with 16 points on Tuesday night before fouling out with 3:58 remaining.  Yaussy added nine and a basket full of rebounds and a number of blocked shots.

          Gray knows Lexington (9-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division, is very good, but he also knows they didn't play very well.  "We got beat (Tuesday) night by a better team.  They are a little bigger, a little stronger, a little quicker and hats off to them.  The disappointing thing for us is we didn't play up to our potential.  If we play our best we think we have a chance and I still think that.  Unfortunately (Tuesday) we didn't get our best and I don't know why.  We are going to bounce back and play a hell of a lot harder (Wednesday,)" said Gray.

          Hamilton felt his team executed well on defense against Norwalk, which was an improvement.  "That is something we focus on every day.  I really believe a weakness of ours.  We are giving up 54 points a game, so we work on it every single day in practice, so (Tuesday) night it was nice to see us get after it," he told Swankonsports.com after the game, "We had a little bit of sickness with one our starters in Paul Hogsette and he wasn't able to go, so we relied on Cade Stover and Dana Shoulders a little bit more in the post, but everybody came through.  It was a real team effort, everybody stepped up."

          No Truckers reached double figures on Tuesday night.  They were paced by Jaycee Jordan, George Friend, and Brandon Haraway all with eight points.

          Norwalk (6-2), #5 in our poll, plays Madison (4-4), a (59-53) winner over Ontario Tuesday night, on Wednesday, the second night of the challenge.  Gray looks for a better performance.  "The big thing about basketball compared to football.  If you play a great game you get to play a lot sooner than a week later.  If you play a bad game, you can get rid of this taste in a hurry and (Wednesday) we get a chance to get rid of the taste we have (Tuesday.)  We have good kids and they work hard and we'll be fine," he said.

 

Published 12/30/15

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Norwalk Faces Two Athletic Teams

 

          Norwalk, the "NOL" co-leader, faces two very athletic teams in this week's "NOL/OCC" Challenge at Lexington High School.

          They play Lex on Tuesday and Mansfield Madison on Wednesday.

          Last Tuesday, they were able to maintain their share of the league lead with a (54-39) win over the Willard Flashes.  Coach Steve Gray says they know what they have to do to win.  "I think that is what right now makes us pretty good.  They understand their roles and they understand what we have to do to be successful.  Against Willard I thought defensively we were outstanding.  It was a situation where the ball started bouncing our way.  Once you get that momentum it's very difficult for the other team to come back," said Gray.

          The Norwalk coach says these Truckers have accepted their roles and that is not always a given.  "Society has changed so much.  It has turned into a me, me, me.  When you think about kids their parents want what is best for their son and it is not always what is best for the team, so families, friends, aunts, uncles, sometimes they deliver a different message.  I tell my team for two hours a day I'm your mom, your dad and your coach, so what I say goes," he said.

          Norwalk (6-1), #5 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division, plays Lexington (8-0), #1 in that poll, on Tuesday night.  Gray says the Minutemen are really going to stretch them defensively.  "They have some of the same qualities that we have they understand what they have to do individually to be successful as a group.  Yaussy inside is just a beast.  He is wide and he is very skilled, so we are going to have to commit at least one and half people to defending him.  We are just not big enough to guard him," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "Zahn out front extends defenses and once again we have to commit one and half people to him.  They are going to get open shots and if their role players hit shots it is going to be a very long night."

          When it comes to Madison (3-4,) Gray says they have to find a way to control the Rams Tyrell Ajian, an All-American in football, who scored 33 points last week against Massillon Washington.  "It starts with Ajian.  He is just an unbelievable athlete that is averaging 20 points a game and we don't have any D-one players on our team and that makes it a difficult match up.  Then you have the wing that can really knock it down.  Once again it will be a tremendous challenge for us," he said.

 

Published 12/29/15

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Norwalk Doing the Little Things

 

          A win over Bellevue last Friday moved Norwalk into a share of first place in the Northern Ohio League and they then added another two point win, they now have three of those, over Vermilion on Saturday night.

          The (59-53) win over Bellevue moved the Truckers into a share of first place with Sandusky in the "NOL" standings.

          Coach Steve Gray says they aren't a fancy team, but they are pretty good one that knows what it can do.  "They are playing pretty well and the thing we try to tell them is games aren't won by spectacular plays.  The winning team usually makes the fewest mistakes.  We just try to reduce our mistakes and capitalize on the things we do well," said Gray.

          Free throws can be the difference in close games and Gray says that was something they did well over the last weekend.  "We had a real weekend in terms of shooting free throws.  We were 68 on Friday and 74 on Saturday.  Those are one of the little things that help you win basketball games and put yourself in position to win," he said.

          Norwalk (5-1,2-0), #5 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division, plays at home Tuesday night against the rival Willard Flashes (1-5,0-3) in Northern Ohio League play.

          Gray says the Flashes have one of the best guards in the league in Conner Robinson.  "I think in Conner Robinson you have one of the best players in our league.  He is averaging 19 points a game.  If you don't keep him under control he could put up 20 or 30 and you are in a position where you are in a dogfight all night," he said.

          Gray has been known for featuring a number of different combination man to man and zone defenses.  He says he will have a few surprises for Robinson come Tuesday night.  "I think we are going to give him a lot of different looks.  If Conner is in his comfort zone I think you could be in a little bit of trouble.  We will double him some, will play him straight up.  We have some decisions to make over the next 24 hours on how to defend him," said Gray.

 

Published 12/22/15

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Norwalk Counting on its Defense

 

          Norwalk has been the object of a team that just finds a way to win, which is a foreign concept to a lot of teams.

          They have beaten Sandusky Perkins in overtime (56-54,) Shelby (42-41,) and Ashland (52-50) last Saturday.

          Veteran coach Steve Gray says they have been able to operate and make plays at the end of games and that has been the difference between wins and losses.  "The kids for the most part have been playing really hard.  It has been a situation where we have made just enough plays at the end of the game to put us over the top.  Last week, against Ashland was a great win for us.  I think Ashland should be really good.  That was a quality win and we very special," said Gray.

          Gray says the Truckers aren't trying to slow games down or limit possessions, it is just a matter of not scoring much right now and playing some pretty good defense.  "I don't know how much we are trying to create tempo.  We want to play faster.  Right now, we are struggling to score the ball.  Until we get some things worked out offensively it is going to be a situation where the scores are going to be a little lower," he said.

          Norwalk (3-1,1-0) plays at Bellevue (3-2,1-1) in Northern Ohio League play on Friday night.  Gray says new Bellevue coach Ed Rich is doing a good job and the Redmen will be a challenge for them.  "I think Bellevue is very talented.  I think Ed (Rich) has done a good job with them.  I have seen them twice in person, I have seen them on film.  They are trying to change the culture.  He is trying to get them to defend," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "They are running sets, which Bellevue hasn't done in the last eight, 10 years.  We are going to have our hands full.  With (Seth) Kinder they probably have the best post player in the league and they have two good guards.  If we don't come to play we are going to be in trouble."

 

Published 12/17/15

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Effort Great for Truckers; Execution Must be Better

 

          Norwalk coach Steve Gray once said if playing hard in a basketball game was easy everybody would do it, but they don't because it isn't that easy.

          His Truckers this year play very hard and he says that is probably why they beat Sandusky Perkins (56-54) in overtime in their first game last Friday.  "I don't think we played exceptionally well, but we played really hard.  Defensively in the second half we held them to 19 points and we were able to get them in overtime," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "The effort was there.  The execution we need a little bit more work, but you know have, I had five kids in there that have never played varsity basketball before."

          Gray teams over the years have really lived on their defense and he thinks this team certainly has the potential to be able to defend the other guys.  "This team has the capability of being pretty good on defense.  Defense is about a little bit of knowledge and a lot of heart.  We have the athleticism that was can guard people if we choose to do so," he said.

          The Truckers (1-0,0-0) visit Shelby (1-0,0-0) on Friday night in Northern Ohio League play.  The Whippets used depth to crush Madison (63-39) last Friday and Gray says coach Troy Schwemley's style of 32 minutes of pressure and up tempo offense fits their personnel well.   "I think the mark of a good coach is putting his kids in a position to be successful.  You know I think that what Troy has done.  They have a style that fits their skill set.  They have good guard play and he has done a good job with those kids," he said.

          When playing a game like Shelby likes to play Gray says you have to accept they you are going to have some turnovers and move on.  "You have to definitely have a short memory.  Its a situation where they just get you disjointed.  There are just so many more possessions in the game.  They are little bit like the Upper Sandusky teams when the Dieblers were there.  Obviously not as tall and talented, but it is the same style and the same philosophy," said Gray.

 

Published 12/02/15

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Norwalk Opens up with Perkins

 

          Norwalk opens the season on Friday night with one its traditional non conference opponents in the Sandusky Perkins Pirates of the Sandusky Bay Conference.

          Coaches are like moms before Thanksgiving they just never feel like they have enough time to be completely ready for the season or the big feast.

          Norwalk coach Steve Gray says his players are eager to get out on the floor and show what they can do.  "I think I am like every coach I wish we had more time.  We are as ready as we are going to be and the kids want to play and get away from practicing.  It is a great time as a coach to see where we are and what we need to do to get better," he said.

          Speaking up Thanksgiving, is the holiday going to be a problem in terms of preparation?  Gray says no.  He believes the kids know what is coming and they are going to be ready.  "Kids are pretty adaptable.  They just want to play and it going to be fun on Friday night to see a bunch of young people and see how they perform in front of the bright lights," he said.

          Perkins is coming off a good football season and Gray says the Pirates are going to be athletic and kind of do what they always do in terms of their x's and o's.  "I don't think they are going to change much," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "I think they are going to play four out and one in around a big and spot up shooters.  It is a typical Perkins team, they are just tough kids and play hard.  If you aren't ready to go they are going to hit you in the chin."

 

Published 11/24/15

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Norwalk Truckers are Hard Workers

 

          Norwalk won the division two state title two years ago and this year's team might not be as talented, but they are working as hard as they can to become a better team.

          Veteran coach Steve Gray says he likes coming to practice because they players are coachable and willing to learn how to get better.  "I have a great group of young people to work with.  It is nothing like two years ago in terms of talent, but they are working hard and they want to be good and we are having a good time in practice," he said.

          This year's group has skill and they do some things well, but Gray says there is also room for improvement.  "We do a lot of things pretty well, but on the other hand I don't think we do anything exceptionally well.  We are a pretty good shooting team, we are a pretty good ball handing team, and we are a pretty good team defensively.  So, we are working to get better in all areas," said Gray.

          And they best thing about the Truckers so far this year?  Gray says it is their willingness to improve and the knowledge that they have to get better.  "The one thing we are good at these kids what to be good and I think that is a great characteristic to have.  If they continue to work hard I think the team you see in March will be much different than what you see next week," he said.

          Norwalk opens the season the day after Thanksgiving at home against Sandusky Perkins.  Their first Northern Ohio League game is at Shelby on December 4.

          The Truckers play a very tough scrimmage schedule in November and Gray says there is a reason for that.  "That is why we scrimmage teams that are really good.  Rarely do we scrimmage teams that are a division below us.  We are going to Olentangy this weekend, we are going to scrimmage Fremont, Perrysburg.  We go against bigger schools so that we can put our kids in a situation where we can learn about them," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "How they handle pressure, are they physical enough, are they athletic enough to box out.  The preseason is a great time to find a out a lot about your team."

 

Published 11/19/15

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Norwalk and Willard For Pride

 

          It has not been a successful season for either Norwalk or Willard so far this year heading into their match-up at Whitney Field on Friday night.

          Norwalk has only two wins and Willard doesn't have any.

          One of the Truckers (2-6,0-4) wins come last week when they traveled to the capital city and beat Columbus East (41-6) in non-league play.

          Coach Chris MacFarland says he saw a lot of good things last week.  "The kids played outstanding.  You know, each week they have really shown improvement.  Obviously, it's growing pains in there a little bit with two young players.  They have really stayed together and have done a great job.  The coaching staff has done a great job really working on techniques.  It was nice to get out there and have a lot of positive things happen.  We were able to get Marcus McClain back, not at quarterback, but he came back in and played some running back and receiver for us.  It was just nice to have that extra senior captain come back on the field for us offensively.  You could just see a real spark and it was nice to see the kids play at a higher level," said MacFarland.

          With just two wins, do you start thinking about next season?  MacFarland says no way their focus is still about Willard and then Sandusky next week.  "We have two home games left and they are very important to our seniors.  Anytime they get a chance to play at home in front of their hometown and their friends it is very important to them.  We have not talked a whole lot about next year.  We have focused totally on this year and making sure we do things right for the seniors with the time and the hard work they have given to our program we want to make sure everything is right for them," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "Then after week 10 we will start thinking about next year.  Right now, the focus is making sure we finish on a high note and make sure the seniors go out with the kind of football we expect to play at Norwalk and have them move on and have a great memory of that."

          Willard (0-8,0-4) is riding a 25 game losing streak dating back to 2013.  However, MacFarland says the Flashes are still fighting hard to get that win.  "They have done a good job of not quitting and playing hard.  They are sticking to their schemes.  I have seem coaches before go to four or five different offenses in a year and different defenses and they're not.  They are trying to get better at what they are doing.  You can tell that they are improving each week.  Obviously we have some tough games in out league and it is tough to show improvement against Bellevue, Sandusky, and Tiffin, some of the teams that are playing well right now... Shelby.  It is tough to see all of the positives, but it looks like they have been getting better from week to week.  Anytime Norwalk and Willard play it is a big game too.  Friday night it is a chance for them to go out and break that streak and we are looking forward to extending that streak that we started last week," said MacFarland.

 

Published 10/20/15

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Norwalk Working Hard to Get Better

 

          Norwalk is not having the kind of season they wanted too, but they haven't stopped working to get better.

          Last week, Ontario scored with about six minutes to play and ended up hanging on to beat the Truckers (20-19) in Northern Ohio League play.

          Coach Chris MacFarland says his kids showed improvement, they just couldn't get the win.  "It was difficult to take that one.  We played well and has some opportunities, but we made some mistakes.  We were in position in the game.  We were up in the last part of the fourth quarter.  They hit the late touchdown and we just weren't able to get back and we couldn't come away with the victory.  We saw a lot of growth with the kids we are asking to step up.  They really did see improvement and we think we are going to continue to get the effort.  Disappointed with the loss, but the kids are showing improvement and are continuing to work hard," he said.

          There has only been one win this year, but MacFarland says his kids are still hungry on week six.  "Our kids have done a great job.  They realize what has happened to us. We are not losing games with our original starting lineup and making bad decisions and not playing well.  We have had some injuries to deal with and the kids have been absolutely great, dealing with that, stepping up, kids stepping into positions that really weren't ready to play this year.  Practices are very interesting," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "We have had a lot of changes week to week with all of the injuries that we have had.  They have shown a lot of mental toughness and they are very coachable.  They are taking in everything we are throwing at them.  It has been a pleasure to work with these kids the past couple of weeks.  We keep pushing forward."

          Norwalk (1-4,0-2) plays host to the Tiffin Columbian (2-3,1-1) Tornadoes on Friday in "NOL" play.  Both teams are down a little this year, but MacFarland says the Tornadoes are really good on defense.  "Columbian is a good football team.  They are 2-3 and their record probably isn't what they want it to be.  They have an excellent defense.  They are very sound.  They aren't flashy, but they are very physical.  Offensively, they have some weapons.  They get the ball out and set screens that they do a very nice job with.  They are still a very good, quality football team and it will be a tough battle for us.  We are looking forward to playing back at home and seeing if we can make some more growth this week," said MacFarland.

 

Published 10/02/15

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Norwalk Trying to Find Itself

 

          Norwalk is trying to find the combination and right now it has been pretty difficult for the Truckers.

          Last week, Shelby scored early and often and they pounded the Truckers (62-21) in Northern Ohio League action. 

          Coach Chris MacFarland says due to injury they are being forced to plays some guys probably before they are ready for the varsity level and it's showing.  "It wasn't what we wanted to have happen early in the game.  They went down the field and scored on, we threw an interception for a touchdown, we just got out of rhythm.  We had a new starting quarterback.  We are kind of dealing with injuries right now.  Two starters out and we lost our center on Thursday.  We are putting in a lot of new people and trying to get in and try to get them to step up to the varsity level.  We weren't able to get them to step up on Friday night.  We have been pretty happy with practice this week.  The kids have settled back down and we are moving in the right direction again," said MacFarland.

          Norwalk has gotten used to winning the last couple of years and MacFarland says the current players still know what that feels like and they want to get back there.  "They have put a lot of time in and they understand what it takes to win.  We had a pretty good visit on Saturday and talked about a lot of things and came out with a good attitude.  They are competitive.  The kids that are on the field getting a chance to play are excited to prove themselves and showing what they can do.  All of the sudden we have been able to go at a quicker pace," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "Usually you get your two a days and everything else to get ready for games.  We have had to throw about four or five kids in these last two weeks and they have just had to pick it up on the run. Attitudes are great, they believe in themselves, we keep seeing improvement, and that is all we can ask for them to do."

          Norwalk (1-3,0-1) is at Ontario (0-4,0-1) for an "NOL" game on Friday night.  The Warriors lost their league opener (23-14) to Tiffin Columbian last week.

         MacFarland says they have some players that can play.  "I think they are a good football team.  We have seen them play live.  We have seen them play on film.  They do some nice things.  They do a nice job catching the ball.  Their quarterback does a nice job.  Defensively they get after it.  Bigger than that right now we are just trying to improve ourselves.  We are spending a lot more time just trying to take care of our fundamentals.  Give the kids and scheme and have them understand what Ontario wants to do.  We want to improve ourselves and that's what we are going to attack on Friday night," he said.

 

Published 9/24/15

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Norwalk Battling Injuries; Not Making Excuses

 

          Norwalk is the defending Northern Ohio League football champion, but they have been shutout in two of their first three games.

          They play at Shelby (1-2,0-0) against the Whippets on Friday night.

          Lexington punished them (28-0) last week and coach Chris MacFarland says they were their own worst enemy.  "We came out and made a lot of mistakes, lot of turnovers.  I think we gave them the first nine points on a safety and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.  We just didn't play well and we didn't match their intensity and that is something we have to learn how to do.  Another thing is we are asking a lot of young kids to play for us right now.  We have had three season ending injuries in three weeks.  That's tough, but we aren't going to make any excuses, the next kid up is going to play.  We have had a pretty good week as far as the mental aspect and we are excited about another chance to go out there and play," said MacFarland.

          When it comes to injuries, MacFarland says the kids that are backups need to be ready to play when they are called on.  They have to understand they are just a play away.  "The kids behind the starters are trying to work their way into the lineup.  Some of them are just in there quicker than they normally would be.  For those kids it a chance to show what they have done and they are excited about the opportunity.  You never want to see anybody get hurt, or have to replace somebody in that way, but when it happens it's just your chance to go our and prove you have put the same time in.  It is something that our kids are going to have to grind through," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "It makes it easier because now it's the "NOL."  It's a new season right now and what happened in the first three games we want to put behind us and go out and work hard."

          After beating Madison (20-6) in their opener, Shelby has lost its last two to Lexington (34-20) and Clear Fork (20-13) in non-league play.  However, MacFarland says they have good young players.  "I think Shelby is an excellent team.  They have a very good offense, good young talent.  At a lot of positions they have good young talent, so we are going to have to play very well.  I told the kids in the locker room that we are 1-2 and that is as good as anybody in the "NOL" right now.  Right now, everybody is probably trying to figure out how to move forward and what kind of adjustments they can make.  That is why you play the non-conference games to try and get yourself prepared for the league and win a league title," he said.

 

Published 9/16/15

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Norwalk Ready For Lexington

 

          It's a new opponent for the defending Northern Ohio League champion Norwalk Truckers as they host Lexington on Friday night in non-league play.

          Norwalk (1-1) bounced back from a humbling at the hands of talented Mentor Lake Catholic (30-0) on week one to beat Cleveland John Hay (32-13) last week.  Coach Chris MacFarland says they did a good job of making adjustments on the fly.  "We really showed improvement.  I'll tell you what we came out and John Hay really got after us and for the first four or five minutes we struggled and made as many mistakes and miscues as you could have as a team and the kids really did a nice job of just going back to the basics and believing in each other and believing in the coaching staff and we executed a pretty good game after that," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "We have a kid at running back Lashawn Raymore who did a great job for us.  It was a good first victory for us."

          Good  teams and good programs are ones that make adjustments and MacFarland believes they have done a good job of that.  "Our coaching staff has done a great job over the years of figuring out in the first half, the first couple of minutes, of what they are doing.  We exchange film and everything else, but they are going to put some twists in and we have done a good job of adjusting and making the sideline adjustments have really been good.  The kids have gone back out and believed in it.  That really shows improvement from our group.  They really stepped forward last week," he said.

          Lexington (2-0), #5 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, broke an 18 game losing streak with a win (26-19) over Ontario and the added a second win over Shelby (34-20) on week two.  MacFarland says they have done a good job of changing culture.  "They are a very good football team.  We went through that a couple of years ago ourselves.  You have to try and change you identity and not worry about the past and streaks or anything like that," he said.

          MacFarland describes Lex as a team that runs it well and does a good job on defense of stuffing the run.  "They run the ball very affectively.  They do a nice job up front.  The quarterback and running backs are doing a great job finding lanes.  They are really sound.  They don't do a lot of flashy things on defense.  They keep the ball in front and play aggressive.  They do a lot of very good things.  It is going to be a big challenge for us.  We are excited about having a home game and get a chance to play a quality football game," he said.

 

Published 9/10/15

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Norwalk Needs to Battle Back

 

          Norwalk had not lost a regular season game since week four of the 2013 season, but last Saturday night they were shut out by Mentor Lake Catholic.

          The Truckers lost (30-0,) but coach Chris MacFarland thinks they will learn from the experience.  "We had a tough game.  They are a very good football team.  We came out and I thought we had some good momentum, but we didn't come away with any points.  We gave up two big plays in a drive.  A lot of inexperienced kids got their feet wet.  We have a lot of confidence that they will bounce back this week.  It was the first regular season loss we have had in a while.  We have had a really good first couple of days of practice and really focusing in.  I hate to lose a game, but I think we are going to get a lot of positives from it," said MacFarland.

          Not many teams will go unbeaten, there has not been an NFL team to do it in over 40 years, and MacFarland says the mark of a good team is how they battle adversity.  "We talk about every team in the State of Ohio, the country actually, half of them have won a game and half of them have lost a game and it's going to be how you react to that.  We think the biggest difference is between week one and week two.  No matter what happens you grow from that," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "Your special teams were live, everything was live, transitions onto the field.  This is where you can make your most improvement.  We are excited to see how we react.  It can be real positive.  It's a great group of kids and they will battle back this Friday."

          Cleveland John Hay (1-0) comes to Norwalk on Friday night off of a (20-16) win over Conneaut last week.  MacFarland says the Hornets have a lot of speed and can make big plays.  "They are very athletic.  They had a good first week win.  This is a division three region team of ours.  It's a big game for us to really get back to basics.  They have a lot of speed on the perimeter.  Not as thick as we saw last week against Mentor Lake Catholic, but they have some good size, good height, and all of them move very well.  They are going to challenge us at a lot of different positions.  We are going to have to have the full team concept of offense and defense," he said.

 

Published 9/02/15

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Norwalk to Face State Power

 

          Over the last two seasons Norwalk has been able to turn their football program around and sort of put themselves on the map and now they want to stay there.

          They face a big challenge on Saturday night as they travel to Mentor to face traditional power Lake Catholic.

          Coach Chris MacFarland, who has been at the head of the renaissance of the Trucker football program, says they have seen some good things from some young kids this month.  "I think we have had a very good preseason.  Things have gone very well.  We have had a chance to hopefully develop a lot of talent as far as rotations.  We have a lot of two way players.  We have a lot of young kids that are going to get their chance to play and have really stepped up.  Our team has done a great job through this camp and are really ready for game one," he said.

          After winning their first Northern Ohio League title in more than 30 years last fall, MacFarland says it is important for them to maintain that level of play this year.  "This is a big year for us.  We want to show we can maintain that level of play.  It really comes down to expectations of the kids.  They have really risen their game.  This senior class has been on two outstanding teams and they have seen the things you have to do to be successful," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "They have done a great job so far of getting up there.  I think this is a big year for us with a lot of new names and a lot of new faces and go out there and try to play the kind of football we have played the last couple of years."

          Mentor Lake Catholic has been a football powerhouse over the years.  MacFarland says they will bring a lot to the table on Saturday night as well.  "We think they are an outstanding team.  They are very aggressive and physical up front.  They do a lot of nice movement to find the ball.  They are very aggressive in the box.  Offensively, their line does a nice job coming off the ball and pushing people around.  Their quarterback looks like an outstanding player.  We are excited about getting to play them," he said.

 

Published 8/28/15

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Norwalk on Final Stage

 

          Norwalk is the defending Northern Ohio league football champion and they are still that until somebody takes that away from them.

          They are replacing the best back in the area in Breck Turner.

          Coach Chris MacFarland says they have been showing some improvement.  "We are excited about where we are.  We have a lot of new kids that we are putting on the field.  We are trying to find out the rotations that we can get.  We have had a couple of pretty good scrimmages.  On offense and defense we are trying to understand our base packages and looking forward to that pretty positively," he said.

          Norwalk plays Clyde in their final scrimmage on Friday and MacFarland says this will be a better gauge of where the Truckers stand.  "We have a couple of kids that we are going to hold out Friday due to injury and get them ready for week one.  No major injuries, but it gives a chance to look at some younger kids that maybe don't have the game experience.  Really for the coaching staff it's a chance to make sure we are getting on and off the field," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "Special teams making sure they are getting on and off the field.  In the previous scrimmages we were limited to 10 days and the coaches were controlling the huddle.  Here it's chance to see that transition from the sideline onto the field and make sure everything is ready for week one."

          In the final week before their season opener at Mentor Lake Catholic on August 29, MacFarland says they just have a lot of things that need finishing touches.  "I think a lot of it for us is just making sure we are limiting mistakes and getting our last base packages in.  On that first Friday night having the feeling that they don't have to think about what they are doing.  They have been reped enough and the techniques have been drilled enough that they are ready to play at a high level.  Especially since we have some kids that we have to count on that maybe haven't had as much time on the field.  We want them to feel very comfortable about what is being called offensively and defensively.  Not having to think and just going out and being aggressive.  Just get the game plan we have going for game one," said MacFarland.

 

Published 8/20/15

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Norwalk Looking to Build

 

          Norwalk enjoyed a football season last year like they haven't in a very long time. 

          They had a perfect regular season, won the Northern Ohio League title, and advanced to the second round of the division three playoffs.

          That was last year.

          Coach Chris MacFarland says his kids understand they can't look in the rearview mirror.  "Our kids have done a great job.  We are very appreciative of what we did last year and what the seniors did for us, but the underclassmen that have moved up are all about 2015.  They have done a great jog of refocusing in the off season in the weight room, summer work outs, and the first couple of days of two a days.  The have definitely been focusing in and trying to leave their mark on Norwalk football," he said.

          With a new weight facility and an aggressive attitude toward it MacFarland feels they are going to have a very physical football team in 2015.  "The work ethic has been outstanding and what I have been pleased with each year has been learning how to put the proper time in.  Not just come and be there for the hours, they really put the time in.  They are very coachable in the lifting and learning the proper techniques.  They really like to get after it," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday,  "A new weight room complex opened up this summer for us.  With the intensity of our off season training we are really starting to see a difference in the first couple of days of camp and really should have a really physical football team."

          Breck Turner broke nearly every rushing record in the books for the Truckers last year, but he has since graduated.  Norwalk won't be able to replace him with just one player, but MacFarland says they have some players that are eager to prove what they can do.  "Obviously having the starting quarterback back is always a plus.  We have two linemen back that have played a lot of games over the last two years for us.  We have a nice core.  We have a nice group of receivers coming back for us.  Offensively we fell pretty good.  Everybody is talking about loosing Breck Turner.  He was an outstanding high school player and did a lot of great things for us.  The biggest thing offensively, and defensively, is just finding the mark for this team an really making it work for them and having a great 2015 season," said MacFarland.

 

Published 8/05/15

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Norwalk Doing Good Things With Young Kids

 

          Norwalk won its 15th game of the season with basically a pretty young roster when they downed Sandusky (8-2) in a Northern Ohio League game played Tuesday at Sandusky.

          Coach Wes Douglas says they are getting a lot of quality experience this spring.  He says they got excellent pitching Tuesday from Jacob Roth and some timely hitting too.  "We keep pushing them and talk about playing winning baseball.  We will have a lot of the team back for the next year or two, so anything we can gain here down the stretch will carry over for us down the years," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday night, "The next couple of years that is going to be huge for us.  The guys really stepped up (Tuesday) night.  It was one of our better overall games the last few weeks.  We got strong starting pitching from Jacob Roth.  Some big two out hits from Blake Obringer and Mitchell Page and we had no errors against a team that beat us 4-0 earlier in the year with the same pitcher, who threw a one-hitter at us.  So, we were really pleased when we left the park (Tuesday) night."

          Defense was a key on Tuesday night and Douglas says that has been a turning point all year.  When they play good defense they win.  "In games we felt we should have won, you want to win those that you fell you should, they were probably games where we played poor defensively and didn't back up our pitchers.  We have always prided ourselves on defense here.  Our numbers are pretty low in that category this year.  (Tuesday) was a good day and we will try to build off of that," he said.

          Norwalk (15-8,5-6) plays at Ontario (16-4,7-3), #1 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coaches poll in the large school division, on Thursday in a league game.  A must win for the Warriors if they are to capture a share of the "NOL" title.

          The Truckers meet Shelby (12-8) next Thursday in the division two sectional final.  The Whippets have beaten Norwalk twice (10-6 and 4-2) this year. 

          Douglas says this time they will go with their number one starter in Jobe Atkins.  "We ended up with the fourth seed and Shelby was the fifth seed and Shelby actually beat us twice this year.  They were two games where we dug a hole and fought back in.  They have a nice young team, so we felt fortunate to get the number four seed and at least you get to host that game.  It's a game that we can definitely compete in.  I think we are fairly evenly matched.  They have thrown Thornberry both days and we were kind of down in the rotation, so they haven't seen our number one Jobe Adkins, who will be ready for Thursday.  It should be a good ball game," said Douglas.

 

Published 5/06/15

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Norwalk Edges Ontario in "NOL" Baseball

 

          Norwalk kept itself in the Northern Ohio League baseball race with a (3-2) win over visiting Ontario on Monday.

          It was another strong performance by the Truckers number one starter Jobe Atkins and coach Wes Douglas says they got some timely hitting against Ontario too.  "We jumped out with two runs in the first inning.  My number one pitcher Jobe Atkins was in command all of the way until the seventh.  We tacked on a run in the bottom of the sixth and they got two in the top of the seventh, so that run in the bottom of the sixth that our pinch hitter Cody Lewis drove in ended up being the winning run," he told Swankonsports.com after the win on Monday, "We thought we were sitting pretty good.  They did make it a little tight there in the seventh.  That was a huge win."

          The pitching has been pretty consistent this spring for the Truckers and the hitting has been pretty good too.  Douglas says they have to be better on defense than they have been so far.  "We looked at our team stats before the game (Monday) and our staff ERA is around 2.30, we are hitting just under .300, but we are not fielding it real well.  Our pitchers have given us a chance most days.  Jobe beat a good pitcher (Monday) in Homan from Ontario.  He came through like you want your number one to in a big game," he said.

          Ontario (8-4,2-3) has had a tough last eight days, which has included one run losses to Norwalk and Shelby (7-6) as well as a loss to Tiffin Columbian (8-2) last Tuesday.  Douglas says anytime you beat the Warriors you have to play well.  "They are coming back as the defending champs and I think they only lost four and they are the champs until somebody knocks them off.  They are always well coached and fundamentally sound.  I have been going against Dan Gorbett for 19 years either at Galion or at Ontario and you have to bring your best to beat one of his teams," said Douglas.

          Bellevue is unbeaten in the "NOL" and Willard is winless, but the others are tightly bunched.  Douglas says the league is a real battle.  "Bellevue is at the top and Willard is kind of at the bottom, but throw the other five teams in a hat on any day and you are going to have to play well come out with a "W," he said.

          Norwalk (11-4,3-3) plays at Tiffin Columbian (3-5,1-2) on Tuesday and then hosts Shelby (8-3,3-1) on Thursday in league play.

 

Published 4/21/15

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Norwalk Stays Unbeaten

 

          Jobe Atkins tossed a shut out Monday night as the Norwalk Truckers beat Tiffin Columbian (7-0) in their Northern Ohio League opener.

          Coach Wes Douglas says it was a big win for them in the game that had been rained out last Thursday.  "Jobe Atkins our senior right hander is really stepping up as our number one.  He gave us a complete game performance (Monday) night going against Tiffin's number one left handed pitcher.  We played outstanding defense and had timely hitting.  That added up to a 7-0 win," he said.

          Pitching in the name of the game in baseball and Douglas says Atkins was at the top of his game against Columbian (1-2,0-1).  "If you are going to win a league title your number one is going to have to give you a chance because you are going to see most team's number ones when you are fighting for that top spot," he told Swankonsports.com after the win, "We are counting on him to at least give us a competitive shot and go from there.  He was outstanding (Monday) night.  He has all of his pitches going.  He only gave up two hits, maybe three.  He was in command the whole way."

          There was some timely hitting for the Truckers (6-0,1-0) on Monday night and Douglas says they are going to have to get that if they are going to be consistently successful this spring.  "Our bats have been kind of spotty, but I thought we really swung them well (Monday) night and had a good approach at the plate.  We have come up with some big two out hits here last Saturday at Hopewell-Loudon and again (Monday) night.  I think we struck out four times (Monday) night and put the ball in play and ran the bases aggressive.  That all added up to a well executed win," said Douglas.

           Norwalk is unbeaten on the season, but they have only played six games.  Douglas is excited by what have done so far, but he knows there is still a long season ahead.  "Any coach that has been around for a while will tell you that you do your best coaching when things are going well.  We will continue to push them and tell them there is always room from improvement.  I think we have a really good mix with some nice attitudes.  It's been a great start, but we have a long way to go and they understand that," he said.

          Norwalk has a game scheduled for every day the rest of the week, if the weather cooperates, which it probably won't.  They play at Shelby in an "NOL" game on Tuesday and have non-conference games with New London on Wednesday, at Port Clinton on Thursday, with Oak Harbor on Friday and Fostoria on Saturday.

 

Published 4/08/15

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Norwalk Steals Win Over Crestview

 

          Norwalk only had three hits, but they stole eight bases on their way to an opening day win (5-1) over the Crestview Cougars on Monday afternoon.

          After having a three team doubleheader with Ashland and Sandusky Perkins cancelled on Saturday, Norwalk coach Wes Douglas says they were able to do enough good things to win on Monday.  "We are happy to be on the field playing a game that counts after putting in a lot of time in the gym over the last two months.  It looked kind of like our first game, but we found a way to manufacture four runs in the fourth and come out of there with a win," he said.

          Pitching is likely going to be the key to Norwalk's success this year and Douglas says they had four guys throw pretty well.  "We were really happy with our pitchers.  I have been really impressed with them all winter actually.  I think they are going to give us a chance more days than not," he told Swankonsports.com after the win, "We went in with a plan that our number one Jobe Atkins was going to throw in our league opener on Thursday, so went two innings and we got three other guys on the mound.  Josh Richards came away with the "W," do we got four guys a little bit of experience.  We only had three hits and Crestview only had three hits.  We manufactured more out of ours than they did."

          Norwalk scored four times in the fourth inning and they did that by playing a little small ball.  Douglas says they were able to manufacture a four run inning.  "We stole eight bases overall in the game, those were instrumental in that four run inning.  Two of our hits came in that inning.  I think a couple of their errors came in that inning.  That gave s a little bit of a cushion and we played pretty well after that," he said.

          In order to compete in the tough Northern Ohio League this year, where there appear to be a number of good teams, Douglas says they are going to have to learn to hit the baseball.  He thinks that will come.  "I think that is the hardest thing to simulate.  You can take ground balls, you can work situations and your pitchers can pitch, but in the gym in the batting cage, we did get two scrimmages, but I think that is the hardest thing to come to simulate those game type conditions.  We have a couple of new faces in there and they were a little nervous early.  I am confident that it will come, but that is definitely our weakest point right now that we need to work on," said Douglas.

          Norwalk plays host to Mansfield Christian on Tuesday and plays at Clyde on Wednesday, weather permitting, in non-conference games, and then opens "NOL" play at Tiffin Columbian on Thursday.

 

Published 3/31/15

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Norwalk Figures to be Back in it

 

          After a year of not being a factor in the Northern Ohio League, the Norwalk Truckers baseball team has the talent to be in the race this spring.

          Coach Wes Douglas says his team worked hard on its skills in the off season and he believes they can compete in the "NOL" this year.  "I think we are going to be a good team to contend against this year.  They are going to have to play well to beat us.  Last year was a little step backwards after a nice four year run where I think we were 87-25.  We dropped off to 9-15 a year ago after graduating a couple of good classes back to back.  The team is rebuilt a little this year after working hard in the off season.  Our pitching has surprised me a little bit early.  I think we will always field it.  We are trying to work on some offense and continue to build our pitching.  I think we are going to be okay," said Douglas.

          If they are going to compete they must get good pitching.  Douglas says pitching is going to be a strength in the league this year.  "I look around the league this year and I see that everybody has their top one or two pitchers back from Sandusky to Bellevue to Ontario to Tiffin.  We have some guys that pitched last year that weren't really successful, but I think they have taken steps from one year to the next.  I think they will give us a chance to win most days," he said.

          It should be a pretty balanced "NOL" this season, but Douglas believes the path to the league title still goes through Ontario.  "Ontario is the defending champion and they graduated four.  Four good ones, but the Homan kid is back and their two arm is back.  They have a 500 win coach in Dan Gorbett down there.  I think they are going to be right there, you are going to have to go through them," he told Swankonpsorts.com on Monday, "Bellevue returns to a really good nucleus, including their top three pitchers.  The district player of the year in Jake Strayer.  Sandusky is up and coming, Shelby is going to be improved, Tiffin is always in the mix, they are in it until the last day about every year.  Willard is still trying to get it going over there a little bit."

 

Published 3/17/15

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Truckers Have to Score Some More

 

          Norwalk found some offense that many times has been missing this year on Tuesday night in opening round tournament win over Clear Fork and they are going to need more of that if they are going to beat Shelby in the division two sectional final on Friday night at Mansfield Madison Middle School.

          George Friend scored a career high 35 points for the Truckers in their (70-58) win over Clear Fork.  Coach Steve Gray says he was just red hot from behind the three point line and his teammates where able to get him the ball.  "George Friend had an unbelievable second half.  He had five points at the half and he scored 30 points in the second half for a career high. When you are seven of 12 from the three you can add up the points in a hurry," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "It wasn't just George, it was his teammates getting him the ball, it was J.P. Jordan getting 17 points from our post position, so we were pretty balanced for the most part.  The kids were very unselfish and they got George the ball."

          Shelby (14-8) beat Norwalk (12-11) twice during the regular season, winning at Norwalk (60-57) in overtime and at Shelby (68-34) in the second meeting.  Gray says they just keep shooting threes feeling like they are going to start making them.  "I think if you don't guard the three point line that anytime they could go off.  What they have done this year is there have been extended periods of time where they have come up dry, but then all at once they will hit six of eight or five of nine and they have their 10 or 11 made threes for the game and it just kills you," said Gray.

          In the way that they run their offense, Gray says Shelby always gets the ball to guys that can make that perimeter shot and it is not the same one or two guys.  "They run their offense different than most teams they run it really wide and really high and they are looking for the threes.  They do a great job of spreading you out.  They just have great floor balance." he said.

          Norwalk has played pretty good defense for most of the season, but Gray says if they are going to win on Friday night they are going to have to make shots because Shelby is going to get theirs.  "First of all if we play really well defensively and Shelby is off a little they are still going the score 55 points, so we are going to have to make shots.  And if we make shots and take care of the ball I think we have a chance," he said.

 

Published 3/06/15

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Norwalk Plays Strong Defense

 

          Norwalk won all of their tournament games last year and the division two state title.  This year they stand at .500 heading into a sectional semi-final against Clear Fork at Mansfield Madison Middle School on Tuesday night.

          The Truckers played one of their better games of the year last Friday night when they lost to Northern Ohio League champion Ontario (50-48) on the road.  Coach Steve Gray was really pleased with the effort.  "I think Ontario made one more play than we did.  You know, my kids played hard and we competed and we were in position where if we just do one or two things more correctly we win the game," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "We talked ahead of time that all I wanted out of them to be in position that we had a chance in the fourth quarter and they were there."

          Norwalk (11-11) has lost three of it last four, but to all very good teams in Ontario, Huron (40-31) and Sandusky (61-54), but Gray says their play has been solid in all of those games.  "I think over the last month we have continued to get better.  Practices have been a lot crisper.  Individual improvement, I think, is rather evident.  We are just really happy with the direction we are going," he said.

