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Willard Flashes Boys' Basketball Schedule

(3-20,1-11)

 

 

 

12/2

Upper Sandusky

69

@ Willard

50

12/3

Willard

37

@ Lexington

70

12/9

Willard

52

@ Bellevue

78

12/15

Sandusky

63

@ Willard

47

12/17

Willard

49

@ Chippewa

53

12/20

Willard

62

@ Hopewell-Loudon

49

12/23

Willard

18

@ Tiffin Columbian

53

12/27

Sandusky Perkins

64

@ Willard

36

12/30

Norwalk

56

@ Willard

53

1/6

Shelby

79

@ Willard

56

1/12

Willard

44

@ Buckeye Central

48

1/14

Port Clinton

40

@ Willard

50

1/20

Willard

32

@ Ontario

81

1/24

Norwalk St. Paul

62

@ Willard

59

1/26

Bellevue

74

@ Willard

78

1/28

Willard

36

@ Sandusky

72

2/3

Tiffin Columbian

62

@ Willard

45

2/4

Willard

54

@ Huron

65

2/10

Willard

50

@ Norwalk

65

2/14

Willard

40

@ Shelby

75

2/18

Mans. Madison

80

@ Willard

48

2/24

Ontario

57

@ Willard

41

3/3

Western Reserve

58

Willard

56

 

 

     
   

It’s Willard and Seneca East Again

  

          Willard gets a rematch with Seneca East in the girls’ division three district tournament on Thursday night at Shelby High School.

          It was the Lady Tigers that won last year (52-30,) but this time there is a different cast of characters.

          Willard (12-12) downed Bucyrus (51-41) in its first tournament game last week and then handled Fostoria (57-32) on Saturday to advance to the district level.

          Coach Jon Dawson feels they got better as the week went on.  “I thought Wednesday night there against Bucyrus we were a little sluggish at the start, but then we got things going a little bit.  I was really pleased with the way we played Saturday.  We kind of had our way with Fostoria.  We got a lot of kids in and they gave great effort.  You just want to be able to keep moving on and take it one game at a time,”

          Seneca East (13-11) finished in the middle of the pack in the Northern 10 Athletic Conference, but Dawson says it is no surprise they have elevated their game for the tournament because they have don’t it the last two years.  “They have been dangerous.  They kind of have a mediocre season you could say and play well in the tournament.  Two years ago I know they knocked off South Central when I believe South Central was undefeated all of the way through,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “Last year, they knocked off Crestview, who was the number one team in the state, and then they got us in the district final.  They are definitely a team you don’t want to look past.  Their record is never an indication of the kind of team they really are.”

          Seneca East has outstanding guards in Meagan Siesel and Marina Adachi.  Siesel in the N10’s leading scorer this season.  They beat the number seed in the district Western Reserve, the Firelands Conference co-champ, pretty easily (53-39) last Saturday.

          Dawson says they are going to have to play really good defense if they are going to win this game.  “They are definitely a dangerous team and sound fundamentally.  The Siesel girl is averaging 22 points a game I believe, something like that.  She is definitely a good player and we are going to keep our focus on her.  The point guard Marina Adachi really handles the ball well.  You are going to have to get up and pressure her a little bit and try and get it out of her hands as much as we can.  They have an inside post player that is capable doing some good things.  So, we are going have our hands full for sure,” said Dawson.

 

Published 3/02/16

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Willard Faces Western Reserve in Tournament Opener

  

          Willard plays as good a schedule as anyone in the division three district tournament and they hope that is a plus when they play Western Reserve in the sectional final at Shelby High School on Friday night.

          The Flashes (3-19) are the smallest school in the Northern Ohio League and have played the likes of Sandusky and Ontario twice this year, plus schools like Upper Sandusky and Lexington in non-conference play.

          Coach Chris Long says they makes them better in the long run.  “We go into the season thinking that.  You have to be very fortunate and sometimes very lucky to go undefeated in a season.  With the league we play in and some of our non-conference opponents we think that once we get to this part of the season there is nothing we haven’t seen.  Our opponents have prepared us for various types of offense and various types of players and our kids hopefully feel little more comfortable.  When it gets down to it we are not trying to prepare for something we haven’t seen.  We are just worried about the personnel of the opposing team and how they handle their style of play,” said Long.

          Western Reserve (13-8) finished as runners up in the Firelands Conference and they have played most of the season without sophomore Jaret Griffith, who was the player of the year in the conference a year ago.  Griffith played the last two weeks after two months on the shelf, but did not appear to be anywhere close to as good as he had been before a lower leg injury.

          Long says the Roughriders are plenty good with or without him.  “We are still preparing like Jaret is going to play.  It is unfortunate for a high school kid to miss most of the season.  They have the Markley kid, Bartlett, and the Puder kid.  They still have guys and if you don’t get out and guard them and let them stand there and shoot the ball they are very good,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “Jaret didn’t play very well the other night against St. Paul and the Markley kid stepped up and Sapienza hits some crucial threes for them.  They have been able to get over the hump they have won games without him.  It is nothing new to them to not be playing without him.  I am sure there is still a comfort level with home being out on the floor, but it isn’t something they haven’t done this year already.”

          Western plays very good defense and Long says they make it difficult for you to get the ball past the time line and once you do get any kind of open shot.  “Chris (Sheldon) does a great job.  Right now they have been pressing and making it tough for you to bring the ball up the floor.  In the half court they are very tough to score on.  They will take something way in every set that you run.  It is one of those things that we preach to our kids that you may not get your first option, but stay what we are in and the second of third option will open up,” he said.

 

Published 3/01/17

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Willard Plays Athletic Fostoria in Second Round

  

          Willard meets Fostoria in the second round of the division three girls’ district tournament on Saturday night at Lexington High School.

          The Lady Flashes downed Bucyrus (51-41) in their opening round game at Lexington on Wednesday night. 

          Coach Jon Dawson says they Lady Flashes (11-12) got off to a real good start in the game and then just kind of hung and won.  “I felt we got off to a great start against them.  We got the pressure going and stuff and then I don’t know for whatever reason we probably tightened up a little bit and didn’t shoot it very well in the second half.  That is tournament basketball.  Being able to survive and move onto the next round that is about all you can hope for,” said Dawson.

          They don’t give you bonus points in the tournament for winning impressively it is about surviving.  Dawson says they were able to grind in out on Wednesday.  “We have a lot of kids that haven’t been in that situation before.  You spend a lot of time talking about the tournament.  I think you can put a little bit too much emphasis on that sometimes and the pressures starts to build an they start to second guess themselves instead of going out there and doing what they do best,” he said.

          Fostoria beat Wynford (46-31) in the nightcap at Lexington on Wednesday night to advance to Saturday.

          Not playing a lot of teams from North Central Ohio, Fostoria can be a bit of a mystery.  Dawson says he has seen some film on them and they are not big, but they are athletic.  “I have a couple of films on them knowing there was a possibility that we were going to play them and I got a chance to see them for the first time live (Wednesday) night.  They are not a very big team, but very, very scrappy, very athletic and do a nice job of getting to the hole,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “They are very aggressive in what they do, so we are going to have our hands full for sure.  We are going to have to kind of slow down their dribble penetration and really look to pound it inside against them.”

 

Published 2/24/17

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Willard Wants to Make Shelby one Dimensional

  

          Tuesday night marks the last Northern Ohio League game between Willard and Shelby in boys’ basketball.

          They started playing them in 1944.  Yes, that was the same year as “D-Day” and Bob Hope was more than just a guy that had a golf tournament named after him.  It was a  time when there were no black players in Major League Baseball.  Only the rich had TV, most of the country gathered around radios for their entertainment.  You get the idea.

          Willard (3-16,1-9) plays Shelby (11-8,6-3) on Tuesday night.

          Shelby is coming off a (48-44) win over talented Sandusky Perkins on Saturday night and they are paced by their guards, but Willard coach Chris Long says their bigger guys are pretty good too.  “They have the Gieseler kid and Hoffman and they both bring their own little flair to the game.  The Gieseler kid is an exceptional athlete that can shoot the ball and dribble it.  He reminds me a lot of Ethan Daub for us that grew up basically being a point guard in their system.  The Gieseler kid looks like he has grown up being a guard.  He just happens to have the body of a post and he is very athletic,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “The Hoffman kid is very similar because he can bury a shot from outside the arc.  Doesn’t play as much inside.  He shoots 70 percent inside the arc.  When you watch film he isn’t a guy that says I am going to stand down on the low block, but when he gets inside the arc he is able to finish pretty much seven our of the 10 times he gets there.”

          Shelby games seem to be built on runs and Long says you have to make those shorter in order to be successful.  “We beat them a couple of years ago at home.  You have to shoot the ball really well.  They are not pressing near as much.  They are going to put some pressure on you and you have to use that against them.  Defensively you try to take away everything, but you try to make them one dimensional.  I know a lot people don’t like to hear this, but the best percentage for you is to turn them into a three point shooting team.  We have talked about that this week.  (Brock) Kehres had 11 assists against us and we gave up way too much dribble penetration in the first game.  When they are able to get to the middle they are a very solid team.  On both sides of the court all five of their players can make plays,” said Long.

          This will not be the last time the Flashes play at Shelby this year.  Willard plays Western Reserve of the Firelands Conference in a division three tournament game on March 3 at Shelby.

          Long says playing the Roughriders was the best of the choices they had when brackets were put together on Sunday.  “I thought it went pretty well for us.  When it came down to us there were only three spots open.  At Monroeville, both Margaretta and Edison had gone up there.  Just looking at what was better for our kids.  We play Tuesday, Saturday, Friday.  We had a chance to play a play in game and go play New London or play one game in the tournament.  We decided to play Western.  It gives us as a staff more time to prepare.  It will be like a normal week for them.  It won’t be something out of the ordinary where we come in Saturday and Monday and start working and then start over Wednesday and Thursday,” said Long.

 

Published 2/14/17

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Fundamentals Key When Playing Norwalk

  

          Willard plays Norwalk for the second time this season, this time on the road, in Northern Ohio League action on Friday night.

          The Flashes (3-15,1-8) are coming off a pretty good performance last Saturday night against talented Huron of the Sandusky Bay Conference. 

          Coach Chris Long says his players did just about everything he asked them to do.  “I thought our kids put together a great effort.  When you go 9-22 at the free throw line that doesn’t help.  We were a little stagnate there to start the third quarter.  Our kids battled aback, we were down as much as 15 in the fourth quarter, but our kids fought back and gave us a chance.  We made a couple of threes and got down about six or five.  I couldn’t ask any more from them.  They did pretty much what we ask them to do other than knocking down free throws at crunch time.  They are a dangerous team.  They have guys that can shoot the ball and take to the basket and create for others.  I thought our kids did and exceptional job Saturday night,” said Long.

          Norwalk (4-13,1-7) is starting to get a little more healthy late in the season.  Long says Brandon Haraway makes them more athletic, but you still have to be ready for the same stuff.  “(Coach) Steve (Gray) went through a little stretch with the Renner kid out and Haraway was out since football and the Friend kid hurt his foot.  We are a lot a like except most of our injuries were at the beginning of the year and I am starting to get them back now one by one.  They are not going to change they are still going to be the same team.  Haraway gives them a little added firepower and a very dominate point guard.  They are still going to be the same team,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “They are going to run a ton of sets.  They are going to do an exceptional job protecting the paint on the defensive end.  Haraway gives them that little added effort because he is a tough guard.  His shot may not be all of the way back because of arm issues, but I guarantee you his legs are in shape and he is still as quick as ever.  They are in transition because they are trying to work the Haraway kid back in.  Steve will have them ready to go he has done a great job with them all year.”

          When on defense, Long says you have to be very fundamental and you better have a very good memory too because the Truckers have a big play book.  “You have to be fundamental and your memory has to be really long because the number of sets they have is quite long.  They run about 100 sets off of the flex series.  Outside of that they have some plays where want to crisscross guys and get them to the wings.  You just have to set down and be solid on the defensive end and do you best to keep them in front of you and hopefully limit them to one shot.  On the other end be able to crash the glass a little bit because the one thing they lack is some height.  It is a tough out every time you play them because they are very well disciplined and everybody they have on the floor is a quality ball handler,” he said.

 

Published 2/08/17

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Defense Again a Key For Willard

  

          Willard plays a game this week against a team that is their league now in Tiffin Columbian and one that will be in their league next year in the Huron Tigers.

          Last Saturday night, they ran into a buzz saw in “NOL” leader Sandusky, who beat them (72-36) in a league game.

          Coach Chris Long says they just have so many weapons.  “I told my A.D. after the game that is not a team you want to finish a three game week with.  They have the ability to put so much pressure on you defensively and then you have to spend so much energy defending the likes of Jayresse and Keith Williams and Croom.  You try to take one away, I know that is what Ontario tried on Thursday night.  They tried to take Jayreese away and Croom goes off for 26.  You have to buy your time with them.  They are not a team you can go and be aggressive with.  They can make you pay in so many ways.  Once they get on a roll they are on a roll for pretty much the rest of the game.  They are a tough match up because they have so many weapons,” said Long,

         Willard (3-13,1-7) plays at home Friday night against Tiffin Columbian (5-8,2-5) in league play.  Tiffin lost to Shelby (60-52) surrendering a fourth quarter lead.

          Long says Columbian is athletic and led by play everywhere guy Ro Durham.  “He is the engine that makes them run.  He is a great player that has the inside out ability.  He is very good at getting the ball beyond the arc and then attacking the basket with his athleticism and his quickness.  You also have Simons at point guard,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “I think he is a three year starter for them and is very athletic.  He is a bigger point guard.  They have the pieces and parts that fit in well with their puzzle.  Those guys are able to create a lot for the other guys on that team like the Buck kid that can shoot outside.  He can just knock it down.  Sometimes you give so much attention to those two guys you end up leaving shooters open and they can really make you pay.”

          Huron (11-3) is the second place team in the bay division of the Sandusky Bay Conference and Long says the like to play fast and use the three point shot as a weapon.  “I think four if not five of their starters have played guard in his system.  They are a little bit like Upper with a little more post presence now.  They all step out to the perimeter.  They love to push the ball.  They like to drive and kick.  They want to keep you on your heels.  They get after it defensively.  They have shot exceptionally well from three point land.  We went and watched them play a couple of weeks ago against Sandusky St. Mary’s and both teams combined to take 64 threes.  They want to get it up and down the floor and get a shot off as quick as possible.  They want to press you because they don’t want to have to defend in the half court because of their overall size,” said Long.

 

Published 2/01/17

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Willard Wants to Show it Down

  

          Willard picked up their second win of the season on Saturday night and now they play streaking Ontario on the road in a Northern Ohio League game on Friday night.

          Last week, Willard lost at Buckeye Central (48-44) on Thursday and then beat Port Clinton (50-40) on Saturday night.

          Coach Chris Long says they did some good things of defense to get that win over the Redskins on Saturday night.  “I don’t think we handled certain situations very well Thursday at Buckeye.  We had the lead for most of the game and we were not able to handle a little bit of pressure there at the end.  Against Port Clinton we didn’t start out exceptionally well, but for the last three quarters I thought our kids defended very well.  We limited our fouls and were able to attack the basket and get some second shot opportunities, which were able to bring us back and put us in the lead in that game,” said Long.

          Willard (2-10,0-5) plays at Ontario (8-4,3-2,) winners of their last six on Friday night in “NOL” play.  Long says Ontario possesses all the things you want to have in a good team.  “They are very athletic and they want you to play faster than you are accustomed to playing.  They were able to do that to Norwalk the other night.  Norwalk was down a couple of starters and that made that much more difficult for them.  They have a little bit of everything.  They have some guys that knock down shots.  They have guys that are going to penetrate and attack the basket.  They have height with the Jones kid and the Zeiter kid at 6’7” and 6’5” and the Mott kid comes off the bench at 6’4”.  So, they have a very well rounded team and they have been tough to defend,” he said.

          It’s not that you want to turn down wide open layups, but Long says they want to be selective and make sure they limit the possessions when they play Ontario.  “It is a fine line.  The two things we talked about is they are going to speed you up by pressing you.  We have to be able to handle the press.  Then I talked to my kids about not taking a quick shot or the very first shot even if it is wide open.  We have to be able to limit the number of possessions in the game with our offense,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We worked on (Monday) taking 20, 30 seconds off on the first possession.  Just not forcing the issue.  Getting it in the paint and kicking it back out and we will get back into our offense.  It is just one of those things were a quick shot will play right into their hands.  A long rebound could start a fast break for them.”

 

Published 1/17/17

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Willard with Winnable Games

  

          It has been a tough season when it comes to wins and losses for the Willard Crimson Flashes. 

          They get two more chances to get a win this week with non conference games at Buckeye Central on Thursday and at home against Port Clinton on Saturday.  Beginning next year the game with the Redskins becomes a league game for the Flashes.

          Shelby downed Willard (79-56) in Northern Ohio League play last Friday night.

          Coach Chris Long says they just caught the Whippets on a night when they were shooting the ball very well.  “I thought our kids played hard.  From the first quarter on Shelby shot 71 percent from the field.  When a team is on that kind of streak sometimes it is tough.  I thought our kids competed.  I thought they played hard.  I thought we had some defensive breakdowns,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “For the most part of you have to credit Shelby.  They put you in such a tough situation on the defensive side of the ball with so many options to stop.  Sometimes you get caught spinning around like a top.  They did a pretty good job of that against us on Friday night.”

          Willard (1-9) plays at Buckeye Central (4-6) on Thursday night.  The Bucks have done some good things, but they haven’t been able to finish some games off.

          Long says they played well in a (55-44) loss to a very good Colonel Crawford team last Saturday night.  “I was at the game.  They had the lead in the first half and did a great job of containing the Starkey kid from Colonel Crawford.  They have the Shade kid and two good guards to go with him.  They get after it defensively and hopefully it will be a good game,” he said.

          Port Clinton (1-8) will be at Willard come Saturday night.  They have lost their last eight, including a (74-51) set back to Oak Harbor in bay division action in the Sandusky Bay Conference last Saturday.  Long says they have had some difficulty making outside shots, just like the Flashes.  “They have the Brenner kid who is a three year starter as a post player.  He is a load.  I think he is averaging a double double for them.  They have struggled, like we have struggled, shooting the ball from the perimeter.  They get after it defensively.  They are a physical team.  They play in a physical league, just like we do.  The thing is with our league schedule you never get a night off and we jump out of league we don’t get a night off.  Looking forward to what is looking like a great game.  Hopefully both sides are up to it and fans get see a great high school basketball game,” said Long.

 

Published 1/11/17

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  \

Willard Faces Shelby

  

          Willard almost got their first league win of the season last week against Norwalk and their next chance is this Friday when they host the Shelby Whippets.

          It has been a process for the Flashes this year.

          They led Norwalk for about 45 minutes last Friday, but they play 48 and the Truckers rallied to win (56-53) in Northern Ohio League action.

          Coach Chris Long says they still need to learn how to win.  “We put ourselves in position and we weren’t able to finish what we started, but we take away a lot of good things from it.  We kept them under 50 percent from the field and we out rebounded them by 19 rebounds.  There are a lot of great things to take away from it,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “We told the kids one of the toughest things to learn how to do in sports is to learn how to win.  We have to get over that hump and put ourselves in that position more often so it becomes the norm rather than not the norm.”

          Shelby (4-4,2-1) travels to Willard (1-8,0-4) for an “NOL” game on Friday night.  The Whippets lead Galion (25-0) after the first quarter and went on to beat the Tigers (77-30) in a non-league game last Friday.

          Shelby shoots a lot of perimeter shots and Long says it comes from all three positions.  “Even with their bigger guys are able to play in the blocks, but they are able to step out and shoot from the perimeter as well, so they put a little pressure on you.  They return all three of their guards in Hipp, Kehres and Hill.  They force you to play a style that most people are uncomfortable in playing.  It is mainly how well you can acclimate to the style of play they are playing on offense, or in year’s part the run and jump defense.  They put you in an uncomfortable feeling, so you have to be ready and acclimate to that as quick as possible,” said Long.

          With the way the Whippets play there tends to be a lot of streaks in games.  Long says you have to be ready for that.  “It is the thing with Norwalk too.  There are going to be ups and downs and you are going to go through periods when you don’t score, so you have to be that much more solid on the defensive end.  With the way Shelby plays and how they want to push the ball down the floor that changes things in a hurry.  So, you have to be prepared for a game of runs because that is going to happen in games.  If you are prepared it is not such a shock to the system, so when it happens you are ready to do deal with it,” said Long.

 

Published 1/05/17

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Willard Girls Challenge “NOL” Leaders

  

          The young Willard Lady Flashes passed a big quiz on varsity basketball last week against a very good Buckeye Central, but Tuesday they get a bigger test against Northern Ohio League co-leader Bellevue.

          Last Tuesday, Willard downed Buckeye Central (55-52) and Madie Secor’s three pointer with a couple of seconds left.  They also beat Madison (73-48) last Thursday.

          Coach Jon Dawson says the win over Buckeye was a big step in their maturing process.  “I said from the beginning that was going to take some time.  We have a lot of young kids that we are kind of counting on to do some big things.  That win will help us find the grove a little bit,” said Dawson.

          With some kids playing varsity basketball for the first time, Dawson says they know this is kind of going to be a process that takes all season.  “Some kids are kind of moving up from eight grade basketball and now all of the sudden they have to play varsity.  It is a whole knew experience for them, so it is going to take a little time from them,” he said.

          Willard (5-6,2-2) goes to rival Bellevue (7-3,4-0) on Tuesday for their first meeting with the rival Lady Red this year in Northern Ohio League action.  Bellevue lost two games in a holiday tournament last week in close games to Minster (54-50) and Lima Bath (61-59.)  Their only other loss this season is to unbeaten Upper Sandusky.

         Dawson says this is another very good Bellevue team.  “This is still a very good Bellevue team.  They have five kids out there that can shoot it.  They are tough to defend.  They run the flex offense and they do it really, really well,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We are going to try and change up the defense a little bit.  Hopefully keep it close and give ourselves a chance.  We have had a couple of good days of practice in preparation for them.  We will go over there (Tuesday) night and see what happens.”

 

Published 1/03/17

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Willard Needs to Find a Way to Make More Shots

  

          Willard couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean last Friday night against Tiffin Columbian and now their assignment on Tuesday night is the unbeaten Sandusky Perkins Pirates.

          The Flashes had only four points at halftime last Friday in a (53-18) loss to Tiffin Columbian in Northern Ohio League play.

          Coach Chris Long says they started out missing shots and it just didn’t get any better for them as the game went a long.  “I haven’t really been able to put my thumb on it.  It was one of those games where things started our a little rough and then continued to snowball.  I don’t think we were as sharp mentally as we needed to be on the defensive end.  When you go 4-33 in any game most likely you are going to find yourself behind the eight ball.  We couldn’t find a grove to get into and some of that is because of Tiffin.  I thought we had some layups early on that we missed and it just snowballed from there into the complete game,” said Long.

          When it comes to game like that some coaches have said it just a situation of file it and forget it, but Long says especially with such a young team they really can’t do that.  “I went back and looked at it.  We talked about getting better and how important it is to defend and be able to change the way we defend from night in and night out.  I looked at it and we talked about it (Monday) and mostly it was about spacing and aliening on the offensive end.  Defensively it was more about what we need to do. We talked about things we do in practice that are not translating into games.  We have tried to file and forget it a little bit, but also learn from it.  Anytime this young team can learn from mistakes is good for us,” he said.

          Willard (1-6) hosts Sandusky Bay Conference bay division co-leader Sandusky Perkins on Tuesday night.  Perkins (6-0) beat Margaretta (46-33) in their last game last Thursday.

          Long says the Pirates have a lot of guys you have to guard.  “They are a smart basketball team.  They are a team that isn’t going to beat themselves.  They have a little bit of everything.  They have a point guard, who I believe this is his fourth year starting for them, that is very athletic.  He loves to attack the basket, he loves to get in the paint and mix it up.  They have good shooters on the floor,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “They have good shooters that come off the bench and they have two athletic posts.  They have players that can rotate around.  One of those posts is never off the floor.  They are always going to have athletic players and one shooter on the floor.  They are tough to defend because you have to defend the entire court.”

 

Published 12/27/16

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Willard Gets First One

  

          After losing their first five games, the Willard Flashes beat Hopewell-Loudon, who came in unbeaten, on Tuesday night.

          The Flashes picked up a (62-49) win and coach Chris Long admits they sort of got the monkey off their backs.  “It definitely feels good and it is even better for the kids.  I challenged them a little bit at the half.  Overall I thought we played a great four quarters.  I though we could have been better in the first half, so we went in at halftime and challenged them a little bit on the defensive end and the kids were able to respond and put together a solid 16 minutes to finish the game (Tuesday) night,” he said.

          The Flashes have had a lot of inexperience on their roster to start the season and Long says little by little they have been finding out what it takes to play at the varsity level.  “From the start of the season to (Tuesday) night we have talked about it being a process with the young kids.  We put ourselves with a chance to win last Saturday night up at Chippewa and we weren’t able to close out the deal.  We came right back on Tuesday night and put ourselves in a situation to be up and close out the game and the kids were able to do that.  With the young kids that we have the process is moving along with most coaches like myself it probably doesn’t move along fast enough, but it is just a process that you have to go through when you have a young team,” said Long.

          Willard (1-5,0-2) plays at Tiffin Columbian (3-2,0-1) in a Northern Ohio League game on Friday night.  The Tornadoes started the season by winning their first three.  They lost their only league game so far to Shelby (75-53) last Thursday.

          Long says they have some athletic players that can stretch your defense.  He says they are going to have to be good individual defenders, so they don’t have to help as much.  “They are an athletic team and they have two very good stand still shooters.  With the ability of Simons and Durham to create off the dribble and those two are normally set up by the other two to get their shots off.  They force you to defend pretty much the whole half court,’ he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “They put Durham on the block and when Durham has the ball he is able to get to the basket or Simons is able to able to get to the basket as well and they are two physical kids.  If you have to commit one and half guys to stop them it allows their other kids to stand and shoot uncontested threes and they put a lot of pressure on you.”

 

Published 12/22/16

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Flashes Must Play Great Defense

  

          Willard plays host to the Sandusky Blue Streaks, the defending Northern Ohio League co-champions on Thursday night in a league game.

          They must play outstanding defense.

          Coach Chris Long says his players and not been committed to that end so far.  “It all comes down to taking care of the ball.  Kids are going to make mistakes.  They are 15 to 18 year-old kids, but we have to be able to sit down and flat out defend and right now we are not getting that portion of it done.  That is something we talk about and when you give up 78 points you are putting your self in a predicament to score 100 and that is probably not our style of game.  I know it is not our style of game,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “We have tried to come back and figure our how we are going to handle ourselves on both sides of the floor and make sure they are actually helping each other a little bit.  In the process we are taking steps.  We did hold our turnovers to a lower amount.  We didn’t shoot the ball real well, but when it comes down to the defensive end we were not able to get it done last Friday night against Bellevue.”

          On some nights you aren’t able to make shots, and the Flashes (0-3,0-1) have had those, but Long says he still have to play hard and execute well on defense.  “Out of a lot of things in this game that is one of the things we can control.  Sometimes it is just about locking down and drawing a line and saying not on this possession and not against me.  Sometimes you can’t throw the ball in the ocean when you are in the middle of it, but if you can get back and you can defend you can always give yourself a shot, whether its is two points or eight points it gives you a shot at the end.  That is just one the things with a young team that is part of the learning process that no matter what happens you have to be able to come down to the other end and defend the opponent,” he said.

          Sandusky (2-1,1-0), #4 in the first Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coaches poll in the large school division, beat Ontario (67-57) last Friday.

          Long says the Blue Streaks on just very athletic and they have to do a great job defending them to have a chance.  “They can make you turn the ball over and hurt you in so many ways.  It is one of those things where your assignments on the defensive end become that much greater.  You are going to miss shots and they and going to make mistakes on the offensive end, but on the defensive end are you going to be able to pay attention to the things that we studied for three days getting ready for them and understanding these are their tendencies and this is what they are going to do and if you give them this they are going to take that.  It is a situation where if you aren’t making shots you are probably out of the equation.  They have the athletes and you have to try and limit as much as you can whether it be trying to take one guy away or taking multiple guys away.  If you are not focusing on what you are supposed to do on the defensive end they are going to make you pay,” said Long.

 

Published 12/14/16

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Willard Clashes With Bellevue

  

          Willard is a project under development and the Flashes need to be more physical going forward.

          They lost to Upper Sandusky (69-50) and Lexington (70-37) in games last weekend.  Coach Chris Long says one thing that has to get better is they have to become a more physical team on defense.  “We have to be a more physical defensive team.  We talked about that on Monday.  You have quantify it, we talked to our kids it is nothing about being dirty.  It’s about not allowing others to drive down the middle of the paint and not letting people dribble across our face.  We have to make sure we have butts on bodies and boxing out and making sure we are changing possession.  It was more on the defensive end of the floor and we have talked about it,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “Upper Sandusky was jumping into us and you can’t back off of that.  You have to be able to match that.  Friday night I didn’t think we did a great job of that.  Saturday we were better.  We took some baby steps in the process.  We didn’t shoot the ball exceptionally well, but we handled the ball better and handled their pressure better.  We just needed to play a little more physical on the defensive side of the ball.”

          Bellevue (0-1) lost their first game last Saturday to “SBC” favorite Sandusky Perkins (63-40.)  Long says they have a number of returners and they will be a big challenge for them in a number of ways.  “They return the little man Waskiellis and they have McPeak and Owen Hartley back at center.  They have some height, Hartley is 6’7” and he will cause our posts some match-up problems.  He is a really physical kid.  They have changed their offense a little bit and shifted their personnel.  You have to make sure you control the Ruhlman kid and not allow them to feed Hartley in the post.  We are going to have to play great help side defense and try to limit their ability to get to the paint and hopefully force them into becoming a three point shooting team,” said Long.

          Willard and Bellevue and their rivalry has been the cornerstone of the Northern Ohio League in boys’ basketball for many years.  Their rivalry in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s was as intense as any in the area.  Long, a player at Willard in the early 90’s, says it was fun.  “There have been some very exciting times when Willard and Bellevue have gotten together over the years.  I can remember what the game meant as a player.  It was a very contested rivalry throughout the years, it really was back in those days, but things change.  I am still positive that Bellevue says Willard and Willard says Bellevue,” he said.

 

Published 12/08/16

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Willard Opens “NOL” With Rival Shelby

  

          Willard has opened the girls’ basketball season with losses to three very good opponents and things don’t get any easier on Saturday as they host unbeaten Shelby in the Northern Ohio League opener for both schools.

          The Lady Flashes dropped both of their games in a holiday tournament last weekend to host Doylestown Chippewa (54-40) and talented North Union (79-60) and then were beaten by Upper Sandusky (58-44) on Tuesday.

          Coach Jon Dawson says they have some players that are still learning what it takes at the varsity level.  “We have a very young group that is just coming together for the first time, a lot kids playing for the first time under the big lights.  We definitely have a lot to work on.  We have to shoot the ball better.  We have to take better care of the basketball.  We like where we are at.  We wish we could have a couple of “W’s” to show for it.  We knew coming In that the first part of our schedule was definitely loaded and it was going to be a tough start for us, but hopefully we keep getting better each game,” said Dawson.