          This good play all came after a (68-62) loss to Bellevue, and Gray was not happy after that loss, but since then the Truckers have been able to put a smile on his face.  "We let that one slip away.  We were in a great position at halftime and then unfortunately missed free throws and not paying attention to details on defense really hurt us.  But, since that time we have been very pleased with the effort of our kids," he said.

          Clear Fork (7-15) of the Ohio Cardinal Conference has had some ups and downs this year, but Gray says they have some really good players that can put some points on the board.  "I think they are very, very talented.  You take Chrastina and Robinette, they are two of the best one-two punches that we have faced this year.  If we let them combined for 30-40 points I think we are in a world of trouble.  They also have some other kids that protect them because I think they are great spot shooters.  So, our hands will be full on Tuesday night," said Gray.

          The Norwalk coach says limiting the touches of Chrastina and Robinette is a big key for them and they have to be able to score the ball, which they hasn't always been the case this year.  "Obviously we have to contain their scorers and just be very efficient at the offensive end.  If they play zone we have to attack the gaps and get ball reversal.  If they play man drive hard and separate screens," he said.

 

Published 3/03/15

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Norwalk Plays "NOL" Champion

 

          It is not the big showdown on the final Friday of the regular season like last year, but when Norwalk and Ontario meet on Friday night at the "O-rena" it still shapes up as an entertaining match-up.

          Ontario (20-1,11-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division, has already won the outright Northern Ohio League title.  Norwalk (11-10,5-6) has started to play some pretty good basketball, especially on defense.

          Over the last week Norwalk has played four times, going 2-2 over that period of time.  They beat Willard (66-60) and Genoa (58-36), plus they lost to two solid teams in Sandusky (61-54) and Huron (40-31) last weekend.

          Veteran coach Steve Gary says they did a lot of good things when it comes to defending the other guys.  "We didn't play too bad this weekend.  Sandusky is very good and we had a chance with a minute and a half to go to cut the lead to three or four and put ourselves in position to put quite a bit of pressure on them.  Then on Saturday night against Huron will hold them to like 29 percent shooting and Monday against Genoa we held them to 20 percent shooting.  I am happy with the effort, we continue to get better, and the kids continue to work hard," said Gray.

          As the season has gone along Gray says they have started to understand more fully the concepts of playing defense.  "I think the effort, the concentration and especially the attention to details,  That is what defense is.  It is just paying attention to the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent and trying to limit their chances for success," he said.

          Ontario won the first match-up (51-33) at Norwalk in January and Gray says the Warriors did it with their bench.  "They beat us pretty good the first time.  The interesting statistic from that game is our starters outscored their starters like 28 to 23.  The point I am trying to make is it seems every game Ontario has somebody that you don't expect steps up and has a big game,'" he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "They come in averaging six and that night they get 18.  Kids off the bench will go for 19.  I think the key to Ontario is they have great balance and they are unselfish."

          When you play Ontario you have to play very well because Gray says the Warriors don't have any weaknesses.  "I think Ontario pretty good at everything.  The look impressive in the full court, half court, they can double, they can play you straight up.  On offense they can throw the ball inside, they post up Shelby.  I just think they have great balance," he said.

 

Published 2/26/15

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Norwalk Needs to Better

 

          Norwalk is a program that has built its program on defense.  That is something they did not play well last week and they are going to have to play better Tuesday night... it's that simple.

          Last Friday, the Truckers lost (68-62) to the rival Bellevue Redmen in Northern Ohio League game.

          Truckers coach Steve Gray was blunt in his assessment of their performance on defense against the Redmen.  "I was very disappointed at the defensive end.  We just didn't get the job done.  We tried to chase Thatcher, who ended up with 31.  We continued to allow him to catch the ball.  All I know if he doesn't catch the ball, he doesn't score," said Gray.

          Norwalk (9-8,4-5) entertains Willard (9-9,3-7) in an "NOL" game on Tuesday night.  Gray says they will need to defend two excellent guards in Carson Ebert and Conner Robinson.  "I think Ebert and Robinson are really good.  Ebert controls the ball and controls the tempo.  If you give him any space he is going to knock down the three.  Robinson is just the opposite.  He is going to put his head down and he is going to get to the basket.  So, we will have our hands full," said Gray.

          Willard plays what amounts to a four out and one in offense consistently of a number of very good shooters and ball handlers.  Gray says that makes the Flashes hard to guard because it is difficult to give defenders any help if they get beat.  "It just extends you defense and it is difficult to get in on the weak side and help because you have so far to go.  They are a good team and we just have to be up to snuff on Tuesday night," he said.

          Norwalk has drawn Clear Fork in a first round division two tournament game on March 3.  Gray says before then they have to get better across the board, but mostly they have to be more consistent.  "We have to do everything just a little bit better.  At times we are good on defense, at times we are good on offense, at times we are good at breaking the press.  We just have to be consistent and become a little bit more efficient," he said.

 

Published 2/17/15

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Norwalk Finding Some Things

 

          Norwalk is a basketball team that is showing signs of improvement, especially on defense.

          The Truckers play at Bellevue in a Northern Ohio League on Friday night and at Genoa in a non-conference game on Saturday night.

          Last Saturday night, they beat Western Reserve (54-29) in a non-conference game and that was on top of a win over Port Clinton (61-36) last Tuesday.

         Veteran coach Steve Gray says they are defending better and better as the season has gone on.  "I think we are getting just a little bit better every week.  Defensively we had a great week last week.  We just hope it continues this week against the Bellevue Redmen," he said.

          Gray, known in coaching circles as a defensive guru, says the Truckers are starting to understand the key elements.  "The whole process of getting better as a team and learning to trust each other at the defensive end.  We try to pressure the ball and if the kids are pretty sure their teammates are going to protect their back they can put even more pressure on the ball," he told Swankonsports.com Wednesday, "I think we are getting a little better on our weak side help recognizing what the offense is attempting to do and obviously finishing plays with the rebound."

          Norwalk (9-7,4-4) is at Bellevue (5-12,1-7) for a league game.  Gray says Bellevue's Seth Linder is very good and the Redmen have the ability to make outside shots.  "I think it starts with Linder inside.  He is tall, he's talented and I think he is if not the best he the second best post player in our league.  They shoot a lot of threes and they are pretty proficient at it.  I think offensively Bellevue has a really good team," he said.

          On defense, Bellevue has given up some points this year at times.  Gray says they have some very good athletes, but they have really not found an identity on defense as of yet.  "I think they have struggled a little bit in finding their identity.  Early in the year they were a man team and a then a zone team.  I just don't think they have found their niche yet of what they can put their hats on defensively.  They are athletic and they have a lot of football players that have enjoyed great success, so we are going to have to play well to be successful on Friday night," said Gray.

 

Published 2/12/15

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Norwalk Building for the Post Season

 

          Setting at .500 for the season the Norwalk Truckers are a team that has shown the potential they can be pretty good, but they haven't been able to do it every night.  They hope they are able to get more consistent.

        In two Northern Ohio League games last week they were able to beat Tiffin Columbian (47-45) on Thursday, but lost to Shelby (68-34) on Saturday.

          Coach Steve Gray they were hurt Saturday night by a little inexperience when the Whippets started to make some shots.  "It is still a growing process with our team.  We beat I think a pretty good Whitmer team the week before and we beat Tiffin on Thursday.  I thought we played really well, especially the first half, against Shelby, unfortunately for us Shelby was able to knock down eight three pointers in the first half.  At halftime we are in the game at six and then a lack of varsity experience and lot of things just combined where in the second half we didn't play up to our ability," said Gray.

          Norwalk (7-7) hosts Port Clinton (6-8) in a non-conference game on Tuesday night and Gray says after Saturday night it is good to get back on the floor pretty quickly.  "I think it's a good thing we are playing on Tuesday.  A hundred times during my career I have told the team thank God this isn't football and we have to wait a week and that comes after maybe a good win or in this case a bad loss.  Playing again when you are in the grove is a good thing.  When things haven't gone well it is good to get back on the court again.  I think it is a positive and we will be excited to play (Tuesday) night," he said.

          Port Clinton is coming off two losses last week to Sandusky Perkins (50-43) in Sandusky Bay Conference action on Friday and Fremont Ross (55-31) on Saturday in non-league play.  Gray says the Redskins have some athletes.  "They are getting better.  They are a team that is going with a new system, but I saw them the other night and they are fairly athletic.  They are 6'4", 6'5", they are bigger than us.  They are going to press and they are going to trap a little bit.  They just do a lot of good things and we will have to be our best to compete with them," he said.

          The sectional/district draws are going to be held on February 15 and Gray says some wins here will pay dividends for them in terms of a higher seed and that is going to be pretty important.  "The higher seed the better chance of potentially moving on in the tournament and that's what we are going to try and do.  It is a super district or whatever you want to call it now and seeding becomes even more important than in the past.  You get the opportunity to sort of pick your poison," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "In all sports I think the winners and the losers are determined by match-ups.  There are certain teams out there that we don't match-up well with and there are other teams, that maybe we have a better record, we feel we can compete with.  So, we want to put our kids in position where they have the best match-ups possible."

 

Published 2/03/15

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Norwalk Not Catching Breaks

 

          Norwalk is a .500 basketball team and that is what they have kind of been this year, up and down.

          Last week, they lost a Northern Ohio League game to league leader Ontario (51-33) on Thursday and then beat perennial power Toledo Whitmer (58-47) on Saturday. 

          Coach Steve Gray says they had a meeting between those two games and it seemed to make a difference in their level of intensity.  "We were very disappointed in our performance in the Ontario game and we talked about playing with passion, playing with heart, playing for each other. As a group we sat down Friday and talked about that for about 40 minutes.  I thought our leadership was so much better on Saturday and I thought the kids really competed.  When you play hard you feel good about yourself and things happen," said Gray.

          Norwalk, won the division two state title last year, and four straight "NOL" titles, but this year Gray says they can't get a break.  They can't even stay healthy.  "I am not big on excuses, but one of our biggest problems this year is we lost our best sophomore to an "ACL" injury and that just killed us.  Another thing is we have gone eight weeks and I don't think more than four times have we had all of our players here," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "We have had injuries, we have had sickness, we have had just typical things that teams go through through the course of a season.  It just seems like when you are good those things don't happen.  I don't think I have had a kid miss a practice in four years before.  Now everything seems to creep up and throw a wrench in things."

          Norwalk (6-6,3-3) is at home for Tiffin Columbian (5-8,0-6) on Thursday night in league play.  The Truckers won the first meeting (43-38) in early December.  Gray says Tornadoes may be winless in the league, but they are dangerous.  "I think the thing that gives us problems is they go 6'6", 6"6" and I think their bigs are athletic.  It is one those things when they needed a big shot or a big stop it hasn't been there for them, but I think they are a very talented, very athletic team," he said.

          On Saturday, it's a trip to Shelby (10-4,4-2) for the Truckers.  Shelby was an overtime winner (60-57) last time.  Gray says the Whippets do a lot of good things on offense.  "They are playing with a lot of confidence.  The tough thing with Shelby is just the pace that they want to play at, it is up and down.  They will miss six, seven, eight threes in a row and they don't hesitate they keep shooting and then they will make three or four in a row.  They do a great job with pressure and do a great job with getting the tempo where they like it," said Gray.

 

Published 1/27/15

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Norwalk Needs to Slow Down Sandusky

 

          The two second place teams in the Northern Ohio League, Norwalk and Sandusky, both a game behind Ontario, play at Sandusky on Friday night in a key league match-up.

          Norwalk is coming off a non-conference loss to West Salem Northwestern (72-62) on Tuesday night.  Truckers coach Steve Gray says the Huskies forced them to make a decision on what to do on defense.  "Northwestern is an outstanding team.  They have a 6'9" post that is considered one of the top sophomores in the country.  Our tallest starter is 6'2".  We had to make a decision on do we guard him with two people or do we try to force the other players to make decisions with the ball," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "Unfortunately for us they had three kids hit three threes and piece and another one hit a three.  So, 10 threes was really our demise."

          After some early season struggles, mostly on offense, the Truckers have started to play some pretty good basketball.  Gray says they need to play well too.  "I think we are playing better, but we are sort of right in the meat of our schedule with Willard, a great Lorain team, Northwestern, Sandusky, and Ontario," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "We knew this was going to be a great challenge, but if we could steal one Friday night at Sandusky that would make next week's game with Ontario pretty special."

          Norwalk (5-4,3-1) makes the trip to Sandusky (9-3,3-1) on Friday night.  Gray says the Blue Streaks have a lot of individual talent and they put it to good use.  "Coach Irish I think is an outstanding coach and he has the kids believing in what he is attempting to do.  We has simplified a lot of what they are doing offensively and defensively.  They are going to play man, they are going to pressure.  Offensively he gives them a lot of free rein when it comes to the ability to shoot the ball," said Gray.

          When it comes to defending the Truckers, Gray says it reminds him of when he was the coach at Lexington earlier his career.  He says they have to keep the Streaks out of the lane.  "It is almost like when I was at Lexington and playing Mansfield Senior.  You have to stop transition, stop dribble penetration and then everybody has got to do rebound," he said.

 

Published 1/16/15

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Norwalk Knows What they Have to do to Win

 

          The Norwalk Truckers spent a lot of time during the Christmas break working on defense and it showed in a win last Friday against the Bellevue Redmen.

          They beat the Redmen (49-29) and coach Steve Gray says they made some shots finally and that was important, but it was their defense that won them the game.  "We definitely had our best quarter of the year in the first quarter.  We missed one shot, but more importantly we were able to guard people.  I just thought the kids did a great job all night of finding their shooters and getting their shooters off their spots and contesting against people we need to do a great job on," he said.

          The last couple of years when they were one of the best teams in the state the Truckers could score points in bunches.  That is not the case this year, but Gray thinks they can score enough.  "I think we have the ability to get in the mid 50's and against good teams if we can get to that point total I think we will have a great opportunity to be successful," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "We are going to guard people and we are going to do a good job at the defensive end.  Most people say defense is a little bit of knowledge and a little bit of heart and I think these kids have the heart to play defense."

          Norwalk (4-2,2-1) is at Willard (5-3,2-2) for an "NOL" game on Friday night.  The Flashes have won their last four games and have started to score more points on a consistent basis.  Gray thinks there are good reasons for that.  "I think it is starts with Ebert.  I think he is probably one of the better perimeter players in the league.  Robinson has the ability to put the ball on the floor and beat you off the dribble.  I think with the big kid inside they have a nice balance between inside and out, penetrations and spot shooters.  It doesn't surprise me at all that they are having success offensively," said Gray.

          When you have had the success that Norwalk has had over the last half decade you develop rivalries with just about anyone you play.  However, the rivalry with Willard goes way back.  Gray says there is always emotion in this game.  "I think the communities are so close together.  I know the Willard people hate losing to us.  I think you can say the same thing about Norwalk.  I think it is a good rivalry and the communities get excited about it.  It should be a great environment on Friday night," he said.

 

Published 1/05/15

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Norwalk Expecting Improved Play

 

          Norwalk has lost its last two games and that kind of streak hasn't happened in Trucker land in quite a while, seemingly since the before we found out Tiger Woods had issues, but actually it has been four years.

          The Truckers (3-2,1-1) host rival Bellevue (3-4,0-2) on Friday night in Northern Ohio League play.

          They haven't played since losing to Shelby (60-57) in overtime on December 20, but coach Steve Gray says they have seen competition.  "Because of our football success we only had three scrimmages during the preseason and we picked up two scrimmages over Christmas and I think that will really help this club.  The extra practice time has allowed us to refine some things that obvious we aren't really good at right now," said Gray.

          Norwalk has had problems putting the ball in the basket this year, but Gray, a defensive guru, is more concerned about defending the other guys.  "Shooting is a big part of our problem, but that is going to come.  We are really concerned with our defensive effort.  We are allowing way too many easy shots.  That has always been our identity at Norwalk and we have gotten away from that a little bit.  The last week it has been four of the toughest practices I have put the team through in a long time and I think they responded very well," he said.

          Bellevue beat Oak Harbor (62-50) on Tuesday night and Gray says he things the Redmen have some talented players that can score the ball.  "I told coach Balogh (Monday) night when we were talking about Bellevue the thing is they play hard and they have the ability to score the ball, so that is really a big concern for us," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "I think (Seth) Linder is probably the best post player in our league.  He is just very skilled offensively and he has great hops, so our hands are going to be full and I think their record in a little misleading."

          Bellevue and Norwalk are separated only by Monroeville and Gray says this is a pretty big rivalry in all sports,  "Our kids know their kids very well and our communities are close.  There are a lot of friends involved so it is a great rivalry.  So, it is a situation on Friday night that we just have to do the little things to be successful." he said.

          Norwalk is kind of at a "Y" in its season and Gray thinks a good performance and a win against Bellevue is a pick up they need pretty badly.  "I think it is very important.  We are in a situation now where is we play well we could potentially string a couple of games together which would help our confidence.  I think our confidence is shaken just a little bit.  I think that could be the shot we really need to move on in the correct direction," he said.

 

Published 12/31/14

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Norwalk Has to Shoot Better

 

          Norwalk has not lost many games in the last several years, but they were drummed on Saturday night by Ashland in a non-conference game and they have to fund ways to score.

          The Arrows beat the Truckers (57-33) and Norwalk has yet to score 50 points in a game this season.  Coach Steve Gray says they just have to start scoring more.  "The disappointing thing so far is offensively we have really struggled scoring the ball.  We defend well, we play hard, but bottom line it is a really tough game to coach and play if you can't put the ball in the basket," he said.

          Gray says at times they take bad shots and other times they are missing some good looks.  "I think it is a little bit of both.  At times in basketball when kids are open it is a good thing when they turn a shot down.  We have to make the extra pass and we have shooters and they just have to step up and start making shots," he said.

          The coach waxes philosophical when it comes to shooting and confidence.  It's kind of like the chicken and the egg.  "It is about confidence.  Parents are interesting if their son comes off the bench they don't get enough playing time, if they don't have playing time, how can they gain confidence?  If you are a starter, especially someone that has contributed a great deal, you play with a lot of confidence.  So what comes first playing well or confidence?  It's interesting concept that thing called confidence," said Gray.

          Norwalk (3-1,1-0) plays host to Shelby (2-2,0-1) in a Northern Ohio League game on Saturday night.  The Whippets beat Clyde (59-58) in overtime on Tuesday night.  Gray says the Whippets are a developing team.  "They play extremely hard and their young kids are doing well.  I think they get great leadership from Bihl.  Hipp came off the bench and hit three big threes in the second half.  They are inexperienced, a lot like we are.  I just think Troy will have them ready to play and it will be a great game on Saturday night," said Gray.

          Shelby has been showing a lot of pressure this season trying to force things a little more on defense.  However, Gray says pressure doesn't always work.  "Pressure is a difference maker, but the problem with pressure, and we found this out the last couple of years, the farther along you go in the season the less affect pressure has on teams, they have gone against it enough in practice and in games, kids just become better ay handling it.  They are enjoying a great deal of success right now with the pressure, but it will be interesting with the pressure as the season goes on," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "I thought last year we were really great with pressure early in the season and then Ontario just dismantled us over there and we got back to our roots a little bit and defended in the half court, did a little trapping in the half court.  I think in the long run Troy's team will evolve one way or another."

 

Published 12/18/14

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Norwalk Finding Out How

 

          Norwalk beat two pretty good teams last week and they did it by playing tough defense and making enough clutch plays.

          They were not an offensive juggernaut, but they downed Sandusky Perkins (45-37) on the first night and edged Mansfield Madison (44-43) on the second.

          Coach Steve Gray says they have a number of guys that stepped into new roles and were able to do the job.  "I am extremely happy on a number of fronts.  We are really, really young in terms of returning lettermen and experience.  We only have like eight points returning from last year.  We are just a group that is trying to work hard and trying to get better and trying to establish our own little legacy.  I am just very happy about the way the weekend went," he said.

          The Truckers didn't exactly shoot the ball that well last week, but Gray says he thinks their shooting percentage will climb as the season goes on.  "We are starting to shoot the ball better in practice now.  Like I told our football kids Davidson, Staley, Breck Turner, it is going to take you guys four or five weeks to get back in basketball shape and shoot the ball like you are capable of," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "Think about how many hits Breck turner took this year in football.  It just takes time to rest and recuperate.  Last summer, he was just a real good shooter like a lot of these kids.  I think we will get better as time goes on."

          Norwalk (2-0) begins defense of its Northern Ohio league co-title at Tiffin Columbian on Friday night.  The Tornadoes destroyed Fostoria (66-30) in their first game and Gray says they are big.  "I just think they are vastly underrated in the "NOL."  They go 6'6", 6'6" underneath.  They probably have the two best post players in the league with size and strength and athleticism.  Dryfuss I think is a D-one prospect at tight end, so you know he has some great athletic ability," he said.

          Columbian is going to have a size advantage on everyone in the "NOL."  Gray says they are going to have to find out how to stop those big guys from scoring.  "There is a lot of different things you can do.  You can double down, you can help off, you can play zone, you can completely fount, you can pressure and trap the guards to make it more difficult to get it inside.  We will probably try three of four different things until hopefully we find something that works," said Gray.

          On Saturday night, the Truckers host one of the best teams from the Ohio Cardinal Conference in Ashland.  Gray says it will be a big test for them.  "On paper I think they are probably the second best team we will play all year in terms of returning lettermen and shooters and ball handlers.  That is going to be a great challenge.  White can really shoot it, Vipperman I think is outstanding, their point guard play is solid.  Fralich does a great job of spreading the floor and backdooring you.  We will have our hands full on both nights," said Gray.

 

Published 12/11/14

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State Champions Begin New Season

 

          The Norwalk Truckers won the state title last March, but this is a new season, and they start it on Friday night at Sandusky Perkins, a team they beat last year in the district final.

          However, both teams have dramatically different lineups.

          Norwalk coach Steve Gray, a winner of 314 games in 24 years as a coach at Ridgedale, Lexington, Colonel Crawford, and Norwalk, has prepared a lot of teams over the years.  He says there is always an excitement over the opener.  "We are two weeks behind because of the football playoffs, which is really a nice problem to have terms of Norwalk Schools.  But, I think we are ready to go.  We have some kids that have worked pretty hard.  The exciting thing about coaching is you get new players every year and that is the excitement of being a high school coach," he said.

          They may not have the explosive scorers that they had over the last several years, but Gray believes this team will be play defense.  "Watching our football team play the thing that really stood out for me is we had two defensive backs that were really good in Matt Davidson and Seth Staley.  Good athletes with some knowledge and some heart can be great defensive players," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "Then Breck Turner, who was first team all-state in football, he has the ability to sit down and really defend.  So, on the perimeter we have three guys with the ability to really just do a great job at that end of the floor."

          Perkins has been the bully of the Sandusky Bay Conference lately, but Gray says the Pirates are kind of in rebuilding mode too.  "I think they are in the same boat we are they lost a lot of three and four year lettermen and they are rebuilding.  It is just going to be a game that is going to be very interesting on both ends of the court.  Who's kids have stepped up over the summer and put in the time.  It is going to be a very interesting night," said Gray.

          Norwalk returns home Saturday night to play the Madison Rams out of the Ohio Cardinal Conference.  Gray says honestly he's not sure if playing a double weekend this early is good idea or not, only time will tell.  "I don't know.  If you win it is very good, but if you have to lose two it is a terrible way to start the season.  We talked to the kids and they just want to compete.  They just want to form their own identity.  You know, let's get it on.  With 22 games a lot of teams are playing a lot of double weekends.  We are ready to go and the kids are excited.  I can't wait to see where we are," said Gray.

 

Published 12/05/14

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Norwalk Knows Winning

 

          Norwalk won the division two state championship last season and it seems lately they have won in every sport and when you do that you develop a culture of winning.

          Understanding how to win games can not be understated because it can be elusive.

          Even though they lost a lot of talent off that squad from a year ago Coach Steve Gray says he knows his players will play hard and they are going to make it difficult for other teams to score.  "I know we have great kids and we are going to work hard and we will defend.  Besides that we still have a ways to go.  Football set us back.  We have only had three days with all of our kids, so we are a work in progress, but I know by the time of the first game I know more than anything else that these kids will compete," he said.

          Norwalk is scheduled to open the season at Sandusky Perkins on December 5 and at home with Mansfield Madison on December 6.

          You don't replace all state players like Jeff Thomas and Ben Haraway, but the Truckers do return some kids who played significant minutes on that state title team.  Gray says this year's players practiced against a pretty good team last year.  "We have some talented kids, but they have never scored at the varsity level obviously. We return Matt Davidson and Breck Turner, who both played a lot last year for us.  Seth Staley, our JV point guard from last year, is doing a great job.  People don't realize that we practiced against the best team in the state every day and I think that will help us tremendously when it comes to preparation for our first game," said Gray.

          The Truckers just won the Northern Ohio League football title this fall an they have had success in the spring too.  Gray says the players they have know what it takes to win games.  "Winning breads winning and Norwalk has been on a roll.  In basketball we have won four straight "NOL" championships," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "Football won their first "NOL" championship in, I don't know, 40 years, and made the playoffs two years in a row.  Our track team has won two "NOL" championships for the first time in the history of the school.  So, these guys know how to win and I think they understand what it takes to win."

 

Published 11/26/14

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Norwalk Tangles With Clyde

 

          The two teams that finished number #1 and #2 in our Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the league school division, will lock horns in the division three regional semi-finals on Friday night at Perkins Regional Medical Center Field as Norwalk takes on Clyde.

          Last week, the Truckers rallied in the second half to knock off Sandusky Perkins (42-34) behind Breck Turner's 171 yards and two TD's.  Coach Chris MacFarland says there were a lot of big plays in the game.  "It was an outstanding high school football game.  Both offenses really moved the ball and defenses made good plays.  We each had a third down and 18 to 20 that we picked up.  It was just an outstanding high school football game and well played.  We have great respect for Perkins and what they do.  It was exciting for us to get that win," he said.

          Clinging to a (28-27) lead Turner hurdled a Perkins defender and darted 67 yards for a score and MacFarland says that gave them needed momentum.  "At that point we had a one point lead and they had us backed up and you know what he has had great runs many times in his career, but because of the timing of it that might have been his best one for us.  He has the talent and the athletic ability to make things happen.  The other kids did a great job of getting down field and extending the play.  It was a great play and we needed that," said MacFarland.

          Clyde made a tremendous comeback last week to outlast Mansfield Madison (41-33) in their first round win.  MacFarland says they played Clyde in their final scrimmage, but this one will be a lot different.  "It is an outstanding program with a lot of tradition with a lot of playoff appearances and a state championship.  Clyde is used to this kind of atmosphere and it will be a great challenge for us," he told Swankonsports.com, "It is kind of ironic that 12 weeks ago we were ending our preseason schedule with them like we have for the last couple of years.  I think it is an outstanding football program and we are excited to get an opportunity to play them.  They have been power in the "SBC" and in our area."

          Madison lead the Fliers (33-7) with four minutes left in the third quarter, but MacFarland says Clyde can score in a hurry.  "They can spread the ball around on you quick.  They get after it and we are going to have to be very sound.  It was a big challenge to go against a run type offense with Perkins and now we have top switch over, we are still going to have to stop the run because they run the ball very affectively, but they really put the ball in the air and we are going to have to work hard this week to keep them in front of us," said MacFarland.

          Despite giving up more than 30 points to Madison, Clyde has built is season around its defense.  MacFarland says they are really aggressive.  "They are very physical and very active up front and their linebackers fly to the ball.  It will be just what a high school game should be.  It is going to be physical and kids are going to be flying all over the field.  We have to make sure we do our assignments and match their level of intensity and just go our and play high quality Norwalk football," he said.

 

Published 11/10/14

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Norwalk Ready For Success

 

          Norwalk has accomplished a major goal of winning an outright Northern Ohio League title, but they have the talent to accomplish a few more.

          The Truckers (10-0), #1 in the final Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, host Sandusky Perkins (7-3) in a first round playoff game in division three on Friday night. 

          Coach Chris MacFarland says they have done a solid job all season, but it is not time to look behind, but look ahead.  "It really has been going the right direction for us.  We have talked about that a lot, but that part of the season is over.  We still have bigger goals and we should be focused on that.  You have to play it like it is your last game because it very well could be.  The playoffs are here and they had a taste of it last year.  We played very well last year on the road at Tiffin Columbian and lost in double overtime.  They are hungry and want to continue to play Norwalk football," said MacFarland.

          Last season, Norwalk lost in double overtime (34-28) to league rival Tiffin Columbian in a first round game.  MacFarland says they haven't forgotten that game.  "It definitely isn't going to hurt.  They felt like they had a chance to win that game and move on and it didn't happen and that kind of left that taste in their mouth the whole off season.  Now we are back in there and getting that first playoff victory would be very special.  That's what we have been gearing towards.  Winning the "NOL" was the most important goal we had, but always underlining that was a chance to play in the playoffs and have a run at a state championship," said MacFarland.

          A win over Clyde helped put Perkins in the playoffs for the third straight year.  MacFraland says the Pirates know what it takes to have success in the post season.  "They are an outstanding program they have had a lot of success over the years.  Over the last three years they have been a very good football team and we are going to have to play at a very high level on Friday night," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "They have been in big situations they play a big schedule.  They have playoffs experience.  The program is stable and we are going to have to go out and play at a high level and that is what is in front of us (Friday) night."

          MacFarland expects Perkins to try and run the ball against them and it will be their job to win at the line of scrimmage.  "Offensively they are definitely a run oriented team.  They can throw the ball and they do a good job with that, but they want to establish the run.  They have a lot of long series and obviously that means the ball is not in our hands.  Once concern is them putting together 10, 12 play drives and taking time off the clock and giving us less opportunities.  Defensively we want to get off the field and get some turnovers.  On the other side of the ball defensively they are just very sound.  They are just fundamental and we are going to have to play at a very high level (Friday) night," said MacFarland.

 

Published 11/07/14

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Norwalk Has to Take Care of Business

 

          Norwalk needs just to beat winless Willard to claim an outright Northern Ohio League title.  It would seem pretty easy, but this is high school football and young kids we are talking about, so nothing is ever easy.

          Norwalk (9-0,6-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, blasted Shelby (49-12) last week to give themselves no less than a share of the school's first football title in 38 years.  Coach Chris MacFarland says the win allowed them to sort of take a deep breath.  "The kids have done a great job of getting to this point.  Obviously it is nice to not have that stress anymore about winning the league title by having a least a share.  Now, actually they can just go and play and go out and perform for one last game and try to cap this last season off," he said.

          Shelby had scored more than 80 points the week before, but Norwalk limited them to two scores and MacFarland says they were just prepared.  "Each week they do a great job of film study.  The coaching staff does a great job of getting them in good situations with alignments and what type of positive things the team has to do.  We go in an try to eliminate their strengths and hopefully try to do some things that they are that they are not used to.  We want our kids to play fast and be as physical as they can be up front," he said.

          The Truckers play at Willard (0-9,0-6) in "NOL" play on Friday.  Last week, Bellevue beat Willard (60-22), but the game was actually tied at 22 at the half.  MacFarland says the Flashes are still showing great effort.  "The coaching staff over there and the kids are playing hard.  Even though they were 0-8 they came out and gave their best performance over the last couple of games.  Offensively they really moved the ball very well," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "Their scheme is very difficult to defend and they have good athletes running it.  It is a positive for them to keep pushing as hard as they are and our kids know that.  This is something they can use to springboard their off season ahead so we are going to have to be very focused."

          Willard can make its season with a win over the unbeaten Truckers and MacFarland says they have to come out and be ready to play.  "It is going to make both teams season no matter which way it goes.  We are going to have to play to our level and come out as quick as we can offensively and try to dominate the line of scrimmage.  Defensively the same thing trying to make sure we get off to a quick start and hopefully put a lot of pressure on them," he said.

 

Published 10/29/14

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A Win Gives Norwalk A Piece of "NOL"

 

          Unbeaten Norwalk goes for no less than a share of the Northern Ohio League title as they host the Shelby Whippets on Friday at Whitney Field.

          Norwalk (8-0,4-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, got 232 yards rushing and three TDs from Breck Turner in blitzing Vermilion (35-7) in non-conference play last week.

          Coach Chris MacFarland liked their focus.  "Our kids have really do a great job of zeroing in on what we want them to get accomplished with adjustments and game plan.  We have really come up with a nice routine and came out an played at a high level.  You get ten opportunities during the year to play football for Norwalk as far as the regular season.  They are special and they want to go out and improve all of the time with the effort that they make.  We are excited with what they players have done so far each week," he said.

          Of course, last week Shelby (2-6,1-4) lost the overtime thriller to Tiffin Columbian (83-82) in which more 1,300 yards were gained by both sides.  MacFarland says the Whippets can definitely do some things, but so can they.  "It was crazy to hear about it that night and even more to see it the next day.  Offensively they are very talented.  The quarterback does a really nice job of running the offense, he scrambles well and throws the ball well.  Defensively they have some nice size and attack downhill.  I am never sure that we could ever replicate that type of game again," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "We have a lot of good things for our kids to look at.  It's a great challenge and we don't want to be the kind of team that gives up those kids of points up.  We want to go out and make our statement about the things that we can do offensively."

          A win gives Norwalk a share of their first "NOL" crown in 38 years and MacFarland says that is because they treat every week the same.  "Everybody talks about the Columbian week and the Bellevue week and Sandusky and so on, but we take the approach that this week is the most important week.  It not a name like a Tiffin name or a Bellevue name, but it is Shelby and they have done a great job and they have a great history of football.  It is very important that we come out and play very well against them.  This is what we have talked about focusing from week to week and that puts us in position to have a chance to share the "NOL," he said.

 

Published 10/24/14

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Norwalk Not taking the Week Off

 

          Norwalk is playing really good football and they have beaten some very good teams like Tiffin Columbian and Bellevue, but they have to maintain that focus no matter who they are playing.

          Last week, the Truckers (7-0,4-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, took sole position of first place in the Northern Ohio league with a (49-27) win over Bellevue.

          Coach Chris MacFarland says they went out and did what they practiced.  "We were really happy with the way the kids came out and played last week.  Our focus was really on point for us on both sides of the ball and the special teams did well too.  It was nice to see us prepared for that kind of contest and go out an execute what we had in the game plan.  We showed the strength of our team and now we can move forward and prepare for the rest of the season," said MacFarland.

          Of course, it helps to have a Mr. Football candidate like Breck Turner, who had 283 yards and three touchdowns.

          Norwalk travels to Vermilion (2-5) for a non-conference game on Friday night.  MacFarland says every Friday night is really a contest with themselves.  "We have our goals set this year and that is winning the "NOL" and that takes six games and we have two left on our schedule.  We have Vermilion this week and that isn't a league game, but we tell our kids it is about making Norwalk better each week.  If doesn't matter who the opponent is we just want to move our offense and defense forward and try to get better in all of the different schemes we are working.  Hopefully that pans out for on Friday night.  It is really important for us to stay focused for this Friday night," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "Our kids have kind of taken the mindset that this Friday night is the most important Friday night of the season.  Football is such a special sport in you only get 10 opportunities guaranteed.  There is no Friday and come back Saturday with another chance if something goes wrong.  We want to make sure the kids understand the importance of every Friday night."

          Vermilion is coming off a win over Youngstown Christian (24-7) and MacFarland says this is a team that wants to run the ball.  "They definitely pack it in a lot of nice looking formations that they use.  They can give us some problems with that.  We have to make sure that on defense we are aligned properly.  Its is definitely a team that is improving.  We are going have to go out like any Friday, especially in high school with 14-18 year olds, and make sure we are prepared and not have turnovers and penalties and put ourselves in a hole.  We have to go out and execute at a high level just like we did last week against Bellevue.  If we don't do that we are going to have a lot of difficulty,' said MacFarland.

 

Published 10/16/14

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Norwalk and Bellevue Meet With First Place on the Line

 

          Norwalk and Bellevue, both undefeated in Northern Ohio League play, square off on Friday night at Whitney Field with first place on the line.

          The Tuckers (6-0,3-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, maintained their share of first place with a (27-3) stuffing of Sandusky last week.  Coach Chris MacFarland says they have been doing an outstanding job of taking one play at a time.  "The defense played outstanding.  They had five interceptions.  They had two or three stops inside the red zone.  They were just playing on a high level.  They kind of understand there are going to be some plays and things are going to happen.  They just have to make sure that after every snap we reassess where we are at and go back and play that down as hard as we can and do not worry about things that have happened.  It's paying off for them because every play they play 100 percent and keep grinding at someone all night long and hopefully we wear them down.  Our defensive staff has done an outstanding job preparing them.  They are playing at a high level because they are comfortable in what we are trying to do," said MacFarland.

          Bellevue (5-1,2-0), #2 in our poll, beat Tiffin Columbian (42-29) last week in an great display of offense, led by quarterback Alec Foos' 158 yards and 3 touchdowns running.  MacFarland knows Bellevue is a an excellent team.  "Bellevue obviously is an outstanding high school football program.  In the "NOL" they have been one of the powerhouses for years.  Coach Nasonti has done a great job with the program.  Defensively they are sound, they come out in the same alignment that they always do, and put a lot of pressure on you," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "Offensively they run a lot of different sets.  They have a lot of different weapons on their team.  They will try to put the ball in their athletes hands and try to make our defense make mistakes.  We are going to have to be very sound on Friday night .  We have to play at a high level and execute all our techniques and fundamentals."

          Bellevue plays both Foos and Tristen Snezek at quarterback.  Foos is more of a runner and Snezek a passer, but MacFarland says they have to ready for the whole package no matter who is in there.  "The one quarterback throws a little bit more than the other.  The defense is prepared for that.  We have talked about tendencies that we see or things that we have noticed that one quarterback does better than the other.  We will be ready for both quarterbacks to run their total offense.  That is a real challenge for us because we will have to make sure we understand all of the keys and what their strengths are, but if we don't prepare for both run and pass with both quarterbacks we wouldn't be preparing like we need to," said MacFarland.

          MacFarland says they know what is riding on the game and they are excited for the chance to play Bellevue.  "It is a big game for both teams. We are both undefeated in the league.  It is great to give our kids this opportunity late in the year.  Six years ago when we took over as a staff we didn't have this opportunity.  There were a lot of empty houses then and now it is a great atmosphere.  It is nice to have it here in Norwalk and have the community come out and see the hard work these young men have put in. We are excited with the opportunity," he said.

 

Published 10/9/14

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Norwalk Stays Focused

 

          Norwalk is not only a very talented football team this year, but also one that has played with a lot of consistency on the field.  As a result they are unbeaten and sit a top the Northern Ohio League football standings.

          Last week, Breck Turner, a possible Mr. Football candidate, rushed for 218 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and the Truckers blasted the Ontario Warriors (40-7) in an "NOL" game.

          Coach Chris MacFarland says that consistency they have shown is a product of the hard work they put in during the week both mentally and physically.  "We have had a really good first five games.  It's a tribute to our coaching staff and the work ethic of our kids.  We have emphasized over the years that this Friday night is the most important night of the year.  We really work hard to take it one game at a time.  When you focus on one thing like that it is going to be a lot easier on us.  We are working hard to come at a high level every Friday night," he said.

          Norwalk for many years was a second division team in the league until the last four seasons and MacFarland says they still maintain the philosophy that they have bee ready every time they play nor matter who they opponent is.  "We talk about where we started a couple of years ago in trying to be the team that upset somebody at the top of our league.  We have addressed that with our leadership group, our seniors, on how to handle that this year because we are the team that everybody is talking about.  We try to just improve Norwalk," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "If we can do that every Friday night that is all we can control and not get caught up with who we are playing and some of the hoopla that goes on in high school sports.  We are just trying to get better than we were last week.  If we can get that effort every week I think we will be okay."

          This week, Norwalk (5-0,2-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, plays at Sandusky (1-4,1-1) in an "NOL" game.  MacFarland says Sandusky has shown steady improvement.  "Their losses this year are all to potential playoff teams (Huron, Sandusky Perkins, Fremont Ross, Tiffin Columbian.)  They definitely have gotten better each week.  They have athletes that do a lot of positive things.  They have nice size up front.  I think they are coached very well you can tell with the discipline of the kids and what they are trying to do and they have been consistent with it.  It is definitely going to be a challenge for us and we have to go out and execute on both sides of the ball and expect special teams to be a big factor in the game," said MacFarland.

 

Published 10/03/14

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Norwalk Taking Games One at a Time

 

          Last week, the Norwalk Truckers probably won their biggest regular season game in more than 35 years as they rallied to score the last five touchdowns of the game and beat Tiffin Columbian in a Northern Ohio league showdown.

          Trailing (21-0) late in the first half Breck Turner retuned a kick for a score and then the Tuckers scored four unanswered touchdowns in the second half to beat the Tornadoes (25-21) to take early command in the league.  Coach Chris MacFarland says their kids put together a gritty performance.  "Our kids played really well and after a couple of tough losses last season it was really nice to see that the kids really stuck together.  No matter what happened in the first half they were able to shake that off an play as a team and really come out and play at a different level in the second half and pull off that win," he said.

          Norwalk had lost two tough games to the Tornadoes last year, one in double overtime in the playoffs.  MacFarland says the experience they gained in those games helped last week.  "The seniors this year quite a few of them played a lot last year in the playoff game and really had a handle of what the atmosphere and the pressure was going to be like over there at Tiffin.  Over the last two years those kids have had a lot of experience and they helped the other kids come through and it all fit together and come out and play as one unit.  I think the experience did help them," he said.

          On Friday night, the Truckers (4-0,1-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, host Ontario (2-2,1-0) in an "NOL" game.  MacFarland says the preparation this week has been solid and he expects no hangover from the Tiffin win.  "I would say it has been as good a week of practice as it was last week getting ready for Tiffin.  They know the importance of every "NOL" game.  The coaching staff I think has done an outstanding job of keeping them focused.  Football is really that grind that we talk about.  Friday night you get to play and enjoy and Saturday you start all over again.  You only get 10 of these opportunities for sure and you have to make the most of every one of them," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "We talked last Saturday that the win over Tiffin would be short lived if we didn't go out and play well this Friday.  We don't even know how we are going to do as far as wins and losses.  Our expectation is to improve each week.  If we can take care of that and make Norwalk football better this Friday night then we think we have a really good chance."

          Ontario blasted Willard (42-7) in their first league game last week.  MacFarland says they have some big boys in the trenches.  "They had some really good athletes last year.  The quarterback does an outstanding job and is very effective running the ball and throwing the ball.  They have very nice size up from offensively some nice tall athletes with good size.  On defense they are very aggressive.  They come off the edge very well.  They have some down lineman that can give us problems.  They are a very good football team and we have to come out and play at a high level with a level of intensity and play as well as we can on offense, defense and special teams," said MacFarland.

 

Published 9/25/14

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"NOL" Favorites Clash

 

          Norwalk was the preseason favorite and Tiffin Columbian is the defending Northern Ohio League champion and they meet on Friday night at National Field in Tiffin in what might decide the league title on the first week of the league schedule.

          In their final preseason game Norwalk (3-0), #4 in the Swankonsports.com football coach's poll in the leage school division,  buried Western Reserve (37-7) of the Firelands Conference and coach Chris MacFarland says they were not looking ahead to this big one this week.  "We were excited by the way they came out an executed the game plan.  We take nobody for granted.  The kids put in a long week to prepare for that Friday night.  We don't really talk about looking ahead and down the schedule or anything like that, just that Friday night.  We came in and were really tuned in offensively and defensively an I thought we had a really nice game," said MacFarland.

          Some are touting Norwalk running back Breck Turner as a possible "Mr. Football" candidate.  MacFarland says he is good kid that works hard.  "He had really worked hard.  He has really dedicated himself in the classroom and in the hallways and in the weight room.  A lot of things are going to happen for him athletically.  He is a great young man and a great teammate.  Hopefully there are going to be a lot more special days for him," he said.

          Tiffin Columbian (2-1), #5 in our poll, scored in the final minute to knock off Ashland, of the Ohio Cardinal Conference, (23-20) in non-conference play last Friday.  MacFarland says they have been looking forward tio this game for a long time.  "It's an exciting way to get the "NOL" started.  You have the defending champions there.  We had a playoff game with them.  Our kids are excited by the opportunity.  I would say if you asked the kids who they circled on the calendar it would probably be this date.  We know it is going to be a great challenge.  They have a lot of size and a lot of experience.  I hope we put a real good game plan together and execute it," said MacFarland.

          Especially in games involving really good teams MacFarland says the special teams, and who wins that battle, can be a big factor.  "We have to eliminate mistakes.  Offensively we have to control the ball and not have any penalties.  Defensively we can't allow big plays and we have to get some turnovers," he told Swankonsports.com, "I think the most important thing is how will our special teams react?  You have two talented groups, kids that can make things happen at any time.  Special teams could be a huge momentum changer.  No matter how well you are playing special teams can really change things."

          Last season, Tiffin beat Norwalk in the regular season (24-20) and (34-28) in double overtime in the first round of the playoffs.  MacFarland says that was last year.  "We really don't talk about last year.  This is a different year and we have different talent groups at different positions and different strengths and weaknesses.  It's a new year.  The same with Columbian they don't have the same personnel back.  It's going to be about this season, and this class, and who can get it done," he said.

 

Published 9/15/14

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Norwalk Wants to Get Better at What they do

 

          This just night be one of the better years in the history of Norwalk High School football and the Truckers just continue to make positive steps on the gridiron this year.

          They remained unbeaten on the season by cursing past Cleveland John Hay (48-20) last week.  Coach Chris MacFarland said they did a very good job controlling a very potent offense.  "We were really pleased by the way the kids came out and played.  We had a good week of preparation.  I thought the defense did an outstanding job, the coaching staff and the players.  They have one heck of a talented quarterback and a lot of supporting cast of athletes.  We knew they were going to get some positive yardage, but we kept them contained.  We tried to put as much pressure on them as we could," said MacFarland.

          Norwalk is breaking in a new quarterback to replace the graduated Jordan Johnson.  MacFarland thinks the new guy is doing pretty well.  "We thought the offensive line did an outstanding job with the recognition of the fronts.  It was nice to see Markus McClain our quarterback really be comfortable with what we are trying to do offensively with him.  We really opened up the whole offensive package running and passing.  We hope to have a lot more weeks like that," he said.

          The Truckers (2-0), #4 in the Swankonsports.com football coaches poll in the large school division, have a goal of making the playoffs for the second straight year.  MacFarland says they will only do that if they keep getting better.  "The nice thing about it is we challenge ourselves each week to make Norwalk better.  Yeah, we have to spend time on the opponent, but our main focus is every Friday night we want to see our offense, defense, and special teams improve.  If we can do that I think we will continue to see the confidence grow and positive things are going to happen," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "If we can take care of our mistakes and improve each week it is going to help them feel good about what they are doing.  The kids have had a great attitude."

          Western Reserve (0-2) will be at Norwalk on Friday night.  The Rough Riders have given up some points this year in losses to Black River (72-57) and Margaretta (42-20), but MacFarland says the Riders are going to improve on that side of the ball.  "Offensively they are a big threat.  The quarterback has an outstanding arm and is real accurate throwing the ball.  Up front they do a good job moving people around.  Defensively they are going to settle in.  They are going to change things around with a three-man or a four-man front.  They are going to find a comfort level and they are going to be very aggressive.  No matter what we are going to have to really go out an execute what we are doing on offense," said MacFarland.

 

Published 9/10/14

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Norwalk Faces Athletic Team

 

          Norwalk did a lot of good things in their opening night win, but this Friday night they will face a team with more speed and athleticism.

          Last week, Norwalk beat non-conference rival Edison (28-14) as senior running back Breck Turner had a school record 327 yards rushing and scored four times.  He became the Truckers all time leading rushing in the process.

          Coach Chris MacFarland said their offensive line was able to open up some holes for Turner.  "Breck had a great game and we were really pleased with how the offensive line stepped up they really played well as a unit.  Obviously there were some breakdowns on some plays, but as a whole they really showed their grit and determination.  We went out and really tried to play physical.  I think up front was really a step forward for us and will be real benefit for Breck as the season goes on." he said.

          Norwalk is the pick of many to win the Northern Ohio League this year, but MacFarland says they have a lot areas where improvement is needed.  "We have to make sure we catch the ball a little bit better.  We had a couple of dropped passes.  We can't turn the ball over that led to their second touchdown.  Defensively we have to make sure we line up right and make plays.  We had the opportunity for some interceptions, some big plays, and really didn't capitalize on those.  The kids are playing hard, but  if we just have to make sure we get rid of some of the mistakes we are making with the turnovers on offense and make some big plays on defense things are going to keep moving forward," said MacFarland.

          Norwalk plays host the Cleveland John Hay Hornets (0-1) on Friday night.  John Hay lost to Amherst Steele (13-7) last week and Norwalk (56-35) last year.  MacFarland says they will see a lot of speed from John Hay.  "Last year we were really impressed with their athletic ability.  This year their quarterback is back.  He is an outstanding athlete that is a run and throw threat.  he does a nice job controlling the offense.  He is kind of a Mr. Everything for them.  He punts, he plays safety and is just an outstanding athlete," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "They have some real nice size also.  What we noticed is they really run to the football.  Defensively they are going to try and put a lot of pressure on us, just get in the backfield and create a lot of chaos for us.  On offense they have real good speed and can get to the perimeter and go.  We are really impressed by what they look like on film and expect a great game on Friday night."

 

Published 9/02/14

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Norwalk to Embark on Special Season

 

          Norwalk has won 23 games over the last three years and made the playoffs last year for the first time in almost 40 years.  This year may be their best yet.

          Coach Chris MacFarland says they have done a good job of preparing for their opener at home against Edison on Friday night.  "We are excited about getting the opportunity to play on Friday night.  The kids put in a lot of time in the off season.  The preseason camp has been very physical and very tough.  School started a little early for this year.  We actually had a preview game during school.  So, it has been pretty good grind on the kids.  They are ready to play another opponent for real and get the football season started," he said.

          Breck Turner is being touted by some as a candidate for Mr. Football in the state of Ohio.  MacFarland says with him and some other athletes they have chance to put some points on the board.  "We feel really good about having Breck Turner in the backfield.  We have some nice receivers that have been on the field for us.  We have some talent out there.  Our line is back, all five kids this year have experience.  Three of them were full time starters last year and the other two had a lot of reps in big games and big series.  We feel comfortable with our offense," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "We do have a first time quarterback as far as starting.  Our quarterback is a junior and a very good athlete.  It is time to find our how he handles things and find the tempo and the kind of offense he is going to find really comfortable running.  We are going to go with that and put as many points on the board as we can."

          On defense the Truckers have some good experience too and MacFarland expects that unit to play well this year too.  "We have two really good tackles inside this year and we have two defensive ends that had a lot playing time last year.  We are coming back with really one of the better linebackers in the area in Garrett Cook, he has had all-league honors the last couple of years.  We have some nice depth behind him with Matt Davidson at safety.  He also had some all-area honors.  We are strong up the middle and we think that is important.  We are putting Breck in there as an outside backer, so we are putting in another good athlete.  We feel good about our defense and their maturity and how they have developed," said MacFarland.

          Edison is just down the road from Norwalk and MacFarland knows the Chargers are going to be excited to play them.  "We have seen them live and on film.  Their kids play very hard and are physical and very aggressive.  Everybody in the country has put in a lot of time to get ready for this first night and the opener.  It is going to be a very physical game we think.  We fully expect them to play at a very high level and we have to match that level of intensity," he said.

 

Published 8/28/14

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Norwalk With Favorite’s Tag

 

          A group of media representatives last week picked the Norwalk Truckers to win the Northern Ohio League football title it would be their first since the 1970’s.

          They were 9-2 last season with both of those losses coming to the Tiffin Columbian Tornadoes.

          Coach Chris MacFarland feels like they have had a good preseason getting ready for 2014.  “It has been a really good preseason for us.  We have had two really good scrimmages, Norwalk St. Paul and then we were at Fremont Ross where we played Fremont and Sylvania Northview in a tri-scrimmage.  We saw three really good teams and they gave us a really good look.  We have gotten to play a lot of kids out there and we are trying to evaluate our talent and see what we have in depth.  We have come out of it pretty injury free and we are moving in the right direction.  We don’t base a lot on the scrimmages when it comes to wins and losses,  For us it is about scripting plays, get as much film as we can on each kid as we can evaluate talent and make sure our fundamentals are sound,” said MacFarland.

          Running back Breck Turner might be one of the best at his position in Ohio, but what has really impressed MacFarland this month has been the play of many of the kids that won’t be starters at the beginning of the season.  “I have been happy with our depth.  We are getting kids that have put their time in the weight room and they have learned and we can rotate seven offensive linemen in and not see a drop.  We could put seven or eight defensive linemen in in different packages.  I think at our level depth is the biggest question.  Can you stay fresh for four quarters?  If you have to play 100 plays and go both ways your productivity is not going to be as good.  We have been happy with kids that we kind of identified in the off season as kids that we thought could help us are making good strides.  The difference is going to be can they play on a Friday night as opposed to a controlled scrimmage where things are scripted out.  Will they be able to handle the pressure of what a real high school football is like?” he said.

          As far as dealing with the favorite’s tag, MacFarland says they are going to stay humble and take each game one at a time.  “It definitely is different for us from five years ago when I came in and we were trying to get a week one win.  You know what we are excited with where the program is moving.  There will only be talk though in our locker room about Edison.  It is game one and it has been on our countdown board in our locker room since last year’s playoff loss for us.  It has been our motto all of the way through that it is one Friday night at a time because if you don’t, especially with high school athletes, you are going to get some losses that you shouldn’t because you weren’t prepared,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We are going to learn to deal with it.  I think our staff does an outstanding job of keeping our kids humble and understand that last year doesn’t mean anything to this team.  We have to go out and earn it.  It is time for them go out and make their own mark and not live on what happened in the past.  Our focus right now is can we go out and play a good game against Edison on week one?”

 

Published 8/19/14

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Norwalk Wants Keep it up

 

          Norwalk made the football playoffs for the first times since the 70’s last season and now they would like to continue to take steps forward with their football program. 

          Is there a Northern Ohio League title in their future?

          Coach Chris MacFarland says their kids have the confidence they can do a lot of good things.  “We really think we can.  The kids had a great off season.  We have a really talented senior class coming back.  They have actually been involved with thee winning seasons.  Their freshmen year we were 7-3, sophomore year 7-3 and last year 9-1 and a playoff berth.  These kids have went through there high school career with a winning program.  They have put the off season in like they want to continue that and take the next step and help this program continue to grow.  They feel very confident now they have to go out and play every Friday night,” said MacFarland.

          Norwalk was for many years the doormat in the “NOL” other than baseball and girls’ volleyball, but now all of their teams are having success and MacFarland believes that helps them.  “Winning breads winning we think.  It’s been a great time here at Norwalk High School.  All of our athletics are doing well.  Our girls’ sports are winning championships and doing well in tournaments.  Boys’ basketball wins a state championship, football making the playoffs, wrestling do well,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “We are finding it’s just contagious at Norwalk High School right now and we are hoping it just keeps carrying over year in and year out and kids want to grow up being Truckers and being part of winning programs.  The expectation has definitely changed here at Norwalk High School.”

          Norwalk won the division two state basketball title last March and MacFarland says that has injected even more confidence into the kids that play for the Truckers.  “We have many kids that play two, three sports.  We share the athletes as a coaching staff and athletic department.  The weight room has become very important to all of our athletic programs.  There was a nice flavor of kids from all sports, the fall and the spring, that were part of that basketball team.  If you are looking at traditional schools that are winning multiple championships at the state level and they use the same kids at their high school and just continue to bread that success from one season to the next.  We are going to keep pushing our kids to be involved in athletics and we think that is a real positive here,” said MacFarland.

          Yes there is a lot of confidence with the football team, but MacFarland says preseason is still going to be big for them.  “We have some inexperience as far as playing time and we are just trying to get as many reps as we can right now.  We are also looking at out off season conditioning program as far as our strength and speed that helps move our program forward.  Until will can actually hit on Thursday we just have to make sure we keep going with all of the fundamentals and let the physical play take over at the end of the week,” he said.

 

Published 8/07/14

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Norwalk Looking For Upset

 

          Norwalk will be looking for the shocker when they play at top seeded Sandusky Perkins in a division two sectional final on Thursday afternoon.

          The Tuckers (8-14) beat Port Clinton (10-0) in their tournament opener last Saturday and coach Wes Douglas says they are starting to turn some things around.  "We won a 10-0, five inning game.  We had the perfect recipe to win a high school baseball game.  Our pitcher threw strikes, we fielded 11 ground balls out of 15 outs, we had some great at bats, and got some small ball down early.  We played like we have been capable of all year and it all seemed to come together there.  We had another fun, exciting game down at Ashland (Tuesday) night and were able to win that 6-5.  Hopefully, it was a great warm up for the sectional (Thursday) against Perkins," said Douglas.

          Perkins (18-4), #2 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coaches poll in the large school division, leads the tough Sandusky Bay Conference, but Douglas says they have beaten them this year and he thinks they have a chance.  "That what every coach preaches and we are no different than anybody else.  We have really seen some glimpses of the potential these kids really have.  We did knock off Perkins earlier in the year.  I know that was a long time ago.  We are going to take our best effort over there and it's going to take our best effort to come out of there with a "W," but that is why you play the game.  It's the special life that the tournament gives you," he said.

          Douglas says the Pirates have a deep pitching staff and they are well schooled in the fundamentals of the game.  "On the mound they have a left handed pitcher that is an Ohio State commit in Braun Miller and the assistant coach's kid in Thane Walton, who has become a very good pitcher," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "I know their shortstop Luke Fraley is another above average pitcher.  They have three quality arms and Ray Neil runs one of the best programs in the state of Ohio.  They are very well coached and very fundamental and they are not going to beat themselves."

          Norwalk won a Saturday afternoon non-conference game at Perkins early in the season and Douglas says that will give them a measure of confidence.  "We ended up playing a Saturday afternoon game when the sun came out.  I hope that pays some dividends.  We have been on that field once this year.  We beat Thane Walton, their right handed pitcher, that day.  They did make six errors that day and I think we made four, so it wasn't a real clean game.  Our pitcher Cody Willis threw very well that day.  That is only going to help us when we do play them," said Douglas.

 

Published 5/15/14

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Norwalk Starting to Get Better

 

          Simply put Norwalk has been one of the best baseball teams in North Central Ohio over the last couple of years winning back to back Northern Ohio League titles, but this year they haven't been as good, but they are improving.

          One thing for sure the Truckers don't need rain outs, coach Wes Douglas says they need to get on the field.  "We are ready to play some games it has been since last Saturday.  Hopefully we will get in Willard and Sandusky the next two days.  We did play six days in a row and could have used a day off for practice and we didn't get it.  Now we have had good back to back practices and the kids are ready to get back at it.  Hopefully the weather will cooperate the next couple of days," he said.

          Norwalk (4-11,1-5) has sown some improvement in the last couple of weeks, according to Douglas, but it hasn't necessarily shown up in terms of wins and losses.  "Maybe a tad better.  We lost back to back one run games with Tiffin at our place and down at Shelby and lost 9-4 to Edison in a game that was closer than that on Saturday.  They have shown a little bit of improvement.  Their attitude is good, their work habits are good.  Our pitching is starting the clear out a little bit," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "We might have had some guys in the wrong sports early in the year and now we are starting to straighten that up a little bit.  We still don't have a dominate number one pitcher, but we have a lot of guys kind of in the middle right now.  We have seen a little bit of improvement, maybe more mentally than physically."

          There will be make up games probably deep into May, but the regular season really only has two weeks left.  The baseball season is a quick one and Douglas says there is no time for droughts.  "One of our lines to the kids is what have you done for me lately because it is a quick season.  We are not playing 162 games you go out there and have four good at bats and get shot the next day.  We tell them to take advantage of their opportunities and give us a reason to keep them out there and not a reason to give somebody else a shot.  I know next week we play everyday, but Wednesday, so that is kind of the same boat," he said.

 

Published 5/01/14

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Defending Champs Get First "NOL" Win

 

          Norwalk is the two time defending Northern Ohio League baseball champion and Monday they won their first league game of the year topping Shelby (9-5) in "NOL" action.

          The Truckers started the season winning their first two in non-conference play and then went on a six game losing streak, but they split a doubleheader with "OCC" power Lexington this Saturday.

          Then Monday night they were able to rally from a five run deficit to beat the Whippets.  Coach Wes Douglas says a win feels pretty good.  "It's our first one after starting out 0-3.  Shelby came in playing some pretty good ball, they beat Ontario and I believe Ashland a couple of times.  We got down 5-1 and battled back.  We got a complete game on the mound, our first of the year," he said.

          Over the last week, the Truckers have started to hit the ball a little better and Douglas says they were able to get some big hits on Monday night.  "We scored five runs in one inning, then three after that and one.  We scored late.  We had two triples.  We had 11 or 12 hits.  We put the ball in play and got a couple of soft ones to fall, made some things happen on the bases.  We were down five runs, but I still had a good feeling.  They bounced back and got a big "W" for us," said Douglas.

          Often high school sports is about confidence and Douglas says his players are starting to feel a little better about themselves.  "It was better than it was, but we still have a ways to go.  We got a good win against Lexington Saturday in the first game and then ran into a good pitcher in the second game in Lee.  Our infield defense was unbelievable (Monday) night," he told Swankonsports.com after the win, "We probably made three of four highlight plays there, a diving catch in centerfield by Joe Hinkley.  That's what they are capable of.  I know its baseball and it can't be that way every night, but they were feeling pretty good about themselves (Monday) and that will go along ways for the week ahead."

          Norwalk (4-8.1-3) has three more "NOL" games this week as they play Tiffin Columbian on Tuesday, Shelby again on Thursday and then Willard on Friday.

 

Published 4/22/14

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Norwalk Looking For a New Start

 

          The Norwalk baseball program isn't used to losing, but they have lost their last five games and they have to find some ways to turn things around.

          Last Saturday, Fostoria swept a doubleheader from the Truckers winning 11-10 and 14-10.  Norwalk coach Wes Douglas says the only positive sign was they did start to hit the ball a little bit.  "That was probably the shinning part of the day.  We got down big in both games, but we did battle back.  We tied the first game up at 10-10 before losing 11-10.  We gave up a big inning in the second game, but battled back to score 10 runs.  We lost five games in four days there after starting off really strong the first two days.  Our kids attitudes are great and the coaches are coaching them up.  We have had a great practice the last two days and we are hoping to get a little jump start on the new season in our minds," he said.

          Norwalk won their first two games of the season, but thing started to kind of fall apart.  Douglas says they need a new start.  "We know what their skills are capable of because we saw it for two games.  We knew we had a lot of new faces coming into the varsity this year.  They surprised us the first two games and we kind of regressed there after that.  They are young kids and they are resilient and they are good teammates.  They want to do well and that's all we can ask.  We talked to them about that's life nothing is ever as good as it seems or as bad as it seems.  We just need to regroup a little bit and find a way and they are all in with us," said Douglas.

          Norwalk (2-5,0-2) is scheduled to play Ontario (2-2,1-1) on Thursday in a Northern Ohio League game if the weather allows.  Because of the weather over the first two a half weeks of the season Douglas says the rest of the year is going to be about pitching depth.  "It's been that way since March.  Everybody is in the same boat and everybody is going to be backed up and playing everyday that the weather cooperates.  It is going to throw some curveballs into the pitching lineups and you are just going to have to run out there whoever is available.  I think other teams will be the same way and try to line up some of their top end guys for some of their bigger league games," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "That has always kind of been one of our strengths is we have had some guys in the bottom of our rotation that could throw strikes, field their position and hold runners, and give us a chance to compete.  I think we have those guys.  We had some sore arms after last weekend, but I think they are all ready and they gained some experience last weekend that hopefully will pay off later."

 

Published 4/16/14

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Norwalk Looking For Answers

 

          Norwalk has been the best baseball team in the Northern Ohio League the last two years, but the last two nights they have not looked like a team ready to defend its title.

          On Thursday night, the Truckers (2-2,0-1) lost their "NOL" opener (10-2) to rival Bellevue.  This on the heels of a similar loss (12-1) to unbeaten Clyde in non-conference play on Wednesday.

          Coach Wes Douglas says they have graduated a lot of kids in the last two summers, but he believes the current members of the Trucker baseball team have lots of talent.  "We graduated nine last year and eight the year before.  We have a lot of new faces that have been successful at all of the levels they have played at.  We got off to a good 2-0 start, but have played really poorly the last two nights, not the Norwalk baseball we are accustomed too.  We are trying to fight our way through it as we head down to Tiffin on (Friday)," he said.

          Why have the Truckers not been up to the challenge this week?  Douglas says he thinks the his players are a little nervous and are trying too hard.  "Maybe it is just the nerves.  We are just making silly mental mistakes.  I think they are good kids and want to do well.  They are trying really hard, maybe too hard and not playing the fundamental baseball I know they are capable of.  If we can get them to calm down and relax a little bit they will come around for us," he said.

          In addition to Bellevue's win over Norwalk on Thursday night, Shelby beat Ontario (10-7) and Tiffin Columbian downed Willard (9-8) in "NOL" play.  Douglas says that shows that this is going to be a competitive spring in the league with more than a few surprises.  "I wouldn't be surprised if it isn't tight all season long.  On paper we only thought Ontario and Bellevue and Tiffin would be the three teams we would have to go through," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "Willard seems to be playing solid baseball and I am surprised that Shelby beat Ontario.  I watched Ontario and Bellevue the other night and both are solid teams, so that's a good win for Shelby.  That's high school baseball it depends who is on the mound and how the kids perform that night."

          Norwalk plays at Tiffin Columbian (2-2,1-0) on Friday and then plays at Willard on Monday and Sandusky on Tuesday in league action.  They also play at Fostoria in a non-conference doubleheader on Saturday.

 

Published 4/11/14

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Norwalk Rising to the Occasion

 

          Norwalk, the defending Northern Ohio League baseball champion, is a lot of younger and less experienced this year, especially on the mound, but they are still going to be pretty good.

          In their opener on Monday they downed Crestview of the Firelands Conference (9-1) to begin the season on the right track.

          Coach Wes Douglas, the Truckers head coach since 1996, says his kids did the job on Monday and he is really proud of them.  "It was my 18th opener and it might be as good as I have felt after one of them in 18 years.  There are a lot of new faces, a long winter and everybody contributed (Monday).  I know it was just one day, but I was really proud, really happy with our effort, and our players," said Douglas.

          Allowing just one hit to the Cougars on Monday, Douglas says his pitchers did an excellent job getting ahead in the count.  "We ran three pitchers out there and we only surrendered one hit.  We only walked one and I think we had 13, 14 first pitch strikes.  Our defense was solid behind them, but it starts on the mound.  I was really happy with their control, especially with very limited time on an outdoor mound so far," he said.

          Plus, the Norwalk hitters did their job.  Douglas says they played very fundamental baseball with the bats in their hands on Monday.  "We put it in play for the most part.  I think we had nine hits.  Small ball was huge for us we had five bunts and they were all productive, with bunts for a hit, sacrifices and squeezes.  They have a really hard throwing righty, that is a freshman, and we put the ball down on him a little bit.  We kept adding onto the lead.  I think we scored in every inning, but one," he said.

          Norwalk qualified for the football playoffs for the first time since the mid-70's this past fall and last month the Truckers won the division two state title in basketball.  Douglas, a Norwalk native, says right now kids at Norwalk know how to win.  "It is absolutely a factor.  We actually don't have a lot of those cross over players on the baseball team.  A lot of our younger kids are just baseball.  The Joseph Hinkley's and the Ben Newberger's and Travis Trains' and the Marcus McClain's and the kind of kids that do I think it does get contiguous," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "I am born and bread in Norwalk and this is as good run as I have seen athletically and they are just solid, good kids to be around.  (Basketball) coach (Steve) Gray really talks about the character of his players and I will second that, they are just really good kids, fun kids.  Coaches are just really enjoying nice athletes."

          Norwalk opens defense of its "NOL" title at home on Thursday against Tiffin Columbian.

 

Published 4/01/14

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Norwalk Wins State Title

 

          In their first ever visit to the state basketball tournament the Norwalk Truckers came away with a division two state championship, beating defending state champion Columbus Watterson 65-58 on Saturday morning.

          It is also the first state title for coach Steve Gray, a Buckeye Central grad, who has also coached at Ridgedale, Lexington, and Colonel Crawford.

          He says winning a state title is a little difficult to put into words.  "I wish I was a little more articulate because words can not express the feelings I have now toward the community and with what we were able to accomplish as a group, the players, the coaches, the assistants, just everybody that was part of it," he said.

          Since the end of the regular season on February 22, Gray says things have just seemed to rush by.  "Since the Ontario game the last game of the year and going to the sectional tournament and from that point on you play every three or four days.  People probably don't believe coaches when they say you love the win, you enjoy the win, but an hour after the game you are talking about the next game and you truly don't get to enjoy it.  Even at the regionals it's okay who do we play?  What do have to do to get them?  Where do we get our films?  When are we going to Columbus?  There is just so much involved in it that.  After Saturday's game it is something we are going to enjoy for a longtime," said Gray.

          About midway through the fourth quarter of Saturday's win over Watterson, All-Ohio guard Ben Haraway had to leave the game with what appeared to be a ankle injury, but he returned quickly.  "With Ben a lot of thoughts come to mind very quickly and you think all my God it can't end this way, but two seconds later you are thinking, okay who is going to step up?  What can we do to put these kids in position to be successful?  We were fortunate that Ben came back in, but you are always think ahead and what is plan "B."  I'm just glad it was not important to the game," said Gray.

          Haraway led the Truckers with 29 points, making 15 of 19 free throws, handing out three assists and blocking three shots.  One of those blocks stuck out with 2:00 to play and the Truckers holding a slim 55-49 lead on Watterson.  "I think we were up five and that would have been the first time since the first quarter that we would have had a one possession lead.  I thought it was crucial.  the important thing was Watterson never had the ball with an opportunity to score and go ahead.  We just made enough plays down the stretch to be successful.  I hope people realize Watterson is a great team.  They beat Akron St. V's on Thursday.  They were the defending state champs.  They had I think nine seniors and we knew they weren't going to go away easy," said Gray.

          Norwalk beat Dayton Thurgood Marshall (72-64) on Thursday morning and that didn't give them much time to get ready for the final.  Gray says they had to think out of the box.  "I am very fortunate I have Tom Foster sitting next to me.  It's not only Tom, but Nick Lee and Wes Sellers.  We had I think five films on Watterson and it was going to be impossible to watch all of the them, so we assigned each coach something specific to do and by midnight Thursday night the scouting report was done.  We were ready to go at practice on Friday.  Obviously we didn't go very hard, but we tried to convey to the kids what the strengths and weaknesses of Watterson would be and how we were going to attack them," said Gray.

          Jeff Thomas, the regular season leading scorer had 18 points and 10 rebounds against Watterson and Grant Hull added eight.  Plus, Gray says they got the contributions for the rest of the team.  "When you say role players it usually implies that kids are only good at one or two things.  When you think about a football team all players are role players you catch a pass or block and everything else, but in basketball it seems to have somewhat of a negative connotation.  For us each kid was vital to our success," he told Swankonsports.com, "Jordan Johnson, expect for the Vermilion game, he shut down Nic Williams (Sandusky Perkins), he shut down Solomon from Bath, he goes against Martin from Thurgood Marshall and he had just a great game on Saturday.  His rebounding, his defense, his steals that led to layups.  Jordan Johnson was very, very important to our success.  What about Cashin and Breck Turner on Saturday?  They combined for 15 rebounds out of our post position, which I thought was crucial."

          Thomas will play next year at division one Georgia State while his cousin Haraway will play at division two Malone in Canton.  Gray agrees that Malone kind of got a steal in Haraway.  "We have become fairly close with Malone staff.  We had four or five text messages from them this weekend offering encouragement and praising us for our success.  Benny is a special kid and I believe that Malone is good for him.  The coach I think is someone that will get the best out of Ben with his personality.  The University of Akron called Malone after Ben signed and said you go a steal there.  We think he is a good one.  They didn't have a scholarship for Ben, but they wanted him to be a preferred walk on," said Gray

 

Published 3/24/14

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Norwalk Has to Handle Pressure; Get on Boards

 

          The keys to a victory in the division two state semi-final for the Norwalk Truckers are no different than they have been in other games ball handling, rebounding, and getting good shots.

          The difference is those goals are going to be more difficult to accomplish against a team that as good and athletic as Dayton Thurgood Marshall.

          Norwalk (27-1) plays the Cougars (22-5) in the state semi finals at the Value City Arena on the campus of The Ohio State University with tip-off at 10:45 Thursday morning.

          Many members of this team were part of teams that lost to Toledo Whitmer in the division one regional two years ago and to Mansfield Senior in the division super sectional last year.  Coach Steve Gray says getting to Columbus has been a goal for a long time, but they are not just happy to be there.  "They are satisfied, but with the same breath their goal is to play on Saturday and we are going to give it our best shot.  Practices have been the same when it comes to their attention to detail and I honestly believe we are going to play a great game on Thursday and whatever happens, happens," he said.

          This the first time that Norwalk has played in the state, but they have two players in Jeff Thomas and Ben Haraway that have played a lot of basketball against top level competition.  Gray says his team will not be surprised with the speed of the game and will be up to the challenge.  "Our team feeds of Ben (Haraway) and Jeff (Thomas) and Jeff is a D-one player and be received a D-two scholarship.  Those two could definitely play at this level and they will make everyone around them better.  We need Grant (Hull) to make a couple of shots and we need our role players to do what they do.  If we play up to our ability it is going to be a heck of a game," he said.

          Thurgood Marshall beat two teams with similar styles in Dayton Dunbar (62-55) and Cincinnati Taft (62-49) in the regional tournament.  Gray says his scouting says their style would be similar to a Mansfield Senior team they played last year.  "Well my former JV coach Dave Willeke, who also coached at Ontario, and (Shelby head coach) Troy Schwemley scouted for me last Saturday in Dayton and both of them said about the same thing they remind you of Mansfield Senior," he told Swankonsports.com, "The only difference is their post is a little skinnier and a little taller than Donavyn (Benson), but he is not a real post up player right now he is a sophomore.  He is more that when someone penetrates and gets him the ball he goes up and dunks it.  He is an offensive rebounder and a great shot blocker, but their guard play and everything else reminds people of Mansfield Senior."

          Gray adds that he is going to tell his team three simple things before the game and it is something they have heard before.  "If we don't handle the ball this game is going to be over early.  There are a couple of things that we really have to do, and it is the same speech I gave to them before Mansfield Senior, you better takes care of the ball, you better box out and rebound it, and you better make the extra pass and get a great shot every time," he said.

          Value City Arena is just that as arena and not a high school gym.  Gray quips that he was never a very good shooter, but he believes the setting will affect shooting percentages.  "When I played I couldn't shoot the ball in a small gym or a big gym so it didn't matter so I can't answer that, but I have heard from a lot of guys that can shoot the ball it takes a while to adjust because it looks like that rim is just out in space.  You see quite a few high school teams shoot poorly in Columbus and that could be part of the reason.  Then you talk about the NCAA tournament when they get in those super domes and everything else a lot of times you don't see great shooting either," said Gray.

          Norwalk plays a strong non-conference schedule and more than that Gray says they have played against very strong teams during the summer time and that will help them against Thurgood Marshall.  "We have seen everything.  I don't think we are a typical team going to Columbus and going against city kids, going against St. V, and Thurgood and Watterson.  These kids have played against the best.  Last summer we played Zanesville, we played St. V, we played St Ed's, we played St. John's, and teams out of Detroit.  So, I don't think the speed of the game is going to overwhelm us.  It's a situation where our kids have been there, they have done it for two, three, four years and I just hope we put of best foot forward on Thursday," said Gray.

          If Norwalk wins Thursday they will play either defending division two state champion Columbus Bishop Watterson (25-2) or tradition rich Akron St. Vincent/St. Mary (19-9) for a state title on Saturday morning.

 

Published 3/20/14

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Norwalk Thinks They can Compete

 

          Norwalk in making its first ever trip to the state final four while the other three qualifiers in division two have combined for 15 state tournament appearances, but really it is 2014 that matters.

          The Truckers (27-1) face Dayton Thurgood Marshall (22-5) in the first game of the tournament in the division two state semi-finals on Thursday morning at the Value City Arena on the Campus of The Ohio State University.

          Defending champion Columbus Bishop Watterson (25-2) plays Akron St. Vincent/St. Mary (19-9) in the other semi-final.

          Norwalk advanced to Columbus with an overtime win over Vermilion (87-81) in the regional semi and a one point win over Lima Bath (54-53) in Saturday's regional final at Bowling Green State University.

          They have lost only one regular season game in the last three years and coach Steve Gary says this week is sort of a culmination of a long term goal.  "A lot of them have been with me for four years and it has been our goal to try and get to the final four and that is something that is obviously extremely difficult.  We are fortunate that we have some outstanding players and we snuck out a couple of wins in Bowling Green and we are heading for Columbus on Wednesday ," he said.

          Thurgood Marshall beat rival Dayton Dunbar in last week's regional semi-final (62-55) and then defeated Cincinnati Taft (62-49) to reach Columbus.  Gray says they lot like a Mansfield Senior team that beat them in a division one super sectional final (44-42) last season.  "Well my former JV coach Dave Willeke, he also coached at Ontario, and (Shelby head coach) Troy Schwemley scouted for me last Saturday in Dayton and both of them said about the same thing they remind you of Mansfield Senior," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, " The only difference is their post is a little skinnier and a little taller than Donavyn (Benson), but he is not a real post up player right now he is a sophomore.  He is more that when someone penetrates and gets him the ball he goes up and dunks it.  He is an offensive rebounder and a great shot blocker, but their guard play and everything else reminds people of Mansfield Senior."

          The Value City Arena is a different atmosphere than Norwalk has ever played before and Gray says they will be a little numerous and how quickly they get over that is going to be a big factor.  "I think people have to realize we are talking about 16, 17 year old kids and there is going to be a sense of maybe being overwhelmed for a while.  A key will be how long will it takes us to settle down.  If takes us the first half I don't think that's a good thing.  If we can do that after three or four minutes I think we will be okay and be in good shape," he said.

          Defense has really be the key to Norwalk's success this year, but Gray thinks they are also going to need to execute well on offense if they are going to have a chance to win the game.  "We are giving up 47, 48 points a game and that will always be our calling card, but against a team like Thurgood Marshall we are probably going to have to score in the high 50's or maybe 60 and we are capable.  If we defend like we are capable.  If we rebound like we are capable I think it is going to be a heck of a game and in the fourth quarter we are going to have a chance to win," said Gray.

 

Published 3/19/14

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Norwalk Survives; Plays Bath For Berth in State

 

          Norwalk almost let a 14 point lead get away, but they made enough plays at the end to outlast a very good Vermilion team (87-81) in overtime on Thursday night to advance to the division two regional championship game at Bowling Green State University on Saturday afternoon against Lima Bath.

          The Wildcats (21-4) rallied to beat Defiance (50-49) in a battle of Western Buckeye League teams in the second semi-final in Thursday night at the Stroh Center.

          After leading (18-12) with one of their patented runs the Truckers built a 14 point lead (29-15) with 5:54 to play in the second quarter, but the Sailors would close it down to seven (39-32) at the half.  Gray says Vermilion, lead by point guard Cameron Kuhn, who had 41 in the game, the Sailors just wouldn't go away.  "Unfortunately it was probably a little closer than it should have been.  We are up 14 in the second and then they just kept chipping away.  I'll give them credit, Kuhn had 41 and I haven't seen a performance like that against us since Jon Diebler at Upper Sandusky.  He was just outstanding.  He got to the free throw line 16 times.  They bank in a three at the buzzer to send it to overtime, but like I told the kids after the game never question the heart of a champion and these kids are champions," he told Swankonsports.com after the win.

          Vermilion cut it to a one point game (71-70) with more than four minutes to play and Seth Konrad banked in a three at the horn to send the game to overtime.  Gray said up three they talked to the kids about putting the Sailors on the line.  "Well, I yelled at them for not fouling.  Then we talked about how good offensively Vermilion was playing and I said guys maybe this is just a game where we are going to have to outscore somebody.  That's not something I am comfortable with, but you do what you can to win.  Jeff Thomas was unbelievable, Ben Haraway, they were really good (Thursday) night.  Jordan Johnson had 16 points I think at halftime.  It really was a group effort," said Gray.

          Seniors Jeff Thomas and Ben Haraway had monster games for the Truckers.  Thomas had 32 points and 12 rebounds, making 10 of 14 field goals, and Haraway had 25 points and seven assists.  Gray said his kids gave it all they had.  "All we want to do is win one more.  Hopefully, we will have some legs left on Saturday.  Ben and Jeff both played 36 minutes and Grant Hull played probably 34 minutes.  We have a group of tired young men right now," he said.

          Down by seven at the half (27-20) and three with 1:30 play (44-41), the Bath Wildcats rallied for their regional final berth.  Gray says they will be tough to deal with.  "I know they are very, very talented and we don't match up very well with them.  We will watch the film (Friday) and we will see what we can do to slow them down a little bit.  They have two big time scorers and it should be a great game," he said.

 

Published 3/14/14

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Norwalk Ready for Regional

 

          Over the last four years it would be fair to say the Norwalk Truckers have been the best boys' basketball team in North Central Ohio.

          Two of their seniors, Ben Haraway and Jeff Thomas, have been there for the whole ride, while fellow senior Grant Hull has been on the varsity for three years.  Those three kids would like to culminate their careers with a trip to the state tournament.  That all begins with a regional semi-final game against Vermilion (19-5) in the division two on Thursday night at the Stroh Center on the campus of Bowling Green State University.

          Last Saturday, Norwalk outscored Sandusky Perkins (18-10) in the fourth quarter and beat the Pirates (55-45) in the district final at Mansfield Senior High School.  Truckers coach Steve Gray says again it boiled down to defense.  "Hats off to my kids.  I thought they never lost their composure.  They just kept battling.  In the fourth quarter we were fortunate enough to put together some stops and then turn those stops into scores at the other end," he said.

          Defense has been the most consistent thing with the Truckers all year and Gray says it is particularly important at this time of year.  "When you get stops I think it frustrates the other team a little bit and it gives your kids some renewed energy that we can relax at the offensive end because we are going to go down no matter what happens we have a good chance at getting a stop," he said.