          They have seen good teams and the wins have not been there so far, but Dawson says they have seen improvement in what they are doing and believe it is a matter of time.  “We talk about our strength of schedule a lot.  Those are the kinds of teams we want to play.  We feel that makes us better in the long run.  We keep chipping away and as a coaching staff we see some progress.  We spend a lot of time breaking down film and we see a lot of good things happening with our girls.  In practice we are working on just fundamental stuff that we need to get better at.  We are definitely making progress,” he said.

          Shelby (2-0) has wins over Ashland (68-50) and Clear Fork (76-32) this season and would be considered one of the favorites for the “NOL” title this year.

          Dawson says they have a nice balance of kids that can score inside and quickness and shooting ability on the outside too.  “They have a nice combination.  I got to see them play at Ashland last Saturday night after our game.  As everybody knows we are big rivals.  They have almost everybody back from last year.  They have a big, solid group of seniors there that start for them.  They have size inside with Fiddler and King and they have quickness outside with Goth and Garrett.  They are a well balanced team and it is going to be a tough one for us for sure,” said Dawson.

 

Published 12/02/16

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Willard Faces Tough Weekend

  

          Willard is going to find out right away where they stand and what they have to do to get better as they face two of the best division two teams in the area in Upper Sandusky and Lexington on the opening weekend of the season.

          Swankonsports.com visited Willard a little bit earlier this season and coach Chris Long says they have come a long way baby since then and his kids are ready to go.  “When you were up here we had just came off a scrimmage in southern Ohio against Mason and Purcell Merion as team defensively and offensively we struggled mightily.  My opinion might have different given a couple of more days.  From where we at to where we are at now I thought we have made great leaps and bounds.  I think our kids are starting to get it a little bit more.  I think they are confident to go.  I was a kid once and I know by the time I was a senior I could do without the scrimmages and just go play.  When you have kids that are ready to compete and that is the mentality I think that makes it a little bit easier and it narrows the focus a little bit more.  The last week and a half I think our focus has been exceptional since we have gotten back from Mason,” said Long.

          Long, who a star point guard for the Flashes in the early 90’s, says he knows the preseason can be long and his guys are ready to get going.  “In the end you want kids that can compete.  It comes down to competition.  I think most of the kids get it.  I think sometimes four weeks is a long drawn out period.  When you go play a scrimmage you are going to play seven, eight quarters not like a normal game.  Situations are a little different with a running clock.  Kids think they are ready to go and I want to be in game situations and kids want that.  Sometimes you have to be in that pressure packed situation whether it be a mistake or a great play for the learning process to take place,” he said.

          On Friday night, Upper Sandusky, the defending Northern 10 Athletic Conference champion comes to Willard to play the Flashes.  Long says you better be able to handle the ball.  “They are going to bring it defensively from the time they get off the bus to the time they get back on.  They do a great job of making you feel uncomfortable and once you feel uncomfortable it leads to turnovers.  They are trying to use their defense to start their offense and they have some great shooters, some guys that have had a lot of varsity time.  They come back with some experience and guys that played on the 22-0 team last year.  They are chomping at the bit.  I think they had a little bit of a sour taste in their mouth from the tournament and they want to get back in and get that taste out of their mouth,” said Long.

          Then on Saturday night, Willard pays a visit to defending Ohio Cardinal Conference champion Lexington.  Long says the Minutemen may have graduated some kids, but they are still very talented.  “Scott (Hamilton) has done a great job of building the program and they have had some great classes going back to back.  They are still athletic.  They lost some great kids in Yaussey and Zahn, but they still return Cade Stover, who played on that team and some guys that were up on that team and played on the varsity and got a little bit of a taste of it,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “I fully expect them to ready.  The only thing I can see that would hamper them this year when we play them they would only have two weeks since the football season and sometimes that is good and sometimes that is bad.  They aren’t in the basketball shape that he wants, but that football success can be transferred to him as well.”

 

Published 11/30/16

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Willard is Bigger

  

          Willard will have more size as the Flashes embark on the 2016-17 boys’ basketball season, their last in the Northern Ohio League.

          This year’s Flashes will be inexperienced to start the season as they try to find some guys to replace the scoring of graduated Conner Robinson.

          Coach Chris Long is pleased with how his kids have been coming along this month.  “We only have three returning letter winners.  75 percent of our team is from the JV team last year.  Luckily for us a lot of those kids got experience on the varsity level in football.  I think that helps them a little bit to be prepared a little bit for what we are doing.  I know it is a process.  It is going to be a year long process for us with the youth that we have.  It has gone exceptionally well for the most part,” he said.

          The Flashes the last several years has been one of the smaller teams around North Central Ohio, but this year Long says they have some height and length on the roster.  “One of the detriments in the past has been some of our rebounding, whether it be offensive or defensive.  This year I think we have shored that up with a little bit of the height that we have.  Hopefully we are able to disrupt offenses a little more with the length that we have out of that size as well.  It is one of those things where we are using it, but we are not going to change the style that we play because of it.  Hopefully, we can use it to our advantage because it is something we haven’t had my first three years here,” said Long.

          In terms of their approach Long says this is a team that has to come out and play very hard and very well on defense if they are going to win the game.  “That is what we are working on right now.  Our biggest thing is we can put the ball in the basket, but we have to be able to stop people.  We are still in the “NOL” for one more year and if we don’t defend it is going to be a long night for us, so we are still trying to hang our hats on being more efficient on the defensive end,” he said.

          It is the last year for the Northern Ohio League, founded in 1944, Long has grown up in the league, but he says it is time for a change for Willard, who joins the ever expanding Sandusky Bay Conference.  “It is bittersweet.  In my 43 years of existence it is the only league I have ever known.  You hate to see a lot of history leave with it, a lot of the rivalries.  I am not saying the rivalries won’t still be there, but they are not going to be the same league rivalries as the past, but you have to look at what’s best for our student athletes.  I think the move was best for our student athletes,” he told Swankonsports.com during practice at Haas Gym on Monday, “We were a larger school back when I was in school.  We are not growing like we used to.  We need to be on the bus knowing we have a chance to compete.  I think confidence level it helps our student athletes of the future.”

 

Published 11/22/16

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Willard Will Have Youth, but Talent

  

          Willard has developed one of the better girls’ basketball programs in North Central Ohio and they hope that this winter will be another good season for the Lady Flashes.

          Last year, they finished (22-4,) sharing the Northern Ohio League title with Bellevue, and advancing to the division three district final where they lost to Seneca East.

          This year they are going to be a young basketball team, but coach Jon Dawson says he has already seen some good development from his squad.  He says he thinks they can be good.  “I certainly hope so and those are our expectations, but we have a young group and it is going to take us some time to get there.  I really like this group.  We definitely have some big shoes to fill from last year’s team.  It’s a new group and we are making some progress,” he said.

          Last Saturday, Willard scrimmaged against Lima Bath and Oak Harbor.  Dawson says there were some good and some bad and that was with many of their players not able to be there due to a field trip.  “It was a good chance for the kids to runs some things against other teams.  We were a little short handed there on Saturday.  All of our sophomores were on a field trip to Washington D.C.  I thought we did some nice things and did a nice job I thought the kids competed against good teams,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “When we got back to practice and kind of looked at some things that didn’t go well.  Now the sophomores are back and we are back to full speed.  Everyday the kids are competing for spots because.  This year more than any on my teams it’s wide open for spots.”

         One of the things that Dawson really likes so far is the competition that he has seen in practice.  He says the girls know that have to show things in practice if they are going to get playing time in games.  “We tell our kids that a lot that they are going to be evaluated in what they do.  We want the kids to compete and show things and really stick out to the coaching staff.  If they want to play on the varsity they are going to have to bring their best everyday in practice because if they don’t somebody is going to take their spot.  I think that brings out the best in these kids makes for good, clean, competitive practices.  It keeps us as coaches on our toes and creates a good atmosphere,” said Dawson.

 

Published 11/09/16

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Edison Wears Down Willard

 

          Edison used an aggressive defense to force Willard out of things they wanted to do and beat the Flashes (57-40) in a division three district semi-final at Norwalk High School on Thursday night.

          The Chargers will play Western Reserve (16-7) for a district title on Saturday night.

          They forced the Flashes (8-17) into turnovers, bad passes and rushed shots.  Coach Kyle Hammond says their guards are very good at disrupting what the other teams is trying to do.  "Our guards Hall, Goodwin, and Moyer are phenomenal athletes, very quick.  They get their hands on everything.  I thought we did a great job on Conner Robinson.  He is one of the best players in this area and we really made it difficult for him to do anything," he said.

          Willard coach Chris Long says Edison forces you to make quick decisions and they didn't make the right plays and when they did get the ball to the right places they didn't make shots.  "We knew coming into the game that they were going to up and into you.  That is way they play.  Did we handle it the best? No.  I thought we handled it in the first half, but it wears on you.  We put ourselves in some positions to make that pressure look a lot better than it was," he told Swankonsports.com after the game, "I'm not saying they didn't put great pressure on us.  We talked about that a halftime about trying to use that pressure against them.  We had some opportunities, but we weren't able to put the ball in the basket.  That is a team you can't do that with.  They are very good at trying to put you on skates and get you on your heels and when they do that that opens up their offense.  You have to give credit tot them, a lot of their kids are four year players."

          Willard took a (7-0) lead to begin the game an led (14-10) after the first quarter, but Edison caught them and 14 all on James Hill's hoop with 6:35 to play in the second quarter.

          They ended the half of a (9-2) run to lead (27-20) an never trailed in the second half.  Hill led Edison scorers with 15 and Marques Johnson added another 12.

          Willard's Conner Robinson is the district player of the year and Edison held him to only nine points and none over the final 13 minutes of the game.  He averages 20.  Hammond says they couldn't let him get on a streak.  "Conner make them go.  He makes so many plays.  He is the kind of guy that you can't let get going or they get confidence.  We played a great defensive game," he said.

          Willard is a physical team and Hammond thought they did a solid job of getting on the glass.  "That was a big key going into the game.  If they get offensive rebounds they are a very, very good team on second chance points.  I thought Marques Johnson rebounded well and Hill and Roberts were key," he said.

 

Published 3/03/16

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Willard Has to Make Edison Jump Shooters

 

          Willard faces Sandusky Bay Conference champion Edison in the division three district semi-finals Thursday night at Norwalk High School.

          Willard beat New London (55-41) last Friday night at Monroeville to advance.  After a slow start, coach Chris Long feels they turned the tide with their defense.  "The first half we struggled a little bit with foul trouble.  I wasn't sure how the kids respond and I really thought we came out in the second and imposed out will a little bit by using our press and speeding them up.  We got some easy baskets and forced them to take some quick shots and that led to some run outs for us.  We tried to get some easy baskets and get some momentum going and I thought it carried over to both sides of the ball for the remainder of the night," he said.

          Willard beat Edison (54-42) in last year's tournament, but Long says most of the Chargers are back and they are better.  "Most of their kids were on the team last year.  The Morton kid graduated, but (Brett) Osthelmer, Keegan Hall, (Clay) Goodwin, (James) Hill and Johnson.  Those kids were all part the team last year when we were able to knock them off.  Now they have another year under their belt playing varsity basketball.  Outside of that they are very athletic.  They are guard oriented.  They want you to play defense on your heels," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "If you don't they have the ability to get to the basket and if you do they have some guys that can shoot it.  They are a very complete team and they like to use their defense to create their offense.  It is something we have been working on the last three days."

          Willard (8-16) plays in the tough Northern Ohio League and a very good non-conference schedule with the likes of Lexington and Upper Sandusky.  Long says the Chargers kind of remind him of Shelby.  "With the trapping they remind me a little bit of Shelby, they don't shoot quite as many threes, but spreading the floor and the motion offense.  They want to press, not so much the trapping, they run and jump.  They will change defenses a little bit more.  They are very similar, neither teams is very big.  They want to speed you up and use their defense to start their offense," he said.

          Edison (21-2), #1 in the final Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the small school division, is the number one seed in the district.  Long says they have to make them take perimeter shots and work hard to defend them.  "The biggest thing we have preached the last several days is you can't stop everything a team does.  I think we match ups size wise.  I think we are a little bigger with our four man on the floor.  Our biggest thing is we almost have to turn them into jump shooters and when I am talking jump shooting I am talking 15 feet and out.  We have talked about not over running guys and not closing out so hard.  Once you close out hard they are not the type of kids that I am passing by you and I am scoring, it is going to be pass, pass, pass, until I they get a wide open layup on the other side or a wide open look.  It is one of those things where we really have to be solid defensively without giving up penetration.  We have to limit them to one shot.  We have to force them to really have to defend us.  We have to value the basketball, quick shots are turnovers and that plays right into their hands with their defense starting their offense," said Long.

 

Published 3/03/16

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Willard Wants to Keep New London Out of the Lane

 

          Willard meets New London in a second round tournament game in division three at Monroeville High School on Friday night.

          It will be the second straight year the schools have met in the tournament.  Willard won last year (55-41) in a first round game.

         After trailing after the first quarter on Wednesday night, Willard (7-16) put some thing together, especially on defense, and beat Seneca East (65-43) to advance.

          Coach Chris Long says the looked a little nervous early in the contest, but they were able to get things going by attacking on defense.  "I attribute some of the first quarter to some jitters, a little too pumped up, a little nervous, some situations that some of our kids had never been in before.  I bet we missed anywhere between six and 10 layups, put backs, bunnies in the first quarter.  As the second quarter wore on I thought we got a little more comfortable and increased the lead 10 points and played some solid defense.  Over the last two and half minutes we laid off some of the pressure we were actually putting on.  With what we were able to do over the first five and half minutes of the second quarter," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "Then come out in the second half and put a full quarter and a half, 12 minutes of that same style of defense.  I thought the kids were more relentless and just continued to attack them on the defensive side of the ball."

          New London (15-7) shared second place in the Firelands Conference with Western Reserve.  Long says a lot of what they do on offense revolves around Ryan Lane, but they have other guys that can score too.  "They can shoot it.  They have some quick guards.  They are athletic.  They want to spread you out.  They have the Fanning boy inside, but their main goal is to spread you out an attack you off the dribble with a motion offense.  If (Ryan) Lane isn't able to score they are looking for shooters with coach Howell's son or the Thomas boy or Gerlak.  Lane draws the defense and it allows those guys to stand still and shoot.  A big key is being able to control dribble penetration," said Long.

          In an attempt to slow the game down a bit, New London changes defenses quite a bit.  Long says they are going to go with their base offense and see how that works.  "I think they do it to slow you up.  Everything you see when you are coming down the court is going to look like a zone.  So, we are going to run our base offense and go from there.  I don't want our kids standing around trying to figure out what they are in rather just play.  On the bench we will be able to see and maybe after a couple of passes we can adjust at that point.  I think they do it the slow down the pace, so we just want to run our base offense and go from there," he said.

 

Published 2/26/16

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Willard Girls must Handle Riverdale Press

 

          Willard, the Northern Ohio League co-champion, plays Riverdale in the girls division three district semi finals at Shelby High School on Thursday night.

          Willard (21-3) has lost only one game in the last two and half months and that came by a point in overtime.  Coach Jon Dawson says it has been their defense that has been the difference.  "We really feel like we are coming together.  Defensively we are doing a lot of good things.  Our offense still comes and goes at the moment, but the defense has really stepped it up.  The kids are believing in each other and believing in the system.  I am really proud of them," he said.

          Intense tournament games are not new to the Lady Flashes veteran players and Dawson says their younger players have been in the frying pan this year too.  "The older kids have kind of been through it before.  I have said all year that they schedule we have played this year has really put us in a good position," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "Even the kids that I have that haven't been around in past years have played some tough games against tough teams.  We have seen a lot of different styles of play and that has really prepared us for what is coming next."

          Riverdale (15-9) has been known for its diamond press and Dawson says they will see that on Thursday night, but he believes they can handle it too.  "They do a great job in their diamond press.  It is kind of their bread an butter and they get their hands on a lot of balls.  They are able to get some traps and that kind of stuff.  Just like when we played Norwalk and we played Columbus DeSales they are going to bring a lot of pressure.  For the most part I think we have handled this year.  It is not going to be an easy task on Thursday, but I think the kids will be ready to go," said Dawson.

 

Published 2/24/16

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Willard Ready For Tournament Action

 

          Willard tips off tournament play with a game against Seneca East in the first round of the division three tournament on Wednesday night at Monroeville High School.

          The Flashes (6-16) finished next to last in the Northern Ohio League this year, but coach Chris Long says they are excited to be playing schools more their size.  "We just got done with practice (Tuesday) and talked to our kids about it.  First off everybody is 0-0.  We are not showing up and playing Sandusky again or Lexington or Madison or Tiffin.  We get to play somebody just like us.  I would find it tough to believe that we aren't prepared.  We have pretty much seen a little bit of everything, whether it be height, whether it be speed, whether it be a team full of ball handlers that can get up and down the floor.  I told them we should be excited," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "It's not a game plan to stop one certain thing and have to leave some other things.  This is how we are going to defend and we are going to defend as a team.  I think it is a little bit easier for our kids to buy in knowing that it is not a situation where we can only stop so many things on the defensive end."

          Seneca East (8-14) plays in the Northern 10 Athletic Conference and is coming off a (51-47) win over Ridgedale last week.  Long says the Tigers have some height and some shooters too.  "They like to run a lot of four out motion around (Brady) Ferres, he is a load 6'5", wide body, so we will have our hands full with them.  (Johnny) Diehm is a very athletic, quick guard.  They can bring (Alex) Forehand off the bench and he can flat our shoot it.  I think he shot over 50 percent from three as a freshman this year.  It is one of those things where they have guys that can get to the basket and if they are able to get a little penetration it will open up spot up shots for their guards.  They have (Brennan) Martin that is 6'3", a physical kid.  We have to be ready to play.  Based n what we want to do defensively we will be able to take some things away," said Long.

          The "NOL" is known for its physical play and Long says they should make them ready for the way things tend to be called in the tournament.  "We could just play in our league and it would be physical enough.  I think what you see in the tournament is early on (Wednesday) night it might be closely called in the first quarter and then gradually loosen up.  When you go across the middle you are going to get bumped.  Kids are going to get up into you while you are dribbling the ball.  I think we have dealt with that all year.  It is one of those things that I think we are prepared for going into the second season," he said.

 

Published 2/24/16

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Willard Thinking About Themselves

 

          Willard can play the spoiler on Friday night, but they are more concerned about getting better as the post season tournament starts next week.

          The Flashes (6-14,2-9) play at Ontario (18-3,10-1), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division, on Friday in Northern Ohio League action.  They are the only team standing in the way of a league title for the Warriors.

          Ontario beat Norwalk (43-39) on Tuesday night to remain tied with Sandusky for the "NOL" lead.  Willard coach Chris Long says to have any hope in beating the Warriors you must slow them down.  "You have to try and control their speed and control your speed.  The faster you play the faster they are going to play.  They get up and down the floor and they get pressure on you.  They just put an immense amount of pressure on us and sped us up very fast to the point where we don't want to play that fast.  If once you get across half court you slow it down a little bit, but that is hard to do because they put an immense amount of pressure on the ball for the purpose of speeding the game up," said Long.

          Ontario hammered Willard (84-52) in their first meeting.  Long says you want them to have to execute in the half court against you, but making that happen isn't very easy.  "Joe's (Balogh) teams over the years have been good at both.  The last time we played they got a lot of points off of turnovers and I would say most of those were layups," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday night, "It's good to try and slow them down, but when they get the ball back they are going to push it right down the floor.  You have to sprint back and have some defensive transition with some urgency.  If not they have some guards that can fly down the floor and they are very athletic.  You can't play we score, you score because they are better at it than most teams that they play."

          Yes they can play the spoiler in the league race, but Long says they are more interested in getting ready for the division three tournament and their game next Wednesday with Seneca East.  "Right now, with us out of the league title picture our main goal is to worry about us getting better going into the tournament.  We have two quality opponents.  We have been working all week on Ontario and working on ourselves as well.  We have a chance to decide the league and my kids are going to go out and play hard and play to win.  We are looking at ourselves a little bit because we play Friday-Saturday this week and we only have Monday and Tuesday and we are back at it with tournaments starting next week," said Long.

 

Published 2/17/16

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Willard Girls Get Second Season Started

 

          Willard, the Northern Ohio League co-champion, opens up division three tournament play on Tuesday night with a first round game against Huron at Lexington High School.

          The Lady Flashes (19-3) earned their share of the "NOL" title with a (44-28) win over Ontario last Tuesday.  They share it with Bellevue, who beat Shelby (55-44) on Saturday. 

          Coach Jon Dawson says it feels good to have that title in hand.  "They are an awful lot of fun to be around and that is what it is all about.  They have done everything we have asked them to do and they have put in the time.  They get along so well.  We have had great leadership this year.  I am very proud of what they have done.  It was great to be able to set there are watch some other games and do some scoreboard watching and it didn't matter because we still had a piece of it.  So, congrats to Bellevue," he said.

          Huron (1-21) has struggled this season, especially offensively, but Dawson says they just can't show up and expect to win the game, they have to earn it.  "They play in a tough league in the "SBC" and they have to play Clyde twice, and Perkins twice, and Oak Harbor and those kind of teams, so they have seen some really good teams.  From what I have seen they play a lot of man to man," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "We just have to be able to go out there and do what we do and understand that it is tournament time.  Stranger things have happened and we just have to go there and take care of business and do what we are supposed to do and survive and move onto the next round."

          Willard is the second seed in the district, but there have been other high seeded teams go down early in previous tournaments.  Dawson says he wants to the girls to concentrate on getting better.  "We talked about it (Sunday) during practice.  We just have to get accustomed with what we need to do to compete.  We need to go out as a team and get better at doing our stuff and be solid in everything we do," he said.

 

Published 2/16/16

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Willard and Robinson Play Shelby

 

          Willard plays host to rival Shelby in a Northern Ohio League game on Friday night and if previous history tells us anything it should be a close game.

          The Flashes lost a Northern Ohio League to Norwalk (57-50) last Friday and beat Huron (66-65) in a non conference game on Saturday night.

          Coach Chris Long thought there were some good things both nights, but especially in how they performed under pressure late in the Huron game.  "I thought we played well both nights.  There were about three minutes of the Norwalk game and I thought we were able to correct that on Saturday night with our shot selection and we were able to get out to a lead.  We didn't do the greatest to keep the lead.  Our kids fought," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "We had the lead pretty much the whole game.  I thought our kids responded, made some free throws, made a play at the end to put us in a situation where we had a chance to win the ball game.  With our record being what it is sometimes kids are just waiting for the bottom to fall out of it.  We had the lead, lost it, had to get it back and finish the game."

          Shelby (10-9,5-4) will be at Willard (6-13,2-8) on Friday night.  In the first meeting is was (63-59) Whippets on January 8.  Long says with their perimeter shooting Shelby is never out of the game.  "I have watched some tape and I think some of it depends on who they play.  I see pressing, I just see not as much trapping as I did in the beginning of the year.  You have to defend them from 25 feet and in.  They have some kids that can shoot it from distance and if they are left alone they can be lethal.  If you are up 10 points with the way they shoot the three they are never out of the game.  I think a lot of our kids figured that out last year going in at halftime up 20.  We knew they were going to make a run and they did, they shot themselves right back into the game.  They are never out of a game because if they get on a hot streak shooting threes they are going to be right back in it," said Long.

          Last week, senior Conner Robinson crossed 1,000 point level.  Long says Robinson is a tough match up for teams due to his versatility.  "He has busted his butt to be successful as he is.  It is one of those things where I think he did a lot of work growing up and a lot of work in the off season and work in the weight room, which has allowed him to become a miss match for a lot of the teams that we play.  If you put a smaller guy on him he can go and finish in the post.  If they put a bigger guy on him he is able to hit the perimeter shot.  It makes him a tough out for a lot of opposing teams because they have to figure our how they are going to take him away," he said.

 

Published 2/12/16

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Willard Earns Piece of "NOL" Title

 

          After losing their first two Northern Ohio League games, the Willard Lady Flashes stormed back to win nine of their last 10 and have earned a co-title in the "NOL."

          The competed their league schedule with a hard earned (44-38) win at Ontario on Tuesday night.

          They will now share the title with either Shelby or Bellevue and possibly Norwalk.  Shelby beat Sandusky (56-47) and Norwalk hammered Tiffin Columbian (75-51) on Tuesday.  Shelby (16-5,8-3) hosts Bellevue (14-5,8-3) on Saturday, while Norwalk (16-5,8-3) is at home for Ontario (12-8,5-6) in league action.

          Willard was led Tuesday night by the 23 points of post player Gabbi Baldridge.  Coach John Dawson was pretty excited after the win and says his girls have really worked hard this year.  "This group has put in a ton of time and work clear back to the summer.  You do summer shootouts, you do summer camps, you do open gyms, you get in the weight room, all of that stuff.  The kids are getting rewarded for that right now and it is a pretty awesome feeling," he said.

          Willard lost (65-43) to Norwalk on December 5 and had losses in their first two conference games, but Dawson says they never quit.  "The first week in December we are sitting in the Norwalk locker room after getting spanked by about 20 points and sitting 2-2 and trying to pick up the pieces.  It was kind of gut check time.  We told the kids to keep doing what they have been doing and keep working hard and they bought into what we were doing and stayed the course.  We just kept coming back getting better every day," said Dawson.

          Their only loss in league play in the last two months game in overtime to Norwalk (70-69) on January 19.

          Ontario has played some excellent basketball lately too, including a win over Bellevue (49-47) and Dawson says the Lady Warriors really pushed them hard on Tuesday night.  "Coach Kirschbaum does an absolutely great job.  They are a very talented team.  It was a physical game (Tuesday) night.  They gave us everything we wanted.  It is something we can build on as we make our tournament run.  I told her after the game I wouldn't want to play them in the tournament," he told Swankonsports.com after the game, "I think they are a very dangerous team.  It is going to be a tough district in division two.  I am just thankful that are numbers are down and we are in division three this year."

 

Published 2/09/16

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Willard Wants to Keep Improving

  

          The Willard Flashes have won half of their games since we turned the calendar to the new year and they hope they can continue to take that momentum forward as the prepare for the division three tournament.

          On Saturday night, they downed Tiffin Columbian (60-56) in overtime in a Northern Ohio League game.  Coach Chris Long says they kept their poise and did a sound job of handling pressure.  "This is time after the first of year to find out if you are getting better or not.  We are 4-4 since the first of the year.  I thought our best kids have played better.  We have played some pretty talent, but our kids overall have played better.  Saturday night, we get down 10 points.  Our kids took it point by point, rather than trying get it all back at one time.  It was great for the kids and gives them something to build off of.  I was impressed with how the kids handled it.  When we went into overtime we never really showed any panic.  We just got ready to keep playing and playing for a victory," said Long.

          Willard plays host to the Marion Harding Presidents (11-6,) out of the red division of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference, on Tuesday night in a non-league game.  Long says the Presidents, who have beaten the teams in the top two positions of the their division in Buckeye Valley and Jonathan Alder over the last week, bring a lot to the table.  "They have some athletic kids.  They have some kids that are back from last year.  They were pretty successful with that group last year.  Four of the kids that playing for them are four kids that played for them last year.  They are long and athletic and they are able to shoot the ball.  We are going to have our hands full (Tuesday) night with them," he said.

          The Flashes (5-11,2-7) are at home for Norwalk (8-8,5-3) for a "NOL" game on Friday night.  Norwalk won the first meeting (54-39) a couple of days before Christmas.  Long says you really have to execute against Norwalk if you are going to score much.   "Steve (Gray) does a great job with those guys.  They are up and into you.  Everything you are going to get you are going to earn.  We just have to be a little more patient.  I felt like especially Saturday night with Tiffin we were able to handle their pressure down the stretch and hopefully we are getting better in that area.  We are more prepared, we know what to expect in the half court," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "They really don't want to let you get it into sets and they are going to get up and into you, so we need to be able to handle their pressure.  On the defensive side stay where we have been at the last couple of games."

 

Published 2/02/16

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Willard With Two "NOL" Games

 

          Willard is a team that looks like they are getting better, but they still aren't good enough to beat the better teams on their schedule.

          Case in point was Monday night when they lost (60-40) to Vermilion in a non-conference game.  Coach Chris Long says a poor second quarter really cost them the game.  "Vermilion is a very athletic team.  They want to make you use energy on the offensive end and use it to their advantage on the defensive end.  They do a great job.  They are able to run quite few kids off the bench and play the same style.  They were able to make us press a little bit and the second quarter really killed us.  That was pretty much the difference in the game.  We got outscored by 20 in the second quarter and lost the game by 20.  They were able to dictate the tempo and dictate the style of play.  Kudos to them they did a great job.  They have a style of play that suits them very well," he said.

          On Thursday night, the Flashes (4-10,1-6) play host to Sandusky (10-3,5-1), #4 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll, the co-leader in the Northern Ohio League.  The Blue Streaks are very athletic and Long says they have to do a good job of keeping them out of the lane.  "They are a team that you just can't take everything away they are so athletic.  You have to pick your battles.  I have been watching film and I am pretty much at the same place that I was the first time we played them.  You have to keep them out of the paint.  You have to almost force them to beat you from the outside.  That is going to be a big key.  We have to protect our basket and try to force them to shoot the ball from farther out or outside the three point line as much as possible for us to be successful," said Long.

          The Blue Streaks are paced by guard Jayrese Williams, who scored 55 in game against Toledo Bowsher earlier this year.  This week he was voted as the best player in North Central Ohio in a twitter poll conducted by Swankonsports.com.

          Sandusky beat Willard (69-52) the first time they played.  Tiffin Columbian beat them (81-79) in double overtime in their first meeting in December.

          They play at Tiffin (6-9,1-4) on Saturday night.  Long says they understand what they have to do to win the game this time.  "We had an 18 point lead and gave up the lead and went double overtime.  Our kids know there are a couple of items.  Probably the biggest things is taking care of the big man and keeping him off the glass.  I think he went for 20 rebounds and that is a fair amount.  It is one of those things were our kids understand they were right there with the opportunity to win and we weren't able to do it," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "That was toward the beginning of the season and I hope our kids are beginning to see the difference.  I saw a little bit of a difference in the game Friday night when we played Bellevue.  We were in a situation where we had to close a game and I thought our kids were able to handle that situation better than they were earlier in the year."

 

Published 1/27/16

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Willard Looking Forward

 

          Willard has not enjoyed the kind of success they were looking forward to this season, but there are a lot of games left and some goals that can be reached.

          The Flashes have won two of their last three, including a (58-48) win over Norwalk St. Paul in a non-conference game on Tuesday night.  Coach Chris Long says they were able to get some easy looks because of their defense.  "I thought our kids played pretty well.  They were a little sluggish in the first quarter.  It is one of those things were it was a Tuesday night game and we attribute some of that to that.  I thought after the first quarter our kids got after it defensively.  We were able to use our defense to turn it into some offense and get some easy baskets.  That took a little bit of pressure off of us," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "We were able to take care of some things that I was concerned about coming in, especially rebounding.  Overall, I thought our kids did a great job.  They did what I asked them to do defensively and it turned out to be favorable for us and we were able to get some easy baskets."

          Willard (3-9,0-6) plays at home against Bellevue (4-8,2-4) in a Northern Ohio League game on Friday night.  Bellevue won the first time they played (70-63,) but Long says it will be a different kind of challenge this time.  "With the Linder kid and the should injury he has had top mis-match some lineups right now after losing him.  He has matched some experience with some youth.  They have had some growing gains, but that can be attributed to some of the youth he is playing.  I think he has got them prepared to play for the future and still being successful this year.  I think he has lined his team up to be pretty successful down the road.  They are playing little more youth than when we played them earlier due to the Linder injury," he said.

          There will be no "NOL" title for Willard this year, but Long says there are still things to play for.  "We have won two of our last three games and now the focus is Bellevue.  You have to win more than one in a row before it becomes a streak.  We have had that discussion about playing better after the first of the year and playing better knowing that we are going into tournament time.  There is always something to look forward to.  There is no chance that we are going to win a league title this year, so since that goal is gone by, you have to focus on your next goal and for us that is trying to win a sectional championship and getting better.  Our goal is to start playing better going into the tournament," said Long.

 

Published 1/22/16

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Willard Doing Some Good Things

 

          Willard had been close to winning and finally got one on Saturday night in beating Chippewa and now they play at Vermilion in another non-league game on Tuesday night.

          The Flashes held on to beat the Chips on Saturday night (63-60) and coach Chris Long says it made everyone feel good.  "Hopefully for kids it is a progression.  We lost a tough one to Perkins, played a good game against Shelby and came up a couple of points short, to see some of the hard work we have done pay off is special for the kids because they are seeing the hard work they are putting in is paying off," he said.

          Long says, like most teams that haven't been winning, they have not been consistent enough.  He says they are going some things better.  "I think our defense is getting better.  Friday night I would says we missed 10 shots from two or three feet against Shelby.  I think I had a little bit to do with the game on Saturday night.  We got up and I was trying to take some time off the clock.  It is one of those things where the hardest thing to do in high school sports is win.  For us it is learning how to handle that.  We won a game against Port Clinton and were up and had a chance to put it away and didn't and the same thing happened on Saturday night.  We have done some good things, but I think the biggest thing for us right now is we do things in spurts rather than being consistent for 32 minutes," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "Sometimes the mistakes are because of the pressure of what is going on.  We go off in the third quarter against Chippewa and got up by 10, 12 points and the next thing you know at the end we are scratching to hold on.  I can't put my thumb on it.  Our defense was really good until teams try and flurry.  The other thing is Chippewa hit some shots down the stretch.  We have been there and really haven't been able to get over the mound and then we get over the mountain on Saturday night."

          Willard (2-8) does play at Vermilion, who joins the Sandusky Bay Conference next year, on Tuesday night.  Long says the Sailors are a lot like the teams they have been playing.  "They are not a very big team.  Most of their guys are all guard oriented.  They want to push the ball down the floor, they want to press you.  They have some sets, but they mainly run a five out offense.  Without a true post they play to their strength.  Hopefully we can run some plays because we will have a height advantage.  They are solid, they will get up into you defensively.  Probably the best things for us is we played Shelby Friday night and Chippewa Saturday night and those two teams are pretty much like Vermilion.  What we are processing in five days to play three games has basically all been the same, so hopefully that will pay off for us as well," he said.

          Then on Friday night it is back to Northern Ohio League play as they host defending league champion Ontario (8-3,3-1), #4 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division.  Long says the Warriors have it all.  "Joe (Balogh) has those kids playing well.  They are always going to be well coached.  They have some athletic kids.  They have some height.  It is one of those things where they have a good mix.  They have height, they have athletes, and they all have experience.  I have seem them play.  Joe is not going to change stuff because that is what Joe has done.  He has taught his kids the style that they want to play and he has been very successful with it.  I fully expect them to press us.  They are going to run their motion offense and allow their kids to make plays.  They have the Jones kid that is 6'7", so I would have to stack people on top of each other to guard him.  It is going to be a change for us defensively," said Long.

 

Published 1/12/16

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Defense Still The Problem for Flashes

 

          If they are going to start winning games the Willard Flashes are going to have to start playing better defense.

          Coach Chris Long says they have been making some execution mistakes, but he says it is really more about effort.  "It always helps you to put the ball in the basket, but I think we have done a pretty good job of that.  Really it has been some things on the defensive end.  Missed assignments when we are in our defense and missed assignments on the weak side, boxing out and rebounding, that has led to some extra points.  We have talked to the kids about it.  I know some mistakes are going to be made, but some of the mistakes, in my opinion, are effort plays.  So, we have talked about that," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "We have worked on it everyday.  We have worked on it this week already.  I have told the kids the hardest thing to do in high school sports is to win.  In some games I think we have waited for the bottom to fall out.  Against Perkins we were there, we played for 32 minutes, we just came up a possession short.

          The Flashes lost (61-60) to "SBC" co-leader Sandusky Perkins last week.

          On Friday night, Willard (1-7,0-4) is at Shelby (4-5,1-2) on for a Northern Ohio League game.  Long says the Whippets are pretty much capable of beating anyone on any night.  "They can be very dangerous.  They are up 10 at halftime against Ashland.  They buried Plymouth the other night.  With the amount of three pointers they take, and the amount of three point shooters they have, they are never out of a game.  We learned that last year over there.  We had a 20 point lead at halftime and they were able to claw their way back and make it a 3 point game.  They put a ton of pressure on you.  They make you handle the basketball and you know the game is never over because of the ability they have to shoot three pointers," said Long.

          One thing is for sure, according to Long, you can not let the Flashes get their feet under them and shoot the three pointer.  "Since we have been working on this game that has been a constant discussion.  We have to be there on the catch.  We can't let them just stand there and shoot the ball.  We had quite a few kids over at the Shelby-Plymouth game and they got to witness that.  They were able to stand there and shoot it and they were highly successful doing that from the three point line that night.  That is something that we have been preaching non stop you have to get to the zone you are guarding.  You have to be up and on them until they put the ball on the floor.  If not they can stand there and hurt you from long distance all night long," he said.

 

Published 1/05/16

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Better Defense a key for Willard

 

          Willard is finding it hard to score points, but its coach is more concerned with his guys defending better,

          It was a (54-39) loss last Tuesday to Norwalk in Northern Ohio League play.  Coach Chris Long says they may have taken some ill advised shots, but really he would like his kids to play defense like the Truckers do.  "Some of that you have to attribute to Norwalk's defense.  They get up into you and make it difficult to run you offense and if they take away part of your offense it makes it difficult to score.  Sometimes you settle for shots when they first come open, which are probably not the greatest shots in the offense that you are running.  But, these are 15-18 year-old kids, and it's hey I'm open and it's a good look.  You have to find ways to get closer to the basket, a higher percentage shot, and see what you can do to finish.  We took a lot away from that game.  We have had seven days off," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "I am not going to focus as much on the offensive issues as I am the defensive.  We talked to the team on the day after about playing defense like Norwalk does.  Why don't we start getting up and in them?  The last six days have been about changing our defensive culture and they way we think and execute on the defensive end of the floor."

          Willard (1-6) plays at Sandusky Perkins (6-2,) the Sandusky Bay Conference leader, on Tuesday.  Long says the Pirates have done a lot of good things.  "They lost the Schweinfurth kid the ankle injury.  He was a starter coming back and probably was expected to be the leader and hold the team together, but they have done a great job without him.  There are still some young guys, juniors and sophomores playing on the team.  I think they have rallied around.  They have two athletic players that can both get to the rim.  They have guys that can finish for them and knock down some shots.  They have the whole package," he said.

          Perkins had another good football season and are they a physical basketball team?  Long says that is a good question.  "It is hard to say because I haven't seen them live, I have seen everything on tape.  They have played different ways against different teams.  I got to see them against Clyde, which is pretty much a rivalry game, and it was a little bit more physical, more slow down.  The other game I watched them against Norwalk, the first game of the year.  I think they are trying to feel themselves out the first game of the year.  It is really hard to tell without seeing a team.  Schweinfurth was a football player and he brought a lot of the physicality for them.  I think some of the other guys that come from the football team bring some of the physicality for them.  It will be interesting to see how we respond to that kind of physical play.  It shouldn't be any different for us than any day in the "NOL," said Long.

 

Published 12/29/15

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Willard Playing Better; Hoping for Success

 

          Willard has played a very tough schedule so far this season and they have lost all four of their games, but they have the focus and talent to break that streak.

          Last Saturday, Northern Ohio League leader Sandusky beat the Flashes (69-52) in a game in which coach Chris Long thought his kids did exactly what they were asked to do.  "As a team as a whole I thought we competed for 32 minutes.  Sandusky is a great basketball team and they are hard to stop defensively.  I went home on the bus with my assistant coach and my JV coach.  We talked all of the way home about things we could have done differently.  It was kind of a good cop, bad cop kind of thing.  I would think up something and he would tell me most likely what the outcome would have been.  I thought our kids did a great job of sticking to the game plan.  We wanted them to beat us from the outside and they did.  From what I had seen they had not been able to knock down the threes consistently and they were able to do that," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "Against them you have to kind of pick your poison and our poison was if you are going to beat us, do it from 20 feet out.  They were on that night and they were able to beat us.  Sometimes you have to live with that outcome because they are just such a hard stop defensively.  Our kids hung around the game plan and we got some great looks that didn't go in.  We were plus six on the free throw line and we were plus four inside the three point line.  Where they got us is they were plus 30 outside the three point line.  It was a situation where we took more threes than we wanted to take and some of them led to breaks outs for them."

          On Tuesday night, the Flashes (0-4) are at Port Clinton (2-2) for a non-conference game.  Long says the Redskins have some kids that can play.  "They have some very talented kids up there.  I know they have had a couple of bad defeats.  They have been in games and lost them at the end.  They have some height.  They are still a fairly young team.  They have some big guys that are still juniors.  They had some guys that played last year, so they have some varsity experience.  They have some quick guards.  They have the ability to get to the paint.  They have some guys that if you leave them alone that can shoot it from deep.  So, we are going to have our hands full on defense.  Hopefully we can control them.  On offense, we can impose our will on them and carry it over from how we played on Saturday night," he said.

          Willard plays host to Tiffin Columbian (2-3,0-1) in an "NOL" game on Friday night.  Long understands this could be a pretty important week for them.  "We never make any excuses, but I told my kids there probably aren't many teams in the area that have played three of their first four games against teams that were picked to win their conferences with Upper Sandusky, Lexington and Sandusky.  It was a tough start, but maybe it was a good start.  I think we have consistently gotten better, especially in the loss to Sandusky with the way we played for 32 minutes I was happy with.  I told the kids we are never happy about losing, but there were so many good things we could take away from that game.  Our goal right now is to get back to .500 by the first of the year.  We have four games left and we can't look ahead to any other game.  I told our kids we can't worry about Tiffin right now and we can't worry about next Tuesday's game or the Tuesday after that.  Our focus has to be on Port Clinton and how we are going to stop them.  The teams are very similar.  They both have some height and some quick guards.  Hopefully our kids come prepared Tuesday night and we can start to build on a different streak than compared to the first four games of the season," said Long.

 

Published 12/15/15

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Willard With Another Tough One

 

          Willard has already played Upper Sandusky, Bellevue and Lexington this season and now they play probably the Northern Ohio League favorite the Sandusky Blue Streaks on the road on Saturday night.

          Last week, they lost to Bellevue (70-63) in an "NOL" game and Lexington (63-36) in a non-league game.  Coach Chris Long says it may be difficult to tell based on the scores, but he things they are getting better as a team.  "I think we have gotten better.  I think we have played better.  There are some crucial things we need to work on, primarily handling the ball a little better and moving the ball.  Watching us play and watching us play on film I believe we have gotten better in each game we have played, so hopefully one of these games it will all culminate in a victory for these kids," he said.

          Sandusky (2-0,1-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com basketball coaches poll in the large school division, vanquished Ontario (61-47) last Friday and has taken the role of the early season favorite for the Northern Ohio League title.  Long says the Streaks have players that can break you down anywhere on the floor.  "I think they have basketball players that are great athletes.  A lot of us, especially at smaller schools are dependent upon athletes," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "They have three phenomenal basketball players with Fisher, Williams, and they will have George Brown back.  Their other players are just as athletic and they complement each other so well.  That makes a match-up nightmare for most teams.  They are not only athletic, but they are good basketball players as well."

          With their talent, Long says the Blue Streaks force you to make decisions on what you are going to try and do on defense.  "You can't take away everything.  We look at what their strengths are and that is what we try and take away.  We can not let them get to the paint because of they get to the paint in the three games that I have seen them play they own you.  You do so much to stop the dribble penetration you get a kick out and another attack or a kick out and a three.  Within four minutes of the game you are thinking how are we ever going to stop these guys," he said.

 

Published 12/10/15

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Ball Handling the Key For Willard Girls

 

          Right now, the Willard Lady Flashes are having some problems handling the ball and that is not allowing them to get enough shots up,

          Norwalk belted the Lady Flashes (65-43) in a Northern Ohio League game on Saturday and coach Jon Dawson says they did not react well to Lady Truckers pressure.  "We watched them on film and we knew they were going to press us a lot.  We knew they were fast, but I think they were even  faster live than they were on film.  They really go after it.  We didn't think we took care of the basketball like we need to do.  We got off to a bad start.  I think in our first 10 possessions we might have gotten off one shot.  You just have to take care of the basketball against teams like that," said Dawson.

          Dawson says this is something they are going to continue to work on because the they must get themselves in better position to get shots.   "That is the name of the game, you have to put the ball in the hoop.  You have to give yourself the opportunity to get those shots and we didn't do a very good job of that.  To Norwalk's credit they applied a lot of pressure to us, and trapped us, and put us in some bad spots," he said.

          Willard (2-2,0-2) is at home for the Tiffin Columbian Lady Tornadoes (1-4,0-2) in an "NOL" game on Tuesday night.  Dawson says he expects that Tiffin will show them a lot of pressure too.  "They have a senior team and then kind of rely on a diamond press and do a lot of trapping out of a 2-3 zone in the half court.  It is kind of going to be the same thing," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "Teams have seen us play, the word gets around, and teams know that they can trap and press us, so until we prove we can handle that kind of thing teams are going to continue to do that.  I expect for the same (Tuesday) and hopefully we continue to get better."

 

Published 12/08/15

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Willard Counting on its "D"

 

          If Willard is to have a good season on the hardwood this year they are going to have to play good defense and they didn't do that in their first game.

          Upper Sandusky dominated the Flashes (73-54) last Friday and coach Chris Long says they did not do an adequate job on the defensive end.  "We definitely have to be better on the defensive end.  We had too many breakdowns against a solid basketball team.  The shots not going in is part of the ball game, but the one thing we can control is how we are playing on the defensive end a lot of effort has been put in this week for us getting better on the defensive end," he said.

          Long says this a team that is going to have to play real good on defense if they are going to win games.  "We have height, not quite as much as some of the team we play.  You have to be solid at that end of the floor for any team to be successful.  If you get into a run and gun game it is all about how many points you score.  What happens when you don't put the ball in the basket at a high percentage?  For us defense is something we have talked about hanging our hat on," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "I think we can do a better job than we did this past Friday night.  It one of those things where it is crucial, especially in our league, to be able to set down and defend and be able to take away some teams strengths for us to be successful."

          Willard (0-1,0-0) is at Bellevue (0-0,0-0) in Northern Ohio League play on Friday night.  The Redmen have a new coach in one of their former players in Ed Rich.  Long admits there are some unknowns when it comes to the Redmen.  "I have been able to watch each of one of their scrimmages, but they haven't played a game yet so there is no game film.  They didn't have their football players back at that point and time, so their is a lot of unknowns watching them play without their football players and not being able to see a game.  We have taken what we have seen and broken it down and decided how we are going to defend it.  There may be some things we haven't seen because we haven't seen much of them.  If we don't sit down and use our defensive fundamentals we could get hurt by what they do on the offensive end of the floor," said Long.

          Willard plays at home against Lexington (1-0,) of the Ohio Cardinal Conference on Saturday night.  Long says there isn't any mystery about the Minutemen.  "There isn't much they don't have.  They have 6'5" and 6'4" posts to start the game and a 6'9" post off the bench.  On the perimeter who have Zahn and Vore, who played for them last year at this level.  They are a very deep and talented team with tons of varsity experience.  I got to watch them play against Berlin Hiland and there is nothing they don't do exceptionally well because they have all played together for so long and been on varsity for so long,  It is going to be a true testament of wills to see how we are going to sit down and defend," said Long.

 

Published 12/02/15

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Willard Prepared for the Season

 

          Willard begins the boys' basketball season on the road at Upper Sandusky in non-conference play on Friday night.

          After some growing pains early in the preseason, coach Chris Long believes the Flashes have rounded into pretty good shape.  "The last time we had talked we hadn't scrimmaged yet.  We went through five scrimmages in eight days.  Our biggest thing is we talk about it being a process and getting better every day.  I thought after the first two scrimmages we seemed to get a lot better, so I thought by the end of the last scrimmages we were where we needed to be as a team going into the season," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "Not playing anybody the first week kind of hampered us a little bit and the kids were anxious and then going back to back, something we hadn't doe all year, but I thought by the end of the scrimmage season I thought we were where we needed to be going into the season."

          Willard has a number of seniors on the roster this year, but not a lot of kids with varsity experience, so Long feels those scrimmages were especially important for them.  "We have seven seniors, but we only have two returning letter winners.  So, with those guys it was their first experience playing varsity basketball.  Getting them accustomed to the speed in a hurry.  With that first scrimmage is was less like a process and more like, hey, we are going five times in eight days and you are in the deep end to start.  It took some time, but I thought we got our legs underneath us and I thought the kids really did continue to get better as the scrimmages went on," he said.

          Upper Sandusky has been the pick by many to win the Northern 10 Athletic Conference title this year.  A league Willard might be interested in becoming a member of, but for now this is a non-league game.  Long says the Rams are athletic and should be a big challenge for his ball club.  "They return probably one of the better players in the "N10" in Wes Vent and probably one of the better shooters coming back in Ryan Adams.  They have some athletic posts to go with them.  They have a new point guard, but I think they are picked to win the league.  He returns quite a bit with an athletic team that will get after it.  It is something that hopefully we are prepared for over these last couple of weeks.  They are going to a tough test for us," said Long.

 

Published 11/26/15

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Willard Eager to Get Going

 

          Willard, was a very good team last year, one that lost in the division two district final, and this could be a good season too.

          We start to find out when they open the season on Tuesday night at Upper Sandusky (2-0) in non-conference place.

          Coach Jon Dawson says they are sort of anxious to see how good they can be.  "I think they are chomping at the bit so to speak.  We have been beating each other up every day in practice.  I think they are ready to be in a game that really counts," he said.

          The first game you play in any season is somehow different than the rest.  Their is a little nervousness for everybody, but especially for young players.  Dawson hopes they get over that pretty quickly on Tuesday or it may be too late.  "Unfortunately, Upper has already had two games Friday and Saturday night.  They already have a couple of wins under their belts and we are playing at their place.  I think their will be some nerves, especially from the young kids.  I hope we can get that out of our system and be ready to go and be prepared for this moment," said Dawson.

          Upper has won both of their games so fair against traditional powers in New Riegel (56-42) in their opener and (78-72) over Riverdale last Saturday night. 

          Dawson says their is no question the Lady Rams can put the ball in the basket and it will put some stress on their defense.  "I went and watched them on Saturday night.  They didn't look very good in the first half.  I'm not sure what coach Fahle told them at halftime or what he said or whatever, but they really came alive there are scored 32 points in the third quarter and put up 78 points.  They were on fire," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday evening, "I told the girls (Monday) night if we give up 78 we are not going to come out of their with a win.  They really put up some points and we are going to have to get a little bit more solid defensively and stop them.  They really have some kids that can score."

 

Published 11/24/15

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Willard Building

 

          Willard has a couple of quality kids coming back from last season and they are working to find some other guys to go with them to form a solid basketball team.

          Coach Chris Long says they have been working hard this month to find out what they really have.  "It's been process in our program.  A process of relearning things, a process of learning new things, a process of how you want to play on defense, and a process of how you want to play on offense.  It's a process of mixing two returning lettermen in with 10 fresh faces.  It has been a productive preseason.  I think we have grown and we are about where we should be in preparing for the season," he said.

          Senior Conner Robinson will be the Flashes leading scorer among returners and has shown he can put up points on the board in bunches.  However, Long says he doesn't want Robinson to try and do too much.  "I count on Conner for what Conner can do.  Is there a possibility that he could put us on his back and carry us to some victories?  Most definitely.  But, I hope we have surrounded him with a couple more of his classmates.  We have a kid that played JV, a 6'5 wing, to help relieve the pressure.  If we can be productive in the other four spots that kind of takes the pressure off of Conner and he doesn't have to feel that it is on his shoulders," he told Swankonsports.com, "Also, if their game plan is to take Conner out of the game, and we can get points other ways then teams will have to defend us a little bit differently and that helps to free up Conner.  He is really good and makes everybody else better.  If he takes what the defense gives him I think he can be a very special player for us this year."

          When you are a high school basketball coach you have to start long before the season to try and put things together.  "That started in April or May when I start thinking this is who I am going to have and how we need to play.  You start the implement portions of that in the summer.  Some of the things you really can't do, so you file then away or write them down so you have them ready to go when the season comes.  I level with my kids in the summer about how I think we are going to have to play with the kids we have, but in the summer you only have 10 days and you are trying to do a lot of things.  I like to see kids compete in the summer time.  Rather than having four or five practices and only playing five times, I like to see then against other guys and you get a feel of where those kids stand and what those kids need to work on," said Long.

          When it comes to offensive strategy, Long says they are looking to find players that complement what they already have.  "On the offensive end I know what I have in Conner coming back and I know what I have in Nick Cofer coming back, so you try to find three guys to play with them and what complements their game the most.  If I can find a guy that can shoot that affects the plays that are called.  You are going to try and change things up.  This is a kid that can square up if we can get him with nobody around him he can knock down the three.  If you have an idea of what those kids can do, what their role may be, who can put the ball in the basket.  In the end that's the thing, if you are going to score points, you have to put the ball in the basket at a high level," said Long.

 

Published 11/17/15

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Willard Eager to Move Forward

 

          Willard broke a 25 game losing streak with a (21-20) win over Norwalk last week and now the Flashes are focused on moving forward as they close the season this week at home against Tiffin Columbian in Northern Ohio League play.

          The Flashes scored in the late going to beat Norwalk and coach Mark Matula says it was the realization that hard work really does pay off.  "We have been preaching to the players that you have to keep working.  I know that there are a lot of people that are tired of hearing that, everybody wants to win and win right now.  The kids finally in the game against Norwalk played what we felt was our best four quarters of football," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "They kept answering, when Norwalk would score to go ahead we kept answering.  The end of the game couldn't have been more exciting.  All of the players reaped that reward at the end of the game.  That is something the coaching staff has been talking to the players about all season."

          The locker room was pretty pumped up last Friday, but Matula says they got right back to business on Saturday in preparing for Tiffin Columbian.  "The players were very excited.  There was a comment that was made, it was over, talking about the losing streak.  We talked about that early on Saturday that we are not going to look at it that way we are going to look at it the other direction, and that is that we have started something.  We have got a win streak started at one so let's pile another one on top and go play like we did against Norwalk, and better, and try to put two wins in a row," he said.

          This has been Tiffin's worst season, in terms of wins and losses since 1994, and Tornadoes (3-6,2-3) are coming off a (35-7) loss to Sandusky Perkins in non-league play last week.

          Matula says the Tornadoes have been very good on defense, but it looks like they are still trying to find some things on offense.  "They have doing a really good job on that side of the football.  It seems on the offensive side they are trying to figure some things out.  They have a quarterback that throws a nice all and some tall rangy receivers.  Their offensive back is a tough runner.  We have got our work cut out for us Friday and the kids have had a good week of practice.  We have been focused all year on trying to win football games and this week won't be any different.  I think we are going to see a good effort out of the Willard Flashes on Friday," said Matula.

 

Published 10/29/15

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Willard Has to be More Physical

 

          Willard hasn't won a football game since week three of the 2013 season, that's 19 in a row, and if they are going to start doing that they have to show they are more physical football players.

          They only gained just over 100 yards of total offense last week in losing (43-0) to Hillsdale in non-conference play.  Coach Mark Mautla says what jumps out at him when watching the film is they just are not very aggressive on the game field.  "The first thing we have to do is we have to carry out assignments.  The second thing we have to do when we are sound in our assignment is we have to be a more physical football team.  We have talked to our kids about that all week.  We have to learn how to become more aggressive and really become more physical.  We have worked all week on that," said Matula.

          Football us different than other sports and Matula says that if you sigh away from hitting or being hit than people are going to say you are soft and that's not good.  "It is a collision sport.  It's not a contact sport, it's a collision sport.  When you start to move away from collisions people start to question whether or not you are really out there for the right reason," he said.

          Willard (0-2) is at Plymouth (0-2) in a non-conference meeting that is new to the North Central Ohio football schedule. 

          Plymouth has lost to Buckeye Central (30-6) and Sandusky St. Mary's (40-21) in their first two games.  They are coming off a year in which they hosted a first round playoff game.  Despite, loosing a lot of players to graduation, Matula says the Big Red still has some guys that can play the game.  "They have some talented football players.  I think they have some kids that are figuring out varsity football just like our kids are.  It should be a pretty good match-up actually.  I know a lot of people look at 0-2 and say well, it's a match-up of 0-2 teams," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "We felt like we did some things last week that were good and of course we did some things that were bad.  We tried to get our kids to really concentrate and focus on getting better every day and becoming more physical football players."

 

Published 9/10/15

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Willard Needs Better Execution

 

          Things looked like they were going to go pretty well last Friday for the Willard Flashes, but the last three and a half quarters were pretty much a disaster.

          It resulted in a (44-12) loss to Margaretta and left the coaching staff scratching their heads.

          Coach Mark Matula says there were kids trying to do too much or things they weren't asked to do.  "We did some things (Friday) night and when watching the film we are trying to figure out why are players were doing some things that we have not taught them.  Sometimes you have a game plan and you expect 15, 16. 17. 18 year old kids to carry it out and we need to get better assignment wise after that first touchdown," said Matula.

          When you watch football you see the big plays, but Matula says they weren't doing the little things that lead to big plays.  "We get a turnover and drive right down the field.  Our second series we end up with a third down and short and our fullback jumps off side and we end up with fourth down and six and have to punt.  A lot of little things make up a big thing called a win and when you don't take care of the little things it's hard," he said.

          Matula thought his team did a great job of executing in practice, but they couldn't take it to the game field.  He says they kept shooting themselves in the foot.  "We had what I thought was a great week of practice and we open the game with a great drive and score.  We have to carry that momentum because that momentum builds on itself, so you have to carry that kind of momentum into your next drive.  All of your momentum can be taken away by one small penalty," said Matula.

          Willard is coming off a winless season in 2014 and right now the Flashes are facing a numbers issue.  Matula says that means sometimes kids that aren't really ready to play have to be inserted anyway.  "We had some guys hurt from the preview and at one time  Friday night we had what would be our entire starting backfield standing on the sidelines, two halfbacks and a fullback," he told Swankonsports.com, "At that point with the numbers thing you are putting guys in the game that are working their way to that, but then all of the sudden you have to put them in there before they are ready.  That's the nature of the beast.  There are a lot of people dealing with that and you can't uses that as an excuse.  It's the age old saying of next man up."

          Week two is another home game for the Flashes as they host the Hillsdale Falcons (1-0), who also run the triple option offense.  The Falcons belted Akron Manchester (31-7) in their opener.  Matula says this will be an important week for them when it comes to improvement.  "We have a number of things that we have to get done.  We have to try and get healthy.  We have to have kids step up and be prepared to play.  One of things you hope players learn that they can take on and use in their life is you have to keep on keeping on because it is not going to get better unless you make it better," he said.

 

Published 8/31/15

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Willard Ready For Better Season

 

          Willard suffered through a winless season last year, but this month there has been more of a feeling of excitement in the Willard camp.

          They host Margaretta in a non-conference game at Flashes Field on Friday night.

          Coach Mark Matula says they had a really outstanding practice on Tuesday and he thinks the players are really eager to get going.  "I think we are ready to go.  When it comes to Friday I guess it doesn't make any difference if you are ready to go or not ready to go you have to be ready to go because it counts and that is one of the things we have been telling the kids.  We had a great practice (Tuesday) everything was upbeat.  There was great tempo to the practice.  The kids did a great job with alignments and assignments," he told Swankonsports.com after the practice on Tuesday, "You can't tell where a team is going to be on opening night.  You can go watch a scrimmage, you can scout them, you can watch last year's tape.  We had our first day of school (Tuesday) and sometimes on that first day practice can be a little sluggish.  Not our guys, they came to practice and got their work done."

          Coming off that (0-10) season in 2014, Matula believes this players are focused on proving they are a better football team.  "I am sure that motivation is there and I hope that motivation this there.  They have done a great job this week.  Against Vermilion we didn't play all that well.  We watched the film and we corrected the mistakes.  The guys are working to win a football game this week.  Sometimes you don't know what you are going to get.  You would like to think that the guys are ready after watching practice (Tuesday) night.  It was a great practice and we told them we have to build off of that practice," he said.

          With Margaretta, Matula thinks the point of attack is going to be very important to them because the Polar Bears are going to want to run the football.  "I think they are going to run the football.  They have a nice looking back and their quarterback is a physical kid.  I think they are going to run the zone read option.  I think coach Zuk wants to spread you out and run the football.  They have the capability of throwing it also.  We are both dealing with a numbers thing.  I think he is going to stay true to himself.  I don't think he is going to do too much different.  I think he is going to stick to his program and with what has been successful for him," said Matula.

 

Published 8/26/15

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Willard Growing up

 

          Willard is going through some growing pains as they try to become a better football team and their coach says he sees some positive signs.

          The Flashes were winless last season and they are still dealing with a numbers issue at the varsity level.

          Coach Mark Matula says there were some good and bad things in their first scrimmage and they have been addressing those issues this week in practice.  "In our first scrimmage against Edison I think we did some good things, probably more specifically on the defensive side.  I think early in camp defense is a little ahead of the offense.  We have kind of hammered on the kids a little bit this week about the mistakes we made and had to fix.  We will find out Friday with Vermilion coming into town for our preview," he said.

          With some younger players on the offensive side of the ball, Matula says they need to find that consistency that is so important when it comes to putting drives together.  "I think offensively for us it's consistency.  We have some young kids playing on that side of the ball and we just have to become more and more consistent about doing the right things and having the correct attitude when the football is snapped," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "I think with young players, and maybe players that don't have as must varsity experience, they figure out it gets a little more serious when you move into a varsity position.  If you don't do what you are supposed to do you could find yourself standing next to a coach, which is not fun."

          There is a new rule this year instituted by the Ohio High School Athletic Association regarding the number of minutes that reams can hit during a week's time.  Matula says they have adjusted to it and he doesn't think it will have a big affect on the final outcome of things.  "I don't think it has affected us a whole ton.  One of the things that I learned in having my son Kyle play college football is football players are football players.  I think every coach that is running a program and has been in a program for a couple of years really has a pretty good clue as to who their hitters are and who their hitters aren't.  We try to prescribe to the letter what the OHSAA sent down.  I think it is definitely a change, but probably in the long run it is going to be a good thing," said Matula.

          Willard plays host to Margaretta of the Sandusky Bay Conference in its first regular season game on August 28 at Flashes Field.

 

Published 8/21/15

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Willard Still Building

 

          Willard is coming off an (0-10) season and the Flashes hope this year can be better and they can be more competitive in the Northern Ohio League.