          Norwalk (25-1) plays Vermilion in the regional semi.  The Sailors beat Parma Heights Holy Name (58-47) in their district final last Saturday.  Gray says they have to something to control Vermilion point guard Cameron Kuhn.  "It starts with their point guard Kuhn.  In the districts he averaged 30 points a game, so obviously he is a our main point of emphasis," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "They start five kids between 6'1" and 6'5".  They are athletic, they are going to trap, they are going to defend hard, and they are going to compete for 32 minutes.  They have had good balance offensively.  Teams should be good at this point and they are going to be a great challenge for us."

          The Truckers only loss this year came to Ontario (63-61) and Gray says the Sailors remind him a little bit the Warriors.  "They are a lot like Ontario.  In terms of Ontario you had to guard five kids.  They had great balance inside and out, offense and defense, and they just remind me a lot of Ontario," he said.

          To advance to the regional final against either Defiance or Lima Bath on Saturday, Gray says they have to be able to pressure the ball without fouling.  "I think foul trouble is going to be crucial.  Kuhn a couple of games this year shot 14, 16 free throws, and we have to keep our hands off of him.  Then we have to defend, rebound and share the basketball," he said.

 

Published 3/13/14

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Norwalk to the Regional

 

          Norwalk outscored Sandusky Perkins (18-10) in the fourth quarter and went on to beat the Sandusky Bay Conference champions for the third time this season, this time (55-45) in the division two district final on Saturday night at Mansfield Senior High School.

          Ben Haraway had 16 points, Jeff Thomas 13 points and 14 rebounds and Grant Hull seven points and eight steals for the Truckers (25-1), the Northern Ohio League co-champion.

          Coach Steve Gray has now taken the Truckers to the regional tournament for the second time in the last three years.  "Oh my, it is something we have worked so hard for and it times seemed so far away.  I know that's a cliché.  To get to the sweet 16 at Bowling Green with what theses kids have haven given to Norwalk over the last four years is just unbelievable," he told Swankonsports.com moments after the win over Perkins on Saturday night.

          It was a couple of the patented Norwalk scoring bursts that told the story in this one.  Leading (37-35) entering the forth quarter, the Truckers went on a (12-0) run to take command of the game with just over three minutes to play.  "That's what we are sort of known for we have the ability to get six, eight, 10 points in a hurry," said Gray.  Another key run came early as Perkins hit their first six shots on their way to a (13-4) lead but, the Truckers would score 10 of the quarter's final 12 points to cut the lead to (15-14) after one.

          Perkins all-district performer Nic Williams had seven points during that early Pirates rush, but he would score only two the rest of the way and that basket came with 30 seconds left when everything had been decided.  Williams had trouble getting the ball and when he did he seemed to rush shots perhaps thinking he wasn't going to get it back.  "You know we guard people.  It took us a while to settle in, but once we settled in I thought we were exceptional.  I just can't be more proud of a group of kids than I am these (Saturday) night,' said Gray.

          It was defense in the half court that made the difference for the Truckers, as they did not pressure the Pirates much in the full court.  Gray says half court defense in the key in the tournament.  "I said last week you can't press good teams in the tournament.  They spread you out and teams have gone against pressure for 24, 26 games.  We just played well Benny, Jeff, Grant, Caleb, you know, all of them," he said.

          Next for the Truckers will be the Vermilion Sailors (19-7) in the regional semi-finals on Thursday night at the Stroh Center on the campus of Bowling Green State University.

 

Published 3/09/14

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Norwalk and Perkins to Collide in District Final

 

          Even though they aren't in the same league Norwalk and Sandusky Perkins will play for a third time this season, this time in the division two district title game at Mansfield Senior Saturday night after both used "spurtability" to win semi-final games on Wednesday night.

          The Tuckers (24-1), #1 in the final Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coach's poll in the large school division, led just (34-33) with more the six minutes left before they before they went on an (11-0) run to establish control on their way to a (74-45) win over Clyde (16-8) in the semi-final.  "That's what we are sort of known for we have the ability to get six, eight, 10 points in a hurry.  I thought in the third quarter there when we got on our run we sat down defensively and stopped gambling and we put ourselves in position where we could make that run,' said Norwalk coach Steve Gray.

          Norwalk scored 30 points off 22 Clyde turnovers and Gray felt their defense in the third quarter helped turn the tide of the game.  "We are at the point in the season where you can't trap and double and do all of the stuff that we do during the regular season," he told Swankonsports.com after the win, "All of these teams have played 24, 25 games, they all scout, they all have good players.  We are in a situation where Saturday night we have to set down and defend, play like heck, and hope that Perkins misses a few shots."

          Perkins (21-3), #3 in our poll, and outright champions of the Sandusky Bay Conference, led (11-4) before you got a chance to set down and (19-5) after the first quarter as they hammered Lexington (66-52) in the first game Wednesday.  "The first quarter was huge for us.  We came out and shot the ball well and made the extra pass.  We executed well.  We talked about one thing making them play from behind all night long, that was our focus.  We got a great start and made things happen," said Perkins coach Scott McVeigh.

          Nic Williams, the "SBC" player of the year, scored 13 of this team high 21 in the first half as the Pirates took a (37-18) lead.  McVeigh felt Williams was an instigator for them.  "Nic came out focused.  He had one of the nicest dunks I have seen in traffic in a long time.  He got us going offensively and set the tone of the offensive end and we had some guys set the tone for us on the defensive end too," he said.

          Clyde kept things interesting in the first half trailing by just three at the half (30-27) as Dristen Cook hit all three of his three point attempts.  However, Norwalk point guard Ben Haraway has 13 of his game high 23 before the intermission.  "We were up seven and we tried to make a 10 point shot and the last time I heard there is no such animal.  We just became very impatient there for a while.  Benny is a great player for us, he has been for four years and we are very fortunate to have him," said Gray.

          Lexington (16-9), who had won its last eight coming into the game, cut the Perkins lead to 10 in the third quarter, but could really never really get back in it.  The Minutemen shot just 31 percent from the field (14-45) on the night.  McVeigh thought they made Lex work hard to get good shots and he points to guard Dale Irby in particular.  "I thought he did a great job defensively on number two (Joey Zahn) and everything he got tonight he had to earn," he said.

          Zahn, who had 22 in Lexington's upset of Ontario last Friday, was held to 16 by Perkins.  Irby was also Perkins second leading scorer with 20 makers.

          The Minutemen have the reputation as a physical team, but McVeigh agrees that his Pirates were the more physical team on Wednesday.  "Watching them on tape they are an extremely physical team and their bigs do an excellent job.  They push you off the block and they make you work.  I think we out physicaled them.  We controlled the glass and I thought that was huge.  I give my kids props they played well," said McVeigh.

          Norwalk won both of the regular season match-ups (66-59) at Norwalk on December 17 and (77-68) at Perkins on February 8, but Gray says they are probably going to have to play better on Saturday then they did Wednesday if they are going to win.  "They are really good and Scott has done a great job with them, but you know I think our team has the ability to defend.  There are no secrets between each other.  It will be a great game Saturday night," said Gray.   

 

 
 

Norwalk Expects Clyde to be Tough

 

          Norwalk is probably most people's bet to win the division two district tournament this week at Mansfield Senior High School and advance to the regional tournament, but such berths are not given they are earned and that what faces the Truckers this week.

          They picked up a sectional title last week to add to their co-title in the Northern Ohio League when the Truckers (23-1), #1 in the final Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coach's poll in the large school division, beat Shelby (54-37) for the third time this year.  Coach Steve Gray says again they had great focus.  "I think our focus has been one of the keys to our success this year.  I have talked about it at numerous times.  We have great leadership and if we happen to have a bad practice, so far this year we have never had two bad practices in a row.  They're locked in, they want something special, and they truly don't want this season to end yet," said Gray.

          District six coach's association division two player of the year Jeff Thomas had 21 points and 10 rebounds versus the Whippets.

          Clyde (16-7) finished in third place in the Sandusky Bay Conference this winter and they are a physical team with a lot of players from a football team that advanced to the state semi-finals.  Gray says their point guard Derek Gray is an outstanding player.  "Clyde is a team I think most people realize won three playoff games in football and when you get that far in the playoffs and those kids also play basketball it means you have tough kids and you have kids that will compete and it really means they will defend really, really hard, which is a typical Clyde team.  Gray at the point averages over 20 points a game and is one of the better players we are going to see this year," he says.

          Gray, also a pretty good wide receiver on the gridiron, is a kid that can take over a game.  Norwalk coach Gray says they can't let that happen on Wednesday night.  "If he gives it up not letting him get it back is one of our real keys to success.  He has the ability to dominate the at the offensive end.  They run a lot of picks for him.  They pick on the ball, they run fade, they run doubles," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "He has the ability to put the ball in the paint and create contact, and depending on how it is called he can get to the foul line quite a bit, and put us in a tough foul situation.  He is an outstanding player that has a great coach in Ryan Carter and with him you can expect the unexpected."

          Coach Gray has scouted Clyde and knows what they tend to do.  He also knows teams tend to change their approach a lot when facing the Truckers.  "That is just a complement to our kids.  We are different than most teams in our area, I am talking about the "NOL" and "SBC' etc, in that we play a little like say a Mansfield Senior.  We want to pressure, we want to double, we want to get teams out of their offense, and not a lot of teams do that for 32 minutes.  You look for strengths and weaknesses in players.  you can throw a little bit out the window what they are going to do offensively and defensively," said Gray.

 

Published 3/05/14

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Norwalk Not taking Friday off

 

          The last two years Norwalk was just over the level of boys that put them in division one and this year they are back in their regular home of division two.  Look out the rest of the Northwest District.

          On Tuesday night, they played a Galion team that had won nine of their last 12 and it was (19-0) after the first quarter and the Truckers went on to beat the Tigers (69-40) as Jeff Thomas had 17 points and Ben Haraway added another 13 for Norwalk.  Coach Steve Gray says they were able to take Galion out of their offense.  "Defensively our athleticism on the perimeter gave them a lot of problems.  We have some really, really good athletes and they are able to pressure the ball without fouling and that got us off to a great start Tuesday night," he said.

          Getting off to a good start like that allowed Norwalk to play a little more free and easy, according to Gray.  "I think the shots are a little easier and you can gamble a little more and get in the passing lanes.  Like I said after the Ontario game sometimes things just snowball one way or the other and (Tuesday) night for Galion things just snowballed in a negative way," he said.

          Norwalk (22-1), #1 in the final Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coach's poll in the large school division, and co-champ of the Northern Ohio League, plays Shelby (8-13) in the sectional finals on Friday night at Bucyrus High School.  They own two wins over the Whippets in league play this year (78-49) on January 8 and (72-43) on February 11.  Gray says despite those two lopsided wins they are not taking a third win over the Whippets for granted.  "Our kids are competitors and this is the next chance for our kids to compete.  Since the last time we played Shelby has changed their offense a little bit with four out and one in or five out and no post.  They get Kehes the ball a lot more.  We have to be ready on Friday night," he said.

          In both meetings Shelby was competitive for part of the game.  Trailing only (33-30) at the half in the first meeting at Shelby. 

          Gray says Friday night is the second in a series of goals for them and they plan to be in top form.  "Every year our first goal is to win and "NOL" championship and then our second goal is to win a sectional and get to the district.  We want to play our best ball this Friday and hopefully if we get the opportunity play more games next week.  Our kids are ready.  In these two practices, Shelby will have our full attention," he said.

 

Published 2/27/14

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Norwalk Wants its Share

 

          It seemed every time Ali and Frazier fought it was a better fight and that this might be the case when the state's two teams in division two meet Friday night with the Northern Ohio League title on the line as Norwalk hosts Ontario.

          The Warriors, ranked as the number one team in Ohio in the AP poll this week, beat Norwalk (63-61) in the first meeting between the two three weeks ago in Ontario.  The Truckers are ranked second in the statewide media poll.

          With a win last week over Tiffin Columbian (65-42) Ontario (21-0,11-0) wrapped up no less than a share of the league title.

          Norwalk coach Steve Gray thinks his team might have been looking past a very good Huron team last Saturday, but they rallied to beat the Tigers (56-47) in non-conference play.  "We played well for a little over two quarters.  We were down 30-17.  I told the kids after the game that now we get what we really want and that is Ontario.  That is all people up here wanted to talk about for the last two weeks or so.  I think our kids looked ahead a little bit and we weren't ready to go on Saturday night.  The last thing I told them was never question the heart of a champion and there is something we want very dearly and that is a piece of the "NOL" championship," said Gray.

          The Norwalk coach says they look forward to the rematch with the Warriors and says they have been lucky to play in a lot of these kinds of games over the last couple of years.  "Our kids have been so good at appreciating the opportunities they have had the last three years.  I know people are tired of hearing about the Whitmer's and the Toledo Rogers and teams like that, but how many kids never get that opportunity to play on a big stage and play for a championship.  Ontario is rated number one in the state and it is number one versus number two.  It is for everything.  I know Joe's kids will be excited and I know our kids will be and it will be a great atmosphere," said Gray.

          With four years starters Ben Haraway and Jeff Thomas, and three year starter Grant Hull, the Truckers have a lot of big game experience and front of big crowds and Gray thinks that could be an advantage.  "We have a lot of seniors.  We have a lot of three, four year lettermen and it just another chance for them to compete and that's all they truly want is to compete against the best.  Think about the Mansfield Senior games the last two years and the gym was packed and that was pretty neat.  I know on Friday night our fans are going to be ready.  They are going to be jacked," he said.

          The teams are also ranked at the top of the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coach's poll in the large school division with Ontario #1 and Norwalk #2.  It was only a two point loss to the Warriors, but Gray says it was not their best effort the first time around.  "To be honest in the first Ontario game we didn't play very good in any facet of the game.  We didn't rebound, we didn't defend, we didn't reverse the ball, we didn't pressure.  We just need to clean some things up and play to our standards and the wins and losses will take care of themselves.  If we play to our abilities we will have a great chance," said Gray.

          One of the key changes in the Norwalk game plan will be to get 6'5" wing Jeff Thomas the ball more in the post and also play him more on the block defensively.  Gray says that isn't their only change.  "Joe (Balogh) kept talking before the last time that the game would show them what they were doing right and what they need to do better and that game taught us a lot about ourselves.  We have changed some other things," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "Moving Jeff around has helped.  Some of things we do offensively and defensively we have tweaked a little bit.  Teams are always evolving in a good way or a bad way and I think Ontario helped us become a better team the last time we played."

          How much of a home court advantage might there be?, well Gray hopes it adds up to three points for them.  "I would rather play here then down in Ontario. We are going to have some of our closest friends here from the Norwalk community and I hope it is as least a three point advantage and if it is three points and everything else remains the same we win by one.  I'll take a one point win.  We have been pretty successful the last four years at our place.  We don't lose many games and hopefully that trend will continue," said Gray.

 

Published 2/18/14

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Norwalk Still Improving

 

          Norwalk players, staff and fans have been looking forward to their rematch with Ontario next week since the clock hit zero a couple of weeks ago, but that game means nothing if they don't beat Sandusky on Friday.

          The Truckers continue to trail Ontario by a game in the "NOL" standings and the Warriors only remaining league game is February 22 at Norwalk.  The wrapped up no less than a share of the title when they beat Tiffin Columbian (65-42) on Tuesday night.

          On that same night, Norwalk (18-1,9-1), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball poll in the large school division, beat Shelby (72-43) to keep in the race.  Coach Steve Gray says they put together a strong effort.  "I think (Tuesday) night we played a solid game.  Jordan Johnson was outstanding and limited the number of touches that Kehres got.  He lit us up pretty well the first time for 26, 27 points, so we were very happy with that.  We were able to pressure the guards without fouling.  Offensively we distributed the ball and were very unselfish," said Gray.

          Norwalk has won 60 of its last 61 regular season games, but Gray says they are always improving and they have made some tweaks since the loss (63-61) to Ontario.  "We have made a little adjustment by moving Jeff Thomas inside a lot more since the Ontario game.  This has allowed Breck Turner to use more of his athleticism and quickness on the perimeter.  At six-feet he was a little undersized to guard posts obviously.  He has stepped up, especially the last two or three games by knocking down the 15 foot jump shot.  So, I think that is going to help us in many different areas," he said.

          Sandusky (3-14,2-7) is at Norwalk on Friday.  Gray says they have had their backs up against the wall for the last couple of years now.  "I think they have really struggled over the last two or three years.  They have gone through numerous coaches for many, many different reasons.  They haven't had the off season program that kids in Norwalk, Ontario or Shelby have enjoyed.  Along with their youth that has really slowed their growth, but he is doing a great job and I think you are going to see a much improved team if not this year than next," said Gray.

          A couple of weeks ago Sandusky took "SBC" leader Perkins to the edge be loosing (68-67) and Gray says they must maintain their focus.  "If we don't play well we will get smacked in the face.  It really is a situation where we are taking it one game, one practice at a time.  The last three games especially we have done a great job with that," he said.

          Huron (12-5) will be at Norwalk for a non-conference game on Saturday.  Gray believes the Tigers, who were in the division three regionals last year, is again very good, but has been battling some obstacles.  "I think they are really good.  The problem they face is two fold.  Number one is football.  They always get a late start.  It is really, really difficult when you start playing five games in eight days or six games in 10 days," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "The other problem they have had is at one time they had a rule you couldn't practice when there was no school and that just killed their progress for a while, but I think now they are on a great routine.  They are back on schedule and they are an outstanding team that will be a challenge for us on Saturday night."

 

Published 2/13/14
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Norwalk Gets Back at it

 

          Well, Norwalk isn't going to go undefeated in the regular season this year, but every other goal on their list is still attainable.

          Last Wednesday, they lost in battle of unbeaten teams when Ontario edged them (63-61) to grab the outright lead in the Northern Ohio League and break Norwalk's impressive 57 game regular season winning streak.  Coach Steve Gray says they didn't play their best game, but Ontario had something to do with that.  "I thought first of all it was a great atmosphere.  The place was packed and it is what high school athletics is all about.  I thought both teams represented themselves very well.  I think they showed people the way the game should be played," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "Unfortunately for us I don't think we played our best game.  We didn't shoot it as well as we were capable and quite honestly we didn't defend like we were capable,  Hats off to Ontario and the Warriors."

          The Truckers (15-1,7-1), #3 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coach's poll in the large school division, started a new streak with a win on Saturday night at Willard (57-45) in league play.  Gray says they played better Saturday, especially on defense.  "We actually played pretty well against Willard.  Once again we did shoot the ball like we are capable of, but against both Ontario and Willard we scored about 60 points, which isn't too shabby.  We have had two great days of practice so far this week.  I would expect us to play well this weekend," he said.

          Bellevue (3-12,1-6) comes to Norwalk on Friday night in "NOL" action.  Gray says the Redmen are struggling to find themselves a little bit, but they certainly have athletes.  "Well, they have some good athletes and I think they are just trying to figure things out.  The coach is trying to figure out what he has in players and trying to put them in position where they can be as successful as possible.  I think they are athletic and I think they are potentially a very dangerous team," he said.

          On Saturday night, it is the second go around this year for Norwalk and "SBC" leader Sandusky Perkins (12-2), #4 in our poll, in non-conference play at Perkins.  The Truckers won (66-59) at their place December 17 and Gray thinks this will be another very good game.  "I think it is a huge game for a lot of reasons.  One being local bragging rights.  They have four or five football players on that team.  When they walk on the floor they are just thick and athletic and they present us with a lot of problems," said Gray.

 

Published 2/06/14

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Norwalk and Ontario Set to Battle Again

 

          Mother Nature got in the way the first time, so this Wednesday its a battle of the unbeaten teams as Northern Ohio League co-leaders Norwalk and Ontario square off at the "O-reana" at Ontario High School.

          The teams are both ranked in the top 10 of division two in the statewide media poll in division two and Norwalk is #1 and Ontario #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coach's poll in the large school division.

          Norwalk coach Steve Gary says it will be great game and one that a lot of people are looking forward too.  "I think more than just the teams I think both communities  and obviously there is a great deal of interest in us playing each other.  Ontario is an outstanding team and I think we are pretty good.  It should be a very entertaining evening," he said.

          Gray says that the Warriors (14-0,6-0) has all the elements of an outstanding team, including their coach Joe Balogh.  "What's not good would be easier.  They do everything well.  They are well coached.  They have a great post player inside in Mack.  They have Boatwright and Shelby on the perimeter.  They have spot shooters.  They can press, they can guard you in the quarter court, so I see no weaknesses there.  We truly do have our hands full," said Gray.

          Both teams have hurt opponents this year with the press and with pressure defense in the half court and Gray thinks that handling the ball without turnovers will be crucial.  "We have both averaged about 68 points a game.  We both have given up about 50.  If you are sloppy with the ball they make you pay.  The thing about Ontario, and I think the thing about us, is turnovers lead to points.  Taking care of the basketball will be a high priority for us on Wednesday," he said.

          Loose balls, offensive rebounds, and hustle plays are going to be big too.  Gray says they have the kind of players who can make those plays.  "I like our chances with our athleticism and our quickness and our determination," he told Swankonsports.com on Sunday evening, "We have Jordan Johnson and Breck Turner, two outstanding athletes that play football and they really get after it.  And then Grant Hull is averaging about three steals a game and he does a great job and then Benny on the ball and Jeff inside.  In all areas it's going to be a great match-up."

          Norwalk wing Jeff Thomas might be the best offensive threat in the league, but Gray says long distance shooter Grant Hull really allows them to stretch of the floor.  "We try to get as many dribble penetrations to Grant's side as possible because it really puts the defense in a bind.  If help on Benny (Haraway) or Jeff or Jordan or whoever is penetrating they kick it to Grant, who is probably in my humble opinion the best three point shooter in the "NOL."  The more pressure we can put on the defense the more chance we have of being successful," said Gray.

          Leading up to when this game was supposed to be played a couple of weeks ago Balogh referred to Norwalk as a team that plays without fear because of the rugged schedule they have played.  Gray hopes that helps them on Wednesday.  "I hope that is the case on Wednesday, but we try to put our kids in a difficult situation as much as possible.  Last year the (Toledo) Whitmer, the (Toledo) Rogers, this year Wooster at the Collage of Wooster, I think they are a really good team, Lorain, and we play Perkins twice, who has only lost two games.  I hope it benefits us, but Joe's team will be ready and I think it will be a great night of basketball," said Gray.

 

Published 1/27/14

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"NOL" Leading Truckers Face Two League Foes

 

          Norwalk shares the Northern Ohio League lead with Ontario as teams start the second half of the league double round robin on Thursday night.

          The Truckers (13-0,5-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coach's poll in the large school division, play at Tiffin Columbian (5-6,2-3) on Thursday and host the Shelby Whippets (5-6,1-4) on Saturday night.

          They beat Toledo Whitmer (61-47) in a non-conference game last Saturday and coach Steve Gray says they put things together in the second half.  "We played well at times.  I think we had a little let down not playing Ontario, but we bounced back in the second half, especially from the middle of the third quarter on, we played up to our standards," he said.

          Norwalk has now won 56 straight regular season games and Gray says one of the keys in their ability to focus on the task at hand and make adjustments.  "That has been a good thing with my kids the last two or three years.  They are really good at dealing with what is in front of them.  We don't worry about things we don't have any control over and I think the kids have done a great job in sort of accepting that coaching philosophy," he said.

          In their first meeting Norwalk blasted Tiffin Columbian (73-43) and since then the Tornadoes lost one of their post players to a knee injury.  Gray says they are still pretty good down low.  "The one position that they could afford to maybe lose a player is in the post.  They still have two really good post players.  The Moore kid is going to Bowling Green on a football scholarship," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "Dryfus was a outstanding tight end on the football team and he is an outstanding athlete.  I think it is sad anytime a high school athlete doesn't have the opportunity to compete because of some injury."

          When they played at Shelby the Truckers led just (33-30) at the half, but they went on to crush the Whippets in the end.  Gray says the big key on Saturday night will be dealing with Shelby's Tristan Kehres.  "If we don't do a better job on Kehres this time we may not be as fortunate the second half.  I thought he just dominated.  He had 27 points and was a beast on the boards.  We just didn't do a very good job guarding him," said Gray.

          When the Whippets have made perimeter shots this year they have played very well and Gray says they have to guard those guys too.  "That is sort of the formula with any successful team, but Shelby is young and Kehres is their only returning letterman and everybody else is young, but when they shoot it well they are as good as any team around," said Gray.

 

Published 1/23/14

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Truckers Ready for Ontario

 

Click here to listen to an interview with coach Steve Gray

 

          Two unbeaten teams that are ranked in the top ten in Ohio in the statewide media poll in the division two meet on Friday night in Ontario as the Warriors host the Norwalk Truckers.

          To the winner goes the outright lead in the Northern Ohio League.

          Norwalk (12-0,5-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school, has won 55 straight regular season games.  Coach Steve Gray thinks they are sort of peaking for this game.  “We have been playing pretty well.  I think defensively we have gotten better over the last three or four weeks.  We are able to press now without fouling.  We are creating offense with our defense.  We are excited to come to Ontario on Friday night and compete against the best,” he said.

          Last Saturday night, the Truckers beat division one Lorain (60-51) in one of their closest game of the year.  Gray says he thinks that win gave them some extra momentum going into this game.  “Lorain didn’t get nearly enough credit in our community.  People just looked at their record and saw 5-5 and the problem with Lorain is they play Warren Harding, Shaker, Cleveland Heights, Elyria, and Euclid.  They play a great schedule.  For us to compete against them and to come away with a victory gives our team a tremendous boost going into this week,” he said.

          Gray thinks the two teams have very similar personnel and approach the game in similar ways.  “They have Mack in the post and we have Breck Turner.  They are both really good athletes and both about the same size.  Ontario has Shelby and Boatwright and we have Grant Hull and Ben Haraway and it goes on and on.  We have the same style of play.  Joe and I have the same coaching philosophy.  It’s almost like we playing ourselves in many respects,” he said.

          Perhaps the player that will be the most difficult for Ontario (13-0,5-0), #2 in our poll,  to match-up with is Jeff Thomas.  The 6’5” senior wing is headed to Georgia State next year and just scored his 1,000 career point last week.

          According to Gray there won’t be any big changes in strategy for either side.  He says they are just going to come at each other.  “It’s not going to be Joe and I it is going to be which players make the most plays and that’s the way it should be.  We will tweak a couple of things.  He’ll tweak a couple of things.  We know each other pretty well.  We have gone against each other over the years.  We played them last year.  We play them in the summer,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “It is going to be five outstanding athletes on both teams going against each other.  The teams play the game the right way and I think fans are in for a real treat Friday night.”

          If there are changes in approach on Friday night Gray says it will be because of something that happens in game action.  “I think adjustments come about is somebody gets in foul trouble or if one team takes something away from other team, especially offensively, then you do have to make an adjustment.  It may be something as simple as putting a different player in and getting away from what you normally do offensively by running a couple of different sets.  I feel comfortable with Ben, Jeff, Grant and the rest of my kids and I’m sure Joe feels good about his kids coming into this game,” said Gray.

 

Published 1/16/14

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Norwalk Not Stopping Here

 

          Norwalk and Ontario, a pair of unbeaten teams, will meet in a big Northern Ohio League game… next week.  First, though, the Truckers must take care of this weekend.

          On Wednesday night, they turned a (33-30) halftime lead into a (78-49) win over the Shelby Whippets in an “NOL” game.  Coach Steve Gray says after a halftime discussion they came out and got down to business.  “I think Shelby did an outstanding job, especially in the second quarter of controlling the tempo and they took care of the ball and obviously they made shots,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “I thought they were little impatient with the basketball with just one pass and shoot it.  After a little talk I thought we did a great job in the second half.  We pressured the ball without fouling.  We made the extra pass. We turned a three-point lead into a 20-some point lead very quickly.”

          A former Ohio State star coined the term and Gray concurs that the Truckers have “Spurtability” when they are on the floor.  “I agree. Clark Kellogg is the first one I heard us it and I think we is an outstanding broadcaster, but we have the ability with our pressure and our quickness to score points in a hurry,” he said.

          Norwalk, (10-0,4-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, is at home for Sandusky (1-8,1-3) in a league game on Friday night.  Gray says they can’t underestimate the Blue Streaks.  “I think Sandusky, and this is a coach’s cliché, but they could be the best one or two win team in this part of the state.  I think they are athletic.  In fact, they moved a young kid, the Worthington kind, a freshman, up to varsity, and he had 23 the other night against Ontario.  They are playing a lot of young kids and they continue to get better.  I hope its next year when they get better,” said Gray.

          Norwalk has now won 53 straight regular season games, but Gray says they really don’t think about streaks much.  He says they just concentrate on getting better.  “I think it something the media writes about and I think the people outside the kids in the gym with us, I think they talk about it quite bit.  In all honesty we made a big deal out of it a couple of weeks ago when we got to 50, but that is truly the last time we have ever talked about it.  I have said this a hundred times our goal was never the streak, our goal was to keep getting better, and to make a deeper run in the tournament this year,” said Gray.

 

Published 1/10/14

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Norwalk Has to Pressure

 

          It is a different kind of Norwalk team this year, one that has to do different things to be successful, but seven times out of seven they have been able to do just that.

          Wins over Bellevue (66-32) and Tiffin Columbian (73-43) last weekend in their first two Northern Ohio League games of the year moved the Truckers (7-0,2-0) into the number #1 spot in our weekly Swankonsports.com basketball coach’s poll in the large school division.

          Coach Steve Gray says a big part of their success has been their pressure defense.  “I was really pleased by our defensive pressure on the ball.  The thing that we work on a lot in practice is pressure without fouling.  If you get in foul trouble it slows the game down and allows the other team to get organized, but we have done a great job of keeping other team off the line,” he said.

          Columbian enjoyed a huge size advantage, but Gray says their ball pressure didn’t allow the Tornadoes to get the ball into the post very much and that was an advantage for them.  “The thing with Tiffin things kind of snowballed in our favor.  We put a lot of pressure on them early.  They had a little bit of difficulty in allowing their big kids to touch the ball.  Breck Turner, out 6’1” post, had his best game of the year.  Defensively he was outstanding and he had 11 rebounds,” he said.

          Norwalk hosts Willard (6-2,2-1) in league game on Friday night.  The Flashes gave Norwalk, a winner of 50 straight regular season games, as much of a tussle as anyone in the league last year.  Gray told Swankonsports.com that Willard would be a very tough defensive challenge for them.  “I think Chris (Long) has done a great job with those kids.  It all starts with Ebert, he runs the show and he is very, very talented.  If we allow him to go off we are going to be in a heck of a lot of trouble.  They have done a great job of replacing their posts from last year and it is going to be a great challenge for us on Friday night,” said Gray.

          Just like it was last weekend, Gray says perimeter defense is going to be a big factor for the Truckers against Willard.  “It is going to be big for us in every game because we are so small.  Obviously, Jeff Thomas, a 6’5” wing, does a great job for us, but our next six people are all under 6’1”, so if we don’t pressure the ball and we allow teams to enter it into the post uncontested we can be in a lot of trouble.  Breck Turner does a great job, as I mentioned before, but when 6’0”, 6’1” is guarding 6’6” and 6’7”, advantage to the other team,” he said.

 

Published 1/03/14

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Norwalk Finally Opens Defense of “NOL”

 

          Due to a couple of circumstances a month into the high school boys’ basketball season and the defending champion Norwalk Truckers have yet to play a league game.

          That ends this weekend with games at Bellevue on Friday at home against Tiffin Columbian on Saturday.

          Last Friday, the Truckers (5-0,0-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, blasted Mansfield Madison (81-54) in a non-conference game.

          Coach Steve Gray says they just shot the ball very well and they are hard to beat when they do that.  “Anytime you shoot the ball well that can cover up a lot of mistakes.  We were 10-15 from three and something like 15-17 from the free throw line.  The other thing is we were very unselfish with the basketball.  We made the extra pass and kids stepped up at knocked them down,” said Gray.

          Despite the score, Gray says he was impressed with some of the things the Rams were doing and he thinks they have a lot potential.  “They do play hard on defense and they have a lot of very good, young talent, and they are going to be good.  They are just going through some growing pains.  Against us they played some zone and they played some box and one and triangle and two.  I thought Tim (Mergel) did a good job of putting them in position to be competitive,” he said.

          Norwalk was part of the Steve Smith Classic at the College of Wooster on Saturday night as they beat Wooster (62-59) of the Ohio Cardinal Conference.  Gray says they faced the best front line they will see for the entire regular season.  “The thing with Wooster is I think they are really good.  They have the two best post players we are going to see all year, 6’7”, 6”6”, and they just beat us up inside on Saturday.  We were fortunate enough to get enough turnovers and create enough offense off of our defense we were able to slip away with a big win for our kids,” said Gray.

          With the double weekend of league games between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Gray says they are ready to get into the meat of their schedule.  “I’ll tell you after this weekend, but yes it is.  We missed one game because of the football playoffs and another league game because of the weather.  We are going to get into a situation now where we are going against people and systems that we are very familiar with.  It’s going to be a great challenge this year like every other year,” he said.

          Bellevue has a new coach in Brad Scheiber and Gray says that does bring some question marks into the equation.  “They do have a new coach and with our schedule and the games that we’ve had we have not had much of an opportunity to watch them play.  We have seen them a couple of times.  He is trying to implement a new style of play, the dribble drive motion offense.  They are playing more man to man, which they haven’t done in the past.  It is just going to take their kids a little bit of time to adapt to the new system,” said Gray.

          Gray, a head coach for more than 20 years, says no matter what the offense you have to have players that can execute it.  “With any offensive system if you have talent you are going to be successful.  We played Wooster Saturday we were fortunate enough to come out with a win.  They threw it inside quite a bit and their bigs beat us up inside and for them on that day it was successful,” he told Swankonsports.com on Sunday, “The dribble drive is only successful if you three or four guys that can really handle the ball.  I think Bellevue has the kind of people that can benefit from that kind of system.  The dribble drive gives kids the opportunity for the lack of a better term to express themselves and to display their individual abilities, but like any offense you need the personnel to run it.”

 

Published 12/23/13

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Norwalk Has Meeting With Madison

 

          Norwalk plays its second non-conference game of the week, this time against a school from the Ohio Cardinal Conference as they host the Madison Rams on Friday night.

          Earlier this week, Norwalk (3-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, beat Sandusky Perkins, #5 in the poll, of the Sandusky Bay Conference, (66-59) at Perkins.

          Their Northern Ohio League opener last Saturday against Shelby was postponed and coach Steve Gray says didn’t affect them much at against Perkins.  “I think more than anything it just screws up your routine.  So many coaches talk about that over Christmas you get better or worse.  The problem with Christmas is kids get out of the routine.  They eat different.  They go to sleep at different times and they run around a little more.  We tell our kids all of the time that you worry only about things that you control and if you use that as an excuse it is unacceptable,” said Gray.

          Almost every high school student is involved in the social media.  Gray says they try to keep a handle on that the best they can.  “We talk about that just a little bit about what goes on in the gym, stays in the gym.  I am more concerned about kids talking about our next game, maybe what we are going to do defensively or how we are going to guard or not guard somebody.  So, we talk about that just a little bit, but once again it something we really don’t have any control over any more,” said Gray.

          Madison (2-3), (61-41) winners over Loudonville on Tuesday, have played really well at times this year, and Gray thinks they have a lot of potential, he just hopes they don’t turn the corner on Friday night.  “I think they are going to be really good at some points and time and just hope it’s not Friday night.  They are young.  They are talented,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “They are athletic and they just have to learn to play the game at the varsity level.  There is a little bit of difference in playing junior high, freshmen, JV and then jump to the varsity and play people like Mansfield Senior.”

          With Madison’s relative lack of experience, Gray would like to be able to take control of the game early.  “I think it’s really important to get off to a good start because I think Madison is such a team that the longer that they hang in the game they are going to play with more and more confidence and the shot start falling and then we are in for a dogfight.  I would hope we would be able to come out and get the tempo they way we want it and have that lead to success,” he said.

 

Published 12/20/13

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Norwalk Is Athletic

 

          It would be hard to argue that Norwalk hasn’t been one of the top two basketball teams in all of North Central Ohio over the last two or three years and they pretty good again this year.

          They began their season last week with a win (72-61) over Ashland of the Ohio Cardinal Conference.  Coach Steve Gary thinks Ashland is pretty good too and thought it was a quality win for the Truckers.  “I thought it was a great win for us.  I think Ashland is loaded with Vipperman, White, and Smith they have three of the best scorers we will see all year.  I think Tim (Fralich) does a great job with those kids.  They play hard.  They run some Princeton stuff and it was a great challenge for our first game,” said Gray.

          Ben Haraway scored 25 points against Ashland Jeff Thomas added 20 and Truckers will be able to score this year, but Gray says defending will be what they are best at.  “I am fortunate this year because I have some pretty special players and the thing we probably do batter than anything is pressure the ball.  We have some great athletes that enjoy defending.  Jordon Johnson, for example, had three steals that led to easy layups,” he said.

          Norwalk (1-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, plays at Marion Harding (0-3) in a non-conference game on Friday night.  Gray says the Presidents are better than that record.  “I think Roger Jury is an outstanding coach.  They always seem to be in a state of transition.  I think getting into a new league next year will really, really help them.  They are athletic.  Unfortunately for them they have lost a lot of close games.  They lost to Dublin Scioto by one on Tuesday night.  They were ahead by 15 last week against Mt. Vernon and let it slip away and Coshocton lost by one, so they are better than their record indicates,” said Gray.

          On Saturday night, the Truckers opens defense of their Northern Ohio League title as they travel to Shelby (2-1,0-1) to face the Whippets.  Gray says the Whippets have some dangerous outside shooters.  “I think they will try to spread us and when we double them they are going to try and find open shooters.  Against Wynford obviously they were very successful.  Their young kids can really shoot it and if we can’t find them quickly we could be in trouble,” he said.

          With an improved “NOL” Gray says a win Saturday night will be big for them.  “I think our league is a lot better this year.  I wish Ontario wouldn’t have been in until two of three years from now, I think Joe has a great group.  You have Tiffin with the two bigs, you have Sandusky playing much better.  If we don’t get that first one we are sort of behind that eight ball already,” he said.

 

Published 12/13/13

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Norwalk Will Use Different Skills

 

          If the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll is any barometer the Norwalk Truckers have been the best basketball team in North Central Ohio the last two years and they are going to be good this year too, just a little different.

          The Truckers didn’t play last weekend and they will tip-off the season this Saturday when they play the Ashland Arrows at Arrow Arena in a non-conference game.

          Coach Steve Gray says his guys are ready to go.  “I think even more important then do I have the itch is I think my players are ready to go.  They are tired of practicing and I just think they want to get on the court and compete for the first time this year,” he said.

          Practicing and practicing some more can be monotonous, but Gray says his guys have come to practice ready to get better.  “I think a little bit, but my kids have done a great job of coming to practice every day and putting in their time and I think trying to get better.  This a new team in that we have lost our bigs and we have new starters.  I think they want to forge their own identity and that will start on Saturday night,’ said Gray.

          Gray says the Truckers won’t be as big this year as in the past.  “We are a much different team this year.  We lost our bigs, Jake 6’6”, Hallock 6’3”, Peacock 6’3”, Gregory 6’4”.  We just lost a lot of our height and we have also lost some quality kids coming off the bench,” he said.

          Norwalk faces a big time schedule and Gray says they might have trouble against Physical teams, but they have the speed to turn some games into track meets.  “What concerns me more than height is baulk.  If we go against teams that are thick and physical inside that could pose us a lot of problems.  On the flip side we have probably the two fastest kids in the “NOL” coming back in Jordan Johnson and Breck Turner,” Gray told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “I think they finished one-two in the “NOL” in the 100 meter dash.  Joseph Hinkley plays baseball and he probably runs a 4.6-4.7 40.  The one thing that we can do is get up and down the floor.  We hope to utilize our quickness and our athleticism.”

          Ashland plays Clear Fork on Friday night before hosting Norwalk on Saturday.  Gray says the Arrows have three very good scorers.  “It scares me that it is our first game and it will be their third game.  Like I told the kids I think Ashland probably has the three best scorers we are going to face all year on one team.  You take Smith, White and Vipperman those three kids have grown up in the “OCC” before people’s eyes.  They have gotten better and they just scare the heck out of me,” said Gray.

 

Published 12/6/13

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Norwalk Chomping at the Bit

 

          Norwalk is the three time defending Northern Ohio League boys’ basketball champion and they ready to make it a fourth.

          For the first time since 1974, the Truckers made the football playoffs and lost a first round game to Tiffin Columbian on November 8.  With the basketball season slated to start November 29 against Sandusky Perkins, coach Steve Gray says they have gotten busy and have goals of doing some great things again.  “We were very fortunate in Norwalk.  We had a great falls season sports wise.  The football team made it to the playoffs for the first time in a number of years.  To be honest I have only had the kids for three practices.  We went to Columbus last weekend and scrimmaged coach Nossaman’s Olentangy Liberty team and Westerville South.  So far the kids have worked pretty hard and I think they have ambitions of trying to have another good season,” said Gray.

          Last season, Norwalk lost in the division one super sectional final to Mansfield Senior and two years ago in the regionals to Toledo Whitmer.  This season they are back to division two and have the talent to make a long tournament run.