          Coach Mark Matula, entering his third season as the Flashes head coach, says last season was a character builder and their were some lessons learned.  "I don't want to forget everything about the last two years.  We had some great kids that worked really hard for us and try to win games.  I don't want to forget about them and they are going to go on to be successful, so I don't want to forget about them.  Wins and losses?  yeah, you want to forget about them," he said.

          Matula believes they have some players with some talent this year, but admits that they don't have a lot of them.  "We are excited about the crew of kids that we have out.  We are still battling the numbers thing in Willard, Ohio, but with the upper classmen we have we think we have an opportunity.  We are very young up front, but we have some decent size.  We have what we think are some very good skilled players.  With the lack of numbers we just don't have enough of them, that's all," he said.
          The young men that are playing football this year at Willard understand what it takes to be successful and are willing to put out the effort that is required, according to Matula.  "It takes time to develop a winning atmosphere and culture in a program.  In our society today a lot of people want what they want and they want it right now.  When you are trying to build a program that doesn't happen.  Our kids do know what to expect from me.  They have done a good job of indoctrinating the incoming freshmen as to what is expectable and not expectable in the program.  Along those lines that is going very well.  We have to win some football games, that is what we have to do," said Matula.

          The Willard coach says yes they would like to have more players, but the ones they have on the field really want to be there.  "We talk to our kids all of the time.  We try to get kids to come out and play ball with us and learn the game of football, but the guys that are there every single day.  You have to have kids that have to play this game.  The fringe players, the ones you might be able to get out often times aren't sold 100 percent on being a football player," he told Swankonsports.com, "The kids that we have out are working as hard as anybody else in our conference and in our area.  We have been pretty pleased about how things have gone on so far.  We are just going to keep working and beating on the door.  My personal option is we are moving in the right direction.  We've just got to get more kids out for the game."

          Willard has scrimmages at Edison on Saturday and at home against Vermilion on August 21.

          They open the season against Margaretta on August 28.

 

Published 8/11/15

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Girls' Basketball Players to Showcase Talents

 

          Wednesday night, girls' basketball players of all ages will get an opportunity to show what they can do to fans and college coaches with Shelby Rotary NCO Girls' All-Star Basketball Classic at Shelby High School.

          Kyle Fenner of Colonel Crawford and Eric Mitchell of New London are the coaches in the senior game, which includes two ten player teams.

          Fenner has done this before, so she knows what to expect.  "This will be the second time coaching the all-star game.  I believe in 2000 I coached the all-star game over in Ashland, so this will be my second time," she said.

          She will coach team black, which will include: Anna Hintz of South Central, Deijah Swihart of Clear Fork, Gabby Stephens of Shelby, Shelby Stamm of Bellevue, Ellie Richmond of Wynford, Hannah Adams of Willard, Sydnie Carpenter of Ashland, Mekaila Grose of Mansfield Madison, Ta-Sharra Jeffries of Sandusky and Emily Wagner of Sandusky Perkins.

          A real key to this format is to get everyone into the game with a chance to showcase there skills.  "It's not really hard we will have ten kids and we will probably put them in groups of five and let them play for four or five minutes then we will substitute.  We will approach it that way and let them get up and down the floor and show their skills.  If it's a game at the end we will probably go with the five or six best kids that we feel can win the game for us," said Fenner.

          Some of the players might know where they are going to college, but some may not.  Fenner says this is their chance to impress.  "There are going to be a good portion of college coaches there that night.  They have done a great job of getting college coaches there.  It will a great chance for these kids to show their skills off to not only the area, but also some college coaches that will be there," she said.

          On team white will be Carly Santoro of Bellevue, Valesha Province of Tiffin Columbian, Shelby White of Ashland, Jeryn Reese of Mansfield Senior, Morgan Bailey of Clear Fork, Hunter Feltner of Willard, Alexis Smith of Mansfield Madison, Makayla Cook of Norwalk, Megan Flaherty of Bucyrus and Samantha Reer of Norwalk St. Paul.  The coach of the team will be Eric Mitchell of New London.

          There is also an underclassmen game on Wednesday night, a first due to a change in OHSAA rules and Clear Fork coach Heidi Roush is one the coaches in that game. 

          She was an MVP in an all-star game as a player, but this will be her first as a coach.  "It is my first time coaching anything like this.  There are some stipulations as to who can coach the younger kids.  You couldn't have one of your own players on the team.  I think that is how they kind of stumbled on me.  I'm really looking forward to it.  I think it will be a lot of fun," she told Swankonsports.com.

          Her team members are:  Renee Stimpert of Crestview, Abigail Fogle of Upper Sandusky, Sarah Ogden of Wynford, Gabbi Baldridge of Willard, Ashley Painley of Norwalk St. Paul, Shelby Kin of Carey, Maggie King of Willard, Jisselle Thomas of Norwalk, Paige Leitz of Monroeville and Leah Bouillon of New Riegel.

          She says she will judge playing time by performance during the game.  "With you know you have talented kids, they wouldn't be on the team other wise.  I think for the most part you just go with who is playing well.  Get everyone in there and let them show their skills," said Roush.

          There are only a couple of practices before them game and Roush says the players sort of have to get used to each other.  "There are some larger schools and I know those players and what they are capable of and there are some players that I haven't seen before and I only know their stat lines checking on then throughout the season in the paper.  I think it will be a little bit of a challenge for the kids knowing each other.  Some of them will have played against each other in summer league, some during the season and then there are kids they really don't know each other," said Roush.

          Playing for team black in the underclassmen game are Seina Adachi of Seneca East, Sydney Wentling of Carey, Kamryn Troike of Fostoria St. Wendelin, Payton Shays of New London, Kelci Simms of Bucyrus, Jenna Strayer of Bellevue, Sydney Holderman of Riverdale, Emily Yeager of Mansfield St. Peter's, Jackie Garrett of Shelby and Alexus Burkhart of Colonel Crawford.  They will be coached by Jon Dawson of Willard.

          Roush thinks it is pretty cool that underclassmen get to participate too.  "In this sport most of the time you are going to end with a loss and it can be so disheartening.  Now, these younger kids are going to get a chance to play again this season and pump them up and get them ready for next season," she said.

          There will be a halftime three point shooting contest among girls in district 6.  Some boys will be there for dunk contest as well.

          The underclassmen game starts at 6 PM, with the senior game at about 7:45.  Tickets for the game are $6 for adults, $3 for seniors, and free for 18 and under who donate a gently used or new children's book to the Shelby Rotary's "Big Red Book Shelf."

 

Published 3/23/15

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Big Fourth Quarter Lifts Crawford Over Willard

 

          Colonel Crawford outscored Willard (21-8) in the fourth quarter and beat the Flashes (58-48) in the division three district semi-finals on Thursday night at Ashland University.

          The Eagles (23-1) trailed 44-39 with 6:51 to play in the game after a basket by Willard's Nick Blanchard.  Crawford coach David Sheldon says they didn't get nervous, they got busy.  "I thought we did a good job of never panicking.  They made a run and took it to five in the fourth.  Our philosophy is one possession at a time and we finally strung some stops there in the fourth quarter.  Offensively we got a little more aggressive and attacked the rim and were able to get to the free throw line.  We were able to get the lead and spread the floor the last three minutes of the game," said Sheldon.

          They took their first lead of the fourth with 4:55 left at (45-44) on two free throws by Owen Adams.  The Eagles took the lead for good (49-47) on a lay in by Dylan Gulley with (3:10) to play.

          Crawford was 15-20 at the foul line in the fourth quarter.  "Guys stepped up and made free throws that's what you have to do is get freebees at the free throw line," said Sheldon.

          Willard made only one more field goal after Blanchard's hoop and coach Chris Long says they did every thing well except for shooting it.  "It's tough when the ball doesn't go in the basket.  They came out with some pressure and we handled it,  It got to the point where they were double teaming Connor (Robinson) a little bit and we tried to hit him with some post feeds.  They made shots and were able to get to the free throw line and they knocked down free throws when they got there," he said.

          Again it was balanced scoring for the Eagles as Todd Entenmann and Dylan Gulley both has 18 points and Owen Adams added 14.

          Colonel Crawford, the Northern 10 Athletic Conference champion, #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the small school division, has built its success on defense.  Sheldon thought they did a solid job on Carson Ebert, holding the 14 point a game scorer scoreless.  "I thought we did a good job with Derek (Burkhart) and Owen (Adams) on him.  Give credit Connor Robinson had a big game for them.  He is a very nice player.  He is a junior and he is going to be very special next year.  He tried to put them on his back.  We made a little adjustment in the second half and put Owen on him and I thought Owen did a good job and we finally got some help on him too when he put it on the floor.  We knew that was a good basketball team.  They are not here for no reason.  Chris (Long) does a great job over there and it was a battle for 32 minutes," said Sheldon.

          Connor Robinson lead the Flashes and all scorers with 24 points on the night.  Long says they put themselves in position, they just couldn't get the shots to fall.  "When it came to the fourth quarter we just couldn't buy a basket.  Sometimes that is the way the game goes, you just don't want it to happen in the fourth quarter," he told Swankonsports.com after the game, "I thought our kids competed and played hard.  We were never going to be able to put them away, so we just had to maintain and we didn't.  They hit some big threes and that is way the ball bounces in this game.  It happens at every level that teams don't physically put the ball in the basket and I thought that's what happened to us."

          Sheldon says he knew it was going to be a tough game, but he trusted his kids.  "This is the fourth year in a row we are in the district championship, so they know what to expect.  They have seen the guys before them lay the foundation and now they are continuing it.  Plus, we play tough games in the regular season.  We have played in front of big crowds in our league.  You know a lot of people didn't give us respect for the Northern 10 and hopefully we earned that a little bit (Thursday) night with a win against a very good league in the "NOL."  Give our kids a lot of credit they showed some toughness, especially in the fourth quarter," said Sheldon.

          Colonel Crawford plays Pemberville Eastwood for a district title on Saturday night at Ashland University.  Eastwood upset second seeded Huron (50-48) in Thursday's other semi-final.

 

Published 3/13/15

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Willard Has to play Great Defense

 

          It's Willard against Colonel Crawford in the division three district semi-finals at Ashland University on Thursday night.

          Willard is the smallest school in the Northern Ohio League, two their league foes, Ontario and Sandusky are playing for the division two district title, and they play an aggressive non-conference schedule.  Coach Chris long believes that has helped and will help them in the tournament.  "We have played some bigger, larger teams this year and I really think it has prepared us for the tournament run, not any one team in particular, but more so the overall tournament run.  We have had three days of practice and I think our kids are raring the go," he said.

          Willard and Colonel Crawford have similar personnel in terms of their size.  Both tend to run four guards.  Long says many of the their set plays are the same.  "We really do run similar plays.  "Hirsh" and Dave's dad coached quite a few years together.  Dave took some of that stuff an modified it a little bit and did some different things.  We have taken some stuff an modified it and both of us have added some things to it.  If you wanted to go down to core plays it was pretty much a mirror image of us playing each other," he said.

          Yes, they see those offenses, those sets, those plays, in practice all year, but Long says the talent of the individual player makes the difference in game play.  "I don't know if it makes it an easier to defend.  The kids get all of the credit when come right down to it players make plays.  When you get in that situation it may be easier to take away the first option of a play, but you might be able to get a second or third, so the big thing is staying with it and making sure we get those second and third options and it's probably the same for them.  You can't abandon the play because the first option has been taken away.  It doesn't make it any easier or harder," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "You still have to prepare for certain individuals.  Todd Entemann can break down the defense and take it to the basket and score.  Along with Dylan Gulley and Owen Adams and the Burkhart kid standing around outside looking to knock down shots.  You still have be ready to defend individuals as much as the play."

          Colonel Crawford point guard Dylan Gulley is one of the best in the area.  Long says he is the engine that runs the Eagles.  "He does a great job and doesn't turn the ball over.  He does a great job of distributing the ball in their offense.  He has the ability to get to the paint and when you do that it opens up a lot of things when you have Entemann and Adams and Burkhart on the perimeter because if you have to help off of one of those guys then you are going to leave one of the top shooters in the N10 wide open for good looks," he said.

          Todd Entemann is the district six player of the year and the Eagles leading scorer.  Long says like everyone else they are going to try to limit the times he gets his hands on the ball.  "We want to limit his touches, but if you can't limit them, you have to be there and be ready to defend whatever he does.  If you give him a little sliver of light he can get a shot off with just a little bit of space and he is a good shooter and he also had the ability to take it to the basket.  You have to be ready to defend his entire game.  The easiest way is to limit his touches.  It makes it a little harder on the guy defending him, but it makes it a little easier you don't have to decide if he is going to shoot it or take it off the bounce," said Long.

 

Published 3/12/15

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Defense the Key for Willard

 

          Willard plays Edison in the division three sectional finals on Friday night at Shelby High School.  The winner advances to the district tournament next week.

          The Flashes (11-12) downed New London (55-41) on Tuesday in semi-final play.  They trailed (10-5) after the first quarter, but coach Chris Long says they started to play better on both ends when the shots started to fall.  "We did start out slow.  I would say there were some first tournament game jitters. We can preach all we want and say that we have five kids that has been there before, but it always changes year to year.  The juniors that played last year are now seniors.  I think sometimes it sets in that this is my last hurrah," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "We made some mistakes defensively.  I thought we really struggled to put the ball in the basket there in the first quarter and I think it did affect us on the defensive end.  Once we were able to calm down I thought the kids played exceptionally well."

          Edison (15-6) finished second in the Sandusky Bay Conference this year and handed Huron their only conference loss in overtime.  Long says the makeup of the Chargers is a lot like his own team.  "Team wise we sort of mimic each other.  Neither one of us are very big and we play four guards.  They probably play more of it, where we play a guy that can play in the post, but we prefer him to be on the perimeter.  I think it is a very intriguing match up because it is just like seeing one another.  We run the offense a little bit different, but they are four around one high and we are four around one high.  It was like that early on because we scrimmaged them this year," he said.

          For Long the real key for who wins on Friday night is who is able to control the game by playing great defense.  "We have to sit down and be defensive minded.  I think we have plenty of guys that can put the ball in the basket.  I think it is going to come down to who makes the most stops and who finishes the most possessions on the defensive end.  If we cam limit their offensive rebounding and if we can force them to take contested jumpers and finish the possessions I like our chances just as much as I think coach Hammond would like their chances in the same situation," said Long.

 

Published 3/06/15

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Willard Meets Clear Fork in District Semi-Final

 

          Last season, Willard lost in the district semi finals and they don't want a repeat of that this time around.

          They play Clear Fork (19-4) in the division two district semi-finals on Thursday night at Ashland High School.

          Willard handled "NOL" rival Norwalk (56-41) in last week's sectional final.  Coach Jon Dawson says they have suffered some injuries lately, but what he likes most about his team is its balance.  "That is the thing I have liked about this team from day one.  There is not one superstar that we have to have score 15 to 20 points a game in order for us to compete.  It can be any kid on any given night.  We feel we have seven, eight kids that can score.  Unfortunately now we have had a couple of injuries.  We are down to about six kids, but I still like our rotation.  It seems to be going well and we will survive with those six and throw a couple of younger kids in there as well," he said.

          Willard (18-3) has had some success against Clear Fork this season, beating the Lady Colts (58-38) on December 4.  Dawson says that was one of their better efforts of the year and they will need another on Thursday night.  "They are a very good team.  I believe they are 19-4 and have had some very big wins and play in a really tough league.  I know they have gotten a lot better since early in the year.  I really thought we played one of our better games when we had them here early in December.  It all starts with taking Deijah Swihart out of the equation as much as we possibly can and limiting what she does.  I think she is kind of what makes them go.  She is one of premier players in our area.  We will focus on her, but they certainly have other kids that can step up and we have to be aware of and take care of business," he said.

          Willard lost to Mansfield Madison in last year's district semi-finals.  Dawson says this year they want another chance at Bellevue, who beat them twice in Northern Ohio League play.  "When you get to this round, with only a third of the teams left in high school basketball, making a district tournament, you are going to face good competition.  If you don't bring your "A" game you are probably not going to advance.  The kids know that, and I think the group that I have is looking forward to the challenge, and I think we will be ready to go," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "They have kind of been through this before.  We still have a little bitter taste in our mouths form the district semis last year.  The goal has been to get one more crack at Bellevue.  We are certainly not looking past Clear Fork, but we want to keep advancing in the tournament."

 

Published 3/05/15

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Willard Wants to be Physical

 

          Willard locks horns with New London in a first round game in the division three tournament on Tuesday night at Shelby High School.

          Willard (10-12) out of the Northern Ohio League, where they are the only division III school, lost to Mansfield Madison (71-61) and Marion Harding (63-41), both division I schools, last week.

          Coach Chris Long says they did some good things and those kinds of games are going to prepare them well for this week.  "I still believe in the premiums that these games are going to prepare us better for the tournament.  We competed with Madison.  We didn't have a good first half against Marion Harding, but we competed in the second half, basically playing them even.  It gives our kids a different look.  You face a different style, a different kind of player, a physicality that you will see during tournament time that we don't normally see playing here in the local area.  For me I think it is good for our kids to play against that before the tournament.  So, when tournament time comes and a lot of times it is more physical that our kids are prepared for that style of play," said Long.

          New London (10-12) comes in off a loss too, to Mapleton (62-55) in Firelands Conference action.  Long says New London will play tough defense.  "They get up and into you.  They are good at switching their defenses between a man, a 2-3 and a match-up 2-3.  They have some size with the Brady kid at 6'6'' and some shooters with Thomas and Lane.  They are going to defend you in a physical style and I hope last week prepared us for that.  We just have to be able to take care of the ball, make some shots as normal, and I think we have to be able to control the boards with their 6'6" kid.  That might alleviate some pressure for us.  Basically we have to sit down and defend what they do.  I think it comes down to who is best defensive team at this point in the season," he said.

          Long says at tournament time you and have to be mentally and physically tough if your expect to advance.  "We have talked about it all year long with the kids it is just one of those things you just have to continue to play.  You can only control the things that you can control.  We probably use the word toughness more than we do physical.  It encompasses everything we do with mental toughness, physical toughness," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "When it comes down to the tournament game and it is called a little looser you have to be mentally tough because that is going to be allowed, that style of play is going to be allowed.  Being physically tough is not dirty.  You getting bumped on cuts, you are getting into you opponent to keep them from getting offensive boards.  It comes down to making plays in that style.  The teams that are able to overcome that and play that way and more successful in the tournament."

 

Published 3/03/15

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Willard Advances by Downing Norwalk

 

          Willard took advantage of their height to dominate the glass and down Norwalk (56-41) Thursday night at Mansfield Senior High School in the division two sectional final.

          With a couple of players out due to injury, Willard coach Jon Dawson says they did a good job of controlling the flow of the game.  "We knew that they were going to want to get up and down and try and make it a full court game.  We had to take advantage of our size and try and do some things.  We had sort of a short bench (Thursday) but I thought our rotations were good.  We survived the up and down stuff and did some nice things," he said.

          Maggie King had 15 points, and Hannah Adams and Gabi Baldridge added 13 and 12 a piece to pace a balanced Willard (18-3) attack on Thursday night.  "That has been from day one what makes us good is the balance that we have.  I am pretty sure we had three in double figures again.  They have one girl taking half of their shots, not that it is easy to defend when she is that good, you kind of know what they are going to do.  With us we spread it around a little bit.  We have a lot of different kids that can score and I don't think you can afford to layoff anybody on our team," said Dawson.

          Jiselle Thomas led Norwalk with 16 markers on the night.

          Norwalk pressed for much of the game and tried to push the ball down the floor when they had it.  Dawson feels they did a solid job of frustrating the Lady Truckers.  "I think with their athleticism and their lack of size that is probably their only chance.  They do what they have to do to try and win by getting into an up and down game.  We had to be able to handle that and I thought for the most part we did," said Dawson.

          Willard meets Clear Fork (19-4) in the district semi finals next Thursday night at Ashland High School.  They beat the Lady Colts (58-38) on December 4.

 

Published 2/27/15

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Willard Needs Shooting Eye for Tournament Game

 

          Willard lost a tough one to Bellevue on Monday night and with it went a chance to share the Northern Ohio League title.  Now, it's tome for the postseason and a match-up with the Norwalk Lady Tuckers in the division two tournament on Thursday night at Mansfield Senior High School.

          After holding a halftime lead, Willard fell to Bellevue (64-60) on Monday night.  Coach Jon Dawson says his kids just couldn't make shots late in the game.  "It was a great atmosphere and it is what high school basketball is all about.  It was a lot of fun and I thought the kids played extremely hard.  When it got down to the end it seemed like we just didn't have enough firepower," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "Our sophomore post went down with about five or six minutes left in the game with a knee injury that we are still kind of holding out on, where not sure what happened, and it's not looking good for her.  My freshman point guard was getting some migraine headaches and she got hit in the head again.  All of the sudden we don't have a bench at all.  Certainly give credit to Bellevue they are ranked number three in the state for a reason.  They are a very good basketball team and they did what it took to win an outright "NOL" championship."

          Willard (17-3) beat Norwalk (8-13) twice during the regular season (48-31) at Willard on January 3 and (62-57) at Norwalk on January 30.  The Lady Truckers exploded in the second half to hammer Edison (76-37) in a first round game on Tuesday.

          Dawson says Norwalk is growing in confidence.  "They have some young kids playing and some good perimeter speed and I think those kids are gaining some confidence as they go on and they certainly can put up some points and they defend very well and do some nice things.  We will have our hands full (Thursday) night," he said.

          Willard is the second seed in the tournament and one of the favorites to make it to the regional tournament.  Dawson says to fulfill that potential they have to start shooting better.  "I think it is always important to get off to a good start and kind of get the confidence going.  That is one thing about Monday night is we didn't shoot the ball real well.  We were down around 32 percent and I am pretty certain that is about as low as we have shot.  A lot of those were makeable shots we just weren't firing on all cylinders for some reason.  We have spent a couple of days just getting back to the basics shooting the basketball and hopefully (Thursday) night will be a different story for us," said Dawson

 

Published 2/26/15

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Defense Still the Key for Willard

 

          Willard closes the regular season this week with games against two division one opponents in Mansfield Madison on Wednesday and Marion Harding on Friday.

          The Flashes are now division three, but coach Chris Long says he wants to be able to play the best competition possible.  "That is the one thing that I really want.  I want our kids when it comes to tournament time next week to be battle tested.  I could go play others teams, but to face two division one opponents it is a great experience for our kids.  You get two see a little different style basketball.  The biggest thing for us if I didn't think we could compete we probably wouldn't play these games, but I foolhardy think we can compete with both teams.  The biggest thing for us, win or lose, they may provide something that if we could see down the road in the tournament could only help us," said Long.

          Madison (11-9) out of the Ohio Cardinal Conference is a team a lot like Willard in they don't have a lot of height.  However, Long says the Rams do have guys that can get to the basket.  "The only difference may be that we aren't very big and play a post player and Tim is not very big and plays five guards.  Some of his kids can go into the post with the Finley kid, and Weightman, and Billy Buckley.  They have some talent there, they have some guys that can shoot it.  If they get hot it can last for a long time.  It's another chance to face another team that is similar to us, but it also forces like we talked about before the Shelby game too, which is our defense," he said.

          Willard (10-10) beat rival Shelby (63-60) in their last game in Northern Ohio League play.  Long thought they played tremendous defense in the first half and that's what he wants to see this week and next in the tournament.  "We talked on the bus on the way home and that is best defensive performance I have seen in a long time from a Willard basketball team and I wasn't shy in telling my kids that.  It brought back memories of past teams back when I was a kid.  Our kids just sat down and flat out defended and said if you are going to get it, you are going to have to earn it.  Every kid that went in the game in the first half did an excellent job," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "Hopefully we can build off of that.  We still played some solid defense in the second half. but I would like to be able to ratchet it up just a little bit more.  Every team is going to get some shots and you are going to have some breakdowns, you just have to resist it and keep on the playing."

 

Published 2/25/15

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Willard has to Make the Big Plays

 

          Willard does not have a lot of height and they don't have much margin for error if they are going to win games.  Critical mistakes at the wrong time seem to hurt them.

          They lost (66-60) to Norwalk in a Northern Ohio League game on Tuesday night.  Coach Chris Long they just didn't execute well enough at certain times during the game.  "We played hard.  We did a lot of things really well, but there were a lot of things that we have to work on in practice.  Our kids played hard.  Our effort has never been an issue.   We have to get better at the defensive end and a couple of small things on the offensive end and I think if we do that we can sure some things up in these last three games going into the tournament," he said.

          Against Norwalk, the Flashes shot it well, they handled the ball well and they even rebounded well, but Long says they just made too many defensive mistakes and that killed them.  "I am a quantitative guy and (Tuesday) night we got home and talked to our kids and I deal a lot in numbers.  We only turned the ball over six times, we came out even on the glass and we shot close to 50 percent from the field.  We understand there are going to be mistakes, but we have to limit the mistakes.  The mistakes we made led directly to points.  Probably some breakdowns on defense cost us 17 points.  I am not asking to get rid of them, but if we cut those in half, and take away eight or nine points, there is a possibility that we are right there or win that game," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "We came in (Wednesday) and looked at the first quarter and a half just dissecting, basically just talking about what happened in certain situations and ways to correct it.  Then we went out and practiced.  I thought we practiced better on both ends of the floor.  Now, we need to be able to translate that into game time situations."

          Willard (9-10,3-8) plays at rival Shelby (13-7,6-4) on Friday night in league action.  The Whippets won the first meeting (63-57) at Willard in January.  Long says they will likely play less zone this time around.  "When we talked to our kids about it, our defense didn't really hurt us in that game.  I hurt us a little bit by playing too much zone.  I tried to use it to slow Shelby up and that sort of backfired on us.  I took our kids out of the zone in the second half.  What hurt us is when we started to get tired in the fourth quarter we started to get stagnate on offense and we quit attacking.  When we didn't attack you are allowing them to set up more of their defense and more of their traps,  We got shots, but we just didn't make them.  Then they went down and made baskets in their end," said Long.

 

Published 2/19/15

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It is Small Versus Tall

 

          It may seem odd, but in basketball sometimes small can be better than tall,

          It happened the first time Willard played Tiffin Columbian and the rematch is Friday night in Willard.

          Tiffin Columbian is one of the biggest teams in the area, while Willard's roster is made mostly of guards.

          Flashes coach Chris Long says it certainly is a contrast.  "The key with the Daniels kid and the Dryfuse kid, and the Baron kid that hasn't been starting, and the younger Dryfuse and the Simmons kid, it really does come down to who takes care of the mismatches the most.  Luckily when we played over there we were able to get some turnovers that led to some baskets.  We are probably looking to get into the game the same way we did last time with a few little tweaks here and there.  It really does come down to when we play those guys about how each one of us is going to use our mismatches in the game," he said.

          Even though they are looking at a sizeable height disadvantage on Friday night, Long says they still have to be able to score inside to be successful.  "I talked to out limited number of post kids about they don't need to force shots, but my guards have to understand that the ball needs to go in there.  We talk about being able to reverse the floor and reverse the ball, but you can also reverse the floor and reverse the ball through the post.  Even though we are probably at a bigger disadvantage than when we played earlier this year, but they still have to respect Coffer and his ability on the post," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "He may not be able to score every time he gets the ball, but if he is drawing attention to himself it allows our guards to get more open looks on the perimeter.  A lot of times it is a spilt second, but that spilt second is the difference between an open jumper or either forcing a contested shot or having to do something a little more with the basketball."

          Willard beat Tiffin (60-47) on January 2 in one of their better performances in the league this year.

          Also, when the Flashes are on offense their ability to make outside shots should be able to force the Columbian posts farther out on the floor.  "That is one of the things with the mismatches.  Our biggest mismatch tends to be on the defensive end.  I think we have enough smaller guys, almost all of my guys are smaller guys, that we can put together a lineup that has guys that can make a shot or a perimeter jumper that we can go into more of an open style offense where they are going to come out and defend those guys or we can knock down some more jumpers and exploit their big guys coming onto the perimeter.  I have enough guys that can put the ball on the floor and attack the basket, which hopefully can be a little bit more to our advantage," said Long.

 

Published 2/13/15

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Willard Used to Close Games

 

          In two Northern Ohio League games last week, Willard lost by two, and won by one, and for whatever reason this is a team that tends to play a lot of close games.

          Coach Chris Long, in his second year as the Flashes head coach, says he has confidence that his kids know what to do in tight games.  "With the group I have and the experience I have I have complete confidence in our kids.  A lot of them have been through this for two or three years or four years.  We battled in both games all of the way down to the end.  We came up a couple of possessions shots against Ontario.  The Bellevue game they had the ball with 5.2 seconds and we were able to get a stop and secure the rebound and secure the victory.  We have been in those types of games and it really not something I worry about with these types of kids and the number of seniors and the kids I have returning and we have been through that for over a year now," he said.

          Willard has lost some close games this year where the ball just didn't bounce their way.  Long says if they would have shot the ball better this year there could have been a few more wins.  "For us this year it have been about the ball bouncing into the rim.  The other night against Ontario we didn't shoot the ball from the free throw line that well, but we shot it exceptionally well from the field, so it is just a matter of where those bounces are.  We are pretty much taking care of the ball, we aren't turning it over a ton, we are probably plus five or plus six in that category.  We are not losing possessions because we are truing the ball over, we are losing possessions because we are not making shots," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "The one thing I noticed is the less we turn the ball over the more shots we get.  It is just one of those things that is the way the game is and we struggled at the beginning of the year putting the ball in the basket on a consistent basis.  I think we have done a much better job of that, but in our league there are pretty much going to be close games game in and game out it is just a very competitive league and everybody is going top battle to the end.  That is the way it have been and it will continue to be that way."

          Willard (9-7,3-5) will be at Sandusky (13-4,6-2), #4 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division, on Friday night in "NOL" play.  Long says the Streaks have the kind of personnel that force you to make decisions.  "They are very good.  They are athletic and they force you into situations that a lot of teams can't in the area.  They play a four around one and they have a 6'8" post player that us, and of the teams around here, aren't blessed with.  They are a very athletic team.  They do a great job of getting to the basket and they are streaky shooting team from outside of the arch.  They can put you in a quandary defensively about what you are going to take away because you are not going to stop every thing they do.  The first time we played them it was a five point lead at halftime and midway through the third quarter and then they went on a run and then it's 12 or 13.  We have to battle back into it.  They just put you in that situation because they can put so many athletes on the floor," said Long.

 

Published 2/04/15

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Willard Faces "NOL" Leader

 

          Willard will be at home on Thursday night for the Northern Ohio League leading Ontario Warriors as the second round of league play begins.

          Last week, the Flashes won a couple of non-conference games in beating Galion (63-58) in overtime on Tuesday and New Riegel (62-49) on Saturday.

          Coach Chris Long says they are starting to feel good again.  "We have been a team of streaks this year.  Win the first one, have a couple game loosing streak, win five in a row.  With the way the schedule has worked out this year we have really had to figure our what we are doing on the floor.  Is that they way to go about it?  No, but that is the hand we have been dealt.  I think our kids have done a great job of adjusting.  We were able to turn things around last week, so hopefully for us things are trending upwards going into (Thursday) night with Ontario," said Long.