          Getting a later start due to football may be a benefit to the Truckers, according to Gray.  “For us it really isn’t big deal.  We have a lot of kids back with a lot of experience.  To be honest the shorter preseason will benefit us,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “On the first day of practice, we have a basic play list of about 10 or 12 plays, and we were able to get them in about 15 minutes.  We will keep adding on as the preseason goes, but after three practices and a couple of scrimmages I really like where we are.”

          Norwalk returns two all-district players in Jeff Thomas, slated to be a division one college player, and point guard Ben Haraway, who might the toughest Trucker to guard.  Gray says those guys, and the rest of the team, make him look pretty smart.  “Something that makes a coach a good coach is good players.  What I mean by good players and not only kids that are talented, but they are fun to be around and they make good decisions and in our case we have kids that have a pretty good work ethic,” he said.

          Norwalk has picked by an area media panel as the favorite to win the “NOL,” but right behind them was Ontario, who is in its first year in the league.  The Warriors of coach Joe Balogh won a division on the North Central Conference last year.  Gray knows the Warriors will be a factor.  “Joe does a great job as everybody in the Mansfield area knows.  I think Ontario is great addition to our league, especially for a basketball standpoint.  They are tall, they are athletic, they are talented and they are well coached.  I think they are going to give a lot of teams in the “NOL” fits this year,” he said.

 

Published 11/19/13

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It’s a Rematch For Norwalk and Tiffin Columbian

 

          It has already been a season of firsts for the Norwalk Truckers.  They have qualified for the postseason for the first time since 1974 when they won a state title.  Friday night, they need a win over Tiffin Columbian, the only team to beat them this year.

          Both teams carry a 9-1 record into the game and Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland believes both sides are at the top of their game right now.  “It was a very good first game and both teams have actually gotten better and are peaking at this time of year.  I know our kids are excited to get the opportunity to play again.  I’m sure they are excited to be in the playoffs also.  We are excited about this Friday night and are looking forward to a great match-up,” he said.

          Tiffin Columbian has one of the best offensive lines in this part of Ohio.  MacFarland says they have to be able to compete in the trenches to have a chance to win.  “They have very good size.  They come off the ball.  You can tell they have tons of pride in their offensive line.  They have technique and they just play physical football.  It is a great challenge for our offensive line.  They played pretty well the first time they went at them.  I feel very confident with some of the adjustments we are looking at.  When you are playing somebody of a higher level you will hopefully step up and play at that level and it should be a real battle in the trenches we think,” said MacFarland.

          Columbian (9-1), #5 in the Swankonsports.com football coach’s poll in the large school division, is pretty good on defense too.  MacFarland says they are very aggressive.  “They aren’t going to show you anything fancy.  They are going to be in a 3-5 most the time.  They will get in a four front once in a while.  They just play unbelievably aggressive football.  Their linebackers fill gaps.  They fly to the football.  Offensively we are going to come and try and play as physically as they are and get the ball in our athlete’s hands,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “We feel we have a good up front line that has gotten better each week.  Anytime we get the ball in Breck Turner’s hands, and Jordan Johnson even, and Justin Hinkley, and the rest of our receivers, we have a chance.  We feel very confident offensively we will be able to go out and move the football.”

          In the first meeting this year in late September, Tiffin scored late in the fourth quarter to win (24-21) and that eventually gave them the Northern Ohio League title.  MacFarland says they can’t have turnovers and they can’t let Tiffin have big plays like the last time.  “We played three really good quarters against them last time and then decided to put the ball on the ground and have some mishaps.  We have to keep playing for four quarters.  We did that nine of 10 games.  We feel very confident that we will protect the football this time.  We have to make sure we don’t have turnovers or penalties, just play a very high level of physical offense.  Defensively we gave up two big plays and we have to make sure we sure that up and make them grind out points if they are going to get them.  If we don’t give up big plays on defense and protect the football on offense we like the way the outcome should come out,” said MacFarland

 

Published 11/07/13

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Norwalk Needs a Win for a Chance at “NOL”

 

          Norwalk will be doing some scoreboard watching on Friday night as the Ontario Warriors have become their favorite team, well outside themselves of course.

          Norwalk needs Ontario to upset Northern Ohio league leading Tiffin Columbian for them to have a chance to share the title with the Tornadoes.  They would need to beat Willard.

          The Truckers (8-1,4-1) last week hammered Shelby (64-14) to remain a game behind the Tornadoes.  Coach Chris MacFarland says they continue to do what they do best.  “We did a great job of staying focused.  The coaches are doing an outstanding job of preparing them and making the job simple for them so they can just go out and perform at a high level.  They are excited about representing Norwalk on Friday night.  That is the passion they have right now.  We are excited about playing on Friday night and another chance to play together.  Last week was a nice effort and we expect the same thing this week,” he said.

          Norwalk’s only loss came to Tiffin (24-21) in their “NOL” opener on week four of the season.  MacFarland says they have focused on getting better each week.  “We have some goals that the seniors set at the beginning the season and we have done a really good job of working towards them.  That is what I really like about this group, not just the seniors, but the whole team.  We just don’t talk about a goal, we go out and work it every day,  They are not afraid to put the time in and the hard effort in the weight room and even during the season.  It’s a group that really loves playing football.  They have a passion for it now and that’s great to see here at Norwalk,” said MacFarland.

          Willard (1-8,0-5) has had it’s problems this year with a young team.  MacFarland says they just have to come out and play their kind of game.

“They try and control the football with the option.  Anytime you play an option team it makes you be a little bit more assignment football.  You have to find it quick and stay aggressive and hopefully plug up some gaps.  We want to get out there defensively and get a good rhythm of how the game is going,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “Offensively, we have to figure out the fronts that they give us and see how we can perform our plays.  We don’t try to put in anything knew for anybody we just try to make what we do successful against any defensive front or coverage that we see.”

          Some heavy thunderstorms blew through North Central Ohio overnight, but MacFarland has no concerns about Whitney Field and its condition for Friday night’s game with Willard.  “Whitney Field right now takes rain really well.  Last year our school did a great job of putting a new field in and new turf and it really has been outstanding for two years.  It actually gets better as water gets in it.  It really drains well and it’s a good surface.  We are excited to have this little rain here (Thursday) and we think the track will be very good for us as far as speed goes (Friday) night,” he said.

 

Published 11/01/13

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Norwalk With One Goal in Mind

 

          Norwalk has already qualified for its first post season appearance in nearly 40 years and they are still in the race for the Northern Ohio League title, although they are in need of some help. 

          They trail Tiffin Columbian by one game and have already lost to the Tornadoes.

          The Truckers took a break from “NOL” play last week and they overwhelmed the Vermilion Sailors (62-6) in a non-conference game.  Coach Chris MacFarland says they came out focused to do their job.  “It was a good week of preparation.  We really came out focused.  Offensively we were able to come out and really have a handle on what they were trying to do to us defensively.  We put some numbers up for our varsity kids.  Then defensively after two weeks of high scoring games we were able to settle down and get into a rhythm and really go out and play some really fine defense.  We were happy with our effort last week and felt it prepared us for a return to the “NOL” this week with Shelby,” he said.

          Last week, running back Breck Turner had for 311 yards in the first half against Vermilion.  MacFarland says he is a great player and he has worked hard to get to where he is.  “He has done an outstanding job.  All of things he has done in the off season to prepare himself, not only in the weight room and running on the track to get himself ready, but he is an outstanding young man and very good student.  They other part is he is very humble and understands that his line has really gotten better for him all year and improved and given him those opportunities,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “On the perimeter our receivers have done an outstanding job blocking.  They know that if they can block down field that at any moment Breck could break one.  He is just a great kid to coach and I am glad he is on our team.”

          On Friday night, the Truckers (7-1,3-1) will play at Skiles Field against the Shelby Whippets (1-7,1-4) in a league game.  Norwalk has not had very much success at Shelby over the years and MacFarland says they have to come out ready to play their best.  “They have great tradition and they are very proud of their program.  Norwalk has not won many games at Shelby.  We have to go over there very focused and make sure we are going to play a very physical football game and that our fundamentals are sound.  We have to treat this like it is a big game because it is to us.  There are still a lot of things that we are trying to fight for.  We want to get ourselves in the best position we can in the playoffs and we still want a shot at the “NOL” title.  We can’t stumble now, so we have to make sure we are really focused in,” said MacFarland.

 

Published 10/24/13

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Norwalk has Something to Play For

 

          Norwalk has not made the high school football playoffs since disco was popular, but they have a good chance this year and they remain in the Northern Ohio League race.

          Norwalk (6-1,3-1) beat rival Bellevue (51-39) last Friday night to remain tied with Ontario, a game behind Tiffin Columbian in the “NOL” race.

          Coach Chris MacFaland calls it a great a great high school football game.  “Our defense had a great goal line stand on the very first drive and got the ball back and within about five plays we scored and took 7-0 lead.  Our defense played well shutting them out in the first quarter.  We led 14-0, but we never got a chance to put them away.  They would fight back and then our offense would come back out and score again.  The defense would come back out and something crazy would happen.  It was a great high school football game to watch with a lot of points being scored and plays happening.  The kids really worked hard and felt good after that game,” said MacFarland.

          The Truckers are fifth in their computer region.  The top eight make the post season.  The will need some help from somebody to get a piece of the “NOL,” having already lost to Tiffin.  However, MacFarland does not want his team to look too hard ahead.  “It is really fun.  It’s nice to have something to focus on and Friday night’s are so important.  We all have three games and we will have to watch ourselves and really perform every Friday night.  We are dealing with high school young men.  Pretty much anything is possible and that’s why it is so important to just focus on that Friday night and not get caught up in all of the other things.  Then after game 10 we will see where we are and hopefully some positive things have happened for us,” he said.

          On Friday night, they host the Vermilion Sailors in non-conference play.  MacFarland says the Sailors line up in a lot tight formations and feature the power game.  “They kind of get in there and play physical football.  There will be a lot of double tight and power “I” and some unbalanced and they will break out into the spread.  It’s traditional football.  They have a 4-4 defense they just come after you.  They don’t do a lot of fancy things they just play sound, fundamental football.  I think they are getting better each week with each film that we have.  It is definitely a game we will have to prepare for and come out and play well,” he said.

          With the way Vermilion plays, MacFarland feels this is a game that will be won and lost up front and he has confidence in his players.  “Up front we have been getting better each week.  We try to throw a challenge on our lineman and continue to do the things we are doing offensively.  There is a real reason that Breck is having a good year,” he told Swankonsports.com on Sunday, “He is an outstanding running back, but our offensive line is doing a great job of adapting to whatever defensive front comes at us.  Our defensive line has done a nice job of putting pressure on quarterbacks or we are able to flow through the gaps at the line of scrimmage.  We are excited about our up front kids and hopefully they will be up to the challenge again this week and play solid football.”

 

 

Published 10/13/13

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Norwalk Has to Find a Way to Win

 

          It’s this simple if Norwalk wants the Northern Ohio League football title this year, or at least a piece of it, they must beat Bellevue at Bellevue on Friday night.  No easy task.

          The Truckers (5-1,2-1) outscored Sandusky (48-34) to remain in second place along with Bellevue and Ontario, a game behind Tiffin Columbian in the “NOL” race.  Coach Chris MacFarland says they were really pretty good on offense and good enough on defense.  “We were really pleased with our offensive performance.  After watching film on the weekend the kids are really improving.  Up front the offensive line is getting better and they are playing aggressive coming off the ball.  Our skilled athletes are doing a really good job of protecting the ball, finding space, and really giving some great effort going for the ball and catching the ball,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “Defensively we did give up some points to a very athletic team.  When we watched the film and our kids are in good position and they are doing the right things as far as alignment.  We just have to get better at gang tackling and just making sure we are fishing plays.  Sandusky has some outstanding athletes that run with the ball and we need to give some credit to them.  The things we didn’t pull off on defense we can correct.”

          Winning five of their six games the Truckers have done some good things, but MacFarland says they need to be able to close the deal against good teams, something they have not been able to do.  “Obviously Columbian and Bellevue are the top tier teams and that is kind of what we are judged on.  For us we have to finish games.  We want to be in position in the fourth quarter to win the game and we had that chance against Tiffin and we weren’t able to do it.  Hopefully we learned from that.  This week we want to come out and be physical.  We want to keep ourselves in the game, put ourselves in position against one of the top tier teams and finish a game.  We have to protect the ball late in the game and not have penalties and big plays against us and just correct things that we should take care of.  If we go out and do that at the end of the day we think with the weapons we have and the hard work our kids have put in in the off season we think positive things will happen,” said MacFarland.

          As far as Bellevue (3-3,1-1) goes there is no Jalen Santoro, but they still do a lot of things really well, according to MacFarland.  “Their consistency is impressive.  They are going to come out and play offense and defense and have grown up wanting the play for the Redmen.  We have to go out and really try and establish a physical game.  Their game plan is different than the last couple of years.  When they had Santoro we knew where the ball was going to be in every situation, pressure situation or not.  Now, they spread it out a little bit more.  They have kind of a running back by committee, they have really nice receivers, their quarterback does a nice job throwing the ball and mixing it up.  It looks like the same system to us except it isn’t just one quarterback making the play, now it is more of a full offense,” said MacFarland.

          Bellevue has won more “NOL” football titles than any other school and MacFarland says they know how to play defense too.  “Defensively it is the same defense they have been running.  They just believe it what they do defensively.  They play physical and fly to the football.  We just have to make sure we take care of our assignments and match the level of physicalness and speed on the field,” he said.

          Bellevue is in a similar position as Norwalk when it comes to the league race and McFarland says there are three things they have to do to win.  “We have to protect the football and don’t make penalties and we can’t allow big plays.  If we can stay with those three things we think our game plan should be pretty solid and hopefully that will put us on top,” he said.

 

Published 10/10/13

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Norwalk Takes on Athletic Sandusky

 

          Norwalk kept itself in the Northern Ohio League race with a win last week over Ontario and now they meet the Sandusky Blue Streaks in the conference play.

          Last week, the Truckers took a 14-0 and then a 28-6 lead at Ontario before hammering the Warriors (40-12) in a league game.  Coach Chris MacFraland says they really played well all night.  “We were really pleased with how we came out and played. All three phases played pretty well.  We really corrected some things in our special teams.  The offense got out and scored early and continued to have big plays and our defense really settled in and played an outstanding game.  So, we were really happy with the response in all three phases,” he said.

          Truckers quarterback Jordan Johnson threw four touchdown passes against Ontario and MacFarland says he allows them to do a lot of things with his athletic ability.  “Jordan is doing an outstanding job.  He is very athletic and he takes well to coaching.  He understands that he has to get us in and out of plays.  He is able to do some scrambling and trusts his line up front to continue to block,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “The receivers do a real good job of scramble drills.  He is able to keep his eyes up and find them down field and make positive things happen.  We tell him all of the time to just get in there and be athletic and things will come out for us and so far they have.”

          Sandusky (1-4,1-1) comes to Whitney Field to battle the Truckers (4-1,1-1) on Friday night.  MacFarland says the Blue Streaks offer a lot of athleticism.  “Offensively they are very creative out of the pistol offense.  They do an outstanding job with it.  Week to week you can see them getting better.  Defensively they have a lot of athletes.  They are going to man you up and give you a lot of pressure.  We are going to have to play an outstanding physical game and try to match their athletic ability and hopefully we can come out with a lot of positives,” he said.

          In some past years a team like Sandusky would have given Norwalk some trouble, but MacFarland says now they more able to match their athletes.  “We are really pleased with the athletes that we have.  We are able to do some things out on the perimeter with throwing.  Obviously Breck Turner in the backfield with Jordan really gives us a nice running game.  Our line is more athletic than we have had in the past.  They move well and get to the second level.  Defensively, we are really stressing putting 11 guys on the field that can fly to the football.  So far, we have done a great job with that team concept.  It definitely helps to have speed on the field,” aid MacFarland.

 

Published 10/2/13

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Special Teams Could Tell the Story

 

          A couple of special teams mistakes led to a loss to Tiffin Columbian last week and the Norwalk Truckers can ill afford those kinds of mistakes when they travel to Ontario on Friday night.

          It is a game the Truckers must have if they are to claim a Northern Ohio League football title, something they have not done since the 1970’s.

          Last week, the Truckers (3-1,0-1) led defending league champion Tiffin Columbian until the final minutes before losing (24-20) to the Tornadoes. 

          Coach Chris MacFaland says it was a couple of big plays that really cost them in the game.  “I was really proud of how the kids played.  It was a great high school football game.  We did a lot of positive things, but we have the sure some things this week.  It was a good football team that we lost to and we are a good football team.  If we take care of the ball a little bit better in the fourth quarter and not give up some big plays these are going to the kind of game you are going to see the Truckers win,” said MacFarland.

          Among the lessons they learned last week was holding on to the football, according to MacFarland.  “It came down to us protecting the football.  We had some turnovers at the end of the game that put our defense in a bad situation.  Our defense played outstanding the second half.  Columbian came out and drove the ball down and we held them to just three points,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We had a bad play on a punt return and a three and out and a bad snap on a punt.  That gave them the ball on the 10-yard line and they were able to take the lead.  Our kids played very well, we just made some mistakes in the end.  We always want to improve on blocking and tackling and make sure our techniques are getting better each week.”

          Norwalk makes it first tip to Ontario (3-1,1-0) to face the Warriors.  With players like Tyler Boatrwright, Jordan Campbell and Cameron Mack. MacFarland says they have game breakers.  “Ontario has some outstanding athletes.  They have a quarterback-running combination that is really skilled.  They have a nice receiver.  Up front they have nice size.  Offensively they are going to be a challenge,” and MacFarland says the Warriors defense isn’t too bad either, “Defensively they get after the football.  Most of the time they play three down lineman, that is what we have seen.  Their linebackers play very aggressive.  They are a very good addition to the league.  It is going to be exciting to go down there to a new stadium, a new venue,” he said.

          Sometimes a forgotten element of the game, MacFarland says special teams could be a big factor.  “That is a very important element.  In high school most people spend a lot of time on offense and defense and you can really gain an edge in your special teams.  With that kind of speed we are really going to have to make sure we are covering our punts and kickoffs.  I’ll tell you what we think we have some kids that haven’t yet broken out.  We put some talent back there on kick and punt returns.  I think special teams will be a very pivotal part of our game plan,” said MacFarland.

 

Published 9/24/13

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Norwalk Ready For Challenge

 

          Norwalk believes they are ready to take the next step and that is to compete with the heavyweights in the Northern Ohio League.

          Defending league champion Tiffin Columbian certainly fits that bill and the Tornadoes (2-1) will be at Whitney Field in the “NOL” opener for both schools one Friday night.

          Last week, the Truckers (3-0) completed their non-conference schedule unbeaten with a (44-7) win over Firelands Conference power Western Reserve.  Coach Chris MacFarland says it was pretty good performance, but not their best.  “We were really pleased with the performance on Friday night.  We had some athletes step up and improve.  There are some things that we still want to improve on as a team.  There were some times that we got a little sloppy and maybe didn’t perform at the level maybe we think we can.  There is plenty to do this week.  We are pleased where we are at 3-0 going into league play.  We know it’s going to take all of our effort this week in preparation for Tiffin Columbian,” said MacFarland.

          Columbian lost their first game to unbeaten Clyde (13-7), but they have won their last two over Maumee (27-7) and Anthony Wayne (28-6) last week.  MacFarland says this is a typical Columbian team.  “They have great size and they are very well coached.  They will execute their offense and defense.  They are going to play physical football.  We are hoping to have an opportunity back at Whitney Field in Norwalk,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Hopefully our fans will be ready to come out and support.  I think it is going to a great high school football game.  The thing with Columbian is we really have to go out and establish the physical play and tone because they have won a lot of championships and they know how to play in big games and we will have to match that level in this one.”

          Tiffin is pretty balanced on offense again and MacFarland says they have to be able to take the Tornadoes out of their comfort zone.  “Coach does a great job of taking what he sees on defense.  If that is throwing the ball or running the ball he is going to put that kid in the right position.  We are going to have to get after it.  They are very big up front, so we are going to have to make sure we are being physical and flying to the football and try and take away so of their bread and butter plays,” said MacFarland.

          Norwalk has become winning program, but they have not been able to beat the good teams in their league, like Columbian or Bellevue, Tiffin beat them (28-6) last year.  MacFarland says they have been pointing to this week.  “This has definitely been on our calendar all off season.  We have had back to back 7-3 seasons.  They feel good about the direction of the program.  Our senior class has done an outstanding job in the off season preparing for this moment.  That is why they are excited about the opportunity to play.  In the past they were really sure about themselves.  This senior class is very confident with what they have done in the off season and they believe in each other.  They are excited to get to play at a big level,” said MacFarland.

 

Published 9/18/13

© Swankonsports.com     

 

 
 

Norwalk is Excited

 

          Norwalk looked very good in their first game of the season against non-conference rival Edison and now they look to get better for week two.

          They belted Edison (56-13) last week and coach Chris MacFarland says they were really clicking on both sides of the ball.  “I was really excited by how we came out and played defensively.  I thought we really came out and played physical.  They had a real understanding of what we were doing on defense.  I thought they were well prepared, so that allowed them to play free and get after the football.  Offensively we were able to get ourselves in and out of a lot of different formations.  We are trying to get match-ups where we are getting our best athletes the ball and let them play,” says MacFarland.

          When you win by 43 are there things that need to be improved?  MacFarland says there are.  “We are always trying to improve our offensive line, that’s a group that has to play well together and week to week they get different looks.  We have to continue to work on our communication and understanding our blocking roles,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “I think special teams are going to be big for us.  Game one is the first time you get to see those live.  Most scrimmages you just sort of stand there and play those dead.  It’s the first time we got to see all of those teams and evaluate those teams.  That is something we really hope to improve in game two.”

          Norwalk’s defense held Edison to only two scores, but MacFarland knows they have to get better too.  “Defensively, how are we going to go from week to week?  Game one you have three weeks to get ready for it.  Now how are they going to do in the transition of one week to get ready for a new team and a new system.  How coachable will they be?  We are excited to see how our kids we come out and play,” he said.

          Cleveland John Hay (1-0) comes to Norwalk on Friday night.  The Hornets hammered Toledo Start (49-8) on week one.  MacFarland says they have enormous talent.  “They have excellent size and excellent speed.  They were a playoff team a year ago in division three.  They have a quick tempo and let their athletes be athletes.  They don’t do a lot of flashy things on defense.  They are just letting kids get to the football.  Offensively, they have three really good backs.  Any one of them can take the ball and go, so we will have to be really disciplined, understand our keys, and try to match their speed.  I think our kids are really excited about the opportunity to play a Cleveland school,” said MacFarland.

 

Published 9/6/13

© Swankonsports.com    

 

 
 

Top Seed Gets Sectional Title

 

          Norwalk is headed to the division one district tournament for the second year in a row after they beat Ashland on Wednesday in the sectional final at Mansfield Madison High School.

          The Truckers (24-4), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, scored twice in the first inning and went on to get past Ashland (7-2) in the final.

          Veteran coach Wes Douglas says they got a big hit in the first inning from Joe Hinkley.  “I’m extremely happy with the sectional title over an Ashland team that had me a little bit worried, especially their pitcher Tyson Vogel.  We  got a big two-run home run in the first from Joe Hinkley and that let us relax a little bit and do what we have been doing all year in playing with the lead,” he said.

          Starting out with those two runs in the first inning was a big boost.  Douglas says it really helps the confidence.  “I think it huge maybe more  with high school kids than with other levels.  It shows the rest of your team that the guy is hittable.  With a little bit of a lead there at the beginning it does allow you to relax a little in the field and at the plate.  As a coach it opens up our running game and our small ball game a little bit,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win on Wednesday, “It almost takes that part away from the other team if you can keep adding onto that lead.  It limits what they can do and opens up what we can do.  It has been a great formula for us this year.  We have played a lot with the lead.”

          With two very good pitchers, and the Northern Ohio League schedule already completed, Douglas was free to use both of his star pitchers against Ashland.  “They put the ball in play.  I think they struck out six times and we struck out six times.  To start the game their lead off hitter hit a shot to right field and Joe Hinkley made a great catch out there.  When they did make a rally against out starting pitcher Colin Suter with the bases loaded and nobody out we went to Michael Finch.  He got a double play ground ball 4-6-3.  Our defense was very good (Wednesday) along with both of our pitchers,” said Douglas.

          The Truckers will plat either Anthony Wayne or Findlay in the district tournament next week.  Douglas says he will get a look at them.  “The pitching should be a little bit better.  We are going to run into an Anthony Wayne, a Findlay, a Perrysburg, somebody along those lines that have traditionally owned that district for a long time.  We will get a chance to watch Anthony Wayne and Findlay on (Thursday) and watch Anthony Wayne and Perrysburg on Friday.  We don’t get up that way very often, but I know their reputation.  We will definitely have our hands full.  They will be similar to the Maumee team we saw last year,” said Douglas.  

 

 
 

Norwalk Finishes “NOL” Unbeaten

 

          The Norwalk Truckers have achieved a measure of perfection.  They finished the ten game Northern Ohio League schedule with an extra innings win over Tiffin Columbian on Thursday night.

          The Truckers (23-4,10-0), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, defeated Tiffin Columbian (8-4) in ten innings.

          Coach Wes Douglas says this is just a team that knows how to win.  “It has been a special season for this group of seniors and these coaches and other players.  We finished the regular season 23-4 and running the table in the “NOL” and being the number one seed.  We are looking forward to a good tournament run.  It’s been a special group that keeps finding ways to win,” he said.

          Extra inning games are not new to the Truckers.  Douglas says they are unbeaten in four tries in games that have gone more than seven.  “In close games they just keep finding ways to win.  In between that Sandusky game and (Thursday) night we also had an extra inning game with Willard at our place and at Mansfield Madison.  We went 4-0 in extra inning games.  That is just a credit to our kids.  They have played a lot of baseball and finding ways to win, or more importantly finding ways not to lose, which happens a lot in high school baseball,” he said.

          When asked what was that special element his team has that allows it to play well in these clutch games, Douglas settled on experience.  “I think like most good high school programs these kids have been coached the right way since they were younger.  Not just with us, but down in their travel teams and their local little league teams.  They have been in competitive tournaments over the summers,” he told Swankonsports.com, “They don’t play quite as much in the summers as in some places.  A lot of these kids have been basketball and football players at Norwalk too and all of that translates into knowing how to win close games and least giving yourself a chance.”

          For Norwalk, the postseason tournament begins on Monday when they play either Ashland (7-13) or Mansfield Senior (3-16) in the division one sectional final at Mansfield Madison.  Douglas expects a challenge.  “We are happy to be the number one seed.  I got a chance to go down and watch Ashland (Wednesday) night and was very impressed with how they are playing right now.  Their pitcher (Tyson) Vogel I thought threw the ball pretty well.  I think that is who we are going to see on Monday, assuming they win on Saturday morning.  They are well coached, obviously they were very successful last year.  We are feeling confident and good, but we’ve got a ball game on our hands.  I expect it be a nice tight ballgame.  Hopefully we will find a way to win that one,” said Douglas.

 

 
 

Norwalk Earns a Piece of “NOL”

 

          It’s a three peat for the Norwalk Truckers in the Northern Ohio League.

          A win over rival Bellevue (5-2) on Thursday night gave the Truckers (20-2,8-0), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division,  no less than a share of the “NOL” title.  It was their second win over the Redmen in just over a week.  Coach Wes Douglas says this was one of their better efforts of the season.  “We have only played them twice, but the first game got suspended because of rain and we had to finish that up and it made seem like two games.  We were in the driver’s seat going into to (Thursday), but they were right behind us.  We got an outstanding performance from everybody on our team to win our 16th straight game and lock up at least a share of our third straight “NOL” title, so we are feeling pretty good,” said.

          Winning three straight titles isn’t easy, but Douglas says they have dedicated and talented players.  “We have a veteran team this year with nine seniors and nine lettermen.  We knew coming in that we had some quality players and some good experience.  Things have really gone our way.  Our two losses are to a 16-2 Lexington team and a 20-0 Perkins team.  The first loss coming the first day of the season,” he told Swankonsports.com, “This group has been outstanding lead my our two four year lettermen in Isaac Perry and Michael Finch and three year lettermen Colin Suter and Ethan Rhodes.  It has just been a fun group to be around and they are experiencing a lot of success.”

          Before the season began most people knew Norwalk would be pretty good.  Douglas says their initial goal was to win the league.  “I think everybody’s first goal is to win their league title and work out from there.  This a pretty solid league with the top three, four teams this year.  We didn’t back into it.  We beat Bellevue twice, we beat Sandusky twice, and we beat Shelby twice.  We played probably our most complete game of the year (Thursday),” he said.

          Norwalk will be part of the division one sectional tournament at Madison High School and Douglas thinks the top seed is theirs.  “I would be very surprised if we weren’t the number one seed.  We are sitting at 20-2 right now.  After that it is probably Ashland, Sandusky, and Mansfield Madison fighting for that two seed with probably Mansfield Senior and Marion Harding coming in after that.  We like where we are sitting and hopefully things line up in our favor and we can make a run in the tournament before we head to the districts up at Bowling Green where there is Perrysburg, Anthony Wayne, Maumee an some of those successful Toledo teams,” said Douglas.   

 

 
 

A Win over Shelby Gives Truckers Some Breathing Room

 

          Norwalk now has a two game cushion in the Northern Ohio League baseball standings after a win over second place Shelby on Thursday night.

          After giving up a run in the top of the first Michael Finch slammed the door and the Truckers downed the Whippets (8-1) for their 11 straight win overall.

          Coach Wes Douglas says did what they had to do to beat a pretty good Shelby squad.  “Michael Finch had another great outing for us (Thursday).  They did come through with seven hits.  They are aggressive at the plate.  They put it in play hard down there at Shelby.  There pitcher, Justin Lewis, I am a real fan of his after watching him compete,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win, “He had good stuff and handles himself really well.  After giving up a run in the top of the first, we came back and hit him hard for three runs and got the lead.  We added on the next couple of innings.  The next thing you know we were out of there with an 8-1 win.  We are two games up with four to go.”

          With their offense in high gear, the Truckers have been able to play from in front a lot this season and Douglas says that makes them more relaxed.  “We have had the lead a lot this year and it allows us to run the bases a little more aggressively.  If we need to put some bunts down, and get teams on their heels a little bit.  It kind of eliminates their running game when they are playing from behind.  It was a crappy night out again (Thursday) and everybody was kind of on edge.  Once we got that lead we loosened right up and played an error free ballgame and got our 11th straight win,” said Douglas.

          With nine players back from a team that shared the league title last season, Douglas says they know what they are doing.  “These kids have played a lot of travel ball and got some great coaching down there.  Right now I’m not doing a whole lot of coaching to be honest with you.  They are just playing and I’m letting them play.  They have been fun to watch.  We knew we were going to be good.  They have lived up to those expectations so far,” he said.

          The Truckers (14-2,6-0), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, plays a very good Clyde team (9-3) on Friday afternoon.

          Yes, Norwalk has good pitching and they swing the bats well, but Douglas says they have been solid at executing even the little things that are part of the game.  “There is a guy from Perkins, Ray Neil, that says more baseball games are lost then they are won.  He has been around a lot of good baseball teams.  I agree with him there, if you don’t beat yourself, and you give yourself an opportunity and you take care of the little things.  I hear coach Gray say that on the basketball court all of the time.  Baseball might have more little things than any other sport.  We talk about them, we practice them, and we preach them.  We have four or five coaches in the dugout that are backing me up if I don’t have a chance to get to a player they are getting a little coaching from one of them.  It has been a pretty good formula for us so far,” said Douglas.

 

 
 

Norwalk beats Big Rival

 

          Norwalk maintained first place in the Northern Ohio League with a victory at Bellevue on Monday night.

          In a game that was suspended last week due to rain, the Truckers beat Bellevue (7-1) to be the only school in the “NOL” without a league loss so far this season.  Coach Wes Douglas is aware of the significance of the early season win.  “To this point it is our biggest win of the season.  Shelby is sitting at one loss, Bellevue at two and Tiffin at three.  We face Tiffin (Tuesday) and Shelby Thursday, so it was great momentum going into a big week for us,” he said.

          It was a six spot in the sixth inning that was the difference for the Truckers (12-2, 4-0), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school divison.  Douglas says they were able to break open the game.  “We got four innings in last week before the rains came.  Alex Manner and Michael Finch locked up in a pitcher’s duel,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday night after the win, “In the sixth inning (Monday) night we started out with two walks, an infield grounder moved them to second and third and we put together six straight pretty solid hits to put up a seven run sixth inning.  Michael Finch struggled with some control, but he found a way to strike 13 Bellevue hitters even though he walked eight batters.”

          Hits had been hard to come by over the first five innings of the game, but Douglas says once they got going it was sort of contagious.  “Especially when you see good pitchers like Alex Manner.  If somebody shows they can hit the ball hard off him it does carry over.  Ethan Rhodes, after we got runners on second and third got a shot down the first base line to give us a 2-0 margin.  Momentum and confidence is huge in all sports and it was huge for us (Monday),” said Douglas.

          With two more “NOL” games to play this week, Douglas says they have to be able to keep their focus.  “This group has been around.  I think in the last 70 games they are 58-12.  We were expected to win (Monday).  We were happy with it, but it wasn’t game seven of the World Series.  We will enjoy it (Monday) and get right back after it (Tuesday).  I know that is coach speak, but it’s a fact, especially in baseball.  It’s a quick turnaround.  Everyone knows in baseball it depends on who is on the mound.  Thing can change in a hurry.  We have Colin Suter set up to go (Tuesday).  With him we have a good feeling going in,” said Douglas.  

 

 
 

Big “NOL” Game Still Must be Decided

 

          Norwalk and Bellevue got to play four innings Tuesday before Mother Nature stepped in and caused a halt to the proceedings.

          The Truckers and Redmen shared the Northern Ohio League title last season, along with Tiffin Columbian, and on Tuesday they played four innings at Bellevue before the storms took over.  Norwalk coach Wes Douglas says it was a great pitcher’s duel.  “Two defending “NOL” champs and both return quite a bit.  We were 22-5 and they were somewhere in that neighborhood.  Alex Manner, one of the better pitchers in the area for Bellevue, against Michael Finch.  It was 0-0 after four innings (Tuesday).  The rains came and it’s a suspended game until Monday.  We had two bunt hits.  They had a bloop hit.  It was a pretty well played game,” said Douglas.

          He says there is no question that they had this game with Bellevue circled on the schedule before the season even started.  “We are sitting at 9-2 and have played some quality teams.  We all knew that this was the one we were pointing at.  You talk about one game at a time and all of those good things and you mean it, but you still have an eye looking forward to a game like (Tuesday),” he said.

          Both schools have been good in multiple sports over the last several years and Douglas says there is a rivalry between the two.  “I think there always has been.  There is football and basketball and the two communities are pretty close.  The kids know each other pretty well.  Andy Dennings has done a nice job over there the last four or five years,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday night, “The have quite a tradition of quality, athletic ballplayers that know how to play the game.  We won a nice game at our place last year and then we lost over there in ten innings.  It has been quite a battle in the 17, 18 years that I have been here.”

          The teams have to wait until Monday afternoon to finish things up, but Douglas doesn’t believe that will be much of a factor when it comes to who wins the game.  “We haven’t had to do it too many times in my career with this group especially.  It looks like both teams will probably be back with the same pitchers.  It’s a little bit different, but I think both teams will be ready and it won’t be that big of a challenge,” he said.  

 

 
 

Norwalk Getting Things Going

 

          Norwalk is one of the favorites in the Northern Ohio League baseball race and with a win in their first game they are on their way to proving that is the case.

          Veteran coach Wes Douglas says it was important for them to get off to a good start against Shelby.  The Truckers were able to pull away late and win (17-10) going away in a game that was played Tuesday at Shelby.  “Especially with “NOL” right now and only six teams in it and only a 10 game season to decide the league championship, so every game is a must game.  On the road at Shelby we were able to get the lead and they fought back and we were finally able to put them away,” he said.

          After a bit of a slow start with bats, Douglas says from the top to the bottom of the lineup they starting to hit the ball with some pop.  “The first few games even though we were winning I still saw some flaws at the plate.  We lacked some consistency.  The kids have bought into some things we have been working on in practice mentally as much as physically.  We are averaging close to 12 runs a game.  They last three games I think we scored 11, 17, and 17.  We have been driving the ball.  We have been scoring runs off the middle of pitching rotations, against their threes, fours and fives, but that is what we were throwing out there ourselves.  I couldn’t be happier with our one through nine right now,” said Douglas.

          When a batter gets in the box he has to have the right approach.  Douglas says you have to know the pitcher you are facing.  “I think a lot of it depends on the pitcher.  If it is somebody you know is not going to throw it buy you we can definitely be a little more patient and wait on your pitch in your zone.  We have gotten better at that.  In my tenure here I think I have learned a lot by listening to guys on TV and from the successful coaches here,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “If you have a hard thrower you have to be a little more aggressive and get your swing started a little bit sooner.  If those guys are on now you are just hoping to put it in play.  Maybe we can get some guys on and move some runners around and try to make something happen.  These guys that are mid 70’s or so you can be more patient and I think our guys have bought into that.”

          As far as the pitching goes, Douglas says they are still trying to find some guys that can find the strike zone behind their top two guys.  “Our number one Colin Suter struggled with the strike zone on the road at Shelby in a win the other night.  Michael Finch as an ERA under one.  He was 5-0 last year and is off to a 2-0 start.  He is our lefty on the mound.  They are really 1 and 1-A.  When they are both throwing strikes they are going to be tough to beat and give us a chance to win.  One our trademarks here in my tenure here is we have always been pretty good at three, four, five, six, and seven.  We are still trying to develop those guys and we might not be as strong as we have been in the past.  We are starting to see some signs of them coming around.  Next week we play Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the league now.  You just can’t go with one and two you better have somebody else that can throw strikes and hold runners and field their position and give you a chance to play behind them,” said Douglas.

          Norwalk was to play Sandusky on Thursday, but Mother Nature got in the way and that has made things more complicated.  “The game that was rained out (Thursday) against Sandusky the first available date was next Wednesday, so that is just the way it works.  I think everybody else would be in a similar boat because they are going to be throwing back to back games too.  You better have as many arms ready and guys ready to throw strikes for you.  You just take what’s on the schedule and do the best you can,” he said. 

 

 
 

Norwalk Wins in Extra Innings

 

          Norwalk rallied to beat Oak Harbor on Wednesday evening and Truckers look like they are ready to be a factor in the Northern Ohio League again this year.

          The Truckers scored three times in the ninth inning on Wednesday night to beat Oak Harbor (7-4) in a non-conference game.  Coach Wes Douglas says they made the big plays in the late going.  “We are still trying to find our hitting stroke a little bit.  We were up 4-2 and they got it to 4-4.  They had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the eighth and we worked our way out of that jam.  We then broke it open with three runs on the ninth.  It was a great complex over there at Oak Harbor (Wednesday).  It was a pretty good ball game.  We haven’t played at home yet.  We are finally home on Saturday with Perkins and Ashland at our place,” said Douglas.

          Norwalk (3-1) plays at Mansfield Christian on Thursday.

          Norwalk returns a number of players from last year’s “NOL” tri-champions.  Douglas thinks that big game experience helped them beat Oak Harbor.  “I think our experience was a factor.  I think they return two starters.  We had a little bit more experience through the lineup (Wednesday).  Our guys have seen success on the baseball field, the football field, the basketball court, the wrestling mat, and I think that all does work in our favor when things are on the line.  A win is always a win.  We can always find things that we can work on.  We are happy where we are at right now,” he said.

          For some reason, Douglas says they often times have played better in big games on the road then at home.  “We have always thought in big games we have preformed better on the road.  I don’t know if it’s because you are not waiting around as long.  I’m not exactly sure what it is.  Maybe there aren’t as many parents or as big a crowd to distract a little bit.  I don’t think it is as big as basketball.  It’s always nice to have that last at bat,” he said.

          Last spring Norwalk shared the title in the Northern Ohio League with Bellevue and Tiffin Columbian.  Douglas thinks if they can start to get more hits they can be right there again.  “I would like to think so.  Our bats, I don’t know if we are pressing a little bit or what at the plate.  I think our pitching is going to be okay and our defense is going to be okay.  They say the bats are the last thing to catch up.  We are hoping that is true.  We continue to work at it everyday and we will find a way to put it in play and hopefully force the action.  So far, not to bad,” said Douglas.   

 

 
 

Norwalk Ready to Compete

 

          Norwalk has been a consistent winner on the baseball diamond for the last decade or more and it looks like they have the talent to be right there again.

          Veteran coach Wes Douglas says they have a solid group returning from a squad that shared the Northern Ohio League title with Tiffin Columbian and Bellevue.  He says they have gotten a lot done this winter.  “We had a great winter.  We got 35 conditioning practices in, plus the weight room.  We didn’t have very many winter sport athletes, so the nucleus of our team has been working together all winter.  We dressed 17 last year and we graduated eight, but of the nine back they all lettered.  They all played a good bit,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We have a couple of four year lettermen in there with Isaac Perry and Michael Finch leading the way and a couple of three year lettermen with Colin Suter and Ethan Rose.  We had a couple of gentleman come over from St. Paul in Joseph Hinkley, a very talented athlete that is going to help our program.  He has been a starter at St. Paul for two years.  I think our other guys are ready to step up.  I think we will have another successful year in front of us.”