          Ontario (13-1,6-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the large school division, beat the Flashes (61-39) in early December.  Long says they made them pay for their mistakes.  "They are athletic.  Not a lot of things have changed.  We didn't play a great game against them, but they had a lot to do with that.  They are very solid defensively and when we had some breakdowns and when our breakdowns lead to some points I think we started to rush some things.  Hopefully we can keep it a little closer and compete a little better.  If we don't panic I think we will be alright.  We have to take care of a lot of the little things that we didn't take care of when we played them at Ontario," said Long.

          The Warriors like to play fast and Long says they do too, but they must execute while they are doing it.  "It is weird we want to play fast, but we don't do a lot defensive to pick up the pace.  We pick our sports, but we find ways to speed the other teem up.  Last Saturday night, I told our kids once they shoot the ball stay and rebound, but we want to turn it into a track meet, we want to get up and down as fast as possible," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "But, playing fast and playing out of control is two different things.  Speed wise and getting up and down the floor our kids love it, but it becomes who has more left in the tank in the fourth quarter.  It becomes a toughness thing and I think the kids love that."

          Willard (8-6,2-4) is part of a the 16-team field in the division three super sectional.  Long says a win over Ontario would help them get a better seed, but they still will have to play well.  "It would be nice to go in there and say we beat Ontario, but there are a lot of good teams in our sectional.  You have got Colonel Crawford, you have got Huron.  We are like Huron and Edison, we are a smaller school in a bigger conference.  Any great win you have in the season is always a plus going in to tournament time.  There are going to be 16 teams and you are going to have to win four games to get out of it.  It would nice to have that victory, but when it comes right down to it you have to play the games rather it be (Thursday) night against Ontario or come the first weekend of March playing in the sectional tournament,' said Long.

 

Published 1/29/15

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Willard Wants to Send a Message

 

          Willard continues to trail Northern Ohio League leader Bellevue by a game and they have one more meeting on Valentine's Day at Willard.

          The Lady Flashes kept themselves in that race as they survived a late scare from Shelby and beat the Lady Whippets (57-56) last Saturday.  Willard coach Jon Dawson is glad to have the win, but knows they can play better.  "It is always nice to get that win, but also a big learning experience.  I think we were up nine with two and half minutes left.  They hit a couple of big shots, but we didn't take care of the basketball and finish on our end either.  We were able to hold on and get a road win in the "NOL" and that is always a good thing.  I would rather have a learning experience and win than a loss for sure.  Hopefully we can learn from it," he said.

          Dawson says they used a lot of time on Monday to review tape of the game and talk about improvement and ways they can get better.  "We went back and (Monday) we watched a lot of film and just looked at some things where kids weren't giving us 100 percent on every possession.  As coaches we are probably never going to have protection, but we try to tell the kids that is what we expect on every possession and if you can't give it to us then you are going to have to sit," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday  "Film doesn't lie and we kind of went back and had a gut check (Monday) before practice and looked at some things and hopefully we can get some things corrected on Friday night."

          Willard (13-1), #3 in the Swankonsports.com girls' basketball poll in the large school division, plays host to Sandusky Perkins (10-6) in non-conference play on Tuesday night.  Dawson says the Lady Pirates are well coached and know what they have to do to win.  "I expect a battle. It is always tough against them.  Coach Neil I think is one of the most outstanding coaches in our profession he just does a great job.  He does not have any superstars, but he has a lot of good kids that I think he gets the most out of.  They do a good job of controlling the pace of the game," he said.

          Willard and Perkins are both division two teams and in the same district.  Dawson says they ant to send a message on Tuesday night.  "They are a sectional or district opponent.  I tell our kids that we want to send a message that they don't want to play us in the tournament.  When it comes time to put your name on the bracket are they going to go on our bracket thinking they have a chance to beat us or are we going to send a message that we are better than them, so it is a good test for us.  It is a home game for us and it seems like a while since we have had a home game.  It will be a good chance for us go out there and see what we can do," said Dawson.

 

Published 1/27/15

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Willard Ready to Get Better

 

          It has been a somewhat of a frustrating season for the Willard Crimson Flashes because they have been close to winning more games and the ball has not bounced their way.

          Two of those games happened last week when they lost to Sandusky Bay Conference leader Huron (60-47) and Shelby in a Northern Ohio League game (63-57) on Friday. 

          Coach Chris Long says it was not due to a lack of effort, the other teams just made more plays in the end.  "We played well, but we had some breakdowns.  Huron is a good team that is ranked in the state.  We made a couple of mistakes down the stretch.  When we had it down to three of five they were able to get it up to eight and we weren't able to recover.  In the Shelby game it was a two possession game.  We missed some layups and they hit some clutch shots.  We kind of struggled in the fourth quarter and got a little stagnant in the offense.  Effort wise I thought our kids played their tails off, especially for a Thursday, Friday double," said Long.

          Willard now trails "NOL" leader Ontario by four games, but Long says they are not about to give up on the regular season yet and start looking toward the postseason.  "We are still focused on where we can finish in the league.  It is something for our kids to shoot for.  We probably can't win it.  We would need a ton of help.  Our kids are still focused on it it is still our league.  Their are still league games and their is still pride in playing those games.  We are trying to get better, but we are nowhere near looking forward to the tournament.  We are just looking at our next opponent whether it is a league opponent or a non-league opponent," he said.

          Willard (6-6) plays at Galion (4-8) in a non-conference game on Tuesday night.  Long says the Tigers have a lot of athletes and they can not let them take over the game.  "They are athletic.  I have seen them on tape a couple of times.  They have the Van Tilberg kid, they have Blair and Rinehart that are really athletic players.  If you let them control the tempo of the game and they become dangerous.  They were down against Ontario and came back and made a game out of it," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "They have the capabilities so we are going to have to sit down and defend and watch what we are doing because if we let somebody like Cody Van Tilberg come off unguarded most of the night he is going to knock down a ton of shots and when he starts hitting them and everybody starts worrying about him it makes everybody else that more dangerous."

 

Published 1/20/15

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Willard Still Okay

 

          Willard had a five game winning streak snapped last Friday by Norwalk, but their coach says they are still doing a lot of good things.

          They play unbeaten Huron in a non-conference game on Thursday and host arch rival Shelby in a Northern Ohio league contest on Friday.

          Norwalk probably knocked Willard out of the "NOL" race last week with a (63-47) win at Bob Haas Gym, they now trail Ontario by three games in the standings.

          Coach Chris Long says they just didn't make enough shots against the Truckers to win.  "In our five game winning streak we played exceptionally well.  I don't think we played bad on Friday night against Norwalk.  We were able to turn them over 17 times.  We had been accustomed to when we turned people over that it led directly to points, where as in that game we sort of got turnovers in the middle.  We didn't turn it over a lot, but we didn't shoot it very well.  We just didn't shoot the ball at a high percentage.  I still think our kids are playing at a pretty high level.  In a game like that it is just the way the ball bounces," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "We had numerous kids struggle from the field.  We did our best and had a chance in the end to close it down and make it tighter that it even was.  It was just one of those games when the shots just weren't falling for us."

          Willard travels to Huron (9-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coaches poll in the small school division, of the Sandusky Bay Conference to play the Tigers on Thursday.  Long says Huron to can shoot the basketball and that gives them a chance win any game.  "They have shooters.  I went and watched them play on Saturday night and they have guys that can shoot the ball.  They play inside out.  They have some height.  They move the ball, they share the ball real well.  So, we are going to have to be solid defensively and know our rolls.  When shooters are in the game know where they are at all times.  When they are out of the game who we can take advantage of on the offensive and defensive end.  They play great team ball and Bobby James has done a great job with that team," he said.

          Shelby (7-4,2-2) will be at Willard (6-4,2-3) for a key game on Friday in the "NOL."  Long says the Flashes have the ball handlers to deal with the Shelby pressure.  "They don't want you to get set in your offense.  They are trying to use their defense to create offense for them as well with steals and easy baskets.  It is hard to simulate that in practice.  We have used what we normally use with six, seven, eight, nine players to simulate that there are always people around on the floor.  The one thing that I believe that we have going for us going into that game is I have three or four guards that have played point guard.  I have a guy that is in the post that played point guard growing up.  I have enough ball handlers, but being able to simulate that going into the game and actually seeing the pressure they are going to put on you is a little bit different.  In the beginning if we can make adjustments quick we will give ourselves a shot to be there at the end," said Long.

 

Published 1/15/15

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Willard is in Must Win Situation

 

          Willard trials Northern Ohio League leader Ontario by two games going into their meeting with the Norwalk Truckers on Friday night and they know what they have to do.

          The Flashes won their fifth straight game on Tuesday night when they downed Norwalk St. Paul (68-45) on Tuesday night.  Coach Chris Long says they were able to get their press going, which led to some easy hoops.  "(Tuesday) night we were able to set our press and get some turnovers and get some easy baskets to start the second half.  We were able to get to the basket and get easy baskets on other end in our offense.  It was a night where probably after the first quarter everything clicked for us overall.  It comes down to what the kids do, you can set up anything you want, be they are the ones out their executing it.  The kids executed pretty well after the first quarter," he said.

          Willard does not have a lot of height this year, but what they do have is some guys that are guards with a variety of skills, especially at the offensive end.  Long says that is a plus when they have the ball.  "As coaches we like to call them tweeners.  We are not blessed with a ton of height.  We have some guys that are able to play more as a guard on the offensive end, but they are able to defend in the post on the defensive end.  Coming into the season that was a big fear for me that was the plan, but you never know how it is going to work out from you get in game situations," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "From the fourth game on we have done a much better job of being able to do that.  I have found some different rotations, which has allowed some other kids, that are the same type of kid, to come off the bench and do the same exact thing.  To be able to move some guards down there puts us in a little disadvantage on the defensive end, but it really helps us out on the offensive end."

          Willard (6-3,2-2) hosts Norwalk (4-2,2-1) on Friday night.  The Truckers smothered Bellevue (49-29) last Friday in league play.  Long says Norwalk makes it very difficult to score.  "They still get up into you defensively, which has been a trademark of Steve Gray's program.  They aren't going to make anything easy for you.  You are going to have to be able to run you sets and take advantage of what they give you on certain possessions.  If they are able to dictate how you play you are going to stay out beyond the three point line you are still going to be in for a long night.  They do a great job of protecting your basket and a very good job of keeping you out of the paint.  We have to be on the attack and take what they give us of we will be in a dogfight at the end of the night," said Long.

          With league losses to Ontario and Sandusky, Long knows this is a huge game for them when it comes to the "NOL" race.  "We are clawing and trying to stay in with two losses and Norwalk only has one loss right now.  We are all chasing Ontario.  With two losses you are going to needs some help.  When it comes down to it you can only take care of yourself to put yourself in the best position.  If you don't get the help you can look back and say we gave it our best shot if just didn't work our for us.  If we get a third loss we are pretty much out of it.  We would need to not lose anymore games in the league," said Long.

 

Published 1/08/15

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Things Slowing Down for Willard

 

          Willard has talent and now they are starting to play like it.

          Carson Ebert scored 21 points, Jordan Moore added 15, and Conner Robinson handed out 10 assists as the Flashes pounded Port Clinton (71-35) last Tuesday night.

          Coach Chris Long says it was the Flashes (3-3) best performance of the season, no question.  "That is probably the best four quarters we have played this year.  I felt we built off the last two quarters from Bellevue the previous Saturday night.  The important thing for us is we defended like we have been defending, but we were able to put the ball in the basket at a very high rate, like 49 percent.  I talked to our kids about that that there was a night that it was all going to come together for us.  Now, hopefully we can continue that from here on out," he said.

          Willard has now won its last two and Long says they are starting to have a little fun out there.  "From most people's perspective winning takes care of everything.  We are dealing with 16 to 18 year old kids here and there are expectations after you see rankings and things like that.  They say it doesn't bother them, but in the back of their minds they think about it.  We are just trying to find a way to put our kids at ease and to go out and play since the beginning of the season.  We were making some uncharacteristic mistakes that they weren't making in 25 games last year.  One of our seniors made the comments that we were playing not to lose," he told Swankonsports.com on Sunday, "We have been preaching since that moment to play to win, but relax.  It's a game, you guys have been doing it for four years.  We just need to get back to being fundamentally sound.  Our kids were able to relax on Tuesday night and put four good quarters together."

          Willard plays host to Sandusky Perkins (1-5) on Tuesday night.  The Pirates just won their first game on Saturday night, downing Margaretta (67-60) in "SBC" play.  It's been a down season for Perkins so far, but Long says they have some guys that can play.  "They have some seniors back and they have a mix, I think he has a freshman playing now.  He has some sophomores and some juniors playing.  We talked last year I think he told me that they were going to have a freshmen class coming up through the ranks that was going to be pretty good.  He hasn't strayed much from what he ran with the guys he has had the last five or six years.  They can defend and they have some guys that can shoot the ball.  If we don't show up and do the little things and take care of the defensive end we will be in a battle by the end of the night," said Long.

 

Published 12/29/14

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Willard Just has to Play

 

          Willard broke a three game losing streak with an "NOL" win over rival Bellevue on Saturday night and now they just have to play their game.

          The Flashes (2-3,1-2) railed to down Bellevue (59-39) with a big second half.  Coach Chris Long says he told his kids at halftime to just sort of believe in their abilities.  "We definitely needed a win to stay in the league race, but I thought the win meant more as a confidence booster for our kids.  We really played well, we stayed the course.  We could tell at halftime that we had that little bit of edge, okay what is going to happen to us now?  I just told the kids over and over to just relax.  We were down eight in the second quarter and we were able to go into the half down two.  I kept explaining to them that we were only down two and we had to just relax and our kids were able to do that and be successful in the second half against Bellevue," he said.

          Last year, Willard got off to kind a rocky start too, but played some really good basketball after the Christmas break.  Long says that is the goal again this year.  "We talked about it before school let out last week after Tuesday night's game against Sandusky that the true measuring stick is how good team's done after Christmas.  Good teams are the ones that get better after Christmas and we have to be one of those because we put ourselves in a two game hole in the league.  It will be interesting to see if our kids play a little looser (Tuesday) night being that we got our first league win and they are able to get it done," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "It was interesting because up to the Sandusky game our first three games went exactly like last year's did.  I think the biggest thing for these kids is to just get them to relax and go out and play and go out an perform to the best of their ability."

          Willard plays host to Port Clinton (3-2) in a non-conference game on Tuesday night.  Long says the Redskins have some big kids that they will have to defend.  "We went up and watched them play last week and the Daniels kid that plays post for them was on crutches.  They have some shooters in the Rumball brothers.  They are pretty big inside even without Daniels they go 6'4", 6'4".  He is a little bit smaller than that, but more of a physical post.  We are going to have our hands full and we have to show up and we have to play and do things that we have been going over (Monday) in practice to be successful again (Tuesday) night," said Long.  

 

Published 12/23/14

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Willard Marches On

 

          So far, Willard has more than lived up to expectations as the Lady Flashes are unbeaten on the season so far.

          They beat Sandusky (73-51) on Friday night to improve to (7-0) on the season and they have beaten some solid teams along the way, including Ashland and Clear Fork.

          They can put three kids on the floor that are taller than six-feet and coach Jon Dawson says that can give them a big advantage over most teams that they play.  "That is the thing that jumps off the page right away is our size.  I have been told by different people that this is probably one of the biggest girls' teams that they have seen in the last 20 years.  We are big, but we just have to continue to play like we are big, sometimes that doesn't always happen out there," he said.

          Dawson says they want to use that size on both ends of the floor by extending their defense and also getting the ball into the post.  "Our zone can get pretty big.  We can stretch out our wings and have our person in the middle cover a lot of ground.  We get our hands up and or arms out.  On the offensive end we have to continue to give each other big targets and be able to get the ball inside with good post entries.  That is something we have to continue to work on and get better at.  We keep stressing that everyday in practice," said Dawson.

          With all of that size, Dawson says they have to be able to get good guard play or those big kids aren't going to see the ball as much as they should.  "I think we have handled pressure better this year than we have in the past.  Sometimes we try to make things too complicated and sometimes we just have to simplify things and put ourselves in good spots," he said.

          Still a major part of girls' basketball is the press and being able to handle it without a bunch of turnovers.  Dawson says that is something they work on all of the time in practice.  "We knew coming into our season that handling pressure was going to be one of the most important things.  Every single day in practice we probably devote 20 to 30 minutes to press breaker stuff.  We know that is something that has to continue to get better," he told Swankonsports.com, "You watch a boys game and the average varsity boys' player can throw a skip pass across the court without too much problem and there aren't a lot of girls that can do that.  They need a little more space and we have to shorten our passes a little bit."

          Willard shares first place in the Northern Ohio League with Bellevue.  Dawson says they know the importance of the two game series with the Lady Red, but they have to keep their focus.  "They have a great team over there and that's all we hear about is what is going to happen when you play Bellevue?  And I am sure they are hearing the same thing.  I'm sure coach Santoro is telling his kids the same thing.  We have to continue to look at this as one game at a time and not let anything happen between now and January 10.  That will be a big game, but we have to take care business leading up to that point," said Dawson.

          Willard (7-0,2-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com girls' basketball poll in the large school division, plays at Tiffin Columbian (3-3,1-2) in an "NOL" game on Saturday.

 

Published 12/22/14

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Willard Eager to Get Back at it

 

          Willard was projected to be one of the better teams in the Northern Ohio League, but they got handled on Friday night by the Ontario Warriors and need to bounce back right away.

          Last week, Ontario blasted the Flashes (61-39) in the league opener for both teams.  Willard had trouble scoring as Carson Ebert was their leading scorer with only nine points.

          Coach Chris Long says basically they got whipped in about every aspect of the game.  "It was pretty much the perfect storm.  We didn't shoot the ball well.  We did not play great on the defensive end and Ontario out played us.  With all of those factors it lead to a rough night for us.  Joe's team had a lot to do with that.  They are tough to defend.  They are very athletic.  When it came down to it they just outplayed us for 32 minutes and that was reflected in the final score.  Hopefully the next time we play them at our place we bring a little more fire for that game come prepared and ready for a battle," said Long.

          On Tuesday night, the Flashes (1-2,0-1) play host to the Sandusky Blue Streaks in "NOL" contest at Bob Haas Gym.  Long says he is happy to get back on the floor to sort of make amends quickly.  "Saturday would have been better for me, but Tuesday is fine.  We have a few more of these this year than we normally have.  It is sort of like tournaments are.  You better be ready and prepared because outside of sectionals and you get a bye you are playing Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday and Saturday.  It's a little different than most people are accustomed to.  I think it turns out well for the kids because they don't have to sit and stew for an entire week waiting for our next game on Friday," he said.

          Sandusky (2-1,1-0) has another new coach in Colin Irish, who took over last summer, after Anthony Stacey accepted and rejected the job in the space of about a week.

          Long says the Blue Streaks have an experienced team that can score and defend.  He feels they are one of the better teams in the league.  "With the new coach and I'm not really sure when he got hired, but I think it was latter in the summer.  They basically return the same five guys that started and played for them.  Those guys do have a year under their belt and they are really athletic," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "They can shoot the ball and they can hurt you in numerous ways, including the defensive end.  We have to be prepared and ready to defend.  We have to control dribble penetration and hopefully control the paint and we will build from there.  They are a very talented team and returning just as much talent as us and probably Ontario."

 

Published 12/16/14

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Willard Has Early Season Showdown With Ontario

 

          Willard and Ontario are going to be two of the teams that contend for the Northern Ohio League title this year and they play each other on Friday night at the "O-rena."

          In non-conference play, Willard split games last week in beating Upper Sandusky (58-51) on Friday and losing (53-44) at Lexington on Saturday.

          Coach Chris Long says they were able to overcome some early jitters against Upper Sandusky, but they were not able to overcome Lexington's height advantage.  "We have nine seniors and it was their last first home game and I think we were amped up a little bit.  I think some of our kids that were coming back from last year were really excited.  They were unhappy the way last year ended.  We were able to get things done in the second half after we calmed down.  Saturday night I don't think we played bad, we just don't match up," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "Scott has a great luxury.  He can sub in one 6'8" guy for another 6'8" guy.  You have to get creative defensively when you are in that position.  I have Jordan Moore at 6'4'", 6'5", but after that we are small.  You are sort of limited.  He can put both 6'8" guys in there and that is just not putting my kids in the best situation to succeed."

          In order to continue to improve this year Long says they must play more consistent defense and hit the boards a little harder.  "We have to solidify our defense, no matter what defense we are in.  We have to defensive rebound and crash the offensive glass.  I talked to my kids (Thursday) about that.  Right now we are at negative six.  If they get three put backs we are starting out down 6-0.  We are really concentrating rebounding as five at the defensive end and really concentrating on crashing the offensive glass.  It is the hardest thing for 18 year old kids to do is to make that guy on the other side be accountable for you.  If you get three or four offensive rebounds a game that is four extra points if you put half of them back.  Those are really the two things we have concentrated on this week in getting ready for Ontario," said Long.

          Ontario drilled both of its non-conference opponents last week in Clear Fork (75-47) on Friday and Crestview (82-47) on Saturday.  Long says the Warriors can score from everywhere and their pressure defense can really make teams discombobulated.  "They are a lot like us.  Thy are playing four guys that at one time were point guards in their system along with the big kid Rathburn.  Joe does a great job with those guys.  They are prepared and they can always shoot the ball from the perimeter.  They have four guys out there that can not only shoot from the perimeter, but also attack the basket and put a lot of pressure on the defense.  They are pressing and they are trying to get out and run and try to get easy baskets.  They did a great job this weekend against Clear fork and Crestview with that.  they were really successful with their press.  They put those games away early because of their press," said Long.

          With a tight race expected in the "NOL" Long says they need to get some on the road and this would be a great one to get.  "We lost Saturday night in a non-league game against a great division two program .  I told the kids that if you want to win an "NOL" championship, "NOL" championships are won on the road.  You protect your house when you are home, but if you want to win a league title you have to win the games on the road.  That has been our mindset.  We are solely focused on playing Ontario.  In my preseason picks I had them picked as being one of the top teams.  They return quite few people and even though they didn't start they probably logged as many minutes as the guys that graduated.  These guys were all part of that run last year, so they have all been through it and they know what it takes to get it done," said Long.

 

Published 12/12/14

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Willard Doing a lot of Things Well

 

          The Willard Lady Flashes have started this season with four wins in as many games and they are really building some confidence in the early part of this girls' basketball season. 

          They play at winless Lexington in non-conference play on Tuesday night.

          Coach Jon Dawson says they have not had to rely on one person this year and that has been a big key for them.  "The first thing is our balance.  We have not had a kid with a huge amount of points in any one game.  Our goal is to have at least two kids in double figures.  I think we have gotten that every time but one.  We have six kids averaging between seven and 12 points, so the balance has really been the key," he said.

          Willard would be one of the bigger teams in this part of the state regardless of division and Dawson says they have played outstanding defense this year.  "That starts with our size we are pretty big.  It allows to put a little bit more pressure on the perimeter knowing we have help under the basket.  That is what we talk about every time before we leave the locker room is defending and it has been pretty good this year," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "We have went mostly man to man that has been our thing,  In the Clear Fork game we went almost all zone and that was good for us too.  We feel we have been able to change it up a little bit, so our defense has been pretty good."

          With the early season success the confidence has been growing, but Dawson says he tries to keep his group grounded too.  "I try to get them to stay hungry.  That has been our thing in practice we never want to be satisfied and we want to keep getting better.  (Monday) we took the floor and we kind of weren't into it, so we challenged them, hey everyday we have to keep getting better and that starts in practice and (Tuesday night) at Lex.  We have to continue to get better each time we get together," he said.

          Lexington (0-3) has struggled this year, only scoring more than 40 points in a game once.  Dawson says they respect Lady Lex and want to concentrate on getting better.  "They are a good program from a solid school and they are going to bring their "A" game.  We talk about that in the locker room as well.  The target on our back keeps getting bigger with the more wins we put together teams are going to want to put forth their best effort against us.  We have talked a lot this year that it is not about what the other team does, but about our standards and what we do, defending and continuing the share the basketball and have that balanced scoring," said Dawson.

 

Published 12/09/14

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Willard a Versatile Team

 

          Willard is a team with experience and a balance of skills that should be competitive with about everyone they play this season.

          They host Upper Sandusky on Friday and travel to Lexington on Saturday, both in non-conference play.

         The Flashes return four starters and coach Chris Long says they are ready to go this weekend.  "I would think we are better.  I still don't have any stretchers so I wasn't able to make any of my kids any bigger over the last four weeks.  We have progressively gotten better as we have played, which is what I expect from this group.  I think we are right on pace of where we should be going into this week," he said.

          It is true Willard does not have a lot of height, but they do have double figure scorer Jordan Moore in the post and Long says they have a number of ways they can get the ball in the basket.  "I think we can score inside.  We have guys that can play in there.  We are just not overly big.  Leaving them down there for an extended period of time and asking them to score against kids that are two of three inches taller than them, I can't do that, but we have a good mix," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "We have guys that can shoot and get to the basket, guys that are pretty good at driving the ball, and guys that pretty good at shooting the ball.  When have a good mix and because of that, in my opinion, it will be difficult for us to become stagnate on offense because we have such a mixture of different types of guys and things they can bring to the table when we have the ball."

          Willard is one of the favorites in the Northern Ohio League and Upper Sandusky is one of the favorites in the Northern 10 Athletic Conference.  Long looks for a good battle.  "They are a lot like us.  They return four starters from last year.  We had a really nice game last year against each other.  Coach Winslow does a great job and they are going to be prepared.  Their kids are just like ours they have another year under their belts and they went the districts last year, just like we did.  I am pretty sure they are banking on progressing with the same team this year," he said.

          The Flashes lack of height might come into play when they visit Lexington to play the Minutemen.  Long says the Minutemen just have tremendous height that is unmatched in this area.  "I was actually just sitting down and getting ready to watch some Lexington tape.  Looking at their roster I see two 6'8" guys and a 6'5" guy.  They have some kids that return from last year with the Zahn kid on the perimeter, who can shoot the ball.  Vore, I believe is coming back.  They are returning five or six guys from last year's team.  They are kids that were more role players last year and will be asked to take on more scoring.  Still with 6'8", 6'8", 6'5" they are going to be an imposing presence and they are going to bigger than pretty much every team they play in this area," said Long.

 

Published 12/03/14

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Willard Meets Young Upper Team

 

          With one win already this year the Willard Lady Flashes host Upper Sandusky in a non-conference girls basketball game on Tuesday night.

          Willard (1-0) beat Mansfield Madison (59-24) on Saturday night and coach Jon Dawson says after a slow start they did a pretty good job against Madison, especially on defense.  "I was very, very happy with the start we got off to.  You always have those nerves on the first game, but I though we came out well.  It was a little shaky in the first quarter, but once the girls relaxed a little bit I thought we did some really good things defensively.  We did a great job and offensively had good balance, so I couldn't be happier after game one," he said.

          The Lady Flashes have a lot of height this year.  They are one of the biggest teams in the district, but Dawson says they still have to get good play out of their guards, and better than they did Saturday night.  "We have to take better care of the basketball we still had 23 turnovers.  They pressed us for the majority of the game and that caused some of those, but a lot of them where just unforced turnovers.  We have talked about taking care of the basketball a little bit better," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "The other thing is they packed it in on us a lot and we have to take advantage of the open shots from the outside and do a better job of knocking down some shots and hopefully get the ball inside a little bit more."

          It will be Upper Sandusky's opener on Tuesday night.  Dawson says they are not as big as they were the last few years, but they will be scrappy and will try to force the tempo of the game.  "Hopefully we have gotten the first game jitters out of the way and they are little bit nervous.  Coach Fahle does a great job with that team.  They will be pressing us.  They will be running and gunning because they don't have the size that they have had the last few years.  They graduated a four year kid in Taylor Grabowski that did everything for them.  They don't have that same size anymore, so that is going to hurt them a little bit.  They have a lot of young kids.  He dresses three freshmen and four or five sophomores and that is the majority of their team.  They are young, but you know they are going to get after it and they are going to be well prepared to play," said Dawson.

 

Published 12/02/14

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Willard Expected to Contend

 

          A panel of media experts chose the Willard Flashes as the co-favorite in the Northern Ohio League boys' basketball race this year along with Ontario, now it is just a matter of following through.

           Willard finished (15-9) last year and lost to Huron in the division three district semi finals.  The Flashes have a lot of that talent back, including guard Carson Ebert and post Jordan Moore.  However, coach Chris Long says they can't take anything for granted.  "I have seven returning lettermen and nine seniors.  Expectations from the community for this team are high, but we try to keep them grounded as much as possible.  We really need to focus on ourselves are realize we are still 15, 18 year-old kids and we need to continue to work because no one is going to hand us anything.  So, without the hard work your don't get to reap the spoils so to speak.  That has been one of main contentions from day one of practice," he said.

          Long says the players realize there are high expectations, but he says they have to look past that and concentrate on getting better as a team.  "The kids are more anxious.  I think the kids are ready for the season to begin.  They are ready to compete.  As a coach there are just things that you can't overlook whether they are seniors or freshmen we go back through the same process to where you were at the end of last year.  We really haven't done anything different," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "We are still going through and learning stuff exactly like we did last year, making it a little bit quicker pace.  You still need to go through things because about the time you leave a stone unturned it will be something that comes back and bites you in a close game."

          Willard has a lot of talent and experience, but unfortunately over the off season they didn't get a lot bigger.  Long says due to their lack of height they have to work that much harder rebounding the basketball.  "Probably the biggest thing for us is even though we return seven guys we still aren't a very big team.  We have to make it tough on our opponents and limit our opponents to less than two shots.  We had a scrimmage on Saturday and at the beginning of the scrimmage we were just giving up too many second chance opportunities.  That is something we tried to process on as the day went on.  We just aren't big enough to give up three and four chances.  In the end it will haunt us," said Long.

 

Published 11/18/14

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Willard Will Feature a lot of Height

 

          Willard has a lot of talent back from a team that won 19 games and finished second in the Northern Ohio League last year and the Lady Flashes expect this winter will be a good one for them.

          Coach Jon Dawson says the Willard faithful believe the Lady Flashes will be pretty good and so do they.  "I think the word around town is expectations are pretty high.  I have a lot of my kids back from last year.  We only lost three seniors and they were role players, so we have a lot coming back.  I think the expectations are high this year for sure," he said.

          Willard will be one of the bigger teams in the Northwest District regardless of division and Dawson says that size will be a big plus for them this year.  "We have a lot of size this year.  I have a couple of girls that are about 6'3" or so.  I think my wings are going to be about 5'10" or 5'11" kids.  I think we have some size to put on the floor for sure, that is going to be one our strengths," he said.

          Rebounding and being able to score inside are going to be things Willard will be very good at this year, but Dawson says he expects that other teams will press them a lot and they will have to be able to handle it.  "With our size comes a lack of probably ball handling and that is going to be our Achilles Heel.  We have to work on being able to handle the press and breaking pressure," he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, "That is something we are focusing in on and I think the kids are understanding that is something that can bring us down.  We have worked very hard in practice on that stuff and hopefully we can take care of that."

          It was kind of a three team race in the "NOL" a year ago with Bellevue coming out on top and Dawson fells that it will likely be the same three teams that battle it our this time too.  "I think it is a great league.  Bellevue has the best player back in Carly Santoro and they are obviously going to be very, very good again.  Norwalk has some tremendous athletes on their team.  I think those two along with us should be at the top of the pack.  I look for it to be a battle.  Shelby had a lot of young kids last year and I think they will continue to improve as the year goes on, so I look for a lot of balance," said Dawson

 

Published 11/11/14

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Hillsdale Meets Willard

 

          There are fewer teams than there used to be running the triple option offense, but two of them that do will play each other on Friday night as Hillsdale plays host to Willard in non-league play.