          Pitching and defense look like they will be strengths for the Truckers, but Douglas is a little concerned with how they have been swinging the bats, especially on Monday.  “We started throwing live pitching to live hitters this week and the guys looked a little rusty in the gym where the ball is hard to pick up.  We definitely need to swing the bats.  We lost Justin Lieber, the all time RBI leader at Norwalk.  Evan Bader, a first team all district player, that batted three or four in our lineup for a couple of years.  I think our pitching and defense is going to be okay, maybe a little more depth.  Everybody wants that on the mound.  I’m looking for our bats to step up a little bit.  I know we are going to field the ball and play smart baseball.  Hopefully we will start hitting the ball a little better here,” said Douglas.

          The weather has not been too great this year so far, but Douglas says it has been the same for the Truckers and all of the teams they will be playing once the season starts in a couple of weeks.  “I told our guys (Monday) that everybody is in the same boat.  It’s not like somebody else was on the field and we weren’t.  I’d feel a little bit more of a disadvantage if that were true.  We have been on our field four times and we have been in the parking lot a few times.  We have a great facility at Norwalk High School with two gyms and a batting cage.  We can get a lot done.  I have a six man coaching staff that has been with me for a long time.  We have one group in one gym and one in another gym and another group hitting.  I think we are getting a lot done inside.  If they buy into that we will be ready when it comes time to get on the field,” he said.    

 

 
 

Norwalk Ready For Big One

 

          If there are any basketball fans out there that still don’t believe that Norwalk is a very good basketball team, the Truckers are out to prove them wrong on Thursday night.

          Norwalk (24-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll, plays Mansfield Senior (20-3), #2 in the poll, in the division one super sectional final at Galion High School.

          It is a re-match from the same level last year when the Truckers beat Mansfield Senior (78-66) and eventually advanced to the regional semi-finals before losing.

          Norwalk coach Steve Gary says they have been preparing for this one for a long time.  “I think everybody knew that there was a good probability that we would play each other.  It’s why kids put in the time they do in the spring, the summer and the fall, in the weight room and conditioning to be able to play in this type of game on this type of stage.  It is going to be a great atmosphere (Thursday) night,” said Gray.

          Norwalk has beaten state ranked Toledo Whitmer and Sandusky Perkins, a regional qualifier last year, and district final participant on Saturday.  Gray has high praise for the Tygers.  “They are the best team we have faced all year.  They have great balance with Benson inside, Robert Jones inside and out.  They have Keon Johnson.  They just have a host of really good athletic wings that can play the game,” he said.

          Mansfield Senior beat Ashland (47-40) in their sectional game last Friday.  They played that game without their second leading scorer and leading rebounder in Donovon Benson, who was out with unspecified leg injury.  Benson is expected to play on Thursday and Gray likes it that way.  “He could be their most improved player from last year.  He demands the ball.  He really has the ability to get our three post players in foul trouble if we’re not careful.  He runs the floor exceptionally well and he is pretty good at finishing around the basket.  If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best and I am happy for the young man that he will get the opportunity to compete (Thursday) night,” said Gray.

          Both teams want to play fast and really push the ball.  Gray says they will not back down from that.  “I told the kids after watching the Ashland game that maybe we should slow it down and Haraway, Thomas and Fetheroff led a revolt, so I guess we are going to run with them and see what happens.  It should be a very entertaining game.  They want to push it.  We want to push it.  They will press and trap a little bit.  We will do the same.  I don’t think there are too many secrets between the two teams right now,” said Gray.

          The Norwalk coach believes if they do certain this it could be a repeat of last year.  “I am going to tell them that we deserve to be here and nobody works harder than we do.  We push these kids hard in practice everyday.  If we do the little things I like our chances.  Defensively, we have to keep them off the boards.  We have to stop transition and get a hand in the shooters face.  Offensively, take care of the ball and make the extra pass,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Goes For Sectional Title

 

          Norwalk finished the regular season ranked as the number two team in Ohio in division and the Truckers will play for a sectional tournament win on Friday night at Galion High School against Marion Harding.

          With the next round of play in division one referred to as a super sectional it is somewhat muddy if Friday night’s game is a championship game or not, but not to Norwalk coach Steve Gray.  “For us this is a sectional championship.  Anytime you can have kids celebrate something special I think as a coach we deserve to celebrate.  We are treating this as a championship game and we hope to be successful,” he said.

          Norwalk (23-0), #1 in the final Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll, walloped Sandusky (79-41) in semi-final play on Tuesday.  Even though they had two lopsided wins over Sandusky in Northern Ohio League play, Gray says he his kids were focused.  “Our kids pretty good policing themselves.  We challenged them this week beginning at practice on Saturday that we need the focus we need their attention and we need to play a good game and continue to get better,” he said.  Gray says it also gave them a chance to give quality tournament minutes to some kids off their bench.  “We played 14 kids in the first half.  The exciting thing is the kids that don’t get as many minutes as they would hope due to our first seven or eight being really good.  They did really well.  They competed, they scored, and they continued to make the extra pass.  They did the things that we stress in practice every single day.  That has made the last two days of practice more competitive,” said Gray.

          Marion Harding (11-11) lost eight of their first nine games, but they have railed in the second half of the season and Gray has great respect for Harding coach Roger Jury.  “I think Roger does a great job and I think Marion has an outstanding coach.  People might remember he took a Cardington team to state years ago.  He comes from the Rob Sheldon coaching tree.  He does a great job.  They are organized.  They play hard and I think he does a great job of putting them in a position to be successful,” said Gray.

          Marion Harding is one the few schools left in Ohio that plays an independent schedule.  Gray feels that makes it difficult to be consistent when you are traveling as far as Lima and Thornville to play games.  “They are not in a league and I don’t know how you can compete with an independent schedule.  They have very few Friday night games.  They will play all over the state,” he said.

          Norwalk beat Marion (63-36) in a game about a week before Christmas.  Gray knows their personnel and what they might try and do against the Truckers.  “They have been playing that way, but we are sort of used to teams changing things when they go against us.  Quite frankly we are a little bit bigger, a little bit quicker.  I think they we do everything in their power to slow us down.  Maybe like a 2-2-1 press, not to go for steals, but just to slow us up.  I would expect a lot of zone to try and force us to shoot from the outside.  If they get up in our face and I think that would be beneficial to us and I just can’t see Roger doing that,” said Gray.

          Like any team with superior talent, Gray doesn’t want to full around he wants to get off to a good start.  “When you come to tournament time you just don’t want to screw around in the second half with a team you should be successful against.  You don’t want to give them hope that they can stick around.  You don’t know about officials and they knock down a couple threes and before you know it you are in a world of hurt.  We need to come out and impose our will on them in the first half and hopefully create some offense with our defense,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Ready For Another Long Run

 

          Sometimes the numbers are staggering, but the Norwalk Truckers now own a 43 game regular season win streak, three straight Northern Ohio League titles, and a district title last year.

          They hope they can improve on that last one this time.

          Norwalk (22-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division for the second straight year, finished second in the statewide AP poll in division one, only behind Columbus Northland.

          Coach Steve Gray says they continue to get better as a team and that is what he wants to see.  “We are pretty happy with our kids right now.  The last two or three weeks we have played really well.  We played well against Willard.  Huron was a great game for us.  We are happy and we had a great practice on (Monday) and we are ready to go,” he said.

          This has been a very goal oriented team this year and Gray says they are ready to get the tournament started and get that next goal accomplished.  “Last year we got a taste of what a tournament run is really like.  We have achieved our first goal, which was an “NOL” championship.  Now on our goal board we are going after our second goal and that is a sectional championship.  The kids have been really good at taking this one game at a time.  You just don’t want to get too far a head of yourself,” he said.

          The Truckers meet Sandusky (3-19), a team they have beaten twice this year, in the division one sectional semi-final on Tuesday night at Galion High School.  Gray likes the tournament experience he has on his roster.  “The tournaments are different.  You can watch the “NCAA” tournament.  You can watch the scores from around the state and you see some funny things this time of year because it is one and done.  Some kids react just a little bit different that others, but we have great leadership from our seniors and our juniors and we are just excited or the opportunity to get started,” he said. 

          Norwalk has beaten Sandusky by an average of more than 40 points in the two games they have played.  The Blue Streaks could come out with a different approach this time, but Gray isn’t sure what that would be.  “The trouble we have had this year and about halfway through last year is how much teams change when they play us.  The team we see on film is not the team we see on game night.  They come at us a little harder.  They look a little quicker.  Teams slow it down.  Teams put in new things against us.  The only thing we haven’t seen this year is box and one and triangle and two and we see that often in practice, so I don’t know what other teams can do,” said Gray.  And as far as keeping his kids motivated, Gray knows how.  “The last thing we talked about when we left practice on (Monday) was you can do things my way or you can set next to the coaches and spend five minutes there, 20 minutes there.  It’s totally up to you.  The greatest motivator isn’t yelling or running it’s please have a seat,” he said.

 

 
   

Norwalk Still Pushing

 

          Could it be two in a row for Norwalk?  It could be and we are not talking about two wins in a row, we are talking about two unbeaten regular seasons in a row.

          All that stands in the way is a win at Tiffin Columbian on Friday night.

          The Truckers have won 41 straight regular season games in a row after dispatching second place Willard (78-43) last Friday and following that up with a (76-54) victory over Sandusky Bay Conference co-leader Huron on Saturday night.  Coach Steve Gray says they executed the game play on both nights.  “We played very well last weekend both nights.  Against Willard we got into a situation where the tempo was really to our liking.  Defensively we just played very, very well.  We do have the ability when we put our minds to it to disrupt the other team’s offense.  We contested, I think, most shots, got it off the board and get out on transition,” said Gray.

          The Truckers (21-0,9-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, has the ability to score in bunches.  Gray says it is their defense that gets that rolling.  “I think it has to start with your defense.  We are very fortunate we are long and athletic.  When we close out on the shooters with our length we are able to get a hand up in the way and we are able to alter quite a few shots,” he said.

          Norwalk beat Tiffin (63-34) about a month ago in Norwalk.  However, Gray says Columbian has some solid athletes and they are getting better as a team.  “The thing with Tiffin is I think Longsway is one of the better point guards around.  He is quick, athletic, and like Willard found out he almost led them to victory against them.  Then I really think their two sophomore post players are pretty good.  I think in the very, very near future they have a chance to be a really good team,” Gary said.

          And about that perfect season Gray says that really wasn’t a goal at the beginning of the season.  “We talked about it for the first time two weeks ago.  We asked the team do you want to be special?  What do you want to be remembered for at the end of your career?  At that time we knew it was a possibility if we took care if business,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “We challenged the kids we have had a pretty special year we are undefeated at home and so far undefeated in the “NOL.”  To have a perfect season would be something I think everybody in the program could be proud of.”

          With the tournament next week Gray says he is not going to introduce anything new.  “We are just going to do what we do.  We are going to pressure the ball.  We are probably going to trap and hopefully get out in transition.  If you don’t know who you are at this point in the season then your chances of being successful tournament isn’t very good.  We need to work hard.  We need to continue to try and get better.  To get out of the Galion sectional/district is going to a challenge for us,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Goes For Outright Title

 

          Norwalk has become one of the dominate boys’ basketball programs in the area as coach Steve Gray has assisted in having them rise from the ashes in the Northern Ohio League.

          A win Friday night over the team that has challenged the most, at least in league games, this season gives them the outright “NOL” title as they host the Willard Flashes.

          A number of different strategies have been employed to stop the Truckers.  Last Friday night, Bellevue tried a very patient approach and it was successful for much of the night until Norwalk pulled away (47-35) in the fourth quarter.  Gray says the Redmen stuck to their game plan.  “It was a tough game for us because they tried to play keep away for the whole game.  They are good enough that for the most part they did a really, really good job, but once we got up be 10 in the fourth quarter the game was over because they never did try to score the whole game,” he said.  Gray adds that his kids did a great job of staying patient and letting the game come to them.  “It would be nice to have a shot clock.  We work every day on pressuring the basketball and our trapping defenses.  We try to change the levels of pressure.  It is a situation where the kids just have to be patient.  They have to understand that their athleticism and their length will eventually going to wear teams down.  I think Bellevue was pretty tied at the end of the game.  I was just proud of the way our kids reacted,” said Gray.

          Willard (14-5,6-2), #5 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, makes the trip to Norwalk (19-0,8-0), #1 in that poll, on Friday night.  The first time they played the Truckers edged Willard (58-51) at the “House that Haas Built” at Willard.  Gray says the Flashes are playing well.  “I think it will be a very interesting game.  They have won 10 of their last 11 or something like that.  They beat Fremont Ross and those kids are playing really well.  In fact, I think they only have two losses on the year when all of their players have been available.  They are tough kids.  They beat the heck out us on the boards the first time around.  They had a chance with 30 some seconds to go to pull off a big win for them,” said Gray.

          The Flashes run an efficient offense that features a number of three point shooters and Gray says they do a good job getting them open.  “They have two kids that have more three attempts than twos.  The thing that they do so well is they just spread the floor out.  You’ve got Adams inside, Cok inside-out.  They just do an outstanding job.  They run 150 different sets at you and every screen available to man, flairs, doubles, staggered.  “Hirsh” does a good job of putting them in position to be successful,” said Gray.

          Norwalk has another challenge on Saturday night as they travel to meet Sandusky Bay Conference co-leader Huron (15-4) in a non-conference game.  Gray says the Tigers are on a roll.  “Well according to the papers they are unbeaten in 2013.  They are very, very athletic.  They run 10 people at you.  They play above the rim.  They have a couple of kids that can do that.  They are going to pressure the ball.  They are expecting a full house that their place on Saturday night.  It’s a little bit of a smaller gym so it’s going to be hot, it’s going to be noisy and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said.

 

 
   

Norwalk Can Take First Step

 

          Norwalk is unbeaten on the season, they are ranked as the third best boys’ basketball team in the state in division one, yet they have not accomplished even their first goal this season.  They get that chance on Friday night.

          A win at home over Bellevue (9-8,2-5) will give the Truckers (17-0,7-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, a piece of the Northern Ohio League title.  Back on December 28 the Truckers hammered Bellevue (76-43) in their first meeting.  However, Norwalk coach Steve Gray says that was a long time ago.  “The first time we played them was a little misleading.  They only had about two and half weeks after football was over to get ready.  As most coaches will tell you it takes football kids, four, six, eight weeks to really get their shot back and we were fortunate to get them early.  Santoro averages about 18 points a game.  He is the player that makes them go.  He plays some point and some wing.  Everything goes through him so we will have our hands full trying to keep him under control,” says Gray.

          Bellevue senior Jalen Santoro is one of the area’s leading scorers sand Gray says he is going to be pumped up to play Norwalk for a final time and they must contain him.  “I think they are excited about the opportunity to play us.  We are at a point and time now where we are pretty important on most team’s schedule.  They would like nothing better than to knock us off for our first loss of the year and knock us out of an undefeated season in the “NOL” and everything else.  The thing we can’t allow Santoro to do is to score 30 points on 18 to 19 shots and then have eight or nine assists.  If he is going to score that many we have to make sure he is taking a heck of a lot of shots,” he said.

          It’s been a great season for the Truckers, including wins over the likes of Toledo Whitmer, the only team to beat them last season, but Gray says it all has been leading up to this.  “For 17 straight games Coach Foster after every game, doesn’t matter who we played Whitmer, Willard, Rogers, Shelby, says we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “We are happy.  We have won a lot of games, but in terms of accomplishing something meaningful we just haven’t done it yet, but (Friday) night if we are fortunate to come out on the right side of the scoreboard Coach Foster will say that was have accomplished our first goal, which is an “NOL” championship.  I think our kids are excited and I know our community is excited.”

          Last year the Truckers went unbeaten in the regular season.  What about doing it again?  “We have never talked about it.  It is something that we talked about quite a bit last year before the season started, but this year our focus has been getting better, an “NOL” championship, now if we are successful (Friday) night then maybe it will creep into our conversation a little bit that maybe we are on the verge of doing something pretty special that not a lot that not many teams get an opportunity to do,” said Gray.

          On Saturday night, Norwalk will play at home against Sandusky Bay Conference leader Sandusky Perkins (14-3), #3 in the large school poll.  Gray says he likes playing a good team like Perkins twice.  “It is an opportunity for Perkins and coach McVeigh to find out how good they really are in a big time atmosphere on Saturday night.  The same thing goes for us.  They have two great wing players, both about 6’4”, in Williams and Smith.  It is a big game going into the tournament.  We keep talking about what we need to do to get better.  What we need to do to put ourselves in the position to have a chance to beat the Mansfield Seniors and teams like that come tournament time,” said Gray.

          The Truckers won the first meeting with the Pirates 75-59.

 

 
   

Norwalk One of the State’s Best

 

          Norwalk has proven over the last season and a half that they are an excellent team and they may have erased the final doubters with a win over last year’s state runner-up Toledo Whitmer last Saturday.

          They avenged their only loss since February of 2011 by beating Whitmer (51-43) to keep their record unblemished this season.  Coach Steve Gray says they knew what they had to do and they got it done.  “I thought we had great preparation leading into the game.  When you talk about excitement I have never seen the Norwalk community this excited about a team,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “I got to the game at three o’clock.  We had a freshman game at four against Whitmer.  At three o’clock there were a couple of hundred people in line already.  It was packed by the end of the freshman game and the JV’s played in front of a full house.  I think they let everybody in, but I think they told people that you would have to stand.  What a magical night for our kids.”

          Norwalk is an athletic team that does a lot of good things in the open floor and that was never more apparent then Saturday night.  Gray says they learned some things too.  “We really did accomplish some of the things we hoped to.  It was a big game against big time athletes against a well prepared team. Coach Smith of Whitmer said in the Sandusky paper that the reason they were playing us is we have the ability to expose weaknesses and that’s why we played them.  We wanted to see what we needed to work on to take that next step,” he said.

          There was a huge crowd at the game in what was maybe the biggest regular season win in the history of the program.  Gray says the kids were ready for the challenge.  “In a typical Saturday game I get to the gym around four and I always have players waiting for me at the door.  I won’t mention any names, but we have one parent that is absolutely nuts.  He’ll beat me into the gym.  I don’t know gets in, but he’ll have his son shooting, working on out along with his buddy.  It was a great atmosphere and the kids were excited.  It was just a great opportunity for our community,” said Gray.

          Norwalk (16-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, plays at Port Clinton (3-10) on Saturday night in non-conference play.  Gray says they will be ready for the Redskins too.  “Since we only have a Saturday night game we went over some things that we really felt we had to address on Monday.  Our press, our press offense, our half court, throwing the ball into the post.  We ran them pretty hard and then we took (Tuesday) off.  Starting (Wednesday) we will lock in on Port Clinton and we will work on things that we need to get better at.  It doesn’t matter who the opponent is we treat everybody the same with the utmost respect,” he said.

          Norwalk is rated third in the state in division one behind only Columbus Northland and Cincinnati Walnut Hills.  Gray says that is a credit to the kids.  “We literally never address it and it’s a situation where, I’m not proud of this, but we are really hard on our kids in practice, we try to demand perfection every single time in every drill.  We don’t have time to look that far ahead in terms of what other people are saying, but I know the kids probably do read it.  I think it is very deserving for a small town like Norwalk to be rated third, especially when you think of the Mentors, the St. Ed’s, the St. Xavier’s and the great teams out of Columbus.  It is something they have worked hard to achieve and we are very proud of what we have accomplished so far,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Another Big Weekend For Norwalk

 

          Norwalk has been looking forward to this weekend for a while now.  They have an outside chance at clinching no less than a share of Northern Ohio League title and they have a chance to beat the only team that has beaten them since February of 2011.

          They travel to Sandusky on Friday night for their league game and then host defending division I state runner-up Toledo Whitmer on Saturday night.  Whitmer beat Norwalk in last year’s regional semi-finals, but later was forced to vacate that win due to some violations of the agreed upon rules.

          Last Saturday, Norwalk downed high scoring Toledo Rogers (70-55) in a non-conference game on Saturday night.  Norwalk coach Steve Gray says they were able to take them out of their game.  “Defensively we were really good.  We were able to stop dribble penetration and keep their guards out of the paint.  A lot of Rogers success in scoring so many points obviously was their ability to get out in transition.  We did a great job of limiting our turnovers and stopping them from breaking out,” he said.

          Norwalk (14-0,6-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, hammered Sandusky (72-28) on December 14 in Norwalk.  However, Gray says the Blue Streaks have matured a little as a team.  “I think most teams get better in the course of the year.  Sandusky has some athleticism.  They can soot it a little bit and obviously get to the rack.  We have to stay down and keep out of foul trouble and hopefully enjoy some success on Friday night,” said Gray.

          Considering the point differential in the first meeting and with Whitmer waiting on Saturday you might think the Truckers might look past Sandusky (3-11,1-5), but Gray says no.  “They are pretty intelligent and they understand there is something we dearly want and that is a third “NOL” championship.  We are at the point now when we are getting close to the end.  I think they would like to go through the season undefeated in league play,” he said.

          With the regional loss still in the back of their minds, the Truckers have circled Whitmer (11-3) on their schedule.  Gray says the Panthers have their attention.  “I think Friday night if we take care of business we will start talking about Whitmer about 10 minutes after the game.  It has been a game that has been highlighted on our schedule all year.  Our kids really look forward to the challenge of going against a great team.  It is not everyday that a top five in the state visits your gym and with them they bring a Big Ten type player,” said Gray.

          Not only do the Panthers have basketball skills, Gray says they are the most physical team on the regular season schedule.  “They are the most physical team we have played yet this year.  Defensively, they are as good as anybody we go against.  They play a little like we did at Lexington when we had Sanderson his senior year.  You have four guys that really go out and defend and deny and Nigel Hayes sort of stays in the paint and protects the bucket.  It is very difficult to get easy looks.  They do a great job one on one defensively and they have the big fellow behind them,” said Gray.

 

 
   

First Place on the Line in the “NOL"

 

          Norwalk holds a one game lead on the Shelby Whippets in the Northern Ohio League as the two meet on Friday night at Norwalk.

          It is the same situation as a year ago other than the venue.  Last January, Norwalk’s Ben Haraway hit a shot with one second to play to give his Truckers the win and eventually the title.

          Last week, the Truckers (12-0,5-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, beat Tiffin Columbian (63-34) to remain unbeaten in the league.  Coach Steve Gray says their defense told the story.  “We played pretty well, especially defensively.  They are very young and I think sometimes young players tend to look ahead a little bit.  I think they saw Norwalk on the schedule and I think they played a little timid.  We took it at them and defensively we were really solid and very, very unselfish with the basketball,” he said.

          Shelby (8-3,4-1) has been one of the most improved teams in the area since early December, especially on offense.  Gray says that is because of senior Grant Fenner.  “I think Fenner is really good.  He poses a great challenge to us.  He will play a little point, he will play a little wing, he’ll run to the block and he is a tough match-up for a lot of teams.  I think he is leading the “NOL” in scoring right now.  I have told my kids this on a couple of different occasions that right now Rhode is the most improved player in the conference,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “It helped that he grew a couple of inches and put on a little weight.  He is very skilled and a tremendous competitor.  With Karis, he is averaging close to ten and is one the top rebounders in the league.  What we are selling our kids this week is an “NOL” championship game.”

          Norwalk is the most athletic team in Northern Central Ohio and Gray doesn’t think the Whippets want to run with them.  “I think tempo is even more important to Shelby.  If we can get them in an up and down game.  If we can get 60, 65, 70 possessions obviously that works to our advantage.  I think Shelby will attempt to be a little more deliberate than last time.  I think our traps gave them a little bit of trouble.  If they take care of the ball like they are capable they will back door us to death and it’s going to be a low scoring, highly contested game,” he said.

          Last year’s second run game was a 46-45 final and Gray believes that is where Shelby would like the tempo to be on Friday night.  “It is sort of our philosophy we are going to attempt to get the tempo is quick as possible, but at some point and time, I don’t what that time is, second quarter, third quarter, you have to say the heck with it and you just have to set down and defend.  If the game is going to be in the 40’s or low 50’s, so be it.  Our goal is to win the game by one point and whatever it takes to achieve that goal is what we are going to attempt to do,” said Gray.

          Toledo Rogers (7-3) pays a visit to Norwalk on Saturday night for a non-conference game.  The Rams only loss to an Ohio school this season comes to Columbus Northland (71-69) in the season opener.  Gray says this will be a different kind of game.  “Their perimeter people are outstanding.  Clemens and Kinnard are averaging almost 40 points between them.  They both singed division one scholarships to a school out of Florida I think it is.  They are deep and they are as quick as any two guards that we are going to see this year no matter how far we would go in the tournament.  They have a 6’2” wing, who has a 39 inch vertical jump and he can play above the rim.  I have seen him with his elbow above the rim.  We are going to have to pay attention to detail.  They are averaging 88 points a game and they have been over 100 I think four times.  It is going to be something that Norwalk people haven’t seen in a long time,” said Gray.  

 

 
   

Norwalk Faces Tiffin

 

          Well will it be another 20 win regular season for the Norwalk Truckers?  Of course, only time will tell, but it appears they have a pretty good shot.

          They are unbeaten so far and lead the Northern Ohio League standings by a game over Willard and Shelby.  They beat Flashes (58-51) last Friday.

          They also won a non-conference game on Saturday night (60-36) over Firelands Conference leader Western Reserve, in what was a battle between the two #1’s in the Swankonsports.com coach’s poll, Norwalk in the large school division and Western in the small.

          Norwalk coach Steve Gray says they were able to build on a single digit halftime lead by coming out and playing a little better on defense than they did in the first two quarters.  “These kids really pay attention to detail.  At halftime we just talked about getting out in the passing lanes a little bit harder and we were able to get into our different presses and really got the tempo to where we like it,” he said.

          Gary believes the Truckers have a high basketball I.Q. and he doesn’t have to ride them like he did some teams earlier in his career.  “I think I have calmed down over the years.  That is what my former players have said.  This team is just a very intelligent group.  They understand what has to be done.  Very rarely do I have to get on them.  Probably about the only time is in practice once in a while when it gets a little boring,” said Gray.

          Tiffin Columbian (5-5,1-2) will be at Norwalk (11-0,4-0), still #1 in the Swankonsports.com large school poll, on Friday night.  Columbian has won four its last five and Gray says their talented young players are starting to mature.  “He has a couple of sophomore post players that I think have a chance to be pretty good.  Everything at Tiffin involves Longsway.  He is a 5’8” point guard.  He is extremely quick and handles the ball.  We are going to have to find a way to get the ball out of his hands and make other people make decisions,” says Gray.

          Norwalk has only lost once in the last season in half and that could lead to over confidence in some cases, but Gray says not with this group of players.  “These kids enjoy competing.  Along with coach Foster we attempt to make practice as challenging as possible.  A lot of ways I think the games are a reward.  The games are easier than a practice.  They just enjoy getting out in front of people and just showing people how good potentially they can be,” said Gray.

 

 
   

It’s a Battle For First Place in the “NOL”

 

          Norwalk and Willard stand in a first place tie in the Northern Ohio League with 3-0 league records.

          The Truckers (9-0,3-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, are the two time defending “NOL” champs and nobody is surprised they and in this position.  On the other hand, Willard (7-2,3-0), #5 in that poll, is a little bit of a surprise to be here at this point. 

          Norwalk hammered Bellevue (76-43) in a league game last Friday and coach Steve Gray says they played well in all aspects of the game.  “We played really well against Bellevue, especially after the first quarter.  We held them to seven two-point field goals and they had no offensive rebounds in the game.  We had only six turnovers and we were just very unselfish on offense.  It really was a great effort on the part of my kids,” said Gray.

          The Norwalk coach is one that is not surprised about the position Willard is in because he has great respect for Willard coach Dave Hirschy.  “First of all coach Hirschy is nuts.  I put in a lot of time with basketball and “Hirsh” may double the time he puts into it.  His scouting, his preparation, his ability to put his kids in the position to be successful is unbelievable.  I think it starts with “Hirsh” and the tremendous job he is doing,” he said.

          Running a four guard offense is kind of rare, but that is exactly what Willard is running.  Gray says that is because Hirschy understands his personnel.  “It is about putting your best players on the floor and your best players being in position to be successful.  What he is able to do is really spread the floor.  You have to guard them from 25 feet on in.  You have Adams in the middle that I think is very, very talented.  He is more like a power forward.  He can shoot the jumper.  They really do have the ability to spread us defensively,” said Gray.

          Is Norwalk bigger than Willard?  Yes, they are, but in this case Gray says that may not matter that much when it comes to rebounding.  “Anytime you take long shots that means long rebounds.  The farther that ball gets away from the basket I think it plays into their hands.  If they were going to pound it inside and the ball was going to go straight up in the air I like our chances because we are a little bit bigger, little bit taller and maybe a little bit more athletic inside.  We have to go find them and really limit their second shots,” said Gray.

          Norwalk plays Western Reserve (8-1), #1 in the small school division if the Swnakonsports.com coach’s poll, on Saturday night.  Gray says they will deal with the Rough Riders beginning on Saturday morning.  “(Wednesday) our main focus was to have a great practice.  (Thursday) same thing.  We really do take it one day at a time.  I have a very mature group with a very high basketball I.Q.  I think they have really bought into this let’s just get better today and when the games come hopefully we will be prepared,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Hopes to Find the Right Kind of Bellevue

 

          At this point it would be hard to argue that the Norwalk Truckers aren’t the best team that we cover on this website.

          For the second straight year they have beaten everyone they have played with the exception of a school that beat them in the regional tournament last year that later proved be cheating.

          Last week, they travel to Ontario to play in the holiday classic hosted by the Warriors.  They beat Lexington (57-42), a district final team from a year ago and kind of belted Ontario (63-39) in their own gym in a battle between the two number #1’s in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll.

          Coach Steve Gray says they played well against two very good teams.  “I think they are two of the better teams we have played this year along with Perkins.  The thing that made both of these games special to us was they were two very well coached teams.  They have good athletes that can score the ball.  We knew we had to play pretty well defensively to have a chance,” he said.

          One of the things that needs to be proven this year is if the Truckers are better this year than last.  Gray says there is room for improvement.  “The exciting thing is we are getting better and what’s even more exciting than that is we have a lot of room for growth.  The thing we are getting better at is defensively,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “We knew we could score the ball, but early on we just didn’t guard up to our capabilities.  Last weekend, really over the last two and half weeks, our rotation has been solid.  The kids are buying in what they are hearing.”

          On Friday night, the Truckers (8-0,2-0) return to Northern Ohio league action as they travel to Bellevue (1-2,0-1) to face the Redmen, who took them to wire at their place last year.  Gray says the Redmen have a lot of very good players, starting with Jalen Santoro.  “As far as the “NOL” is concerned they match-up with us probably best athletically and physically.  It starts, just like in football, with Santoro.  He has the ability to put up big numbers at any point and time.  If we don’t contain him we are in trouble.  Then you have Stamms, you have Smith, and Jarvis and the two big guys inside.  They are a very talented team that is well coached.  It’s like it should be if we play well we are going to be successful if we don’t play well we don’t deserve to win,” he said.  Santoro, the Bellevue quarterback, was the division three offensive player of the year this fall.  Gray says they going to throw everything at him.  “Well, the great thing about basketball is that court is a lot smaller than a football field and he doesn’t have big uglys up front blocking for him.  We think we are pretty good defensively.  Tre Hallick will start the game off on him. Tre’s is 6’2”, he is long.  Then we can bring 6’5” on him.  We can bring another 6’2” kid and we can bring a quick point guard.  We are just going to throw bodies at him all night and we hope we can wear him down,” said Gray.

          Bellevue’s basketball season started two weeks late with only eight days to prepare.  Gray hopes they are still a little rusty.  “I don’t think we have seen the real Bellevue team.  We may not see the real Bellevue team until the new year.  It takes football players, most coaches will say, until Christmas to shoot the ball well and this is only about the fourth week.  Hopefully we won’t see their best this Friday night and it will be great holiday for the Truckers,’ said Gray.   

 

 
   

Norwalk Takes on Two of the Best

 

          Norwalk has likely been the best boys’ basketball team in this area for the last year and a month, but they face a big challenge as they take on both Lexington and Ontario in the Ontario Holiday Classic.

          Norwalk (6-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, beat Marion Harding (63-36) on Tuesday night in non-conference play.  Coach Steve Gary felt as if it was one their better overall efforts of the season.  “I thought we played really, really well against Marion on Tuesday night. You have to look at more than just the score, it’s how you score and how you distribute the ball.  Defensively are you able to take things away that maybe the other team wants to run.  I thought that was as good an effort as we have had this year,” said Gray.

          With a number of returners from a 23-1 team from last year, Norwalk has shown great offensive balance on the floor this season.  Gray says that includes the bench.  “The great thing right now is we have five kids averaging between 10 and 13 points a game.  When you get that type of balance we have had a different one or two kids step up every game.  Then I think we have Wyatt Hall and Jordan Johnson giving us great energy off the bench,” he said.

          Lexington (4-2) advanced to the district finals last year, but they were hurt more by graduation than was Norwalk.  Still, Gray believes the Minutemen has been able to rebuild a very good team.  “I think it starts with Willke at the guard position.  He is as good as anybody we have faced this year.  He can shoot it deep.  He can control tempo is they choose to put him at the point guard spot.  The thing that makes Lexington tough for us is they move so many kids in and out of the game.  They are playing 10 and we have to make sure we stay organized, especially defensively,” said Gray.  He adds that the Lexington depth could make them more fresh, plus his kids really aren’t used to playing a full game.  “Their depth could wear us out.  The problem we have had, and it’s a great problem.  You know, we have played very well this year and our starters haven’t played many minutes.  I think in four of the six games they have played less than four minutes in the second half,” said Gray.

          In their second game Norwalk meets Ontario (5-1), #1 in the Swankonsports.com small school poll, in a battle between two teams that have enjoyed outstanding seasons so far.  Gray thinks the Warriors are the second team this year, the other being Perkins, that match them man to man.  “They are very athletic and they are probably the second team that we have played that has the physical size in compete.  Joe’s son plays at 6’4” on the wing.  They have just great overall size and it will be a great challenge for us.  Quite frankly, that’s why we got in this thing to go against two good teams and see where we stand at the Christmas break,” said Gray.

          Games start at 6PM at Ontario High School on Friday and Saturday nights and Gray thinks the public should take advantage.  “People that come (Friday) night.  The first game I think is going to be outstanding.  You get to see Lex, you get to see Norwalk, you get to see Ontario, three of the better teams in the area.  I really don’t much about Hillsdale, but it’s going to be a great weekend.  I think on Saturday night people will be in for a great contest between Norwalk and Ontario,” he said.

 

 
   

Norwalk Wants to Be Norwalk

 

          Norwalk is a very skilled basketball team and one that has the ability to do just about anything on the basketball floor.  However, their coach wants to stick with the things they do best.

          The Tuckers (3-0,1-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, plays at home Friday night in a Northern Ohio League game with Sandusky (1-2,0-1) and then hosts Mansfield Madison (1-2) in a non-conference game Saturday night.

          Last week, the Truckers overwhelmed Shelby (75-47) in a league game and got past Ashland (58-47) on Saturday.  Norwalk coach Steve Gray says they were kind of out of gas for the Arrows.  “Saturday night wasn’t a thing of beauty, but as coach Foster said never apologize for a win.  We just looked a little tired after Friday’s game,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “I thought on Friday we played exceptionally hard and the gym was really hot.  It was parent’s night and the kids had ACT’s in the morning.  Just a lot of different things going on that maybe prevented us from playing to the best of our ability.”

          Even on nights when they don’t shoot well the Truckers can win because they are a pretty good defensive unit.  “I think we have a chance to be petty good.  For what ever reason, we are a very good shooting team, but on Saturday night we just didn’t put the ball in the basket very well.  The shooting will come and go, but the defense is the one that is consistent.  I felt we held a pretty good Ashland team to 47 points,” he said.

          This likely isn’t the best Sandusky team, but Gray says the Blue Steaks always have athletes on the floor that can make that special play.  “They are always going to have athletes.  Right now, we are at the point of the season where we are really concerned about what we do.  We will go over scouting reports and things of that nature, but we just have to get better at both ends of the floor and hopefully keep improving,” he said.

          In all respect to Sandusky, or anyone else, Gray says the Truckers are not going to change what they do much, they are going to play their game.  “We are in a situation where we are going to do what we do.  We are going to pressure the basketball.  We are going to deny the wings.  Offensively we hope to get as many possessions as possible.  Sometimes I think you can get caught up in maybe changing too much for a game instead of allowing your kids to do what they do best,” said Gray.

          With Mansfield Madison back on the Norwalk schedule, Gray says they will see another athletic team that plays hard all of time.  “Sort of like us they do what Madison does.  They have good athletes.  They stumbled a little bit last week against Mansfield, but I think a lot of teams will do that this year.  I think they are getting a little bit healthier and playing some young kids.  I think Madison is a lot like Ashland in that they are gong to be a lot better as the year goes on.  I have known Tim (Mergel) for a long time and those kids will play hard every night for him,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Wants Tempo

 

          Norwalk and Shelby meet at the “Dog House” on Friday night in the first of maybe many crucial games in the Northern Ohio League this year.

          It was the Whippets that gave Norwalk its toughest game in the league last year when the Truckers went unbeaten in the regular season and advanced to the division one regional tournament.

          It was a quality win for the Truckers on week one when with a big second half they downed Sandusky Perkins (75-59) to claim an opening night win.  Coach Steve Gray says Perkins won’t lose many.  “I think Perkins has an outstanding team coached by Scott McVey.  They are going to win 20-plus games this year.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they get back to the regionals and have a great tournament run.  Anytime you have two 6’4”, 6’5” wing players that can shoot the ball, handle the ball, you have a chance to be pretty good,” said Gray.

          Shelby (2-0) produced two one point wins last weekend edging Mansfield Madison (35-34) and Orrville (57-56) in nail biters.  Gray thinks the Whippets are pretty good.  “I think Shelby has three really good offensive players in Karis, Fenner, and Rhode.  Anytime you have three scorers you have a chance to be really good.  They are going to play hard.  They are going to compete.  It’s going to be a great challenge for us on Friday night,” he said.

          The Truckers must execute on offense because Shelby plays hard on defense and they are going to try and limit the possessions in the game.  “I think they are outstanding defensively and Troy will get them to play hard and compete and try to take away what we do best offensively.  I think if Troy has a wish I would guess he would want the score in the 40’s, low 50’s.  If I could have my wish I would want it in the 60’s, 70’s or higher,” Gray told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday.

          Gray says they will attempt to play good defense too and they want the Whippets to give the ball up more quickly than they probably want to.  “I don’t know if there is a secret except to get your kids to set down and defend.  We will try to deny the wings a little bit harder and may double a little bit.  We are going to try and put them in as many positions as possible where they have to make decisions with the ball.  If we are fortunate enough to get a little bit of a lead I think that is obviously to our advantage.  They will have to go with us in order to get back in it,” said Gray.

          Norwalk would like to establish the lead in the game so they are the ones that dictate tempo.  Gray says if that doesn’t happen they must win it with defense.  “I think the first 12 minutes are going to be vital.  I told our kids in practice this week that if we can’t get the tempo to where we want we are not going to gamble and double and put ourselves in position where they can exploit us defensively.  If some point in time if it’s a close game we are just going to have to sit down and defend and sort of admit that the game is going to be in the 40’s and we will take a win of any kind to come out on the correct end of the scoreboard,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Faces Tough Schedule

 

          Norwalk was the best boys’ basketball team in North Central Ohio last season and they could be this year too, but they must continue to grow.

          The Truckers ran the table in the regular season and made it to the division one regional tournament last year.  Coach Steve Gray says they are not as good yet.  “We are getting better, but the problem I am having is I think a lot people that watched us last year are going to have is this is a team that ahs practiced 14 days and we aren’t nearly as good as we were at the end of last season.  Now, I think we have the potential and the ability to get that good, but right now we are a work in progress and people have to understand this is our first game,” said Gray.

          The veteran coach says he and the players understand they are expected to win, and win a lot, and that’s alright.  “We enjoy the challenge and I think we have a pretty good schedule this year and we are going to go against some good teams.  It’s a situation where if you don’t play well you shouldn’t win.  I think our kids are excited.  I think a lot of people in Norwalk are excited with some of the teams we are playing,” he said.

          Norwalk has loaded its schedule this year with the likes Toledo Whitmer, the school that beat them in the regional last year, and Toledo Rogers.  “It is also Ontario, it’s Lexington and Ashland.   We are playing some good teams, some teams that are D-one, D-two and very athletic. If we hope to achieve some of our goals we need to be pushed during the season.  Last year we were very fortunate we didn’t have any injuries and we went 20-0.  This year our goals are much different, yea we want to win every game, but what’s even more important is we get our third straight “NOL” championship and that come March we are in position to compete with everybody on the tournament trail,” said Gray.

          Always known for emphasizing defense, Gray says he has challenged the players to be great defenders.  “This will sound stupid, but we have changed our defensively philosophy in the last week.  Before our whole scheme was to keep people out of the paint and to shoot jump shots,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Everybody tells us we’ve good so if we are as good as everybody thinks we are and as good as our kids think we are why can’t we guard them?  So, we are going to go out and deny almost every pass and we are going to make the kids accountable either guard or set on the bench.  The last week or so we have gotten a lot better.  We have a long way to go, but I am happier now than I was a week ago.”

          Norwalk opens the season against Sandusky Perkins, also a regional qualifier last season.  Gray knows this will be a tremendous test.  “Except for maybe Whitmer and Rogers I truly believe that Sandusky Perkins has the three best players that we will face on one team.  Williams, a 6’4” wing, was “SBC” player of the year and averaged 18 points a game.  Smith is about a 6’4” wing that can shoot the heck out of it and has had a couple of D-one offers.  Doster their point guard is a tough kid that can put the ball in the paint.  Those are three really good players we have to watch,” said Gray.   

 

 
   

Defense has to be Better For Norwalk

 

          It looks like nearly everybody is expecting the Norwalk Truckers to win the Northern Ohio League boy’s basketball title, but their coach says they better start playing some defense.

          Norwalk went 23-1 and lost to Toledo Whitmer in the division one regional tournament last year and coach Steve Gray says they return a number of players that were significant contributors to the success of that team.  “We have a lot returning lettermen.  We have six or seven.  You know, I think in the “NOL” we probably have one of the best post players in Jake Fetheroff, who had a great summer.  We have a really good point guard in Ben Haraway, an outstanding wing in Jeff Thomas.  Along with Tre Hallick we have some shooters back in the Hall brothers.  Offensively right now we have a chance to be really good,” said Gary.

          However, Gray says they need to make sure they understand how important defense is to the success their team will have or not have this winter.  “Right now unfortunately we are showing more interest on the offensive end.  I think we have time to grab their attention.  The problem I have and a lot of people have is they remember how we finished last year.  We were playing really, really well defensively against Mansfield, against Anthony Wayne, Whitmer.  Defensively at times we really had the ability to lock people down.  This year it is a new set of characters.  It’s just going to take some adjusting to get used to each other.  Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later,’ said Gray.

          The Truckers has a lot skill on offense, but Gray says they have to find some players that don’t need to score, but enjoy playing defense against really good players.  “Last year we had two seniors in Darien Cook and Jacob Cashen, who sacrificed a great deal for the better of the team.  They allowed some sophomores and juniors to step up and be the leading scorers and sort of take the headlines, but defensively they were outstanding.  We need people this year that can make the same type of sacrifices that would make us successful,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “Darien Cook was just a lock down defender and Cashen did a great job in the tournament.  He guarded the kid from Anthony Wayne that is going to Michigan and he guarded the kid from Whitmer that is going to Wisconsin.  He did a great job on both of them.”

          What about defending the “NOL” title?  Coach Gray says the other coaches in the league won’t make it easy.  “I think we have some great coaches and unfortunately they prepare like heck.  Dave Hirschy (Willard), Raifsnider at Bellevue, Bill Besaton at Tiffin.  They all just do a great job.  It’s going to be very competitive.  Right now we are just sort of interested in trying to get Norwalk a little bit better.  Hopefully in two weeks when we go to Perkins we will be able to give a great effort,” he said.

 

 
   

Norwalk Needs to Fight Back

 

          Last week was a nightmare of the Norwalk Truckers.  One that stared Bellevue quarterback Jalen Santoro.

          It was Santoro that ran for more than 300 yards in Bellevue’s (48-21) win over the Truckers in a game that most figured would be much closer.  It was Norwalk’s first loss of the season.

          Coach Chris MacFarland says they could never put together anything consistently in the game.  “We went in with a game plan that we thought was pretty solid, but they had a lead and we weren’t able to execute it.  Santoro had an outstanding game at quarterback.  He is an outstanding athlete and he just got the best of us that night.  Offensively we never got into a rhythm.  We had some really nice drives and came up with three scores, but we never put things back to back.  In a game like that you are going to have to do that and try to get into a shootout and we just weren’t able to.  We are going to rest on our seniors this week and come back and see how we respond this week,” said MacFarland.

          Ranking ninth in their computer region the Truckers (7-1,2-1), #3 in the Swankonsports.com football coach’s poll in the large school division, have enjoyed a fine season.  MacFarland says they know that and have had a great week of practice heading into their “NOL” game at Willard this week.  “Our seniors are very good leaders and they have had an outstanding week of practice.  We talked about after the game that all of our goals are still ahead of us.  We still have a chance for an “NOL” championship.  We still have a chance for playoffs.  We just have to come back and respond and handle this adversity and see how we come out.  If we take care of business on Friday night we are one step closer to both of those goals.  They have really responded well this week in practice.  We are excited to have another opportunity to play this week to show what kind of quality football program we are developing,” said MacFarland.

          Willard (3-5,0-3) features the option offense this season.  MacFarland says that is something they have seen before.  “We are just trying to go back.  We did this in week one against Edison.  The kids understand that it is assignment football and being aggressive.  We are excited to play against option football.  It does give you a chance to show what kind of disciplined defense you have.  Offensively we are excited to get another chance to just go out against different coverages and different fronts.  Our kids are just hungry to go out and prove themselves and show that we can really respond and keep improving,” he said.

          Coming off the lost it would be nice to get off to a good start, but MacFarland says he has confidence in his team no matter what the situation.  “I think it’s just important for our kids to go out there and shake it off from last week.  In football games, in high school especially, there are going to be positive and negative things that happen throughout.  We would like to get off to a quick start again.  If not we want to show that our kids can keep fighting,” he told Swankonsports.com, “I was proud last when we came out at halftime and put a nice drive together and went down and got it within eight points.  Our kids know that we would like to come out and have it be all in our favor, but we are going to have to scrap and fight and play four quarters.  I think they will respond to that and not panic about what happens in the first quarter.”

 

 
   

A Big One in the “NOL"

 

          Can Norwalk be a contender in the Northern Ohio League football race?  We find out Friday night.  The talented Truckers travel to Bellevue to meet the equally talented Redmen.

          Right now, the Truckers (7-0,2-0), #3 in the Swankonsports.com football coach’s poll in the large school division, share first place in the “NOL” standings with Tiffin Columbian, a game in front of both Bellevue and Sandusky. 

          Norwalk crushed Sandusky (54-13) last week in league play.  Truckers coach Chris MacFarland says they got the match-ups they were looking for against the Blue Streaks.  “We came out and played really well.  Offensively we got some of the looks and coverages we thought we were going to get.  The kids really did a nice job of executing the game plan.  We were able to grind some drives and also have some big plays, which is always nice for offense.  Defensively we kind of got our feet week early.  We got comfortable with what they were trying to do to us and played really physical football and did a great job of containing them.  When you put those two together things are going to work out pretty well,” said MacFarland.

          Anyone that knows anything about Bellevue football over the last couple of years knows the name Jalen Santoro, the quarterback.  MacFarland knows everything goes through him on offense.  “He does an outstanding job.  He is very athletic.  Probably the biggest thing about him is his will to win.  We are going to have to play very disciplined on defense.  We are going to have to make sure we gang tackle and fly to the football.  They do have some other athletes though.  The running backs and the receivers have done a great job, but it all starts with the quarterback.  We are going to have to make sure we go out and understand the game plan,” said MacFarland.

          Bellevue (6-1,1-1) was young at the beginning of the season on defense, but MacFarland says they have shown continued improvement this year and he says they like to bring it.  “They play with a lot of seniors on that side of the ball.  They are kids that were waiting to play.  They have really nice size up front.  Their outside linebackers are very active.  They make a lot of offenses have to change what they are doing because of pressure.  Their secondary plays pretty basic and just understands football and tries to keep everything in front of them.  They have improved each week we have seen them on film.  It’s going to be a big test for our offense to go out and establish itself,” he said.

          MacFarland says they have a lot of athletes on their team and they feel they can give the Redmen some problems.  “We hope we can spread them out and get our athletes in position where maybe they go after some blitzing instead of covering them,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “If they do that maybe we can take advantage or we can use some of our formations to get them out in space where they are not able to come into the box and give us some pressure.  We will be trying to mix some different formations and find the best fit for us to run our game plan.  That’s the way we attack it just try to get match-ups when we can and let our athletes be athletes.”

          MacFarland says he understands this is a huge game for both sides.  “It is important for us.  We are unbeaten right now in the “NOL” and we want to keep that so we can take care of this week and move on.  For them with one loss already in the “NOL,” it’s a big a game for them because you don’t want to get two down in our league.  That makes it very difficult, especially with the way Columbian is playing.  We have to make sure that we go out and take care of our side of the ball.  I think it’s going to be an outstanding football game.  It will come down to the team with the least amount of mistakes, penalties and turnovers,” said MacFraland.

 

 
   

Norwalk Must be at Their Best

 

          Norwalk has reeled off six straight wins and the Truckers have given notice that they are going to be a factor this year in the Northern Ohio league race.

          They play Bellevue on week eight and Tiffin Columbian on week 10. 

          Last week, they routed Shelby (49-7) to win their league opener.  Coach Chris MacFarland says they did good things on both offense and defense against Shelby.  “The kids really played well.  The defense came out and really put together a nice game plan and executed it.  The kids flew to the football and we had a lot of gang tackling.  I was really excited about them taking what we were teaching them all week and watching them go out and perform it,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Offensively we got a nice rhythm going and got the ball into a lot of different kid’s hands and let our athletes be athletes.  A lot of positive things came out from that.  The kids are playing well right now and we just hope we can continue that this Friday night.”

          Norwalk was leading 14-7 late in the fist half last week when they scored twice and pretty much put the game away.  MacFarland says momentum is always a big factor in high school football.  “We know that momentum is a big part of it.  Right now, our kids just have a lot of confidence with what they are doing.  We had a nice drive and there were three minutes to go in the half and scored and we felt comfortable with that going into halftime.  Our defense did an outstanding job of getting a turnover.  I couldn’t believe that they could do one play drives.  Jake made a great pass deep and we got an outstanding catch.  That can really be a huge dagger going into somebody going into the half giving up 14 points in the last three minutes.  These are high schools kids and we have to get them rolling, feeling good about themselves, then a lot of good things happen,” said MacFarland.

          Sandusky (2-4,1-0) comes to Norwalk (6-0,1-0), #3 in the Swankonssports.com football coach’s poll in the large school division, on Friday night.  MacFarland says the Blue Streaks on the defending champions and they are starting to play well.  “They have had an excellent schedule with Fremont and Ashland and Perkins all playing very well.  They now have two wins under their belts over the last two weeks.  They are still an outstanding, athletic football team.  They are probably the biggest we have seen up front, so we are going to have hands full up front on both sides of the ball.  They still have a lot of skilled players.  When they touch the ball in space a lot of positive things happen for them.  I think they are getting in their comfort zone with their quarterback.  They are 1-0 in the “NOL” and they are the defending champs and I’m sure that’s a goal there no matter what happened the first five games to right the ship in the “NOL.”  We know that and we have to go out and play at a very high level on Friday night,” said MacFarland.

          Norwalk came into this game unbeaten a year ago too and Sandusky hammered them (56-6) in a game that was never really in question.  MacFarland says the Streaks don’t really have the same kind of athletes this season.  “They have gone through two quarterbacks, working them both in.  They just had outstanding athletes last year with running backs and receivers.  It wasn’t just a one-two punch, but a one-two-three-four-five punch it seemed like last year.  They have new kids and they are learning.  Coach Franklin does a great job over there and they are playing better each week.  We have to make sure we are playing at a high level for them because athletically and size wise they are going to be the best team we have seen so far,” said MacFarland.      

 

 
   

Norwalk Ready For “NOL”

 

          Norwalk has looked very good over the first five weeks of the season, but for the Truckers the real test starts on Friday night as they start Northern Ohio League play at Shelby.

          Norwalk (5-0), #5 in the Swankonsports.com football coach’s poll in the large school division, is coming off a 46-25 win over Delta in their final non-conference game.  Coach Chris MacFarland is happy with the way they played in non-conference games and feels like they are ready for the league.  “I think we have seen a nice mix of teams.  With Lakewood, division one, very athletic, Bedford Chanel, another athletic team, but also very disciplined in what they do, Edison, athletic.  It was a nice mix of all five.  It has helped us in a lot of different areas and we have seen a lot of different styles and to get ourselves prepared.  So, we think it was the right combination of games going into the Northern Ohio League this Friday night,” said MacFarland.

          Quarterback Jake Federoff threw for 257 yards against Delta and MacFarland believes they have the kind of running game that can balance the attack.  “We are happy with where we are right now.  We are always trying to improve on our run.  It’s always a work on progress with your offensive line.  We have been able to at different times stretch defenses with the run and then come back with the pass.  We really think that helps us out.  We have two really talented running backs and we think we have a nice core of four or five receivers that help us on the perimeter.  Right now we are pretty satisfied with what we are doing.  We are always trying to prepare and get better with the run and hopefully our pass can complement what we do,” said MacFarland.

          Shelby (1-4) is coming off a heartbreaking loss to Marion Harding (27-26) last Friday.  MacFarland feels they are a much better team than a lot of people think.  “Their record does not show what kind of team they are.  They are a very physical football team.  They do a lot of quality things offensively.  They are very balanced.  Their running back does a great job of running their offense,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “Defensively they get after it.  They have some young men with good size that move very well.  We are going to have to be very prepared.  Shelby has a long history of traditional football and we are going have to make sure we are ready to play in a tough stadium.”

          MacFarland thinks one of the keys will be making sure they react to the multiple things that Shelby does on offense.  “Defensively we are going to have to make sure we get lined up properly and make sure that we can read the quarterback.  He does a good job with the read and the zone read.  We are going to have to make sure we know where the ball is and get after him and get some pressure on him when he is passing.  Offensively, we are going to have to keep balanced and take what they give us.  If they move people out of the box we’ll run the ball and if they keep people in the box we’ll throw the ball.  It always comes down to turnovers and penalties,” said MacFarland.  

 

 
   

Norwalk Looking to Stay Unbeaten

 

          Norwalk is four for four this season in high school football games, but they understand they still need to get better.

          A big second half led to a victory over Bedford St. Peter Chanel (24-6) last week.  Coach Chris MacFarland says the defense really did the job against the Firebirds.  “Defensively we came out and played very well.  They were a very athletic football team, very physical.  I think they are going to do a lot of nice things the rest of the season.  We are glad the defense responded the way it did.  We played a really solid game tackling and flying to the football,” he said.

          There have been a lot of good things so far for Truckers, but MacFarland is still looking for more consistency, especially on the offensive side of the ball.  “We are going to work on just being consistent.  That was something we did not do last week in the first half offensively.  We had three really big games to open up the season.  We had a couple of penalties, dropped balls, and things like that,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “It was a really good learning tool for us at halftime.  The kids came out and played the second half really well.  That is what we stressed this week on all phases offense, defense and special teams.  We can’t ever relax.  It’s how we perform that Friday night.  That has been the main emphasis for us this week.”

          Norwalk (4-0), #5 in the Swankonsports.com football coach’s poll in the large school division, travels to Delta (1-3) for their final non-conference game.  MacFarland predicts this will be a physical battle.  “They have a quarterback that can really throw the ball.  They have a nice tight set with two backs that can control the run.  We are going to have to play really good football and find our keys and find the football.  Defensively they have shown us a lot of different fronts, so we are going to have to get our offensive line to make adjustments.  Hopefully we can get into a rhythm and then it comes down to Jake making good reads, kids catching the ball, and then blocking.  Last year they were very physical with us.  We want to make sure we go out and match that,” said MacFarland.

          Play in the Northern Ohio League begins next week, but MacFarland does not think his kids will be looking ahead.  “Every game in a gotcha game for us.  We want to make sure we never let down.  We have some goals this year that we set out.  We kind of split them in half because in the first half is our five non-conference games.  The kids are really excited about working on this part and finishing this and then next week we will worry about the “NOL,” he said.     

 

 
   

Norwalk Facing More Athletes

 

          Norwalk is now a state ranked football team and the Truckers are growing in confidence with every passing week.

          Last week, they dominated a big school athletic team in Lakewood (38-10) to push their record to 3-0 on the season.  Coach Chris MacFarland says they did things right on both sides of the ball.  “The kids really played well.  Offensively we came out and moved the ball.  Jake did an outstanding bog of finding different receivers.  I think we had seven different receivers with catches.  Peacock and Finch really played well and had big touchdowns for us to get us ahead.  We were able to take what they were giving us defensively and moved the ball and get a couple of more scores.  Our defense was outstanding.  They really played great team defense and in the second half really shut them down.  We are really pleased with the way we are playing, but we are back at it this week trying to get better,” said MacFarland.

          Norwalk posted its best record since 1977 when they went 7-3 in 2011 and MacFarland says the players are beginning to believe this can be an even better one.  “The one thing we are impressed with as a coaching staff is the mental toughness of this group.  On Friday night we opened up with a fumble on a kickoff return and the kids didn’t panic.  In years past that would happen. We stayed within ourselves and played team football.  This group really understands that,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “Part of that is we have kids that are successful in other sports baseball, wrestling, and basketball.  They know how to win and they know how to handle it when they are down.  Right now the kids are doing a great job with that.  The confidence is improving each week.”

          Norwalk (3-0) travels to meet Beford St. Peter Chanel on Friday night in a non-conference game.  MacFarland says they have some players that are game breakers.  “They are very athletic.  On film we have seen a lot of athletes.  The quarterback is an excellent athlete.  He moves around well and can run the ball and throw the ball.  They have some nice size.  Defensively we are going to have to take care of some kids that are a real threat because of the way they attack.  We are going to have to really execute our offense.  Defensively we are going to have to make sure we understand our keys and fly to the football,” MacFarland said.

          The Norwalk coach hopes that games like this one get them really for another tough year in the Northern Ohio League with the likes of Tiffin Columbian and Bellevue, both unbeaten.  “We were really excited about the schedule.  Lakewood, a division one school, with very good athletes had the same style of play that we will see from Sandusky, real physical and athletic.  We wanted to give ourselves a chance to look at real athletic teams.  We hope this really helps us out in the long run,” he said.

 

 
   

Norwalk Trying to be Focused

 

          Is this the best Norwalk team in almost 40 years?  Maybe, but only time will tell,

          The Truckers are unbeaten (2-0) after two weeks.  They have wins over Edison (64-21) and LaGrange Keystone (47-13) over the first two weeks of the year.

          Last week, coach Chris MacFarland says they stuck to the game plan, which was a good one.  “We really came out an executed the game plan.  Did a great job of listening to the adjustments the defensive staff put in.  Offensively we stayed within ourselves with things that we feel pretty strong about.  We had a nice game as far as getting the ball in a lot of kid’s hands and played solid football.  So, we are really proud of the kid’s effort last Friday,” he said.

          There are some good things being said about the Truckers, but MacFarland really doesn’t want that kind of stuff to get in the kid’s heads too much.  “We are just trying to improve every week.  I know people talk about the improvement between weeks one and two.  We are challenging our kids to improve every week.  We really don’t talk about the end of the year.  We have some goals that we have set,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “If we do our job and improve every week, hopefully we will be able to attain those.  The kids have done a good job of staying very focused.  It’s a great senior class and the leadership I think is going to prevail for us and we will move through this season without a lot of hitches.”

          The biggest test of the season so far will come on Friday night when the Truckers invade division one Lakewood.  MacFarland says Lakewood is loaded with weapons.  “They are very athletic.  They are very big up front on the offensive line.  We are definitely going to have play very well defensively to make sure we contain the quarterback, who does a nice job scrambling.  A tailback that is very smooth and moves well.  They also have some receivers that can catch the ball and move in space.  They are very athletic offensively.  Defensively they give a lot of pressure because they like to bring a lot heat with linebackers blitzing.  Our offensive line will have its hands full making sure our schemes are solid,” said MacFarland.

          Even though it would be a huge plus, MacFarland says they don’t want to think too much about how a win could help their playoff chances.  “Playing a division one opponent I’m sure that helps with the computer points.  Our focus is just taking the challenge of a new school, we haven’t played them.  They play in a great facility the atmosphere should be great for high school football.  It’s just one of the steps along the season that we are trying to take.  We don’t ever want to get ahead of ourselves thinking about playoffs,” said MacFarland.        

 

 
   

Norwalk Looks Good

 

          Norwalk got things started in the right direction with a big win over backyard rival Edison last week, but they are remaining focused.

          They scored early and often last week in pounding the Chargers (64-21) in their opener.  Still coach Chris MacFarland could find some things they didn’t do well on opening night.  “We were really excited about our efforts on Friday night.  The kids did a great job this summer listening to the coaches making sure they understood what we wanted to run.  We went out and executed a pretty good game plan and played with a lot of energy,” he told Swankonsports.com, “There are areas we want to improve on.  The opening kickoff they returned pretty well down to about our 30.  They had a scoring drive right off the bat.  We made some adjustments.  Our offense went out and preformed pretty well.  We had a lot of big plays running the ball and throwing the ball.  After watching the film it’s right back to the basics and try to improve and get ready for week two.”

          It still remains to be seen if Norwalk is going to be a contender in the Northern Ohio League, but they appear to have a lot of talent.  And MacFarland says they have the right mental approach too.  “Our kids have done a great job of understanding what we are trying to do.  Last year was a 7-3 year, the first winning season in more than 30 years.  So, our kids don’t have that big head.  We are still learning how to become a program that knows how to win.  It doesn’t take us long to just talk about the history and where we don’t want to be again.  The kids have done a good job of grounding themselves and getting right back to basics.  Our motto is just win every Friday and that’s all we worry about is the Friday coming up.  We can’t control game seven and nine now.  We are going to work on one game at a time and when that one is over we move on to the next one,” said MacFarland.

          Last year, Norwalk belted LaGrange Keystone (69-21) on the second week of the season, but MacFarland says Keystone (a 19-13 winner over Monroeville last week) is a team that is much better.  “Last year was the first time that we had played.  We used our size up front and did a pretty nice job against them.  They are much improved.  Up front they have good size.  Their defensive line gets a great push.  They have a very nice receiver.  He’s about 6’4” and does a great job of looking the ball into his hands.  The quarterback is athletic.  We are talking to our kids that this program is trying to do things this year to turn around and have their success.  We need to go out and execute like we are supposed to,” MacFarland said.   

 

 
   

Norwalk Get Piece of “NOL” Title

 

          Colin Suter fired a two-hitter and the Norwalk Truckers beat Tiffin Columbian 2-0 to create a three way tie for the Northern Ohio League baseball title year.

          The Tuckers (19-4,7-3), #2 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the larger school division, won the title outright last season.  “Yeah we are really excited as a staff and as a team.  It’s the third time in the last 40 years that Norwalk has won back to back titles, ’74-’75, ’80-’81 and now the last two years.  The early predictions were us and Tiffin.  It came down to us two to have a share, along with Bellevue.  In a 10-game league season it is quite an accomplishment for all three teams,’ said coach Wes Douglas.

          Bellevue (19-4,7-3) edged Sandusky 9-7 Thursday night in a battle between teams ranked #3 and #4 in the Swankonsports.com poll.  Sandusky finished fourth in the “NOL” standings.

          Douglas says Suter battled an explosive Tiffin (14-5,7-3) all night with not much run support from the Trucker line-up.  “It was an outstanding performance by Colin Suter.  He pitched a two hitter.  Colin is kid that puts a ton of time in the off season and does everything he can to get better.  His parents are very supportive.  He really kept great composure (Thursday) night.  His trouble is some walks sometimes and he limited those (Thursday) night.  When did get into some trouble, they got the bases loaded, he got a huge strikeout on a full count.  It all starts with starting pitching, that’s what we tell our team.  He was up to the challenge and I couldn’t be prouder of him and our team,” said Douglas.

          Norwalk was able to scratch across a couple of runs in the first inning and Suter made them stand up.  Douglas says they got a little help from some miscues by the Tornados.  “Our offense has struggled here lately and it struggled again (Thursday) night.  In the first inning we had only one hit.  It was bunt single and that was the only hit of the game for us.  We turned that into two runs with a walk and a couple of Tiffin errors in the bottom of the first.  We get up 2-0.  They had two hits, we had one hit.  They had four errors, we had one.  Our guys, as they have all year, found a way to get a “W.”  As a coaching staff if we have done anything right we have taught them how to win some tight games.  It worked out for us against a very talented Tiffin team,” Douglas said.

          It was the defense the Truckers played that may have been the difference in the game the game on Thursday night.  Douglas says they made two big catches in the outfield on drives hit by the Tornados.  “They didn’t hit a lot of ground balls.  We got some pop ups early out of them.  The couple of balls they hit well into our outfield were caught.  Nick Davis, our senior right fielder, made a running catch to save a run.  Our center fielder Michael Finch caught one off Tyler Furer, their best hitter, about 359 feet on a 360 foot fence.  Those are two plays by our outfield, which has played really, really good all season.

          The division one sectional at Fremont Ross is loaded this year with not only Norwalk and Sandusky from the “NOL,” but also Ohio Cardinal Conference leading Ashland.  Douglas says the whole district is going to have some talented players.  “We felt really fortunate to get out of the draw with the number two seed.  It was really tight with Sandusky and us.  Ashland was obviously the number one.  So, we play the winner of Sandusky and Madison next Friday over at Fremont.  That gets us to the Bowling Green district if we are fortunate enough to win that,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday night, “We wouldn’t see Ashland until the district final.  The sectional that feeds in has Perrysburg, who was in the state final game last year in division one, Fremont Ross, Anthony Wayne.  It’s not only a strong sectional, but a very challenging district.  So, we will take our chances against the winner of Sandusky-Madison.  Hopefully, we will be playing in Bowling Green with a chance to make some noise in the district.”  

 

 
   

Norwalk to Play For League Title

 

          With a win on Tuesday night over Willard the Norwalk Truckers are in position to share the Northern Ohio League baseball title if they can beat first place Tiffin Columbian on Thursday.

          Evan Bader gave up no earned run as the Truckers (18-4,6-3), #2 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division,  downed Willard (3-1) on Tuesday evening, avenging a loss to Willard and Flashes starting pitcher Kyle Fluharty on (7-5) on April 12.  Norwalk coach Wes Douglas says the look forward to playing in big games.  “It was against a team that has been playing pretty well lately against a very good pitcher in Kyle Fluharty, who I will be glad to see graduate.  We have seen him a lot of over the last four years.  Our guy Evan Bader was up to the challenge.  He gave up one unearned run against a team that has been swinging the bats pretty well lately,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday night, “Our goal every year is to be playing games that mean something the last two weeks.  You are never going to run away and hide in our short season, but you can definitely be out of it.  Our kids have been very successful this year and we are in position to get a share of back to back league titles on Thursday.”

          Bader has done an outstanding job as the Truckers number one starter this spring.  Douglas says he pitched well in their biggest game so far.  “He is 6-1 and his ERA is in the low 1’s.  In his one loss we had six errors against Sandusky and didn’t give him any help at all defensively.  He got stronger as the game went on (Tuesday) night.  He had a season high seven strikeouts.  He gets a little attitude and does a good job of closing games out for us when we have a chance to win,” he said.

          Norwalk, hitting around .400 for the year, did not tare the cover off the ball on Tuesday, but Douglas says they did enough on offense and made a big play on defense.  “I think we scattered five or six hits (Tuesday) night, but we made them count.  I not only have good players, but I had a good assistant coach (Tuesday).  Willard had guys on second and third, nobody out, two-nothing Truckers.  Coach Gary Wilds sniffed out a squeeze play and we pitched out and not only got the guy out between third and home, but got the guy between second and third for a double play and that kind of took the wind out of their sails.  With veteran players and veteran coaches we got the job done,” said Douglas.

          Tiffin Columbian (13-5,7-2) hammered Sandusky in battle between two teams that share the #4 spot in the Swankonsports.com poll, (11-1) on Tuesday night to wrap up no less than a share of the “NOL” title.  Douglas says he expects the Truckers to be ready to play on Thursday.  “We have been fortunate enough to be in a few of these over the years.  Last year, we had to go down to Tiffin and win one down there to put us in the driver’s seat and we took care of business.  The early season predictions were Tiffin and Norwalk again this year.  Bellevue has had a nice season, they are setting tied with us with three losses each.  If we would beat Tiffin and Bellevue would win out they have a chance to get the title too.  It should be an exciting day.  Hopefully our kids will enjoy the moment and take advantage of the opportunity,” said Douglas.

 

 
   

Norwalk Doing Everything Right

 

          So far, Norwalk has played 12 games and they have won all of them.  They have had great pitching and fine hitting too and the Truckers are fulfilling their promise.

          Norwalk (12-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the larger school division, is the defending Northern Ohio League champ and they have won all three of the “NOL” games this year over some pretty good teams in Shelby, Sandusky and Bellevue. 

          Wednesday night, they hammered Norwalk St. Paul (17-0) in a non-conference game.  Coach Wes Douglas says they went out kept their focus against the Flyers.  “It never gets old winning and it never gets old giving kids a chance to go out and have some fun.  It’s a tribute to a fun season so far.  St. Paul is really, really young this year and we are really, really veteran.  We had a game with them last year that was 3-3 and we won it in the eighth up at All-Pro.  We played them out at “Field of Dreams” (Wednesday), a really nice setting, our veteran team played pretty good,” he said.

          Norwalk can put a great starting nine on the field and they have a lot of guys on the bench that are starters for most teams in this part of the state.  Douglas says they have had guys step up when called upon all year.  “Our depth is unbelievable.  In my 16 years I have never had depth like this one through 17.  The other day against Hillsdale we started three guys that hadn’t played in two games.  All they did was go eight for 11 in the first game of the doubleheader,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Trey Hallock was three for three with six RBI.  The kid had only started one game.  Tyson Putnam had the game winner against Sandusky last week.  Brandon Molson, who came off the bench, went four for four in a doubleheader.  We have guys all over the lineup and it’s hard to pick some days.  They are making us look good and they are all getting the job done.  I think if we spilt our team into two squads and played ten games it might end up 5-5.”

          The pitching has been good for the Truckers, but the hitting has been outstanding.  Even with the new bats, Douglas says the players have been finding the holes.  “We thought we would hit it well coming in.  We currently have 10 guys hitting .400.  We were hitting .414 as a team going to (Wednesday).  Here is an example (Tuesday) night we see an excellent pitcher Alex Mannley from Bellevue.  We had him at 101 pitches and he wasn’t out of the fourth inning yet by fouling off his quality pitches.  We put the ball in play and had some huge two out hits (Tuesday) night.  Dustin Lieber just went over the 100 hit mark (Tuesday) and that moved him to fourth all time at Norwalk.  He is closing in on the all-time RBI record, the all-time doubles record in our three hole.  He is getting guys on base in front of him.  He is getting support below him.  We still have a long way to go, but it couldn’t be much better than it is now,” Douglas said.

          Norwalk meets Willard (4-8,0-3) in a league game on Thursday.  Douglas says they are going to face another top notch pitcher in the Flashes Kyle Fluharty.  “I said before the season started that they were dangerous.  They are very well coached.  If Kyle Fluharty is pitching (Thursday) night which I believe he is it’s going to take our best effort to beat him.  They had Tiffin on the ropes (Tuesday).  We saw him twice last year and found a way to beat him twice and hopefully we hind a way (Thursday).  We have a big game next Tuesday at Tiffin to finish up the first round of the league,” said Douglas.            

 

 
   

Norwalk Hammers Shelby; Stays Unbeaten

 

          So far this season, Norwalk has been like a machine and the Truckers have grabbed a share of first place in the Northern Ohio League after a win over Shelby on Tuesday night at home.

          Norwalk (7-0) trounced Shelby (11-1) in five innings in their first league game of the year.  Sandusky and Tiffin Columbian also won to share the league lead.

          Truckers coach Wes Douglas says the players have done everything he has asked of them and more.  “I couldn’t ask for much more.  We are 7-0 against some quality programs.  One though 17 we continue to hit the ball.  We had 14 hits (Tuesday) in less than five at bats.  I couldn’t be happier for our guys.  We still have a few things to work on, but we are sitting pretty well right now,” he said.

          Despite the good play, which has also included wins over Sandusky Perkins and Lexington, Douglas says they understand the league race is going to be tough and they have to keep their focus.  “We talked about it (Tuesday) night to focus on a good practice (Wednesday) and find something to get better on.  We travel to Sandusky on Thursday.  It’s the first time in the “NOL” against them.  Then we host Hillsdale, which I’m hearing good things about in a doubleheader on Saturday.  It’s the first time in my 16 years that we have had them on the schedule.  We are looking forward to some competitive games,” said Douglas.

          Hitting the ball was kind of expected from this Trucker team, but Douglas has been particularly impressed with the kind of starting pitching he has gotten so far this spring.  “I was concerned going in about the top end of our pitching and Even Bader has really stepped up as a nice number one for us.  He is 3-0.  I think mentally he has accepted the roll as number one.  He was outstanding again (Tuesday).  We thought we would hit the ball and we thought we would field the ball.  If we continue to throw strikes I like our chances,” he said.

          However, Douglas says he has reminded the players that they still have some elements of the game that need to be sharpened as the year goes on.  He says they are not at their peak.  “There is always something.  We had one base running error (Tuesday.)  We had two errors in the field.  We can always get better at something like working on that third pitch on the mound, and our bunt game can get a little bit better.  As coaches we always see things we need to improve on.  Like I told coach Gray during basketball you need to stay hungry and stay humble and keep working hard,” said Douglas.

          Norwalk is coming off an outstanding basketball season and their best football season in more than 30 years.  Douglas says they have been able to take momentum and go with it.  “The feeling around Norwalk High School right now is outstanding.  Obviously we have a nice amount of talented athletes.  I am born and raised in Norwalk.  I actually played on the last winning football team in 1977 before this year.  So, I have seen the good in the 70’s and some of the bad in the 80’s and 90’s.  It just great to see all of our programs men’s, women’s, wrestling, swimming, and of course our baseball program.  I couldn’t be happier for the Norwalk Truckers,” said Douglas.

 

 
   

Can Norwalk Repeat?

 

          Norwalk won the Northern Ohio League baseball title last spring and it looks like they have the players to at least contend for the championship again this spring.

          Coach Wes Douglas says they lost a couple of key guys to graduation, but they have seven starters back and he feels they will be pretty good this season.  “On paper we are following up a 20-5 season where we only graduated two seniors, two outstanding seniors in the district player of the year and our number one pitcher.  We do return seven starters and 12 lettermen.  Offensively I think we should be pretty strong and defensively we should be pretty strong.  On the mound, a little unproven, our number three and four from last year return.  Those guys were 8-1, so hopefully some of those guys will come around and step up like some guys have done in the past,” said Douglas.

          Norwalk probably has as strong a winning tradition in baseball as they have in any sport.  Douglas believes that Trucker baseball players expect to win when they hit the diamond.  “I think the kids trust you a little more when they know your program has been solid year in and year out.  This group of seniors has seen us finish right in the title race all three years with an “NOL” championship last year,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “They have seen the district finals at least once, the district tournament another time.  They have seen us pull some games out that they probably didn’t think we could pull out, scoring three, four, five runs in the last inning.  So, all of that together with a veteran staff around me and some good summer teams producing some good players for us.”

          Douglas says they will not have a dominate pitcher this year, but they will have a lot of good ones and that will carry them through the year.  “I think we are going to be okay to good, but we are not going to strike out a lot of people, which we never have had those kind of guys.  We play consistent defense, don’t walk people, and don’t bunch our errors and get some timely hits.  That has kind of been our M.O. around here.  When we are playing those teams and we are throwing our fifth, sixth, seventh pitcher we have seemed to have a little bit of an edge there.  I kind of see that again this year where our depth is pretty good.  Maybe we just don’t have that superstar at the top,” he said.

          With Sandusky in the Northern Ohio League this year and the possibility that Xavier Turner will return to the team will have an impact on the league.  However, Douglas expects that Tiffin Columbian will push them as hard as anyone.  “Tiffin was right on our heels all of last year and I know they bring back seven starters with a solid pitcher at the top and a couple kids behind him.  Curt Mellott is an outstanding coach down there.  Their JV team won the “NOL” tournament lat year.  They beat us in the finals.  I think they are our biggest concern.  Bellevue is always going to compete.  Shelby is always going to hit.  I’m not sure what they have pitching wise this year.  Willard has Kyle Fluharty.  When he is on the mound they have a chance to beat anybody.  Sandusky, depending on how things shake out over there, I think they are going to be dangerous.  I think they graduated a lot.  If Turner is around I think he will win several games just by himself.  Those kids are used to winning over there too,” said Douglas.  

 

 
   

Unbeaten Norwalk Playing the Role of Underdog

 

          The Norwalk basketball program has never been to a state tournament and they are as close now as they have ever been.

          The Truckers (23-0) face Toledo Whitmer (21-2) in the division one regional semi-final on Wednesday night at the University of Toledo.  Coach Steve Gray, who has taken the program to unprecedented heights, says he and the players, and nearly everyone in Norwalk, is enjoying the ride.  “Well, I think it feels pretty dog gone good.  You know the kids are excited, the student body, the community, I just hope this trip doesn’t end anytime in the near future,” he said.

          Whitmer lost in the football state semi-finals last fall and they have a number of tremendous athletes on their basketball squad.  Gray says their size is a little intimidating.  “I think if Toledo Whitmer would make Norwalk, if we had their players, a great football school.  They have unbelievable athletes.  I think three of their players are getting “D-One” full rides, one of them to one to Michigan, one to Nebraska, and one to Ohio State.  I think what concerns me the most is how thick they are, you know 6-8, 280, 6-7, 300, 6-7, 230.  They are just thick.  The height doesn’t concern me, it’s just our ability to get around them get to the boards,” said Gray.

          Norwalk has been a team that has executed very well this season.  Gray says they must understand that if they do that Wednesday night, Whitmer may still make a play.  “We have talked to our kids all year about having short memories.  If we can move on to the next play we are going to be okay.  You know, the shoe is sort on the other foot now.  Most of the teams, not all, but most, of the teams have not been as athletic or as long as we are and that is something they have had to do,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Now, that the shoe is on the other foot we are going to have to have short memories and do the things that we do in terms of mid-range jump shots, playing great defense, and finishing plays with rebounds and stick backs.”

          Gray has the reputation and a defensive guru and he says he and the staff are going to do their level best to put their kids in a situation where they can be successful.  “The one thing we try to do as a coaching staff is put our kids in a position to be successful.  For example Jacob Cashen is 6-4 and 180 is guarding a player 6-7 and 230, so to pout him on an island one on one with him really doesn’t make sense to us.  With a 6-8, 280 pound kid inside, we can’t expect our post to play him one-on-one.  We have to do some things different defensively, especially to help these kids out,” said Gray.

          Gray believes that not only does he have a team of excellent basketball players, but one with a high basketball I.Q. that understands that Wednesday needs to be an examination of basketball skills and not a game to see who has the best athletes.  “Our kids have been interviewed in the newspaper a lot in Norwalk lately.  One of the players said (Wednesday) the tough thing about going from Mansfield Senior to Anthony Wayne is the different styles of play from an up and down game with a lot of possessions to a methodical game where Anthony Wayne is going to try and get inside to the 6-9 kid.  He was just commenting how in a day and half’s time they were able to make the adjustments that allowed us to be successful and play Wednesday night for a chance to advance to the regional final,” said Gray.   

 

 
   

Norwalk Has Been Waiting For This

 

          Norwalk is unbeaten on the season and outright Northern Ohio League champions, but for most of the season their critics has been saying wait until they play Mansfield Senior.  Well, the wait is over.

          The Truckers (21-0) face Mansfield Senior (18-3), co-champions of the Ohio Cardinal Conference, in the division one super sectional final at Willard High School on Thursday night.

          Norwalk coach Steve Gray admits they have been looking forward to playing the Tygers for a while now.  He says they made it a special priority.  “Well, don’t tell anybody, but we have scouted them five or six times in person, so they have been on our radar screen for a while.  We thought this possibly could happen and we just wanted to make sure we were prepared.  They are an outstanding team.  They have great players.  Effie James, I have just so much respect for him.  We are excited about the opportunity to face off Thursday night,” said Gray.

          Anyone who has seen Mansfield Senior play knows that Keon Johnson is the straw that stirs the drink for the Tygers.  Gray says the Tyger point guard is a special player.  “The difference is the shortest guy on the floor.  Keon Johnson is outstanding.  People ask me does Mansfield remind you of any other team we played.  The answer is Sandusky without the quickness of Keon at the point guard.  His range is just unbelievable.  The other two guards can really shoot the ball too,” he said.

          Johnson is only 5-4, but Gray says he does so many things on the floor.  Gray says Johnson’s speed and quickness is at the top of the list of players he has coached against in his 20 years on the sidelines.  “We saw him at Massillon last week.  He got the ball about the foul line on an outlet pass and there was a Massillon player on the other side of the floor about three feet from half court and Keon shot and uncontested lay up.  He could be the fastest guard I have ever seen in high school going baseline to baseline off the dribble.  His ability to split the double team, his ability to create shots in traffic is just unbelievable for a player his size,” said Gray.