          It is the first ever meeting between the schools on the gridiron.

          Hillsdale beat traditional power Akron Manchester last week (24-7) amassing almost 300 yards on the ground.

          Coach Tom Williams was very proud of the Falcons effort last Friday.  "It was a great win.  They have an outstanding program.  Their coach Jim France has been there like 45 years and has never had a losing season.  For us to go there week one and get a win is huge," he said.

          There are a lot of variables in the things that Hillsdale does on the field, but Williams says they can still get better at the basic things that they do.  "I still think we can execute our offensive plays a little better.  We still saw some things were we are not blocking the correct guy or taking the correct angles as far as that goes.  Defensively we tackled pretty well, but there are some areas were we still need to tackle a little better," said Williams.

          Willard didn't have the same kind of success that Hillsdale did last week.  Margaretta beat the Flashes (29-6) last Friday as the Polar Bears limited them to 112 yards on the ground on 47 carries.

          Still Williams knows they have to be disciplined.  "They run an offense very similar to ours.  They run the option and things like that, so they make you be very disciplined on defense," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "We are working on assignment football and making sure everybody knows what their responsibilities are with the option.  They have a lot of good solid kids, so we want to make sure that we match up."

          When you are an option team especially it can be difficult to simulate another offense in practice.  Williams says they don't have that concern this week.  "In practice we were just able to run our offense against ourselves.  It is a whole lot easier than trying to teach the scout offense to do something that we don't do at all," he said.

 

Published 9/03/14

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Willard Trying to develop Pass game

 

          Willard really got hit hard by the injury bug last year and this year isn't starting any better for the Flashes with some guys already on the sidelines and the regular season hasn't started yet.

          Coach Mark Matula says he hopes to get a couple of guys back next week, so they will be closer to full strength as the get ready for their season opener against Margaetta.  "I don't know if that is the case.  We have a couple guys that are down that are coming back this week.  We hope by Monday to be back at full strength with no walking wounded walking the sidelines.  That's what we are looking at right now," he said.

          At a smaller school like Willard one the more difficult things is to get some depth.  Matula says that is what they are trying to do and he is pretty happy with the progress.  "We have a lot of kids that have gotten a lot of reps.  We had a good scrimmage with Edison and New London.  Our kids played about 110 plays on Saturday," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "We got a bunch of kids some reps.  We feel we have some kids that are granted not going to be as good as those first team guys, but guys that will step in an do a more than antiquate job."

          With about 10 days to get ready for that opener against the Polar Bears, Matula says he would like a more efficient passing game and a more aggressive defense.  "One of the things that we really tried to do is develop our passing game and of course that is one of the toughest things to do in the triple option.  So, we need to keep improving on that.  I think probably the other thing is we have to continue to get better in the defensive side of the football in getting people to the football," said Matula.

 

Published 8/21/14

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Willard Thinks it can Compete

 

          Willard only won one game last season and the Flashes finished last in the Northern Ohio League football standings, but this year can be different if they can stay healthy.

          Third year coach Mark Matula says they have looked good in preseason camp, but this year they must stay healthy, something they didn’t do last year.  “The conference that we play in is a tough conference.  We play up every week in bigger schools than what we are.  We have to stay healthy and it is going to be the same kind of thing this year.  We are battling a numbers thing.  We feel pretty good about the kids that are possibly going to end up starters, but we aren’t going to be very deep,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Last year we lost our two fastest kids in the very first game, one of them was having a great camp and on the very first play ended up with a fracture in his lower leg.  We are going to have to stay healthy.  I think that is the number one thing for us.”

          The kids that are seniors at Willard have come up through the triple option offense that Matula took with him from Edison.  He says they are counting on those guys to produce.  “I don’t think we are going to be young.  I think we will have a couple of younger players.  We have a senior class this year, not only are they great kids, but they are good leaders.  They let other players know what expectations are and they are in key spots.  We have 11 seniors and they are going to be laid on heavily to help us achieve the goals that we want to achieve on Friday nights,” he said.

          There is some talent on the Willard roster this year and Matula says he knows he is going get 110% from his players when they take the field on Friday nights.  “We don’t have the luxury like Norwalk has in having in enormous amount of kids to choose from or a Tiffin Columbian.  We are still trying to establish some things, this is my third year as the head coach.  We are still trying to get some things engrained in kids.  We feel good about what our chances are every Friday night.  We have kids that are going to battle and really, really try hard to get done what we want to get done on a Friday night.  When you go out and put your helmet on on a Friday night sometimes the other guys are just a little better than you or you catch a bad break.  One thing that I am proud about over the last few years is our kids battled until the end,” said Matula.

          With the exception of Shelby, Willard allowed at least 32 points in their “NOL” games last year.  Matula knows that defense has to be better and if they stay healthy he is confident it well be.  “We never use it as an excuse, but we had an enormous amount of injuries last season.  We had some young kids pressed into duty that maybe weren’t ready, but we had to get it done.  We feel like the crew that we have this year we are going to have some kids playing both ways, but we tell the kids all of the time that you never want to come off the field anyway, so why play on just one side of the football.  We feel our kids are working hard at this point and time.  We are excited about what they possibilities are for this season,” said Matula.

 

Published 8/12/14

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Defense and Rebounding are Keys for Willard

 

          Starting to play some pretty good basketball at both ends the Willard Flashes meet Huron in the division three district semi-finals on Thursday night at Ashland University.

          After qualifying for the districts the last two years in division two the Flashes have dropped down a division this year.  Coach Chris Long thinks their tournament experience should help, at least a little bit.  "My junior class, whether they were part of the varsity or part of the program, it's their third straight year of going to the districts.  Unfortunately we haven't been able to get over the hump the last several years in the district semi-finals.  I think it becomes a little bit easier for kids to understand what they are going to go through and what it's going to be like and the atmosphere of the game.  I think being there allows kids to be a little more comfortable when they take the floor Thursday night," he said.

          In their approach to tournament games Long says they try to make things are normal as possible in an attempt to reduce those tournament jitters.  "For us as coaches our practice doesn't change.  We will be practicing just like it is game four of the regular season.  We prepare the same exact way.  We go through the same things at practice.  I have talked to my kids that it is game 24 and you can't make it anything bigger than that, especially with 14 to 18 year old kids.  People start thinking differently and nerves start coming into play.  I have been preaching since last week this is game 23, this is game 24.  You can't look at it as a district semi-final or a win or go home because I want my kids to play to win not to play not to lose.  It is still more difficult because those kids realize it is win or go home," said Long.

          Huron (16-6), #5 in the final Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coach's poll in the small school division, and runner up in the Sandusky Bay Conference, is led by senior point guard Cody Thompson and Long says he can do some special things.  "They are very athletic.  They have a 6'1" point guard that is going on a football scholarship to the University of Toledo.  He might be one of the more athletic point guards that I have seen in a long time.  When we played him at home this year, he had a baseline dunk on us.  All of their kids are athletic and they have some shooters," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "Coach James has turned his lineup around a little bit.  They have brought in another shooter to start the game.  We have to be prepared to defend.  They run a lot of motion cuts.  That seem to get their shooters some wide open looks by getting lost in the shuffle."

          In one of their better wins of the season, Willard (15-8) beat Huron (57-46) on December 28 at Willard, but Long doesn't think that has much bearing on Thursday night's game.  "I think for our kids they understand that on a certain night we did beat them.  We don't prepare any differently.  We know if we don't show up we are going to get beat.  For them there might be a little extra motivation because they did lose to us this year.  I think our kids have taken it in stride by preparing exactly the same way and not taking for granted that we beat them and that game is over.  What we did in the past is over with.  You are only as good as your next game.  Our team is completely focused on the game at hand and that's Thursday night against Huron," he said.

          Long says they have to keep the Tigers out of the lane and off the glass if they are going to be successful.  "We have to be able to control their shooters and hopefully not give them many free looks.  We have to control their dribble penetration, the Thompson kid, is excellent at getting to the basket with both hands.  We need to limit them to one shot, prepare to run our sets and maybe see some junk defenses.  It comes down to the fundamentals that we have taught all year, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  You never know shots may not go in on Thursday night, so we have to be prepared to defend.  When shots go in it makes life a little easier, but the one thing we can control is how we defend," said Long.

 

Published 3/06/14

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Willard Better be Ready

 

          Willard comes from a bigger conference and they are the higher seeded team, but they better not take a win for granted when they play New London in the division three sectional finals at Lexington High School on Friday night.

          After struggling somewhat during the season on offense, the Flashes (14-8) have averaged more than 70 points over their last two games.  Coach Chris Long says they have shown more floor balance when they have the ball.  "Every since that second half of the Shelby game offensively our kids have seemed to jell a lot better.  At the time we were down 17 points to Shelby and we were able to erase that deficit in eight minutes and pretty much play a tie ball game for the last four minutes of that game.  We didn't come out on top, but we have been a lot more efficient on the offensive end.  We have done a lot of things differently.  We have decided to share the ball a lot more.  We have played inside out and I have a lot more kids step up every game and put the ball in basket. We have been fortunate the last four games," said Long.

          New London (11-11) scored the last four points of the game in a (43-40) win over Bucyrus in a semi-final match-up on Tuesday.  Long wants to take the ball inside and make the Wildcats defend them.  "New London is a very perimeter oriented team.  They have some guys that can really shoot it.  We are going to have our hands full.  We need to show up and be able to defend the way I know we can defend.  We have to be able to take advantage of some of the situations that we have.  We are going to have the biggest post player in the floor to start off with," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "If we don't use him in the correct way we are going to be in a dogfight.  We are going to be in a dogfight to begin with.  I have been preaching to my kids that this isn't a game where we can just show up and play.  We have to have a sense of urgency to us."

          With the tournament always comes nervousness and Long says they need to get off to a quick start in both halves.  "We have preached pretty much all year that the first three minutes of each half are crucial.  I'm not a big bye guy, but we played four games in the last seven days of the season and I didn't want to play a fifth one in ten days, that is like a double edge sword.  I wanted to give our kids some rest and not jump right in and start preparing for another team last Saturday.  How we are going to play and what style we are going to play is going to be determined in those first three minutes.  I think that will be crucial for the success of our team in both halves," said Long.

 

Published 2/28/14

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Willard Has to Handle the Press

 

          Willard got past Northern Ohio League rival Norwalk in Saturday night and now they face Mansfield Madison in the division two district semi-finals on Thursday night at Buckeye Central High School.

          The Lady Flashes (19-3) downed Norwalk (47-38) in the sectional final.  Coach Jon Dawson says once they were able to get a lead, they were able to put it away.  "When you play a team for the third time you are very, very familiar with each other.  I think that had a pretty good idea what we were going to do and we had a pretty good idea of what they were going to do.  I thought the kids went out there and executed," he told Swankonsports.com during a special live broadcast on Saturday night, "Maybe a little bit nervous at the beginning of the game, but we got settled down.  We made our runs  and Norwalk answered for the most part.  Finally coming out in the third quarter we made a little run and were able to keep it near double figures and were able to finish them off."

          Dawson says it was really a battle to see who could control the tempo of the game.  "Norwalk's game plan coming in was to make it up tempo and press and trap us and they did a nice job of that.  We made them pay a few times and got some easy baskets, but we also had our share of turnovers when we didn't make the best decisions.  That is part of it with high school kids they aren't going to make the best reads every time, but I thought the girls did a nice job for the most part," he said.

          Madison (10-12) coach Brian Carr was once an assistant at Willard and Dawson says he is familiar with the Willard personnel.  Dawson says they will have to do a better job handling pressure.  "Coach Carr is going to be familiar with us as well and we are going to get more of the same thing.  Madison will do the same things that Norwalk did they will full court press us and make it an up tempo game because they don't have the size to match with us in a half court basketball game.  We are going to work for three days and try to get a little better with our press breaker  and take better care of the basketball," said Dawson.

 

Published 2/24/14

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Flashes Scoring More

 

          Willard has been pretty good on defense all year long and now they are starting to score more as they head into the post season tournament and this year the Flashes are in division three.

          On Wednesday night the Flashes beat Bellevue (70-60) in their final Northern Ohio League game of the year.  It was their second largest offensive output of the year and coach Chris Long says they are starting to figure things out on offense.  "We had kids that preformed (Wednesday) night.  Coming in their year we didn't have a ton of varsity experience.  I think now for these kids things are starting to slow down and we are starting to see what we expected earlier in the year and that is allowing the kids to be a little more successful in what we are trying to accomplish offensively in the last three games," he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, "We put up 63 against Shelby in a defeat, played well against a larger, more athletic team in Madison and put up 70 (Wednesday) night, shooting almost 56 percent from the field.  I think things are coming together for the kids who are playing their first full year of varsity basketball."

          Willard (13-8,5-7) made 11 three pointers on Wednesday night and Long says they got some good looks from the perimeter because they threw the ball inside.  "Our kids really worked the ball.  When we lost to Tiffin against a zone one of the things I really wanted to emphasize was we had to play inside out.  I'm not saying we always have to score from the inside, but the ball has to go inside.  (Wednesday) night our kids moved the ball tremendously.  We ended up 11 for 20 from three.  I would say 18 of those were wide open shots.  We were able to get the ball inside and get it reversed and it opened up driving opportunities for guys as well.  When you are able to get to the basket and knock down shots you are going to be pretty successful," said Long.

          Willard plays host to Marion Harding on Friday night in a non-conference game.  Long says the Presidents are not going to be easy to beat.  "They are a very athletic team.  With Marion's location they end up playing a lot of Columbus area teams, so they are playing a lot of athletic schools and they have been in a lot of games and have lost quite a few close games. We have to be prepared to show up and play.  If we just show it up we will end up going home in the last game of year with a loss," he said.

 

Published 2/21/14

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Execution the Key For Willard

 

          This season Willard is the kind of team that needs to execute at a top level to win games because they don't have the kind of firepower that will allow them to make a lot of mistakes, especially on defense.

          Last Friday against Tiffin Columbian they lost (43-37) because they settled for too many outside shots.  Willard coach Chris Long says they didn't attack. "Tiffin did what they had to.  We didn't do the things we needed to do to win the game.  I thought Tiffin played a nice 1-2-2 zone, but we didn't get the ball in the paint.  We didn't look to attack and we pretty much played right into their hands.  We didn't make shots.  The kids and I talked about what we could do when we are not making shots," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "We have to find other ways to score we can't just continue to shoot outside the three point line because all that does is lead to long rebounds and run outs for the other team.  I give my kids credit they battled. We were down one with about two minutes left to go and unfortunately we just could put the ball in the basket and give credit to Tiffin because it had a lot to do with their defense.  We just came up a couple of possessions short."

          Willard (11-7,4-6) plays host to Shelby (6-12,2-8) on Friday night in Northern Ohio League action.  In their first meeting, Shelby rallied to beat the Flashes (67-58) in overtime.  Long says they can't allow Shelby so many open shots this time.  "We had too many defensive breakdowns, especially in the second half and we fouled too much.  We sent them to the line 30 times.  They outscored us by 11 points at the free throw line.  If its four points the game doesn't even go into overtime.  We had way too many breakdowns in the second half. We gave up way too many easy baskets.  It is one of those things where we have to buckle down.  We have to carry a certain defensive intensity for 32 plus minutes to be successful and we didn't.  We were able to get the game to overtime, but came up on the short end.  Offensive wide we don't have to change much," said Long.

          The Flashes are at Mansfield Madison (4-14) for a non-conference game on Saturday night.  Long believes this is a big weekend for them.  "We have four games left and we can treat them like a tournament.  We are going to play like Indiana style tournament on Friday and Saturday night a sectional tournament and next Wednesday and Friday a district tournament.  Our biggest thing is to build some momentum going into the tournament so we are coming in at a high note and hopefully peaking at the right time," he said.

 

Published 2/12/14

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Willard Game Plans for Tiffin

 

          Willard will be undersized when they travel to Tiffin Columbian on Friday, but all season long the Flashes have found ways to win games.  They have 11 wins and four of their six losses are to Ontario and Norwalk, ranked in the top ten in the state.

          Last Friday, they rallied in the second half to beat Sandusky (50-45) to earn their second win against the athletic Blue Streaks this year.  Coach Chris Long says they were able to make some adjustments and come back and get after it.  "We didn't play exceptionally well in the first half, but our kids were able to respond in the second half.  Sandusky when they get the Fisher kid back and they become that much more athletic with the kid that they have brought up in Williams.  I was very pleased that our kids showed some resolve and luckily we were able to come out with a victory," he said.

          Willard got the privilege of being the first team to play Norwalk after Ontario broke their 57 game regular season winning streak.  The Truckers beat Willard (57-45) for the second time this year, but it was a closer game than the first.  Long says they had a different game plan.  "I talked to our kids and we came up with a game plan that basically I was going to stay out of their way.  I felt that after watching the replay of our first game that our kids would turn around and look at me for plays and they are not going to let you set up," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "If you do they are just going to come after you again and speed you up.  I basically took me out of equation and we were going to attack the basket and go from there and if we didn't get something we were in a straight motion."

          Willard (11-6,4-5) will be at Tiffin Columbian (8-7,3-4) on Friday night.  The Tornadoes are coming off a (60-57) win at Kenton on Tuesday night.  The Flashes won the first meeting with Tiffin (45-39) and Long says they will again have to find a way to battle Columbian's height advantage.  "Unfortunately the other 6'6" kid they had got hurt, so it is not as big a difference as it was, but they are still bigger than us with the Moore kid.  It is something we have to plan for.  We play most of our games smaller than the team we are playing.  Right now, we are planning on facing the Dryfuse kid and Isaiah Moore and come up with another game plan on how we are going to execute and go from there.  It has become kind of a weekly pain for us playing bigger opponents.  It's something that probably isn't going to change for us its is a little different with the Daniel kid out.  We will see where it goes," said Long.

 

Published 2/05/14

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Willard Faces "NOL" doubleheader

 

          Willard meets two of the more athletic teams on their schedule in back to back Northern Ohio league games this weekend as they host both Sandusky and unbeaten Norwalk.

          Sandusky (3-10,2-4) played one of its better games in beating Shelby (59-43) last Thursday in a league game.  Willard coach Chris Long says they have tremendous athleticism and they are just starting to put things together.  "One of the biggest things for them is they are so athletic.  Probably their best underclassman has been out for the last four weeks in the Fisher kid.  The information I have is he might be back.  He and Williams have not played a lot together.  I think the first or second game they moved Williams up, Fisher hurt his ankle.  There are a lot of young guys that don't have a ton of varsity experience for them right now, but they are a very athletic bunch and he is going to have a lot of them returning right now.  Coach Sharp is doing a good job of bring them back and getting them acuminated to the varsity level and then from then on they are pretty tough in the younger grades as well," said Long.

          The Flashes beat Sandusky (53-49) before Christmas.  Long says this is not necessarily a game they want to slow tempo down in because they are a team that needs to get easy scores.  "I don't want to say we want to slow them down as much as we want to play at the tempo we want to play at.  We use our defense to do that.  We still want to get out and push the ball as much as possible.  We aren't a very big team so the more easier baskets we can get the more points we are able to score.  Our kids have been able to grind games out when they are low scoring.  Hopefully we bring the kind of defense that was have been bringing all season long.  We try to take what is going to give us our best chance to win and sometimes that is playing a zone and if people think we are trying to slow the game down and we're not.  We just try to take advantage of the things we see when watching film," said Long.

          On the other hand in their first meeting with Norwalk (14-0,6-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball poll in the large school division, it was all Truckers (65-38) back right after New Year's.  Long says to have a chance they have to attack the Norwalk pressure.  "Coach Gray has done a great job with that team.  He is big on not letting you get set and get into an offense.  I talked to my kids after the last time we played them and I don't think I had them prepared enough.  When you beat their pressure you have to attack the basket.  If you don't that is just telling them to keep bringing the pressure at you.  It is a game where there is a possibility that you won't be able to run an offensive set all night," he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, "I have watched so  much film on them and it doesn't seem like they don't allow teams to get into a lot of things that they want to do.  It could be a game where you just run four or five sets the whole game and it goes by in a flash.  We have to be prepared to handle their pressure.  I think we did a terrible job last time.  We just had too many turnovers that ended up in the layups, so that is something we have to handle to be anywhere near successful against Norwalk."

 

Published 1/29/14

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Willard Has to Handle the Ball

 

          It's the start of the second round in the Northern Ohio League and the Willard Crimson Flashes get a second chance at the unbeaten Ontario Warriors, this time at the "House at that Haas" built on Thursday night.

          The Flashes beat two non-conference teams last week in Norwalk St. Paul (54-29) and New Riegel (65-39) and coach Chris Long was impressed by how they were able to take some new things and use them to their advantage.  "I thought our kids played well.  We were able to do a couple of other things that we have been working on all year.  We knew we had some young guards and it was an opportunity for our kids to get some confidence with our full court pressure.  So, it was a way for us to gauge were we were at and see what we could do with our kids.  The kids played solid for two games and I am proud of the way they played and we were able to come out with two victories," he said.

          Ontario (13-0,5-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com boys' basketball coach's poll in the large school division, shares the "NOL" lead with Norwalk.  Longs says they have talked about playing better than the first time the played the Warriors.  "We have talked about that all year.  A big thing for us as a group of coaches, especially after the holidays, is are you getting better or are you getting worse?  I think our kids have gotten better every week.  We set down and watched some film (Wednesday) and a lot of times I attributed a lot of things that we did, not to say Ontario's defense isn't outstanding, but I had some kids that it was their third varsity game of their careers.  We were able to discuss some things and look at what happened to us last time, some mistakes we made, and some things that were correctable.  So, hopefully going into (Thursday) night our kids are a little more prepared and understand what to expect form Ontario having already played them once this year," said Long.

          Ontario won the first game (66-44) at Ontario and Long says they need to play better defense without fouling and putting the Warriors on the line.  "I thought in our first three games we incessantly fouling.  We sent them to the line 34 times.  I had numerous players in foul trouble.  We have worked from that game on about being able to pressure and not foul.  I have learned from a lot of reading of Thad Matta that Ohio State is one of the fewest fouling teams in the country, at least they have been the last couple of years.  We have really stressed being able to pressure with your feet, which is something that Ontario and Norwalk do at a higher level," he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, "We want to be able to do that because we have to be able to wear some teams out that probably aren't as deep as us.  It is one of those things where we gave up a lot of points, but we put them at the foul line a lot too.  So, if we can curve the fouls hopefully we can bring the score down where we have an opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter."

 

Published 1/23/14

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Willard Still Moving Along

 

          It was a split of Northern Ohio League games last week for Willard, losing to Shelby and beating Bellevue, and this week it’s a pair of non-conference games with Norwalk St. Paul and New Riegel.

          Friday night, brought a tough loss for the Flashes as they lost at Shelby (67-58) in overtime.  Coach Chris Long says they had every chance to win, but the Whippets made the plays in the end.  “It was a nip and tuck game for the most part.  When I talked to the kids over the weekend it came down to who executed better in crunch time.  Unfortunately for us that ended up being Shelby.  We were fortunate enough to get it into overtime on a three pointer by Carson Ebert.  The credit goes to Shelby and coach Schwemley because they executed better than we did down the stretch,” he said.

          On Saturday night, in a rescheduled game with Bellevue, Long says they were able to adapt pretty well against what the Redmen were showing them and got the (47-38) win.  “We have faced some different defenses with Carson this year and (Saturday) night was the first time we faced a box and one on him.  We came out and played zone for most of the night.  It took a little getting used to for our kids,” he told Swankonsports.com on Sunday, “We hadn’t seen that yet this year and we weren’t sure what to run.  Once we were able to discuss and decide what we were doing the offense came along.  In the fourth quarter we were able to go with some man to man and press and build the lead a little bit and continue on and win the game with some crucial free throw shooting down the stretch.”

          Willard (8-4) is at St. Paul (4-5) for a non-league game on Wednesday night.  The Flyers are coming off perhaps their best weekend of the season, which included a (51-47) win over Western Reserve and a (56-31) thumping of Tiffin Calvert.  Long says they Flyers are dangerous.  “Mike Smith does a great job over there.  Right now he is in transition with some younger kids playing.  The kids buy into his system.  The only thing right now for him is the youth factor.  They are going to come to play and they are going to play hard for 32 minutes and we have to be ready to play night in and night out because any night you can be beat,” he said.

          Because of some of their limitations, Long says the Flashes have be sure they attack a team in the best possible way.  “The coaching staff formulates a game plan game to game and the biggest thing for us is following that game plan.  We can live with some missed shots and mistakes, and my kids play hard every night, but when it comes down to defense we have to follow the game plan 99 percent of the way because a lot of teams we play we just don’t match up because we don’t have a true second post player height wise.  We have post players, but after Jordan Moore, we are pretty much a team that is 6-1 across the board.  So, we are in a lot of mismatches in a lot of games we play,” said Long.

 

Published 1/13/14

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Willard Meets Rival Shelby

 

          Willard suffered its second loss this season to an unbeaten team, but they bounced back and now they face Shelby and Bellevue in “NOL” games this weekend.

          Last Friday, the Flashes (7-3,2-2) lost to unbeaten Norwalk, #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball poll in the large school division, (65-38) in Northern Ohio League play.

          Coach Chris Long hopes they learned some things from their drubbing at the hands of Norwalk.  “I thought our kids learned that they bring an immense amount of pressure and it’s constant.  It is beatable at some points and when you beat it you have to be on the attack.  I felt like when we broke their pressure early in the first half and our kids it was like when they did they would turn and look, okay where is the second wave rather than attacking the basket.  If you wait they are coming right back after you again.  We probably ran four offensive plays and if they are going to continue to bring that pressure your kids just have to be ready to play that style of game,” said Long.

          Willard bounced right back to beat Margaretta (65-52) in a non-league game on Saturday night.  Long says his kids took the right approach to the loss to Norwalk.  “That was huge for us.  I talked to the kids after the Norwalk game, and Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon and my biggest fear was us, not about how we were going to handle the opponent, but about us.  With the kind of game we played Friday night I told our kids it could go two distinct ways and for us luckily it went the right way,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “I have seen when kids get blown out they start questioning if what you are doing is correct or should we be where we are at.  Our kids were able to respond and came out of the gates really well.  We didn’t finish as well as I would have liked, but we came out of the gate and were able to build a large lead by halftime against Margaretta.”

          Willard is at Shelby (4-4,0-3) in a meeting of rivals in “NOL” action on Friday night.  Long says Shelby coach Troy Schwemley will have his young roster ready to play.  “Troy does an amazing job with that group.  He does it year in and year out and finds offenses that fit his kids.  With his main cog Tristan Kerhes he runs a lot of motion offense with the younger kids and getting him in the post and tries and take away the help side defense so people can’t just worry about Tristan.  Those kids have come and made some big shots in some games for those guys.  They have won some games that I am not even sure they thought they could win at that time,” he said.

          Long says that Shelby really builds off what Kerhes does with the basketball.  “I think the kids look to him.  He is a two year letter winner for them.  He has been through the battles and the trials with Shelby basketball.  I think their younger kids just look up to him and when he starts making shots I think the rest of the kids just start feeling more comfortable because they know if he is on and is making shots if there is a crunch time situation they can get him the ball and he is going to get baskets it makes everybody else’s life easier.  A lot of their guards haven’t even experienced this because one of them is a freshman,’ said Long.

          Willard is at home for Bellevue (2-6,1-2) in a league game on Saturday night.  The Redmen have won their last two.

 

Published 1/07/14

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Willard Needs Great Effort

          Willard beat two good teams last week, but this week they are going to have to find a way to beat a great team.

          Last week, the Flashes (6-2,2-1) beat Tiffin Columbian (45-39) in league play and then bested one the best teams in Sandusky Bay Conference in Huron (57-46) on Saturday night.

          Coach Chris Long says it was definitely a good weekend or them, but they have to leave that behind them now.  “We had a good weekend.  The kids played well and followed the game plan for two nights and luckily we were able to come out with two victories over the weekend.  (Monday) morning when got up and got to practice it was a new week with new challenges and we are on to the next opponent, which is Norwalk this Friday,” he said.

          One of the keys to Willard’s five game winning streak has been their improved shooting.  Long says a lot of that comes from their offensive rebounding.  “We are shooting the ball a little bit better.  We shot the ball pretty well the first game and we started out okay against Lexington, but the second half of that game then Ontario and then the next week and we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well the following weekend either,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “The ball has started to go in for us, but sometimes you create that.  We had a concerted effort to crash the offensive boards.  When you are able to get put backs that are layups your shooting percentage tends to go up.”

          Willard still holds the regular season win streak in Ohio at 69 games.  Norwalk (7-0,2-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, just won their 50th in row last week against Tiffin Columbian.  Willard is at Norwalk for a Northern Ohio League game on Friday night.  Long says again this year the Truckers have a lot of talent.  “They are very talented.  They have Jeff Thomas and Ben Haraway, who have been four year players for coach Gray and Jordan Johnson and Grant Hull, who have been two or three year players for them.  They have been there.  They have been to regionals.  They have been to districts.  They have a ton of experience.  Those kids have been through tight games.  They are battle tested and they show up and play every night,” said Long.

          Norwalk has a different kind of team this year.  Long says it is just as good, in fact, more athletic.  “Jeff Thomas will step inside and play, but he is a 6-5 wing man.  He is one of those guys that can play all five positions.  He can play point guard.  He can play wing.  When they need him to he can step down in the post.  They don’t have the 6’6”, the big stocky kid.  He has conformed his offense around the kids that he has and it is working for him once again this year,” he said.

          In order to pull the upset on Friday night Long says they to be able handle the pressure without a bunch of turnovers and attack the basket when they beat the press.  “We have to be able to handle their pressure.  They are going to bring tons of pressure in different situations, different formats and different ways for 32 minutes.  If we can’t handle the pressure and take care of the basketball it will be a long night for us.  When we break their press if we don’t settle for quick jump shots.  We need to attack the basket and maybe get them in some foul trouble and get to the free throw line or get some layups out of it.  That is the way we have to keep ourselves in the game.  We have to go down and defend and hold them to one shot,” said Long.

 

Published 12/31/13

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Willard Improving Every Day

 

          Playing hard, especially on defense, is going to be what makes the Willard Flashes a good team this year and they certainly headed in the right direction after two wins last weekend.

          Willard (4-2,1-1) beat Sandusky (53-49) on Friday to even their “NOL” record and then played as well as they have all season on offense in beating Galion (60-40) in a non-conference meeting on Saturday night.

          Coach Chris Long says the Flashes did a lot of good things in both games.  “It was a good win going to Sandusky.  The hardest thing to do is win on the road.  It means that much more when it’s a league game.  If you want to have a chance to win the league championship you have to win games on the road, so we were able to go on the road on Friday night and get a big victory and showed some resolve as a team,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “Then we really responded on Saturday night basically facing a similar style and played an excellent game, minus some excessive turnovers.  I take what we had because the kids played hard, played well, and we took care of business when we needed to.”

          Willard isn’t very tall overall and they don’t have a ton of varsity experience, but Long says they continue to work very hard at improving and that means a lot.  “We talked about that since day one.  Our goal is the get better every day we go into the gym, whether it be for practice or a game.  With the way football worked out this year we started our first practice the night of their last game.  Those kids don’t get a lot of time off, so working the football out of them and getting everybody together when you are basically already trying to scrimmage.  I think we have gotten better every day,” said Long.

          Willard plays host to Tiffin Columbian (2-1,1-0) in a league game on Friday night and then plays host to one of the Sandusky Bay Conference’s best teams in Huron (3-1) on Saturday night.

          Long says Tiffin has size, talent, and experience and those things together are going to make for a formidable challenge for the Flashes.   “They are team that made into the playoffs and made a little bit of a run.  They have played three games and won the first two and they lost to Fremont on Saturday night.  They are a big team.  They have two post players that are six foot six that are returning lettermen and both of their wings are returning, so they have four returning starters from last year’s team and our goal is to find a way to match up and neutralize their size to win this game,” said Long.

          Willard will have played four double weekends in the first five weeks of the season.  Long says the players don’t mind at all.  “Now a days when you get kids that love the game they just want to play.  Practice, everybody knows we need that to get better, but kids they want to play.  If they are prepared to play, especially after you go over film and scouting reports with the, those kids are ready to go.  When you are in practice you are just fine tuning items that you plan on using that week or things you are going to face that week.  I think the kids would even be happy with a college schedule,” he said.

 

Published 12/24/13

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Willard Must be Patient

 

          Willard has not scored 60 points in a game this season, yet they have won two of the four and in their last outing didn’t allow the opponent to score 30, so yes defense is the name of the game this year with the Flashes.

          Willard did not play last week as their game with Bellevue was wiped out Saturday night by the winter weather.  Coach Chris Long thinks the postponement didn’t bother his troops that much.  “I don’t think it was a big deal.  I mean our kids were excited to play.  They wanted to play.  I think the headache is for me and my athletic director Dave Ball in trying to find a date that works for both teams.  Our kids were just fine at practice (Monday) night.  There didn’t look like there was any ill affect.  Sometimes is can be good as we were coming off two double weekends and at least it gave us some time off to rest their bodies and rest their legs and nurse any injuries that we might have,” said Long.

          On Friday night, Willard (2-2,0-1) plays at Sandusky (1-2,1-0) in Northern Ohio League action.  Sandusky blew out Shelby (77-38) on December 6 in their only league game so far.  Long says they have some very good players, but they lack some varsity experience on the floor.  “That score really intrigued me.  We went over last Tuesday and watched them play Ashland.  They are a very athletic team and they want to get it up and down the floor.  They are pretty deep.  I think the one thing that they are missing right now is varsity experience with some of the young kids they are playing.  They are a tough match-up and both ends of the floor.  You can’t play into their hands and take quick shots and let long rebounds go because that just starts their transition for them.  If you are not back and ready to defend they will put a hurting on you in a real hurry,” said Long.

          To beat the Blue Streaks, Long says they must play smart and not try and run with Sandusky or that will result in a lot of bad things for his team.  “We talked to our kids (Monday) night about not really panicking and there have to be some times when we have to be patient wit the ball,  Last week, Ashland pretty much came out in the second half and spread the floor and made Sandusky chase them around the floor,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday evening, “They wore Sandusky out to the point where it was difficult for them to stop Ashland and it became even harder for them to get into their transition because they spent so much time chasing Ashland around the floor.”

 

Published 12/17/13

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Defense the Name of the Game in Willard

 

          Willard has found its identity.  They feel they have to play excellent defense in order to give themselves a chance to win.

          That was very apparent in their non-conference win over Edison (42-27) last Saturday.  Willard (2-2,0-1) coach Chris Long says they were able to make the Chargers uncomfortable handling the basketball, leading to 22 turnovers.  “We talked to our kids on Saturday about turning up the defensive intensity and the defensive pressure and basically making it uncomfortable for Edison to play.  Our kids were able to carry out the game plan for the night.  We didn’t shoot the ball well, but the defensive end carried us for the night and I was very proud of how the kids handled the situation.  We talked about that after the game that you have to be able to hang your hat on something.  We want to be able to hang our hat on the defensive end of the floor,” said Long.

          Long says he told the team on Tuesday as they get ready for their Northern Ohio League meeting with Bellevue on Saturday that defense is about playing hard and wanting too.  “We had a talk about that (Tuesday).  It is something that comes from the heart.  It’s effort, it’s heart and we put them all together.  You have to draw the line at some point and time and say I’m tired of guys scoring on us.  We are just going to lay it all on the line and go from there.  I believe we did that on Saturday night with a little bit of reckless embedment under control to the point where we controlled the foul situation as well and I was very proud of our kids for that,” he said.

          If you were to write a book detailing the history of the Northern Ohio League boys’ basketball the first chapter would feature Willard against Bellevue.  Long says he understands the history of the rivalry.  “I have been around about 40 years so I don’t remember the Little Six and all of those other conferences that became the “NOL,” but when I grew up the big rivalry was us and Bellevue.  If you talk to the younger kids today it seems like they have a bigger rivalry with Shelby, but it’s still a rivalry game, it’s still a league game,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “We need to get in the win column in the league, so hopefully our kids will be excited to play.  It’s at home and there is not a Buckeye game.  The last two home games we have played there has been a Buckeye game, so hopefully we can get some people out there and see what we can do against Bellevue and their pressure.”

          Bellevue is playing its first year in four without Jalen Santoro, but Long says the Redmen (0-3,0-0) is still very athletic.  “They play some young kids.  They have a very athletic post.  Now they are playing Dillon DeWitt at the point guard.  They are running some multiple sets, but they are emphasizing the dribble drive and using their athletic ability to attack the basket.  Our goal is to work some more on the defensive end, control their dribble penetration and give us the best opportunity to win,” he said.

 

Published 12/11/13

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It’s a Double Weekend for Willard

 

          Willard begins the season this weekend with game against two of its traditional non-conference rivals in Upper Sandusky on Friday and Lexington on Saturday.

          First year coach Chris Long, the former assistant, says last week they invested a lot of time to find out what they were good at and what had to be improved.  “We were able to have two days last week when we were just able to worry about ourselves.  We were able to shore up a lot of the items that were incomplete or not completely in.  I think those two days, and four hours, last week has just prepared us more for going into the first game week.  Now, it is time to get moving and get going.  It really helped us because not a lot of teams got that and it was a quick preseason.  I think that got us off on the right foot for that first week of games,” said Long.

          Willard lost some talent to graduation in all-district players in Matt Cok and Hayden Adams, but Long says they have some experience returning as well.  “I have Carson (Ebert) back.  I have Christian Buss, who came off the bench and played for us last year.  I have Jay Cok, who saw quite a bit of minutes as a back up post and we finally have Logan Blanchard back and healthy.  He missed most of the season with a knee injury,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “They thought he could play through it and by the first of the year he had to have surgery on it.  Having him back, and the other three guys back as leaders of our team that have been through and been with me for the last two years has been a blessing because those guys have taken on leadership roles with the team and that hasn’t forced me to coach everything because those guys are teaching and coaching the new kids up with us on the varsity.”

          Upper Sandusky has a new coach in Jeff Winslow, so like always there will be some questions about approach, but Long has at least an idea.  “It is new to the kids.  It’s new to Upper.  I have known Jeff since I have been at Willard.  Jeff was at Huron and then an assistant at Western.  We have a good relationship.  My biggest think is he going to go back and run the stuff he ran at Huron or run the stuff that Chris Sheldon ran at Western?  From what I have seen he has mixed a little of the two together.  He has a young team.  They had four seniors last year that graduated off that team, so he is in a situation where he is trying to build the program and re-build the program at the same time.  He has done a good job from what I have seen,” said Long.

          Lexington, Saturday night’s opponent, returns four of their five starters and Long thinks that the Minutemen will be a big challenge.  “I think they area well rounded team.  Mason (Willeke) was their best player last year and everything worked around him, but they have the Temple kid back and Richwine and they have the younger kids.  He is replacing those kids with good players they just mite not have the varsity experience going in week one, playing the first two games.  He has put that program right back in a stable situation and they have been able to compete for the last two years for “OCC” and district titles.  Right now, with coach Hamilton it is not about rebuilding, but it’s about reloading over there at Lexington,” said Long.

 

Published 11/27/13

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Willard Turning Internally

 

          With just over a week to go before their season opening weekend with Upper Sandusky and Lexington, the Willard Flashes are going to spend the next two days fine tuning the stuff that they plan to run when they have the ball and when they don’t this season.

          Coach Chris Long says they hope they are going to be able to get a little more healthy too before that first game comes up.  “We have worked on rotations with the kids we have right now and hopefully (Thursday) we get some good new and get another one of our junior players back that got injured late in the football season.  We have progressed really well for the amount of time.  I now it’s the same for everybody, but you get four weeks and with Thanksgiving fast approaching then we start playing games,” said Long.

          Long is a former Flashes point guard under Bob Haas and has been an assistant coach under Dave Hirschy, but he acknowledges it his different when you are the head guy.  He says he is the one with the responsibility now.  “I would probably say the accountability.  I was pretty much held accountable by the coaches I had before, but now if I make a mistake it’s on me.  We talk to our kids about that.  I don’t go out and make a pass, take a shot, I don’t dribble the ball, but a bad play call by me could put the players in a position to make a bad play and in the end that is going to come back on me.  If I make that mistake I am going to be the first to come into the locker room and say that’s my fault.  We talk to our kids about being accountable as well.  I guess the buck stopping here in the big difference for me,” he said.

          The preseason has been reduced a little this year in most camps, all of them that have football, and Long says they are going to focus Thursday and Friday on just what they do and then take a look at Upper Sandusky.  “Our scrimmage season is over and it works out great for us because I told the kids since last week once (last) night got over, we scrimmaged (Monday) and (last) night and we are going to take Thursday and Friday and worry about us,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday. “Where some people will still be playing Friday and Saturday and if there is something they don’t like about their team they have to take another day to work on them.  So, we are going to take the next couple of days to work on us and then come in on Saturday morning and from then on out we are still going to worry about us, but for the most part we are going to start preparing for our first opponent and go from there.  That has been our game plan for the last five years and not much is going to change.”

 

Published 11/21/13

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Willard Must Rebound

 

          I don’t know what they put in the water in Willard, but it must be stunting the growth of their children, or at least the ones intending to become basketball players.  Just like the last several years the Flashes will field one of the smallest teams in the area.

          Although it would seem that height would matter in basketball more than any other sport, Willard has done alright thank you, qualifying for the district tournament the last two years.

          This season, former assistant Chris Long takes over as the head coach.  He says he likes the numbers he is seeing and believes they will be able to find some pretty good varsity players from the group.  “It’s a great mixture.  I only have three seniors for this year.  My two biggest classes are juniors and sophomores.  It looks good this year we have had a good week and half of practice,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “We had a scrimmage last Saturday, which I thought went well for us.  We scrimmage again this Thursday and this Saturday to see where we are at, to see if we have improved from our previous scrimmage.  This season and the future looks bright with the amount of kids I have coming out and will have returning next year as well.”

          Right now, Long thinks they are going to have the pretty good guard play led by outstanding perimeter shooter Carson Ebert.  “Hopefully we will be good at a lot of things.  We have Carson Ebert back, who is a two year letterman, so I really think our guard play will help us.  We get another kid back in Logan Blanchard, who was basically out all year last year with a knee injury that we couldn’t get healed and eventually had to have surgery on.  We lost four quality seniors and our goal is to replace those kids to the best of our ability.  It may take more than just those four kids it may take five, six, seven kids to replace the four kids that we lost from last year,” said Long.

          Because of the lack of height, Long says they are going to have to work extra hard to compete on the boards with the rest of the Northern Ohio League.  “We need to be better in our team defense and team rebounding.  We are not a very big team, so we are going to have to do a lot of the little things right.  I am going to need my guards to help us rebound.  The tallest kid on the varsity is six foot four and after that you drop down to 6’1” and that doesn’t make us a very big team compared to some of the rest of the teams in the league or the teams that we play.  Instead of relying on two tall kids to get every rebound I am going to have to have some six foot guards that help us rebound and try to limit teams to one shot and one shot only,” said Long.

 

Published 11/13/13

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Willard Knows it’s Tough

 

          It was President Kennedy that said “We are going to go to the moon and the other things not because they are difficult but because they are hard.”  Willard’s football is learning becoming a good football team is hard too.

          They have played one of the toughest schedules around with likes of unbeaten North Union and likewise unbeaten Loudonville, plus Ontario in a league game.  Coach Mark Matula says they understood what they were up against before the season started.  “We have had to put some different teams on our schedule with seven teams in the conference and it makes it a little tough with Bucyrus leaving to go to the Northern 10.  When we looked at teams to put on the schedule we were looking to find schools that were like size, like division for us, good quality opponents.  I knew when I took the job that there were going to be some good football teams that we had to play.  If you want to get better than you have to play good teams,” he said.

          Last week, they held a second half lead on Loudonville.  The Redbirds had to score twice in the closing minutes to win (28-14) last Friday.  Matula says they players learned they can compete against good teams.  “As a head coach I learned that our kids are actually capable of playing well when they put their mind to it.  I told them before the game that coaches can quote clichés and give them quotes from books, but when it comes down to it they have decide to play like they are capable of playing.  Our kids did that last week.  They did not back down from a darn good football team from Loudonville.  Coach Todd was very complimentary about the way the kids played after the game.  I think he thought he was going to be able to run the ball against us like he has the other teams that he has played on the schedule, but they weren’t able to do that, so they kind of beat us with a couple of long passes,” said Matula.

          Willard (1-4,0-1) will be at Shelby (0-5,0-2) for a Northern Ohio League game on Friday night.  Matula says Shelby has some kids that can play.  “I think they are going through some growing pains with coach Will and the offense and defense that he has installed.  You always go through that I don’t care where you are.  You have to instill your values and what you want to get out of the program.  It looks like he is getting what he wants to out of the kids.  They have to play better.  They are in much the same boat that we are.  They still have some good players,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “Number nine is a pretty good sized quarterback.  He is a tough runner and an above average arm as far as I’m concerned.  I think they have moved one of their offensive lineman back into the backfield. He wore number 57 and now he is number 39.  They still present some problems out of that spread offense.  On defense they are in that 3-3 stack, which we have been fortunate to see a little bit of.”

          Matula says both teams are still trying to learn what he calls the toughest thing, to win.  “It is still going to take a good effort.  It takes a good effort every night.  I had a friend of mind tell me that’s a long time coach that the hardest think to do in sports is to win.  That is the toughest thing to get the kids to learn is how hard it is to win a game,” he said.

 

Published 10/1/13

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Willard Needs to Keep the Ball

 

          Last week, Willard was able to keep their running attack going and they ground down Bucyrus in the second half and they will need to do the same thing this week against athletic Ontario.

          Last Friday, the Flashes were able to turn a one-point halftime deficit into a (27-20) win over the Redmen.  Coach Mark Matula says they did what they needed to do in executing their game plan.  “I don’t want to say we played bad in the first half, but we had some opportunities to put some points on the board particularly at the end of the half.  We were driving and came away with no points.  That left a little bit of bad taste in our mouth.  The kids came out and did what they had to do in the second half.  I would say that was our best two quarters of football up to this point.  We had a long drive that chewed up about seven and half minutes and we ended up scoring.  Defensively we settled down a bit and took care of what we needed to take care of,” said Matula.

          The Willard coach is native of Bucyrus and he for one hates to see the series come to and end as it will next year.  “It was just great being back in my hometown and seeing some people I hadn’t seen in a long while.  It’s too bad that series has to end,” he said.

          He says the Flashes (1-2) were able to make good adjustments at halftime and come out and attack Bucyrus better in the second half.  “We run the triple option and a lot times you see different defenses than you have seen teams play before.  Bucyrus came out in a 3-3 stack and did a nice job in the first half.  To a certain extent it was just out kids not coming off the football.  Being high school football players they were a little confused by the defensive scheme that they had put together,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We talked to them at halftime and we told them to just come off the football.  It really just boils down to blocking and tackling and running.  We got some great runs out of Wyatt Rogers and Dillon Caudill and Jake Hoke.”

          Willard has played Ontario for several years in non-conference play and now this is a league game.  Maturla says Ontario (2-1) has a lot of weapons.  “They are very talented.  They have everything a coach would want.  They have size, they have some speed.  It still comes down to execution.  On defense we have to get to the football, Campbell, if you let him get out in open space, you aren’t going to find too many people that are going to catch him, the same with Boatwright.  They are just a talented football team.  We are going to have to play a good game this Friday,” said Matula.

          He expects them to try to stack the line of scrimmage against the Flashes option attack.  “They are multiple.  Playing them last year was my first experience with them.  They are primarily a 3-4.  They can jump into a 6-1.  They might do that against us this year,” he said.

          Keeping the ball out of the hands of Ontario might be key, according to Matula.  “It boils down to the same thing for us.  You have to keep Campbell off the field and keep their offense off the field by having sustained drives like we had in the second half against Bucyrus.  Those 12, 13, 14 play drives and get points when you can get points.  On defense we have to be able to gang tackle.  We can’t let Boatwright or Campbell get out,” said Matula.

 

Published 9/16/13

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Willard Has to Hold onto the Ball

 

          Willard just committed too many turnovers to have a chance to win last week, it’s that simple.

          They turned it over six times in a loss (19-7) to Margaretta last week.  On Friday night it’s a step up as they travel to North Union (1-0), the Wildcats are the defending Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference champs and they made it to the second round of the division four playoffs.  Oh yeah, they scored 60 points last week against Cardington.

          Last week, Willard coach Mark Matula says there were way too many mistakes in their opener against Margaretta.  “We just didn’t take care of the football.  When you are playing high school football it really boils down to, something we have talked about before, a lot of times the team that makes the least amount of mistakes is going to be the one that has a chance to win the football game,” he said.

          Matula says they made some halftime adjustments, but they weren’t enough.  “We had a so-so effort in the first half.  In the second half I thought defensively we did a much better job.  If you look at the stats it’s not like either team was gangbusters.  You just can’t turn the ball over against any high school football team and have a real good chance to win,” he said.

          The Willard coach says they have been working this week in practice on hanging onto the ball.  “We have been all over the kids about taking care of the football.  The surprising part was we hadn’t done that in scrimmages against three teams.  When you are dealing with 15, 16, 17, 18 year old kids to steal a line from “Forest Gump” sometimes they are like a box oh chocolates you never know what you are going to get,” said Matula.

          North Union crushed Cardington (60-7) last week and Matula says they like to run the ball and then run some more.  “We have been watching film all weekend and coach Miller definitely ha got the boat aimed in the right direction.  It is something we are trying to establish here at Willard.  He has some kids playing hard and playing fast.  They definitely have everything you look for in a high school football team and that is a little bit of size and some speed,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “They are a run oriented offense, so you better have your helmet strapped up tight and be ready to try and stop their run.  Some of my coaches where at that playoff game against Galion last year and they just do a nice job of running that offense.”

          Matula says the goal is to force the Wildcats to throw the football, but that isn’t going to be easy to do.  “They can line up in their double tight end, double wing set.  They have two tight ends that are 6’4” and 6’5” and cause match-up problems for just about anybody in their secondary.  On top of that their quarterback is a good scrambler.  If he gets out then he can hurt you with his legs.  It is going to be a great test for us against a playoff caliber football program.  We will go to North Union and put our helmets on and do our best to stop their run and put them in passing situations,” said Matula

 

 
   

Willard Feeling Confident

 

          Willard hopes to crack the .500 mark as the Flashes enter their second season under the leadership of Mark Matula.

          They host the Margaretta Polar Bears on Friday night in non-conference play.         

          Matula says they are ready to go prove something on Friday night.  “The kids have been excited this week.  They are getting used to the schedule of being in school and coming to practice after school.  It’s fun to watch as big and tough as they want to act they still get excited like kids and the coaches are the same.  Yeah, it’s exciting to get the season kicked off,” he said.

          The Willard coach believes they have been tested in the preseason and have a sense of confidence going this season.  “I think this being the second year of the triple option offense the kids have gotten more comfortable and understand the terminology.  They did a great job during two a days.  We had good scrimmages against New London and Edison.  Our second scrimmage was Vermillion, so we saw a lot of different looks,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “The kids had a lot of defensive looks thrown at them defensively.  They feel much more comfortable and there is not as much apprehension going into the first game with everything we have in.”

            Willard players are excited to get out on the field.  Mutula says they know what they have to do. “I think every coach looks for that no matter how long they have been coaching or how long they have running a defense or and offense.  We are just like everybody else.  We want to cut down on the penalties, cut down on the mistakes, take care of the football, grind on the clock, keep the other team’s offense off the field and play fast on defense,” said Matula.

Last season, when the Flashes went 4-6 they were able to produce some big plays, but not a lot of multi play drives.  Matula says that is something they want to do this year.  “Consistency is always a question.  When you are on the triple option you get a lot of different hybrid defenses with people trying to stop you.  We try to put our kids in tough positions in scrimmages and during practice.  They have responded well.  We just told them (Wednesday) this for real.  This is what you have worked hard for,” he said.

          Margretta is going to be different this season with a new coach in Andy Zuk, a former assistant and Western Reserve.  Matula says they will be wide open on offense.  “They are much different than they were last year.  Coach Zuk is the new coach at Margaretta.  He came over from Western Reserve.  He is a big 4-2-5 guy on defense.  He did a great job at Western and I am sure he has brought that same mentality over to Margaretta.  On offense they are four wide, spread, shot gun.  He is trying to get his program instituted.  They are little tough to read because you are going on scrimmage tapes.  They are throwing the ball and they are running the ball and they have some good athletes.  You have to put your uniform on and your helmet on and go play,” said Matula.        

 

 
   

Willard More Ready This Year

 

          Willard is in its second season under the leadership of head coach Mark Matula and with a full preseason this time he hopes there will be more wins for the Flashes.

          They were 4-6 a year ago.

          Matula says this summer things have went pretty well in the Willard camp.  “Our practices have been great.  I think we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were last year, which was my first year as a head coach.  The kids understand the terminology.  They understand what the expectations are.  They are conveying those expectations to players on the team that might be new players.  It’s the second year with the triple option.  The kids understand terminology and play calls and are doing a good job,” said Matula.

          He thinks having a full off season with the players will make a big difference because they will have a better understanding of what everybody needs to do to be successful.  “After your first season you continue talking to the kids.  Of course, talking about the season as it transpires and after it ended.  I think it’s makes a huge difference to be able to verbally reconnect with the kids afterward and maybe instill those goals that we have as a team with everybody that is talking about coming out for football next year,” said Matula.

          The regular season begins next week, the Flashes play Margaretta, and Matula says the players are kind of tired of beating up on each other.  “We had our first scrimmage Saturday.  It’s coach speak, but we did some good things and some bad things.  Our kids came in (Monday), we had a three way scrimmage with New London and Edison on Saturday, and we got an enormous amount of work in and I think today they were a little sore and a little beat up,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “They are excited about the prospect for the season.  I have been doing this long enough the players get a little bit of the two a day blues.  I think some of them, probably not all of them, are chomping at the bit top get that first game preparation week in and you get to play to win a game.”

          Willard meets Vermillion in a scrimmage this weekend and Matula says they have to attack that one like it counts for real.  “This week we hope to tune up the things that we have in and have a good showing in the half of football and keep score for a half.  We are going to be in front of the home crowd on a Friday night.  We have told the kids that this is kind of like a game preparation week, but it doesn’t end with a real game.  They have to treat it like it is and get ready to play on Friday night,” he said.         

 

 
   

Willard Faces Athletic Lime Bath

 

          Willard is making its second straight district appearance as they meet Lima Bath in the division two district semi-finals on Wednesday night at Ohio Northern University.

          The game marks one of two district games set for Ada.

          Willard (18-6), #4 in the final Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll, advanced to the district level with a victory (77-61) over Clear Fork last Friday.  The Flashes led (35-20) at the half and coach Dave Hirschy says they were able to force the Colts into doing some things they didn’t want to do.  “We hadn’t played a lot of zone going into the Clear Fork game.  I felt we did a pretty good job in our zone, I don’t want to say stand around, but I wanted to try and break up their rhythm because Steve does such a good job with his kids as far as their offensive movements and their ability to drive and kick.  That was a major concern.  I just felt with the short turnaround time that we had that maybe we could get them to settle for jump shots and hopefully we could contest those jump shots and get out on our break.  We were able to do that and build a lead early.  We knew that Clear Fork would make a surge at us because they are that kind of team.  They have a lot of offensive firepower.  We were fortunate enough to hold them off.  We have been in that situation before where we have had big leads and have kind of given those leads back, but have found away to get back on the winning side of things.  I was very pleased with our effort versus Clear Fork,” said Hirschy.

          Lima Bath (20-4) is a team that is likely to press for 32 minutes.  Hirschy says they are fundamental in what they do.  “Defensively they are so good at applying pressure on the basketball and forcing your ball handlers down one side.  They will leave their man and run and jump and they rotate so well.  There are a lot of teams that work on run and jump defense when they are applying pressure early on, but very few high school teams rotate well.  This is one of the few teams that I have seen since Upper Sandusky, in the glory days of Jon Diebler and that crew.  These guys just come up at you and rotate so well and put pressure on you and they covert your mistakes into easy baskets,” said Hirschy,

          On offense, the Wildcats show some balance among players and the ability to spread the floor and score from anywhere on it.  Hirschy says they will have to guard everybody.  “They are very similar to us with their offensive firepower.  They have a lot of balance.  They play six or seven kids.  They are all pretty athletic.  They range from 6’4” to around 6’1”.  They have good length.  Offensively, they spread the floor on you a little bit and can get to the basket.  If they get a lead they are tough because they do such a good job with their spread offense,” he said.

          With the constant pressure Hirschy says they must be able to handle the ball and not allow the Wildcats to force turnovers that they live for.  “I put a lot of stock in that and I really challenged our guards (Monday) night in practice.  I told Matt Cok and Carson Ebert both and Nick Davidson and Corey Bohach too because those four guys are going to doing the baulk of our ball handling, even Hayden (Adams) to some extent might have to too.  We kind of went into the second Norwalk game with the game plan of being able to spread the floor a little bit and we were unsuccessful,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday.  “Part of the failure we had against Norwalk was the fact that our ball handlers allowed their pressure to dictate wherever they wanted us to go.  I really put the pressure on Carson and Matt to rise to the occasion on (Wednesday) night.  They have a chance to sort of make up for that Norwalk game earlier in the year on the big stage at Ohio Northern.  I think taking care of the basketball is going to be a big part of (Wednesday) night.”

          Now, when they are on defense, the Flashes must be able to keep Bath out of the lane or it could be a long night.  Hirschy says will result in too many easy opportunities.  “If they are able to get into the paint they are able to drive and dish.  Very similar to some of the teams we have played this year, like Clear Fork.  They are capable of exploding offensively because they have great shooters on the perimeter.  They are very versatile.  Their 6’4” guys can go out and handle the ball and get it to the cup as well.  If we allow them too many paint touches that is going to be one of those things where they are going to be able to get it to the front of the basket or drive and kick for easy shots.  We want to try and eliminate as much rotation defensively as we can because if we are getting beat in the paint then we are going to have to get help and that is going to spread us out more than I would like defensively.  The other big thing is to get back defensively.  They are a transition team and we are going to have to make sure we have two people back at all times,” says Hirschy.

 

 
   

Willard Facing Athletic Clear Fork for District Berth

 

          Willard, who has made more district tournament berths than any school its size in North Central Ohio over the last 40 years, will try to earn another one on Friday night when they face Clear Fork.

          The Flashes (17-6) and the Colts (13-10) face off in the division two sectional final at Bucyrus High School.  Both saw semi-final action on Wednesday.

          Willard, #4 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, broke open a close game with a borage of perimeter shots in the third quarter on their way to a (70-44) win over Galion in semi-final play.  Coach Dave Hirschy says they just started to make some shots.  “They played very well in the first half.  I think what kept us around is we did an outstanding job on the offensive glass and we got to the foul line and converted free throws, which gave us a slim lead at the half.  Durbin buried three to get them going in the second half.  They cut the lead to two.  Then we kind of just found our mojo so to speak on the offensive end.  We were able to free Nick Davidson up on some drives and kicks and he hit some big shots for us.  Matt Cok played exceptionally well for us and had a great floor game.  I think we went on a 17-0 spurt and we were able to draw the lead out a little bit and were able to play well with the lead,” said Hirschy.

          Willard is one of the more undersized teams in the area, but Hirschy says they work hard to get offensive rebounds and they are going to have to do that again Friday.  “You look at a kid like Corey Bohach, who is an undersized post, Jay Cok and Branson Owens, who come off the bench for us, and they are both undersized posts as well.  We would be an excellent six-foot and under team, but those kids play much larger sometimes than what their height is listed at.  They have been key elements to our success.  They know their roles and I have said all along that Corey Bohach is probably the best 50-50 player in the area.  He comes up with loose balls and does all of the dirty work.  You need kids like that to fill roles.  He’s our Kurt Rambis,” said Hirschy.

          Clear Fork gradually pulled away form Tiffin Columbian in the second half on Wednesday and beat the Tornadoes (68-56) to advance.  Hirschy says the Colts run their offense well and they make shots.  “They are one of the best shooting teams that we have faced all year long.  You look at guys like Winand, Chrastina and Corbin.  The thing that impresses me is how well they space the floor and how well they cut.  They make very good reads on defenses.  They do an excellent job.  They are an excellent shooting team.  We are going to have to find shooters.  We have to play a heck of a lot better defense than we have been playing lately,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday.

          Hirschy says the way Clear Fork plays reminds him of the Flashes.  “They remind me of us just because they are perimeter oriented.  They have guys that are very versatile.  They have guys that can get to the basket.  They shoot it extremely well.  I think they are a little bit more athletic than we are to be quite honest on the perimeter.  I think that their conversion form defense to offense is a tad bit quicker than ours, but I think they mirror us quite a bit,” he said.

          Being similar might make perpetration a little easier for the Flashes, but Hirschy says the Colts pose a lot of problems for them.  “From a preparation standpoint it might be good for us.  It is going to create a little bit of a mis-match because again Hayden might have to play a little more out on the perimeter defensively.  It is definitely going to be a challenge.  I just hope that if we can contain them and from getting paint touches and kick outs and extend possessions because that is something than concerns me.  When you have a team that shoots the ball from long distance you have to be conciseness of long rebounds and we can’t afford to give them second or third shots at the basket,” said Hirschy.     

 

 
   

Willard Could Still be Better

 

          Willard has already proved to be one of the better teams in North Central Ohio and the Flashes have the potential to be even better.

          The Flashes (16-6), #4 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, have lost only once in the last month and that was to unbeaten Norwalk two weeks ago.

          They face Galion (10-11) in the division two sectional semi-finals on Wednesday night at Bucyrus High School.

          Willard downed arch rival Shelby (65-46) last Friday to claim second in the Northern Ohio League.  Coach Dave Hirschy feels they were able to respond when Shelby made a run at them.  “We have won eight of our last nine games.  That is something that we talk about at the end of the year we want to be playing our best basketball.  I felt like last week’s game was the culmination of a lot things.  We were able to play a pretty decently consistent four quarters of basketball, with the exception about three minutes in the third where Shelby made a nice run at us.  Our kids were able to counter like we were a lot of times this year already battle through some adversity and regain our composure and get back on track.  I felt we were able to do that.  It was a real testimony not only to our entire team, but mostly our four seniors,” said Hirschy.