          Rebounding, especially offensive rebounding, has been where Norwalk has hurt a lot of “NOL” teams this season.  Gray believes the glass is going to be a major factor Thursday night as well.  “I think we are pretty good at going to the offensive boards.  We are 6-4 and 6-6 and we are long, but then you look at Mansfield Senior and we are going to have the same problem at the other end of the floor.  From as far back as I can remember Mansfield Senior is great at going to rack and getting the ball off the glass.  Benson and the other bigs do an outstanding job of that.  I think offensive rebounding for both teams is going to be rather important,” said Gray.

          One of the assets Mansfield Senior has is the ability force their opponent into mistakes.  Gray understands that there will be turnovers, but he says they can not allow Mansfield Senior to shoot uncontested lay ups as a result.  “What makes them so great is their ability to run through the passing lanes.  You know, you can turn it over, but you can’t turn it over and allow them to have run outs for lay ups,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “We tell our kids, we have no defense for turnovers.  Our ability to handle the ball versus pressure as long as Benny (Haraway) and Jeff (Thomas) and those kids I feel comfortable.  I am more concerned about our ability to pass to the wings and run our offense.  It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us.”

          Gray has always been known as sort of a defensive guru and he knows that to win they are going to have to play great defense.  “Defense is going to be the key for us.  We have to get back in transition.  We have to stop dribble penetration.  We can not put them on the foul line.  I think defensively if we play up to our standard we have a great opportunity to be in the game in the fourth quarter,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Can’t Lose Their Focus

 

          Norwalk is 20-0 and has already beaten Sandusky twice this season and now the Blue Streaks will be out without two of their better players as the two teams meet in the division one sectional tournament at Willard High School on Friday night.

          Yes, Norwalk, #1 in the final Swankonsports.com power poll for larger schools and the outright Northern Ohio League champion, has been beaten Sandusky twice, but they were excellent games both times.  The Truckers won (60-55) in overtime on December 16 in Sandusky and in a one-point game (66-65) at Norwalk on February 4.  Norwalk coach Steve Gray thinks in a lot of ways this game is going to be about determination and effort.  “You know when you see a team for the third time there is no surprises.  It comes down too, which team is the most well prepared.  I think it comes down to which group of seniors want the season to go on for a little longer.  A lot of times it does come down to emotion and the bounce of a ball,” he said.

          Sandusky (10-11) will probably throw everything but the kitchen sink at Norwalk on Friday night and the Truckers coaching staff is trying to figure out what.  Gray knows they are going to stick with what they do well.  “Coaches aren’t very smart.  We were talking today as a staff and were guessing what they will do that could be a little bit different from what we have seen already.  I asked four of my assistants and they came up with four different answers.  The bottom line is we are going to do what we do and hopefully that is good enough to get us one more game this year,” he said.

          Xavier Turner has signed to play baseball at Vanderbilt and he was a first team all-district selection in basketball, but he will not be playing for the Streaks on Friday due to a violation of teams rules.  “Xavier Turner is an outstanding player, who unfortunately, along with their point guard, has made a very poor decision in the last week and he won’t be playing.  It’s really sad when young people choose to make poor decisions.  It not only affects him, but his teammates, and the whole Sandusky community.  You know, I feel sorry for him,” said Gray.

          There has been at least a little lack of attention to detail this week in practice for the Truckers, but Gray says he knows how to get their attention because he is the one that controls the playing time.  “The thing we are fighting just a little bit at Norwalk right now is we have beaten them twice and obviously my kids know two of their better players won’t be playing Friday night.  Our fear is maybe a little bit of a let down.  We have really good balance.  I told my kids Wednesday night I bet you $5 that I can find five kids that will play hard and I don’t care who it is.  I bet we can find five kids that will lay it on the line on Friday night and give us a chance to be successful,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Wants to Take Another Step

 

          Norwalk is the only team of the 80 covered by Swankonsports.com that has a chance to finish the regular season at 20-0. Smithville did it on the girls’ side.

          The Truckers (19-0,9-0) put themselves in that position with a win over Willard (66-58) last Friday night.  Coach Steve Gray says they were outstanding during the second quarter and then got some big shots from a player off their bench in the second half.  “We played really, really well in the second quarter at Willard and I think we outscored them 27-12.  We sort of fell asleep in the middle of the third quarter for a while, but we had Grant Hall, a sophomore, step up and make three straight threes.  That pushed it back out to six or seven and for the rest of the night we were able to pretty much take it home,” said Gray.

          Norwalk, #1 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power poll among larger schools, is not a team that shoots a lot of three pointers, but when they do they go in.  “I think we are getting a lot more consistent.  Jeff Thomas is a good three point shooter, a sophomore, Grant Hall, another sophomore.  We have some kids that can make the shot.  You know what is sort of interesting is we don’t take a lot of threes,” Gray told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “In fact, I think Tiffin has made more threes than we have attempted.  We are leading the “NOL” in three point percentage.  It’s just not a big part of our game at this point in time.  We are pretty good at dribble penetration and we have the bigs inside.  We don’t have to rely on that shot as often as many other teams.”

          Basketball is probably the sport that requires players to be athletic more than any other.  Gray says they have that, but they are smart players too and that is just as important.  “I have a great staff and we preach about shot selection even during practice.  If we go one or two possessions in a row if we don’t get a quality look at it we call them out on it.  These kids have responded very, very well.  You know what, obviously we are very talented athletically, but I think what really helps us is we have a very good basketball I.Q.   We are constantly adding stuff offensively and defensively and they pick up on it really quickly,” said Gray.

          Tiffin Columbian (9-10,4-5) will play at Norwalk in that final game on Friday night.  Gray says the Tornados record might not reach out and grab you, but they are very dangerous because of their athleticism.  “I think Tiffin potentially could be the second best team in our league when you break them down on paper.  They have four guys averaging over 10 points.  They are 6-4, 6-3 inside.  They have some length to them.  I think Lonsway and Boyer are just quicker than heck on the perimeter.  They shoot the three really well.  They are the best free throw shooting team in the league.  The only thing I think they are lacking maybe is a little bit of depth.  They have three players on the district six all-star team.  I think that just speaks volumes about what the coaches in the area feel Tiffin is from an athletic standpoint,” Gray said.

          A big crowd is expected at Norwalk on Friday night and Gray says his kids deserve the praise they have been getting.  “It truly has been a great year.  The thing about our players and the community, they really like them.  They like the way they represent themselves.  They have done a great job not only representing themselves and the basketball program, but Norwalk High School and the community as well.  They are just a class group.  I just hope we play well Friday night and we have an opportunity to achieve something not a lot of teams ever get a chance to do,” said Gray.  

 

 
   

Tempo Crucial For Norwalk

 

          Norwalk is trying to do something that few teams over the years have been able to do, go through an entire regular season unbeaten.  Everybody they play knows that and they are trying to prevent it.

          Last week, the Truckers (17-0,8-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power poll for the larger schools, edged Bellevue (53-51)when sophomore Ben Haraway scored his second game winner in the last three weeks.  Coach Steve Gray says people are confused when they think the Truckers didn’t play well.  “Like we told our kids what most people didn’t realize is we played pretty well.  I don’t think offensively we were as smooth as we could possibly be, but we defended, we out rebounded them, we only had 10 turnovers.  We are taking the other teams best shot right now and we expect the same thing on Friday night we will are going to take Willard’s best shot,” said Gray.

          Friday night, Norwalk plays at Willard (9-8,4-4) in a Northern Ohio League game.  After struggling a little bit in the first half of the season Willard is unbeaten (3-0) in league games in the second half.  Gray says they have had players pick up their game.  “I think Phillips has really stepped up his game.  He is just doing an outstanding job.  The other night he had 29 points.  I think Adams is playing much better.  I think coach Hirschy has found a lineup that he is very comfortable with and a rotation that he is comfortable with,” he said.

          Norwalk won the first time at their place (60-45) and they owned the offensive boards.  Gray thinks that is going to be an important part of Friday night’s game too.  “Well, first of all we would like to beat them up on the offensive boards.  I think if we really go after the ball I think we have a chance to be successful.  If we take care of the ball.  We have put a lot of time in this week to try to get the tempo going a little bit quicker than we have had it in the last two or three weeks,” Gray said.

          The Tuckers have very good depth and the ability to make the other team tired.  However, Gray says getting the tempo to their liking has been more and more difficult as the season has gone on.  “We try to play eight or ten kids in the first half.  I think it does wear on the other team after a while, but the one thing that we don’t have is just great, great quickness.  At times it is just very difficult for us to get the tempo where we want it.  Teams that want to play keep away they do have the ability to do that against us,” he said.

          It will be another tough game on Saturday as the Truckers play Huron (11-5) in a non-conference game.  Gray says the Tigers have the kind of personnel to do the same kind of things they do.  “Huron is one of the few teams that really match-up with us athletically.  They are long, they are athletic, they have good overall quickness.  I think they are probably the second best tem in the “SBC.”  The tough thing for us is no matter what happens on Friday night that’s going to be a tough game for us on Saturday,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Can Reach Goal Number One

 

          With a win at Bellevue on Friday night the Norwalk Truckers can wrap up no less than a share of the Northern Ohio League boys’ basketball title and they could win it outright if Shelby would lose at Sandusky.

          Norwalk remains unbeaten (15-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power poll in the large school division, and they have a two game lead on Shelby with three league games to play. 

          Last Saturday, they downed Sandusky (66-65) in game that was probably closer than it needed to be.  Coach Steve Gray says they had things under control for three quarters, but things got a little scary in the fourth quarter.  “I thought it was a quality win for our program.  I thought our kids played exceptionally well for about three quarters.  Unfortunately we didn’t play well in the fourth.  We made enough plays in the end to hang on.  Sandusky is loaded with talent.  They have Xavier Turner , who is rated as the 65th best baseball player in the country and has a full ride to Vanderbilt.  He is just a great athlete.  They have a great point guard in Smith and they just have a lot of talent.  They have the ability to get into you defensively.  Offensively they get out in transition.  It was just a great win for us on Saturday night,” said Gray.

          Norwalk (15-0,7-0) plays at Bellevue (6-10,1-6) in league contest on Friday night.  The Redmen may be in last place in the league, but this has been a tightly bunched league this season and Bellevue has played some teams tough.  Gray says they better be ready or their dream of a perfect regular season will be over.  “If our kids don’t pay attention on Friday night they are going to get it handed to them.  When you have one of the top two or three scorers in the league.  He is a point guard and he controls the ball so much.  You better take care of business.  They almost knocked Willard off Saturday night.  They hit five threes in a row in the first quarter.  They were something like 13 for 32 from the three, so if they get on one of those rolls that any team is capable of you are in big time trouble,” he said.  Bellevue’s Jalen Santoro is one the best point guards in this area.

          Norwalk won the first meeting (58-44) on the last Friday in December, but that game was in Norwalk.  Bellevue has been much better at home this season.  The Redmen have almost always played well at their place over the years and Gray says it has nothing to do with it being an old style gym.  “I think the reason that Bellevue is such a hard place to play over the years is they have had great talent.  When Lyle Falknor was there and even the last couple of years Bellevue has had some outstanding players and that is why Bellevue has been such a tough place to play.  Their students have been getting into the games.  It’s just a good atmosphere for high school sports,” he said.

          Norwalk has never been a basketball school until resent years and this year’s Truckers have a chance to accomplish some things that has been rare at their school.  Gray has told his players to have fun.  “I’ll tell you what Saturday night I was shocked.  We had the second biggest crowd at Norwalk since I have been here.  It was just an unbelievable atmosphere.  Our community is really jumping on board.  They are really supporting our team because obviously we have some talent, but they are just great kids who work hard and just represent Norwalk in a great fashion,” Gray told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “I told the kids before the Shelby game how many of your friends at other schools never get to play in a game like this.  Television was there, a couple of radio stations, and it was standing room only.  I said you people are so fortunate.  I said enjoy tonight.  Enjoy the ride because it is something you will remember the rest of your life.”

 

 
   

Norwalk Not Backing Off

 

          With a two game lead in the Northern Ohio league in hand and the postseason tournament looming ahead, the Norwalk Truckers still have the foot on the gas peddle.

          The Truckers beat Shelby (46-45) last Friday night when sophomore Ben Haraway hit a floater in the lane with one second to go.  Norwalk is now 14-0 on the season and coach Steve Gray says the players really want to go through the regular season unbeaten.  “To be honest with you yes that is a goal for us.  We trailed Shelby by five in the fourth.  We were behind up at Sandusky and were fortunate to come out with a win.  I think it’s important to my kids in terms of just competing every night and being successful.  If it’s important to them then it is obviously important to me,” he said.

          This Saturday night, the Truckers, #1 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power rankings in the large school division, play at home against the Sandusky Blue Streaks (7-7,2-4) in an “NOL” game.  Gray says the Streaks have an outstanding player, who according to one source, is one the very best players in the nation.  “It starts out with Xavier Turner, who is averaging a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds.  I saw in the paper that he is like the 67th best high school player in the country.  He just brings a tremendous work ethic.  He has something most high school kids don’t have any more and that’s a mid range pull up jump shot.  He is just very athletic and very strong.  They have a great point guard in Smith, who has the ability to really pressure the ball.  They just have people that understand their roles.  I think they are just very, very good and it’s by far the biggest game of our season,” said Gray.

          Is the tempo going to be high?  It likely will be as both teams like to push it, but Gray feels they can still do a solid job of limiting Sandusky’s chances to score in the game.  “I at least hope there are some points scored on our side.  We are pretty good defensively and we are giving up 46 points a game.  If Sandusky got in the upper 50’s, 60’s, I would be disappointed in our effort.  When we concentrate and approach hands high, box out, and react like we are supposed to I just think we are pretty good and we have the ability to keep the score very manageable,” he said.

          Sandusky can put points on the board and they are going to feature the fast break and Gary told Swankonsports.com that means they must get back on defense and limit those easy ones.   “Transition defense is going to big.  They really run hard going to the offensive end.  Like most high school players they don’t run nearly as hard going back the other way.  If we can get back defensively and force them into a jump shooting game I think we have a chance to get it off the boards and a chance to push it back at them,” Gray said.  

 

 
   

Norwalk Faces Biggest Challenge

 

          Last season, the Norwalk Truckers shared the Northern Ohio League title with Shelby, but this year they want it all to themselves and they have a chance to take command this week when they play in Shelby on Friday night.

          Norwalk (13-0,5-0) owns a one game lead on Shelby.  They beat the Whippets in the first “NOL” game of the season (66-49) December 9 at Norwalk.  However, Shelby (10-3,4-1) has won all four their league games since then.

          The Truckers beat Tiffin Columbian (63-50) on Friday night even with some injury problems to one of their starters.  “I’m especially happy with the way we performed on Friday night.  We lost Jeff Thomas the second half of the Tiffin game and we still responded very well to Tiffin, who was 7-3 coming in.  It was a big win at their place on Friday night,” said Norwalk coach Steve Gray.

          On Saturday night, they blew out Edison (82-39) in a non-conference rivalry game.  Gray says everyone got to play some.  “I was very pleased we won rather easily.  We had 13 kids score.  The funny thing is we scored 80 points and only had two kids in double figures.  We had great balance and a lot of assists.  It should make for a good week of practice this week,” he said.

          One of the big pluses for the Truckers, #1 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power rankings, is they have tremendous balance in all aspects of the game.  Gray says they have been able to do a lot of things well.  “I think we have good balance in many ways.  Offense and defense, I think we are pretty well balanced.  Inside and out with Jake Fetherolf and Trey Hallock we are pretty talented in the post.  Obviously our perimeter people have done a great job.  We also have the balance to be able to play ten kids on any night.  We won Saturday night and our starters only played 12 minutes.  I think that shows the depth that we do have,” said Gray.

          Gray says he and his excellent coaching staff have been able to get their players, despite their success, to understand they have to continue to get better in all parts of their game.  “We are rather talented and we are young.  We have two seniors on the team.  We play three sophomores quite a bit.  The advantage I have, I think, is I have an outstanding coaching staff.  Tom Foster has been with me for about 16 years now.  He is just so good with the kids, especially the perimeter people.  Everyday we challenge them in practice to see if we can’t get better.  This week is no different than any other week.  We will take it one day at a time.  We are going to work hard and get ready for Friday night,” said Gray.

          Shelby, #5 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power rankings, beat Willard last Friday (67-55) in a league game and downed Mansfield St. Peter’s (72-58) in a non-league game last Saturday.  Gray says they have guys that can put the ball in the basket.  “I think anytime you have three outstanding scorers you have a chance to be pretty good.  With Fenner, Nelson, and Arnold they have three of the best scorers in the league.  Troy has them playing exceptionally hard.  He does a great job of putting them in a position to be successful.  You look at last weekend and Rhode comes up with 16 against Willard.  They have some scoring off the bench and from the other starters as well,” said Gray.

          Norwalk teams in the past have been more half court oriented on offense, but not this year.  Gray thinks if the Whippets want to run that is fine by him.  “I think the faster the tempo the better it is for us.  We aren’t going to hold it and Shelby isn’t going to hold it.  This game could be in the 60’s or 70’s.  It’s going to be a great atmosphere.  The “Red Rage” will be there and our student body has been getting bigger and bigger every game.  We are just excited to go to Shelby and compete for a championship,” he said.

          It’s a chance for the Truckers to bring the hammer down, but Gray says they just want to play well.  “That’s the way we are sort of looking at it.  If we take care of business a two game lead anytime is obviously to our benefit.  Once again we have done a great job, by that I mean the kids, of just focusing in on what we have to do to be successful each and every game.  We will talk about that kind of stuff after the game,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Proud of Success

 

          Norwalk continues to play outstanding basketball.  The Truckers are unbeaten more than half way through their regular season and lead the Northern Ohio League by a game over Shelby.

          Last Saturday the Truckers (11-0,4-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power in the large school division, destroyed Port Clinton (80-39) in a non-conference game.  Head coach Steve Gray says they were able to get a lot of players into the lineup at the varsity level.  “Obviously it was a great game for us.  You know I was especially pleased because we played 13 kids and played 10 kids in the first quarter.  It was a reward for those kids that don’t get the minutes in a lot of cases. But they work extremely hard in practice.  Obviously, they make our starters and our program much better,” said Gray.

          One of the big keys for the Truckers is the tremendous depth they have and Gray says that gives him the option of making a point if he feels it is necessary.  “We normally play eight to 10 kids.  The great thing about our program right now is we are pretty deep at the ninth grade, JV and varsity level.  We are going though a cycle now where we have some talented players.  Our practices at all levels are extremely competitive,” he said, “As a coach you don’t really have much control over the kids.  You can yell at them a little, you can run them a little, but the bottom line there is only one thing that they truly understand and that is, please have a seat.  When the threat of sitting is there I think that makes a great impression.  We talk all of the time during practice and during the games if you don’t play to our expectations and your expectations, we will find somebody who will give us what we are looking for.”

          Overall, Gray says the Truckers are not just good athletes, but are good kids that have a special talent for the game.  “I just hope when people think of Norwalk basketball that people say, you know, they are a pretty good team, they play the game the way it should be, they defend.  I hope they look at us and say they do the things the right way.  I really believe that.  I think we have great kids,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We have study table at Norwalk in grades nine through 12 for athletes that get “D’s” or “F’s” in the classroom.  Right now, in grades nine through 12 we have no basketball players at any level that have a “D” or and “F” as of right now.  We are just having a great year and I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish, not only on the courts, but in the classroom as well.”

          On Friday night, Norwalk completes the first round of league play with a visit to Tiffin Columbian (7-3,2-2) to play the Tornados.  Gray says Tiffin has three kids that are big time scorers and they have the kind of athletes to give them trouble.  “I think Tiffin is one of the better teams in our league.  Anytime a team can have three legitimate scoring options they are in pretty good shape.  In Loura, Boyer and Kneeskern they have three of the better offensive players, similar to what you would find at Shelby.  All of them are capable of going off for 20 plus.  They are athletic, they play very hard, and it’s going to be a great challenge for us at Tiffin on Friday night,” he said.

          A Norwalk win coupled with a Shelby loss to Willard would give the Truckers a two game lead in the “NOL” and Gray would like to have that advantage.  “I think the “NOL” is extremely competitive this year form top to bottom.  This week I am a tremendous Willard Flashes fan.  If they could help us out a little bit against Shelby I think that would be good for us.  There are some very talented players in our league and it’s a great challenge for us every single night,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Not Satisfied

 

          Norwalk is clearly one the best, if not the best, basketball team in this area this year and they are working hard to continue to improve, which is not good news for the rest of the teams on their schedule.

          The Truckers (9-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power poll for larger schools, beat Willard (60-45) in Northern Ohio League play last Friday night.  With their excellent start they are getting some statewide recognition in the division one AP poll.  Coach Steve Gray is more impressed with how they are rebounding.  “We are 12th in the AP poll, I don’t know if that is realistic, but it was a nice complement to our kids.  We played well against Willard.  We sort of beat them up a little bit on the boards.  Inside our bigs Jake Fertherolf, Trey Hallock, Jeff Thomas, all of the kids really went to the offensive boards and it gave us numerous second shot opportunities,” said Gray.

          Norwalk had 14 offensive rebounds in the win over Willard and Gray says that has been a strength all year for them.  “We have four kids that we play a lot that around 6-4 to 6-6 and they are pretty good at it.  We try to preach that every time a shot goes up it’s like a pass to them and if they go at it hard enough it will give them a chance to score points and that’s what kids are really interested in at times,” he said.  What Gray wants to get better at is being able to spread the defense a little more by making more perimeter shots than they have been.  “In practices we are seeing tremendous potential.  Unfortunately on Friday and Saturday nights it hasn’t come to fruition yet, but we are going to keep shooting it.  We have kids that we are very confident in,” Gray told Swankonsports.com, “We will just see how it goes.  The bottom line is if we play up to our potential defensively we get baskets in transition.  If we continue to go to the offensive boards it’s not a concern yet, but somewhere down the road we have to get better.”

          Norwalk, like the rest of the Northern Ohio League boys’ teams, will not be playing Friday night as they girls’ teams take center stage.  For them, Gray thinks that is a good thing because they have more time for practice.  “For us this week I think it’s a blessing.  It’s allowed us to go back and reevaluate and really lock in on some things that we need to get better at.  With no game on Friday night it gives us an extra day of not really worrying about Port Clinton, but worrying about Norwalk and what we have to do to get better,” said Gray.

          Norwalk plays host to Port Clinton (4-5) of the Sandusky Bay Conference on Saturday night in non-conference play.  Gray says the Redskins will play hard and they better be ready to play.  “I think Troy Deals is one of the best coaches not only in the area, but around the state.  They were in final four a couple of years ago.  His kids play hard and they take on his personality. Which is let’s pay attention to details, take care of the ball, and get good shots.  Defensively they are very solid.  They play a lot of young kids.  If we don’t play well then we are in for a very long night,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk Ready For Willard

 

          Norwalk has played as well as maybe any team in this area this season and they have been able to do that because they have quality players in the post and on the perimeter that are committed to playing defense.

          They remained unbeaten on the season when they downed Bellevue (58-44) in a Northern Ohio League game last week.  Coach Steve Gray says the Truckers, #1 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power poll in the large school division, were able to make the adjustments they need to in the second half of the game with the Redmen.  “Well the thing we have done on a positive note is we gotten better in the course of the game.  For whatever reason we have started out rather slow.  Defensively we have been able to lock teams down in the second half.  I think that’s a positive.  On the other hand we haven’t been able to figure out what is causing us to get off to slow start,” said Gray.

          With almost everyone back for last year the Tuckers have been through the wars of varsity basketball.  They shared the league title with Shelby last season.  Gray says they know how to make adjustments.  “I think we have a very talented team with a pretty good basketball I.Q.  I think during the course of the game they are able to figure some things out in terms of how the other team is trying to attack us offensively and defensively.  Our ability to pass the ball, rebound, and defend obviously works to our advantage,” he said.

          Norwalk (8-0,3-0) is hard to defend because they can score from a variety of spots on the floor.  Gray says he believes their perimeter game will only get better as time goes on.  “Well, Jake Federoff, our 6-6 post, has done a great job this year and has gotten a lot better.  We really haven’t shot the ball as well as I think we are capable of.  We have a couple of football players that I think in the very near future will begin knocking down shots and getting teams out of zones against us,” said Gray.

          This week, the Truckers play host to the Willard Crimson Flashes (3-5,1-2) in a league game.  Willard is two games under .500 overall and coming off a loss to Tiffin Columbian (57-47), but Gray believes they are a good team with even more potential.  “I think Willard is one of the more talented teams that we will face this year.  They are the biggest and most athletic team we are going to face.  Their guards are 6-3, 6-4.  They are big inside at 6-4,6-5, 6-6.  We are going to have our hands full,” Gray told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “I have seen them on tape on a couple of occasions.  There are times when they play as well as anyone I have seen this year.  Once they get that consistency that they are looking for they are going to be really, really good.  I hope it starts next week.”

          Gray knows both teams will be ready to play because since he has gotten to Norwalk the rivalry between the teams has grown quite a bit.  “Our communities are close together.  There is a lot of pride between the communities for bragging rights.  A lot of Willard people belong to our rec center in Norwalk.  I think it’s a good rivalry.  The fans get into it.  The student bodies get excited.  I know we are excited to play on Friday night,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Norwalk is Leary of Galion

 

          Unbeaten Norwalk is at home for the Galion Tigers in a non-conference game on Tuesday night.

          Norwalk (6-0) has not played since last Monday when they won at Clyde (46-38) in what was their closest game of the season outside of an overtime win (60-55) at Sandusky the previous Friday.  Veteran coach Steve Gray says they have played well so far, but they can still get better, a lot better.  “We are pretty happy obviously with our record.  You know, I have said this before that the exciting thing for us we are young and we have the ability to be a whole heck of a lot better,” he said.  When asked, Gray was quick to mention some areas that need to be shored up by the Truckers as the seasons goes on.  “There are a hundred different things that we can do to get better.  The things that really stick out in our mind are offensively we think we can run the floor hander, we can get better ball movement, We think we can throw it in the post a whole heck of a lot more efficiently and then defensively we are allowing too many straight dribble drives to the basket, and we aren’t boxing out to our ability.  There are five things we can do a heck of a lot better,” said Gray.

          Galion (1-5) is coming off a 62-45 loss to Wynford is North Central Conference play on Friday night.  Marcus Blair was their leading scorer with 11 points.  They trailed by just seven entering the fourth quarter, but Wynford outscored them 18-8 in the final period.  “I think their record is very, very misleading.  All you have to do is look at the first and second quarter against Mansfield Madison to see what they are capable of doing.  I think they have struggled at times during the games, but when they put things together they are as good as most teams on our schedule.  If we don’t guard the ball and get a hand up in shooter’s faces it’s going to be a long night Tuesday night against Galion,” said Gray.  Of course, Galion was a charter member of the Northern Ohio League for 65 years before last year and the Truckers are well aware of their personnel.

          Gray says the Tigers have the ability to spread the floor and get scoring from many different sources.   “We had our scouting report made up before the Willard game and one player we listed as a sub and didn’t have much on him and he comes out at hits three threes.  They have a post player that can play inside and step out and hit the three.  They have had other kids hit two or three threes in a quarter.  I just think they are very, very explosive.  If you allow them to get out in transition they have the ability to put points on the board very, very quickly.  McCen unfortunately has been in a lot of foul trouble this year.  If he plays 28, 29 minutes he is a tough match-up for many teams,” said Gray.

 

 
   

Defense the Key For Norwalk

 

          Norwalk plays host to Shelby in a key early season battle in the Northern Ohio League and as always it seems between these two it is defense that is going to tell the story.

          Norwalk humbled a pretty good Sandusky Perkins team 65-43 in their opener last week and coach Steve Gray says they were really ready to play a real game.  “I felt we played fairly well for our first game, but obviously we have a great deal of room for improvement.  Our kids were excited.  They were ready to play.  They we tired of the preseason and they were tired of listening to me,” said Gray.

          Gray has been sort of a defensive guiro in his time as a coach at Ridgedale, Lexington, Colonel Crawford and Norwalk.  He thinks this group has the potential to play a lot better defense than they did against Perkins.  “Especially defensively, we have a lot of room for growth.  We allowed too many straight line drives to the basket.  We didn’t move our feet and got a couple of kids in foul trouble.  It’s early and we are young.  If I ever believe that we have reached a point were we don’t need to practice, I think it’s time to find another profession,” he said.

          Norwalk and Shelby were the best two teams in the league a year ago and the Whippets (2-0) are also off to a strong start after wins over Mansfield Madison (67-58 in overtime) and Orrville (63-56) in games against the teams out of the Ohio Cardinal Conference.  “I think Fenner has really grown up since last year.  He has gotten bigger and stronger and I think a lot more skilled.  When you have Nelson and Arnold, you have two of the best players in the “NOL,” Gray told Swankonsports.com, “Those three will present a great problem.  From what I have seen Rody has hit as many as two threes a game.  I just think they are a lot better than people have anticipated.  Not me, but what the writers had to say.”

          The engine that runs the Whippets is senior point guard Garrett Arnold, a four year starter at the point for Shelby.  He had big offensive games on the first weekend for the Whippets.  He scored 32 against Madison and another 23 when they played Orrville.  “I think he has gotten off to as good a start as anyone in the area.  He’s averaging about 25 points a game.  If he gets 25 points on Friday night, we better hope nobody else scores or we’re in trouble.  He demands the ball.  He has the ability to draw fouls,” said Gray.

          This may be a different Norwalk-Shelby game from this standpoint.  Steve Gray coached teams in the past have often tried to slow down the pace and limit the possessions.  The Truckers are athletic this year and don’t look for them to employ that strategy nearly as much.   

 

 
   

Is Norwalk the “NOL” Favorite?

 

          Norwalk returns most if not all of its scoring from a year ago and most pundits have put the favorite’s tag on the Truckers when in comes to winning the Northern Ohio League boys’ basketball title.

          Veteran coach Steve Gray knows that he has a very good team and he says they are willing to put the work in that is required to win titles and advance down the tournament trail.  “Well, I really like my team.  They are great kids who come from good families.  I just think they have a tremendous work ethic.  They work hard in practice.  The exciting thing is they want to get better and they want to be coached.  So far, before the first game in played, we are having a lot of fun,” he said.

          Norwalk won a share of the “NOL” title last season and Gray says they have height and the players have shown an unselfish nature, which is a good combination.  “First of all athletically we have three or four kids that are 6-4, 6-5 or 6-6 and they are long.  The thing with the athleticism and the length is the have a very good basketball I.Q.  I think we pass the ball exceptionally well.  So far we have been very unselfish,” said Gray.

          As a coach Gray has always emphasized defense and he wants his team to be better at that element of the game.  “So far in the preseason we are not nearly as good on defense as we can be.  We have allowed too much dribble penetration into the paint during our scrimmages,” he told Swankonsports.com, “I don’t think we have taken care of the ball as well as I would like it.  There are a hundred different things that we need to work on to be the kind of team that maybe we are capable of being.”

          Many people have chosen the Truckers are the top dog in the “NOL” race, even with the addition of an athletic Sandusky to the mix of teams.  Gray says it is going to be a battle every night out in the “NOL” because there is talent across the league.  “Some people have said they like our chances.  Here is the question I ask, who is the worst team in the league?  The answer is, nobody knows.  There is great balance in the “NOL” this year.  Shelby has two really good starters back.  Tiffin has four of their first five kids back this year.  Bellevue could have one of the top point guards back in the league.  Willard is long and athletic.  They have, I think, three starters back.  It comes down to every team has the qualities to be a very good team,” said Gray.

          This year Norwalk is up a division in the postseason tournament.  They are division one and that puts them in with the likes of Mansfield Senior, Mansfield Madison and Sandusky.      

 

 
   

Norwalk Wants This Test

 

          Norwalk is enjoying their best football season more than 30 years.  Now, they want to prove the can compete with the best in teams in the Northern Ohio League.

          After winning their first six games of the season the Truckers were beaten on back to back weeks by “NOL” co-leaders Sandusky (56-6) and Bellevue (28-14) and now they get the chance to see what they can do against Tiffin Columbian (7-2) as they visit National Field on Friday night.

          Norwalk spanked Willard 49-7 last week to get back on the winning track in a big way.  “We were really excited about the way our kids played on Friday night in the last home game for our seniors.  We went out and put together a great effort on both sides of the ball,” said Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland.

          Columbian fell out of the league race when they lost a heartbreaker (35-34) to Sandusky last week.  MacFarland says the Tornados have some big time players on both sides of the ball.  “They are very athletic.  Offensively they have a great system doing a good job of mixing run and pass.  They have athletes in positions that really hurt you.  Defensively, they get after the ball pretty good.  Good size up front and can fly to the football.  We are going to have our work cut out for us on week 10.  Our kids are really excited about getting the opportunity to play a real good football team,” he told Swankonsports.com.

          Tiffin has played solid defense all season.  In their losses to Bellevue and Sandusky it was really turnovers that did them in.  MacFarland knows they are really good on that side of the ball.  “You can tell they enjoy playing defense.  They get after it.  There is never just one kid at the tackle, they swarm and gang tackle.  Our offensive line and wide receivers are going to have to do a good job staying with their blocks and getting down field into the second level.  We are going to have to keep them away from the ball.  Hopefully, sustain some nice drives and get some points on the board,” he said.

          No matter what happens on Friday night the Truckers are going to have their best season since 1977, but MacFarland really wants them to show they can be at the same level as Columbian, who has been the dominate football power in the league over the last decade.  “It would really be the exclamation point to a very fine season for Norwalk.  A lot of the things we set out to do we have been able to accomplish.  We don’t have a playoff game.  This is going to be a playoff atmosphere for us.  A chance for us to really measure up with the standard in the “NOL”.  So we are excited to see where we are after 10 games,” he said.

         

 

 
   

Norwalk Not Giving Up

 

          The Norwalk Truckers won their first six football games this fall becoming the first football team at Norwalk since 1977 to produce a winning record.  However, the last two weeks have not been so good for the Truckers.

          Sandusky beat them 56-6 and then after the Truckers scored the first 14 points, Bellevue rallied to beat them 28-14 last week.  Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland says his kids still have the right mental approach to the game.  “We have had a great week of practice.  Our kids do a tremendous job of coming out each week on Monday and starting over again.  They are really resilient.  They are focused on what they want to do.  A lot of our goals are still in front of us and we want to take care of them.  Our coaching staff and our seniors have made sure we are focused,” he said.

          Friday night, the Truckers host the Willard Crimson Flashes (1-7) in a Northern Ohio League game.  The Flashes have had a murderous schedule including North Ridgeville (30-0), Sandusky (49-21), Bellevue (61-6) and Tiffin Columbian (41-13) over the last month.  “They are really improving each week.  The three films we got they played Sandusky, Bellevue and Columbian, three top “NOL” teams.  They are showing real improvement each week.  They are staying positive and working hard for their coach.  We are going to have to come out and be prepared,” said MacFarland.

          Willard really has been able to move the ball all season, but they have had turnovers and penalties stopping them from scoring.  MacFarland knows the Flashes potential and understands they have to be able to be the one to make the big plays.  “They really do move the ball well.  Their quarterback does a nice job of dispersing the ball to different receivers.  Their line does a nice job of blocking.  We never count on teams turning the ball over or having penalties.  We try to create our own mistakes.  It’s going to be a tight “NOL” game.  There is a long history of Willard and Norwalk playing each other,” said MacFarland.

 

 
   

Norwalk Wants to Move on

 

          There has been a whole lot of hoopla over the Norwalk Truckers picking up their sixth win of the season last week, guaranteeing them of their first winning season since 1977, but the coaching staff would like to continue to concentrate on winning football games.

          Norwalk won the state title in 1974, but since that time frankly they haven’t been very good until this year as the Truckers are a perfect 6-0.  Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland says they haven’t been even thinking about breaking the streak of losing seasons.  “We actually haven’t even talked about that much as a team this year,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “We talk about week to week.  Our little motto this is we try to win every Friday night.  Obviously, some community members are talking about it and that’s great because they are excited that we are winning.  Now we can kind of forget about the streak and continue to worry about week to week.”

          Norwalk downed Shelby (0-6) 20-6 last week as the Truckers defense, which has allowed only 46 points all season, played another solid game.  “Our defense really went out and stepped up.  We had some great stands inside the 10-yard line.  The special teams put us in bad position and the defense went out and cleaned it up.  They did a great job of playing just really solid, aggressive football,” said MacFarland.

          On Friday night, the Tuckers will receive their stiffest test of the season as the Sandusky Blue Streaks (4-2), new to the Northern Ohio League, play host to the Truckers.  “They are very athletic.  We scrimmaged them the last two years prior to them coming into the league.  They provided match-up problems because they have some kids that can just flat out can run.  If we can keep things contained I feel confident we can be competitive,” said MacFarland.  Sandusky, ranked #3 in the Swnakonsports.com football power poll in the large school division, is also, because of their speed, very aggressive on defense.  “On defense they like to be aggressive and man up.  We have to approach them with the same team concept we have been going with all season.  The kids are really buying into what we are telling them,” said MacFasrland.

          There is no doubt that Sandusky is faster and quicker than Norwalk overall, but MacFarland says they are still confident they can slow down the Streaks.  “We are going to put our kids in some alignments and give them some techniques.  We have to play team, pursuit defense.  We have to gang tackle.  We have to get 11 guys to the football because you don’t want to be in those one-on-one situations,” he said.  

 

 
   

Norwalk Ready for the “NOL”

 

          Norwalk won all five of their non-conference football games this year, but now the real season starts as they begin Northern Ohio League play this week by hosting the winless Shelby Whippets.

          Talk about role reversal, the Whippets have won more “NOL” football titles than anyone other than Bellevue and Norwalk has not had a winning season since the middle 1970’s, but this year could be a different story.

          The Truckers shut out Delta 24-0 last week to improve to 5-0 on the season.  Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland believes it was an adjustment he made at halftime that was the difference for the Truckers.  “We were really proud of the way we came out and played in pretty sloppy conditions with the amount of rain we had on our field,” MacFarland told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “The first half we came out and tried to run our same game plan and throw the ball a little bit and swing it out wide.  With the weather that didn’t happen.  I made a great halftime adjustment.  We came out and ran the ball two consecutive series and went down and scored to put the game away.”

          The Norwalk defense has pitched two straight shutouts and MacFarland believes they are the real reason why the Truckers are a pretty good team.  “Our defense has been outstanding.  Any team that’s trying to rebuild or make a program for themselves has to start with the defense.  We are really excited about the way our defense is playing and we are hoping our defense keeps us in the game for the next five “NOL” games,” he said.

          Shelby has given itself a chance to win the last three weeks but they have come up just short losing to unbeaten Ontario (28-20), to Bryan (35-21) and last week (27-21) to the Marion Harding Presidents.  “Shelby has a long tradition in football, so their record might be 0-5 right now, but there is no way they are an 0-5 football team,” said McFarland.

            MacFarlane is impressed with how Shelby fires out and hits at the point of attack.  “They are very physical and they have good size up front.  Their quarterback does a great job running the offense and he is a pretty athletic young man.  We need to give him a lot of attention.  On defense, they like to fly around and bring pressure.  They play real physical football and we will have to be ready for that,” he said.

          Because of the lack of success Shelby has had in terms of wins and losses this season, MacFarland thinks the beginning of this game is going to be very important to the Truckers.  “I think that is going to be huge,” he said, “The first possession on each side of the ball is going to set the tone.  Obviously we want to take the five game experience we have had and use that to our benefit.  This is kind of the start to a new season.  If you are trying to win a league championship, its starts this Friday.”

 

 
 

 

Norwalk Reaping the Benefits

 

          After playing some young kids over the last couple of years and taking their lumps a little bit, the Norwalk Truckers are now starting show why they had a lot of confidence in those younger players.

          Norwalk has won its first four games of the season and is looking forward to its first plus .500 season since the middle 1970’s.  The Truckers have beaten Edison (14-13), LaGrange Keystone (69-21), Sandusky Perkins (24-6) and Bedford St. Peter Chanel (28-0) last week.  “We have a tremendous junior class,” Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland told Swankonsports.com, “The last two years the kids have come in and tried to learn the system we were implementing.  This is our third year together, the coaching staff has stayed together too.  These kids just have a great work ethic.  We have gotten great leadership from our senior class.”

          The Truckers have done the job on offense and defense.  “I think we are pretty balanced on offense,” said MacFarland, “We will take what the defense gives us. Dustin Carbtree is a three year starter at running back for us.  He was 45 yards short of 1,000 yards last year.  Nick Davis is another running back that does a nice job.  Then there is the development of Jake Ferderoff, a junior quarterback.  He played all 10 games last year and has a real grasp of the offense.  We have five or six receivers we can rotate in.”  MacFarland really believes it was the kids that play on the defensive side of the ball that led to the Truckers having the ability to win games.  “The coaching staff on the defensive side has done a tremendous job.  We have athletes in places where we have not in the past.  Ian Ramos playing up front at defensive end, Jerry Balten at linebacker, Issac Perry in the secondary, they are all juniors.  We love the aggressiveness they are playing with right now.  I think any team’s turn around comes though its defense,” added MacFarland.

          This Friday night Norwalk plays host to Delta in non-conference play.  Their only win comes in their opener when they downed Toledo Christian 21-7.  “Delta runs a wing-t offense, which always seems to give the defense fits.  It’s going to be assignment football.  We have to read our keys.  Defensively they have been in a 50 or a four front so will have to make sure we get the right assignments for the offensive line,” said MacFarland.

 

 

 
   

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