          Shelby had beaten Willard (54-49) at their place in January, but that was without Hayden Adams.  Hirschy says he makes a big difference for them.  “When Hayden is playing hard like he did on Friday he brings so much to the table.  When he can stay out of foul trouble and when he stays in the scope of the offense, he can be pretty good,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “Defensively we challenged him last week because Grant Fenner is a tough match-up because you are talking about a 6’5” kid that can go out on the perimeter and play a little bit.  Hayden has not guarded out on the perimeter too often this season.  He is our main post defender inside, so it was a challenge.  For the most part I thought he did a pretty decent job.  Grant got open a couple of times on some back screens and made some nice individual moves in the lane and got some shots off, but Hayden kept coming ay him a little bit.  He is a big part of what we do.”

           Hirschy feels like the Flashes have played pretty well on defense this year, but Galion tends to do something that they in particular have problems with.  “We are not nearly as good as I think we could be.  I think there is a lot of room for improvement even though the season is starting to wind down.  I think at times our help side defense has been tremendous, our on the ball defense has been okay, our ball screen defense has left a lot to be desired.  It just so happens that  Galion does a lot with ball screens.  They will come at you with random ball screens.  We have to be able to contain and know where guys like Ridge Durbin, and Prosser, and Balir, and Kurk are on the floor.  They have four perimeter guys that can score.  We have to make sure that we know where all of those guys are because they are pretty good coming off ball screens,” said Hirschy.

          Ridge Durbin is Galion’s leading scorer with around 17 a game.  Hirschy says they must know where he is at all times.  “If Ridge gets off early he is really good.  We have to make sure we know where he is at in transition because I think Galion is very good in conversion.  They can turn steals into layups with a snap of the finger.  When they rebound the basketball they are going to get it out and our transition defense is going to have to be grade “A” on (Wednesday) night.  Ridge is an outstanding player and the first time we played them he was a little under the weather.  He still managed nine points.  I know when he is 100 percent he is pretty darn good,” said Hirschy.   

 

 
   

Defense Must be the Focus for Willard

 

          After shaking off a beating from “NOL” champ Norwalk, the Willard Flashes are getting ready for their final regular season tune up as they host rival Shelby on Friday.

          Last Friday, Willard was hammered by Norwalk (21-0,9-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, by the score of 78-43.  Willard coach Dave Hirschy says Norwalk is a very good team that had a very good night.  “Unfortunately they remembered that we challenged them the first time.  They came in loaded for bear.  It was senior night at Norwalk.  Their kids were very, very motivated and came out ready.  We kept it somewhat close at the beginning and then they went on a 20-0 run after the 17-13 quarter break and it was pretty much lights out from there.  Norwalk is a different stratosphere right now then the rest of us.  They are on a different level on both ends of the floor.  They had kids burying threes that were shooting 11 percent for the year.  The basketball hoop looked like a laundry basket for those guys.  It all started with their defensive pressure.  They really took us out of everything we wanted to do.  They are so good on their home floor.  They are able to use the length and width of that floor to their advantage from a defensive prospective.  I give Steve and his staff a lot of credit for that because his kids really play defense the way it’s supposed to be played.  It was just one of those nights when it was a perfect storm where we didn’t play very well and they played exceptionally well.  It is a learning experience.  I’m happy we were able to regain some focus for Madison the next night,” said Hirschy.

          Now, the next night it was the Flashes that did the hammering when they hosted Mansfield Madison (70-43) in non-conference play.  Hirschy says it was nice to get back on the floor.  “That is one good thing about double weekends.  If I’m a football coach if you get beat like that then you have to set on it for a week and you have that bad taste in your mouth.  In basketball you only have that bad taste in your mouth for a couple of hours because you have to get ready for the next one.  We had a good walk through on Saturday morning.  Our kids came in and refocused,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We talked about some of the college programs that had gone through what we did the night before.  Duke got thrashed by Miami by 30, Michigan got beat by Michigan State by 27, Ohio State got beat pretty good by Illinois a few weeks ago.  There are good teams and good programs and sometimes it’s just not their night.  We came out and played pretty good basketball on Saturday night.”

          Shelby (12-8,6-3) handled Willard (15-6,7-2), #5 in our poll, (54-49) in their first meeting.  It was a game when Willard played without starter Hayden Adams, due to suspension.  Hirschy believes the Whippets are better too.  “Grant Fenner had a field day against us over at Shelby.  They have the other parts playing very well too Kehres and Rhode are playing really well.  Beal, the big kid in the middle, does some excellent things for them out of their Princeton offense.  Baird is looking to get his shot a little more too.  They have some guys that are playing good basketball.  They have gone through a little bit of a rut here lately, but I know they will be ready for us.  Troy always does a good job and gets his kids to play against us, so it will be a tough game,” said Hirschy.

          The Willard coach says Shelby does an excellent job of running their offense.  “They don’t extend the floor as much as they used too.  I think that is because they aren’t as deep as they used to be.  They run a couple of defenses out of the quarter court and they do a real good job running the Princeton offense.  They do a good job of getting the ball in the hands of their scorers.  Those guys get good shots out of good offensive operating areas.  They do a good job of spacing the floor.  They do a good screening.  Their role players do a good job of getting the ball to Rhode’s hands and Fenner’s hands.  If they are shooting the ball well, then they are tough act.  That is something we have to really guard against on Friday,” said Hirschy.      

 

 
   

Willard Needs Big Effort

 

          Earlier in the season the Willard Flashes gave unbeaten Norwalk their biggest scare in a Northern Ohio League game before losing by seven to the Truckers.  They will need an even better effort to beat the Truckers in Norwalk on Friday night.

          Willard beat the other school that calls Norwalk home, the St. Paul Flyers, in a non conference game (78-58) on Tuesday night.  Flashes coach Dave Hirschy says they got good shooting across the board and solid play off their bench.  “We shot the ball pretty well in that game, in particular Nick Davidson had a nice ball game for us.  He had five threes and went for 17 and Matt Cok had another steady game and we got great bench production from Jay Cok, who had 16 off the bench ands Branson Owens and Tristan Buss came in and contributed as well.  That was a pleasant site to see on Tuesday.  St. Paul battled us through three quarters and we were able to pull away in the fourth, but we are going to be very much tested on Friday night,” said Hirschy.

          Back on January 4 at Willard (14-5,6-2), the Flashes had the lead in the final minute only to lose by seven (58-51) to Norwalk.  Hirschy believes this is an even better Norwalk team than they saw that night.  “As good as they were they are even better now.  They are a team that just keeps peaking.  The thing that we are going to have to do is take really good care of the basketball.  We are going to have to value the ball.  We only had five turnovers in our last game.  I am hoping that we can keep the number of turnovers down to a minimum the best we can,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “The biggest thing on the defensive end is to try to contain or control Federoff inside and Jeffrey Thomas is playing so well.  Ben Haraway is outstanding.  It’s almost like pick your poison when you play these guys.  Last time Grant Hall stepped up and hit some big threes, big answer threes.  We are going to always need to know where he is at on the floor.  We go over and watch them last week and Tre Hallick really shoots the ball.  They have five scorers on the floor and we are going to have to be conscientious of all five of them.”

          Norwalk (19-0,8-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, has already claimed a piece of the Northern Ohio League title.  Hirschy says they can not let the Truckers get on the runs they typically do.  “They play so well together and they build off of those defensive steals and the lapses on the opponent’s side of the basketball.  They really capitalize on turnovers.  They are the kind of team that has that spurtability as Clark Kellogg likes to say.  They go on those eight to 10 point runs.  Last week Perkins was in striking distance in the third and the next thing you know you look up at the clock and it’s a 16, 17 point game.  That is what they are capable of doing.  They are a really good basketball team on their home floor.  They have played in front of big crowds.  They are a veteran group.  They have the whole package.  They are so very well coached, Steve and his staff.  I know they will be prepared for us.  It’s going to be a battle, but we are looking forward to it.  It will be a tournament like atmosphere.  They are celebrating their outright championship.  It’s going to be one those deals where we are going to have to go over there and play our best basketball,” said Hirschy.

          Against Norwalk, who has only lost one in almost two seasons, Hirschy says it’s as much a mental game as anything.  “We played them in the summer time.  I remember taking the guys our in the hallway and telling them you guys don’t need coaching right now, you need Dr. Phil.  I said it’s in your head.  You guys have to get over that mental lapse in you head that you can’t go out and compete against this team.  I think our kids have done that for the most part this season.  Hopefully we won’t have to call Dr. Phil,” he said.          

 

 
   

Willard Doing a lot Right

 

          Norwalk gets most of the attention in the Northern Ohio League, and rightly so, but quietly Willard is putting together a pretty good season.

          The Flashes (12-5,5-2), #5 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, has win four straight games and they share second in the league with Shelby.  The last being (59-42) over Edison last Thursday.  Coach Dave Hirschy says they were able to make some minor adjustments at halftime and that proved to be the difference.  “I just felt like in the first half that Edison took advantage of opportunities that we gave them.  We didn’t do a very good job in our three quarter court press.  I thought Edison did a nice job of seeing over traps and making the right pass and making the right decisions.  The big kid inside hurt us.  They were able to make the extra pass and often time he was on the receiving end of those and that gave Edison some momentum, gave them some life in the first half.  We were able to convert a three point shot at the end of the second quarter to give us the lead going in at halftime.  We made a couple adjustments, nothing too fancy,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “We talked about not trying to make the big play every time.  Our guys were trying to make the big steal or the big block and we had to slow down a little on the defensive end if you can believe that.  He just talked about sitting down defensively and closing out traps, do a better job of being active with our hands, and do a much better job of rotating out of the traps.  Right off the bat we got a couple of steals that got us going offensively and we were able to pull away and get the win.  It wasn’t easy, and I knew it wouldn’t be.  I knew Edison would play well.  I was really happy that we found a way to get the win because at this point in the year that’s what matters most.  I felt our kids were pretty resilient the second half.”

          Willard is not a very big team in terms of height, however, Hirschy says they have been able to do some things to help in defending bigger players on the block.  “The last few games we haven’t done too bad.  The big kid from Edison ended up with 15, he had 11 in the first half.  We did a good job of limiting his touches in the second half.  I think a lot of it is how well our perimeter guys do.  Our guards have to do a decent enough job of pressuring the ball and taking away vision.  At times we have done very well there.  That has enabled our post guys to change pressure points, to move their feet, and use their athleticism.  What we lack in size we make up for in athleticism.  Jay Cok is a good athlete.  Hayden Adams is an extremely talented athlete.  I look at Cory Bohach, who is tremendously undersized, but he has good strength, he has good leg muscle.  He does a good job of changing pressure points and Cory does a good job of using his head.  He is a smart defender.  That kind of makes up for that size deficiency.  It all starts with our guard play.  If we are able to pressure the guys our front and do a good job there if takes a little bit the burden off our post guys,” said Hirschy.

          Tiffin Columbian (6-11,1-6), coming off a win over Fostoria (75-56) on Tuesday night, will be at Willard on Friday night for an “NOL” game,  The Flashes won the first one (55-36) just before Christmas.  Hirschy says the Tornadoes have shown a lot of improvement.  “They have some guys that are stepping up and playing a lot better.  They play so hard.  Bill’s teams always give you their best shot.  They get after you no matter if they are playing a 2-3 zone or man-to-man or if they are extending the floor.  That hasn’t changed.  When you talk about Tiffin you have to talk about Longsway.  He is one of the premier guards in our league.  He is pretty darn fast and quick, but he is even faster and quick with the ball in his hands.  He is able to get a lot of paint touches because he is so good off the bounce.  We didn’t do a real good job on him last time.  I felt like he kept them hanging around.  We would build double digit leads, but I never felt comfortable because of Bryce’s play on the floor.  Walker has improved a lot for them.  He is a quick athletic kid that gets up and down the floor quite well.  Connelly is a dangerous shooter if you let him set his feet.  Longsway is able to dribble drive and get kick out to him.  Inside Dryfuss is really playing well.  He and Daniel both have really improved.  They are a good, athletic team and they are very well coached, so we will have our hands full,” said Hirschy.     

 

 
   

Willard Pressing Forward

 

          Willard is in the process of putting a pretty good basketball season together and the Flashes have done it by working hard and working together, and oh yeah they have some pretty good talent too.

          Last week, they railed in the fourth quarter to beat Bellevue (65-57) and remain in a share of second place in the Northern Ohio League, two games behind Bellevue.  Coach Dave Hirschy says they were able to gut it out and start making some shots.  “We have played much better this year, as opposed to year’s past, in the second half and that’s a credit to our kids.  I think it’s a credit to our conditioning a little bit and what we did in the off season has helped us endurance wise and physicality wise.  I wasn’t unhappy with our first half play, we just weren’t making shots, but the kids persevered and we were able to come back and play some pretty good ball,” he said.

          One thing that has been there this season for the Flashes has been their consistency.  Hirschy credits their focus on the need and the leadership of their seniors.  “Consistency was a big pet term going into the season for us because that has been our albatross the last few years.  We have played some outstanding basketball and then we have hit the wall and I just feel like right now our seniors are kind of leading us a little bit.  You take a kid like Corey Bohach, his play has been consistent all season long for us.  We kind of go as he and Matt (Cok) go,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “Those two guys have kind of led this basketball team.  We have had some great help along the way with Haden (Adams) and Nick Davidson and some of our other kids that have stepped up.  The bottom line is as long as we can remain consistent and play hard and get it done on the defensive end of the floor we have always got a chance.”

          Willard (11-5) plays a Thursday night non-conference game at Edison (3-13) of the Sandusky Bay Conference.  Hirschy says the Chargers have some good talent, but most of it is young.  “They are a young team.  They are led by two young guards, two freshman guards.  I think by the time these two kids are seniors they are going to be outstanding.  They have a big kid inside who is 6’8”, who plays very, very well and Crooks is one of the better shooters in the “SBC.”  He doesn’t need a lot of time and he’s got very good range, so they are going to be a difficult match-up for us from the standpoint that we can’t let Crooks get off early and we can’t let their big guy get decent looks inside and control us on the glass,” said Hirschy.

          As a big favorite in this game, Hirschy says they have to make sure they come out and are ready to play.  “We have worked extremely hard this week on the defensive end of the floor because I feel like there are still some things that we need to hone up and get better.  It could very well be a trap game.  We have to guard against that because the way our schedule falls we are playing (Thursday) and then we are off for a week, so I am trying to build on the fact that we have one game this week and let’s put all of our eggs in that plate and do the best we can,” he said.      

 

 
   

Willard Playing Well

 

          Wit Hayden Adams back from suspension, the Willard Flashes put together some fine work last weekend to come up with wins over Sandusky and Fremont Ross.

          They beat the Streaks in an important Northern Ohio League game (64-49) on Friday and then got past a strong Fremont Ross team (61-58) in overtime on the road on Saturday.

          Coach Dave Hirschy says they had a very good comeback after getting down early to the Little Giants on Saturday.  “I was elated, especially after the start we had.  They got off to a 27-13 lead on us.  They shot 85 percent from the field and we were just looking for a place to hide.  It was unreal.  We got down 14 points and then did a much better job of reaching shooters and adjusting in transition in the second quarter.  We were down eight at the half and I felt pretty good.  We were able to play ourselves back into the game with a pretty good third quarter and an excellent fourth quarter,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “We found ourselves in the lead and Fremont answered.  We were able to get a good look at the end of regulation on an out of bounds play, we just didn’t cash in, but we found a way to pull it over in the overtime period.  It was a real gutty performance by our guys.  I’m very proud of them.”

          One thing that Willard has been excellent at doing this year is adjusting to what other teams are doing on the floor.  Hirschy says the credit does not go to him.  “They really have.  I credit my seniors for that.  Guys like Corey Bohach and Mat Cok really lead this team and Hyden Adams do a good job of talking and communicating on the floor.  I give them all of the credit because those kids because they have a little bit of veteran experience.  All three of those guys have been there and that really helps us,” he said.

          Willard (10-5,4-2) visits arch rival Bellevue (7-6,1-4) on Friday night in league play.  Hirschy believes that the Redmen are just coming out of the effect of football.  “They got a late start and people can’t forget that.  That has a heck of an impact.  I spent some time at Wynford back in the day that we made some deep playoff runs.  When you get your basketball guys out it takes a while, it really does.  I know exactly what Mike is going through over there and it’s tough.  It takes a while to find that identity and I think they are starting to do that right now.  They had a huge win in double overtime against Tiffin on Friday, they beat a good Seneca East team on Saturday, then beat Upper Sandusky Tuesday night.  They are getting themselves back into playing mode again,” said Hirschy,

          In the first meeting, which was Bellevue’s first game of year, Willard won (57-52) on their floor.  Of course if you are going to beat Bellevue you have to contain Jalen Santoro.  Hirschy says he just does so many things well.  “Jalen is playing really good basketball right now.  He is a threat when he is able to get the ball to the paint.  He is an excellent outside shooter with a good release.  He uses screens well.  H reads defenses extremely well.  They go as he goes, but they have other guys as well and when he is able to penetrate guys like Jarvis and Stamm, and McNealy, who is playing a lot more for them, reap the benefits,” said Hirschy.

          Willard has won six of its last nine, two of those losses coming when Adams was suspended, and Hirschy says they have a chance to have another fine season.  “Playing teams like Fremont.  That helps us with a tournament like atmosphere and an extremely athletic team.  That’s good and we are going on the road in a tough environment at Bellevue, a big rival of ours.  This an exciting time of the year and you get a chance to see what you are made of.  This will be a true test for our players this week,” he said.

 

 
   

Willard Ready to Win Again

 

          Willard has had a good season and after some setbacks they seem ready to win again.

          Willard (8-5,3-2) has lost it’s last three games to Norwalk (58-51), to Marion Harding (68-63 in overtime) and Shelby (54-49) on Saturday, the last two without one of their leading scorers in Haden Adams, who was suspended after being ejected from a game against Margaretta.

          Coach Dave Hirschy says they had a real chance to beat Shelby, but just couldn’t make the big plays in the end.  “It was very reminiscent of the two prior games that we had lost, Norwalk and the Marion Harding game.  We were down nine at half to Shelby, fought back in it, went on an 11-0 run to start the third and took the lead.  We weren’t able to hold that lead.  We weren’t able to finish off the game and that was very much the case against Norwalk and definitely the case against Marion Harding,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “I give credit to Shelby they played an excellent game.  I thought Grant Fenner was just a beast.  He is a triple threat guy.  He is a guy that is really good off the drive.  He is an excellent perimeter shooter and has great post moves inside.  He’s a tough match-up and he played extremely well against us and I think her was the difference in that ball game.”

          With a three game losing streak in hand, Hirschy says the Flashes are still a good team and they need to remember that.  “I guess the biggest thing right now is not to panic.  In the ball games that we have lost we have been in those ballgames.  We just have to go back and identify where we are making mistakes in critical junctures of the game and try to rectify those mistakes.  We were without Haden Adams for two games.  We will have him back this week and that makes a big difference.  He was playing some of his better basketball games before the suspension.  He is a double-double guy for us.  I think that will be a big emotional lift for us having him back on the floor,” said Hirschy.

          Playing hard is something that has become expected with Willard kids and this year is no different.  Hirschy says he really need to give some of those players a break.  “It hasn’t been a lack of effort that has cost us games.  It’s four or five empty possessions where we are missing makeable shots.  I look at the minutes that some of our guys are logging,  Matt Cok, Carson Ebert, Nick Davidson, they don’t come off the floor much, so we may have to look at some substitution patterns a little differently too from the sidelines.  That’s on me and the coaching staff,” he said.

          On Friday night in Northern Ohio League play, Willard plays host to Sandusky (2-10,1-4), a team they beat earlier in the season at the “Big House.”  Willard won that first meeting (60-56) on December 7.  Hirschy says the Blue Streaks are better too.  “They are extremely athletic.  They are getting some great production out of some different people.  Jordan is playing well for them.  Lucas Will, who is a veteran off their team from last season is really stepping up his game as I watch film on them.  He is doing some good things.  He is kind of running the show for them.  He is doing some scoring of his own.  Kirk Wick came of the bench for them last week and gave them some big minutes.  They do have so young players that are beginning to give them some confidence.  Their athleticism will keep them in some ballgames because they are very good defensively on the ball.  They are very good in conversion.  Their game is to force you into some mistakes and convert those mistakes into baskets.  They are extremely good when they are able to do that.  When they are able to make shots and get into their press they are awfully good,” Hirschy said.    

 

 
   

Willard in Tough Stretch

 

          Willard almost beat unbeaten Norwalk last week and now they will face another tough Northern Ohio League school when they travel to Shelby on Saturday night.

          The Flashes (8-3,3-1) had the lead in the fourth quarter against Norwalk last week before losing (58-51) in game played at Willard.  Coach Dave Hirschy says they played their kind of game and had a chance to win.  “We got down early.  We were down nine at the half.  Believe it or not I didn’t feel too badly.  I looked at the scoreboard and it was 28-19.  Hayden (Adams) got two early fouls and he spent most of the second quarter on the bench.  I know how explosive they are and I have seen them extend leads throughout the season, so being down three possessions really wasn’t too bad.  At the beginning of the third quarter I told my assistant Chris Long this might be the most critical quarter we have played all season because we had to make some hay in that third and I thought we did,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “Being down two going into the fourth no one has been close to Norwalk.  I wanted to try and keep it under doubles going into that fourth quarter.  We had it right where we wanted it.  I thought maybe since we had been in so many tight games and they hadn’t been in any that might work to our advantage, but like most good teams Norwalk found a way.  When we did take a lead in the fourth they answered night away.  We made too many critical turnovers down the stretch.”

          Hirschy says they were not intimidated by a team that hasn’t lost a regular season game since February of 2011.  He says they try to approach it as just another game.  “The thing that we did not do we didn’t talk a whole lot about the ramifications like if you don’t do this you are going to get your doors blown off.  I didn’t build it up to be a Super Bowl because it is such a long season.  I said if we happen to beat them all we have done is hold serve.  We won a home league game, which you are supposed to do.  That is kind of how we looked at it.  I didn’t put them on a pedestal even though they are a fantastic team that I respect a lot.  We had a lot of our alumni guys in and they were able to create the tempo.  In years past I felt like we were prepared, but you can’t prepare for the speed and tempo.  We had some pretty good athletes come into the gym and work us that week.  The intimidation thing you have to kind of block that out.  I thought our kids did a pretty good job of that,” said Hirschy.

          The Flashes play a non-conference game at Marion Harding on Thursday night.  Hirschy says the Presidents have some athletes that can hurt you.  “They remind me a lot of Sandusky in our own league from the standpoint of their speed.  They are great in conversion.  They convert mistakes and turnovers into easy baskets as well as anybody we have faced this year.  They have a lot of kids back off of last year’s team and they were pretty young last year.  We are going to have to be really ready to go.  We played a pretty decent ball game down here last year and I know they haven’t forgotten that.  We are going to see a lot of pressure.  They come at you with three or four different presses.  Offensively they have some really quick athletes that can get to the basket.  We are going to have to do a much better job of stopping dribble penetration than we were last week,” said Hirschy.

          Shelby (7-3,3-1) shares second place with the Flashes in the “NOL” standings.  Hirschy says despite some losses to graduation he knew this would be another pretty good Shelby team.  “They have Fenner who was an important part of their team a year ago.  He played significant minutes and was a really solid player last year.  He is even that much better this year because he has honed his skills.  He has worked hard in the off season.  He can play face up.  He can shoot the ball.  He is a 6’4”, 6’5” kid that is very versatile and can score inside and outside.  He is experienced and played on those good Shelby teams,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Rhode, who was an absolute nightmare for us last year, is only that much better. He has gotten bigger.  He is a terrific shooter.  They have other kids that know there roles.  Troy has always been good at getting kids to accept their roles and get kids to play the style of basketball he has brought to Shelby.  They are going to get into you defensively.  They are not going to shoot themselves in the foot offensively.  They take very good care of the basketball.”

           This will be a game that determines who is going to be the top challenger for Norwalk in the “NOL.”  “It’s a tough place to play.  Personally I haven’t won there since 1995.  None of the guys on my team were born yet the last time I was able to win down there.  Our program hasn’t won down there since 2006.  They have terrific fan support.  We will have our hands full,” he said.

 

 
   

Willard Faces Tough Battle

 

          Willard has come through the first month of the season and did the things they have to do to be successful and that it is why they share the Northern Ohio league lead.

          However, Friday night will be their most difficult challenge as they host Norwalk (9-0,3-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, in a key Northern Ohio League game.

          Right now, the two teams are tied for the league lead.

          Last week, the Flashes downed Huron (57-43) in non-conference play.  Coach Dave Hirschy says they found what they needed to do to win the game.  “I was really happy with our kids from the second quarter on, they persevered.  It was one of those deals where we got down early.  We got down 19-9 in fact.  We didn’t panic and chipped away at it one possession at a time.  We talk a lot about that in practice, you have to battle back and battle through adversity on the road.  Huron is a good basketball squad.  They have a lot of athletes.  They have a lot of length.  I was real pleased with how our kids came through defensively.  We did the job.  I think we outscored them 48-24 from the second quarter on.  I though we did a much better job on the defensive end.  We rebounded the ball much better and I had real good performances from Hayden Adams and Carson Ebert and that was good to see,” said Hirschy.

          Norwalk has been at the top of our poll now for 19 straight weeks and the Truckers are just an outstanding basketball team.  Hirschy feels it begins with how they play defense.  “I just think the fact that they can put so much athleticism, they can send so much athleticism at you defensively.  They can switch defensively and not lose a step at anything.  They can trap you from different angles.  They can come at you full court, they can come at you three quarter court, half court, you name it,” he told Swankonsports.com Thursday, “They rebound it well.  Their length and their athleticism combined create a lot of problems on the offensive end for opponents because sometimes you think you are taking good shots, but you might be taking shots out of rhythm, you might be taking shots out of the flow of your offense.  They might be shots that you rush.  Sometimes that is as good as a steal, that’s as good a deflection, that’s as good as a turnover.”

          Norwalk is a lot taller than Willard and has an advantage at every spot.  Hirschy says they are going to have to get their share of rebounds.  “In their Bellevue game I don’t think Bellevue got an offensive rebound the entire night and that is a credit to Norwalk.  If we allow them extended possessions we are in for a very, very long night.  If we don’t go after it on the offensive end and attack the offensive boards it could be a long night for us as well.  The rebounding is a key among about five of six other things, but that is at the top of the list,” he said.

          Willard (7-2,3-0), #5 in the large school division poll, plays what amounts to a four guard lineup and Hirschy says they have to make shots to keep themselves in the game.  “We are going to have to be able to contain their size and their athleticism and defend them.  They run so many good sets and they run so many nice things to their studs.  That is something we are going to have to be very aware of defensive end.  Offensively we are going to have to make shots.  We are going to have to execute.  We are going to have to battle through the traps and the switching of the defenses and be able to adjust and not lose our composure on either end of the floor,” said Hirschy.       

 

 
   

Willard Working on Some Things

 

          The Willard Flashes are using a different strategy to win.  A lot of teams use three guards, but the Flashes are using four guards for a lot of the game.

          It worked last week as the Flashes beat Tiffin Columbian (55-46) in a Northern Ohio League game and pounded Galion (62-40) in a non-league game on Saturday.  Coach Dave Hirschy says it was really what they able to get off the bench, in the post, that provided some needed boost.  “It was a good weekend for us, something we can build on going into this week against Huron.  Like any coach there are things you want to work on and things you have to get better at.  I was happy with the play of my bench.  I got a lot of production from my bench last weekend, led by Jay Cok, who was just phenomenal.  He is a solid kid for us,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “He is a junior post.  A kid playing a little bit out of position for us size wise.  He does some good things for us just because he is active and aggressive.  He came up big for us, especially Saturday.  Hayden (Adams) was struggling from the field offensively.  We need to have some production inside and we were able to get that from both Jay and Ross Millen.”

          This is the first weekend of the season when the Flashes haven’t had a double.  Hirschy says they have been spending some time in practice trying to make their individual skills better than they have been.  “We were able to get (Wednesday) morning despite the weather.  We are just honing up some things and ironing out a few lose ends that I thought we needed to get to in practice sessions.  I have talked to a lot of coaches because we really have not played good basketball over the last three, four years over the break.  We normally bring in a lot of alumni.  I started to reassess how I’m going to do things.  Scott McVey at Sandusky Perkins, I talked to him the other day, he does a lot of fundamental skill work, and I thought that was a really good idea.  We are going to do a little bit of that, make it kind of like a camp, and work on ball handling, work on shooting, work on basic skills, and kind of fit that in to what we are doing as a team.  You want to start playing you best basketball after Christmas,” said Hirschy.

          On Saturday night, the Flashes (6-2), #5 in the Swankonsports.com boys’ basketball coach’s poll in the large school division, travel to Huron (4-3) in a non-conference game.  Hirschy says the Tigers are talented.  “They have everybody back and they really played a good ballgame down here last year.  Aaron Casey, who is a post player for them, who is 6’3” and strong, and does really good things, athletic.  He gave us a lot of problems last year.  Cody Thompson is one of the quicker guards in their league, a really, really good athlete.  Tre Graham has started to really shoot the ball well for them.  They have a post kid Aaron Driftmeyer, along with Colon McCready, who also gave us trouble down here last year.  They are one of the best teams in the “SBC” and it’s going to be a real challenge.  It will be a nice game for us to play over the holiday to kind of see where we are at,’ said Hirschy.

          With unbeaten Norwalk on the horizon, Hirschy knows this is a big momentum game for them.  “Going back into the new year, we play a pretty good Norwalk team.  I hoping we can at least build some momentum and some confidence going into that game,” he said.   

 

 
   

Willard Faces Athletic Tiffin

 

          Willard has been finding ways to win this season.  They are unbeaten in Northern Ohio League play and they are the only team this season to beat the Ontario Warriors.

          Last Friday, Mat Cok broke a 52 all tie with a three pointer and the Flashes went on to beat the arch rival Bellevue Redmen in their first game of the season (57-52) in “NOL” play.  Willard coach Dave Hirschy knew the Redmen, despite having only two weeks to prepare, where going to be ready to play.  “I fully expected them to come in and play that kind of game and they certainly did.  They are going to be a force to be reckoned with before then end of the year.  I was very proud of the way our kids responded.  We had to battle right to the end, but we found a way,’ he said.

          The Flashes may not have been sound on all phases of the game, but Hirschy says they were able to gut it out and take the win on their own floor.  “In spite of our free throw shooting, we were 10-24 from the line, and that was pretty anemic, we were still able to withstand the charge of Bellevue.  I just felt it was a testimony of our kids and how hard they worked in practice and we were able to carry over some things onto the floor on Friday night.  I was very happy with how we played,” said Hirschy.

          It’s on the road this week for the Flashes and they will be in Tiffin to face the Columbian Tornadoes.  Hirschy says, after facing Bellevue’s Jalen Santoro last week, they must contain another pretty good point guard.  “They have a very good point guard, it seems our league has a ton of talented point guards this year, and Bryce Longsway is no exception to that.  He is an outstanding player that can get dribble penetration.  He kind of runs the show for them,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “If guys like Conley are shooting the ball well for them from the perimeter and the kid inside is an excellent post player and has really impressed me to this point.  They are a force to be reckoned with as well.  We are going to have to make sure we do a good job in defensive transition in stopping the basketball and containing Longsway the best we can.  They kind of go as he goes.”

          Columbian (1-3,0-1) doesn’t have that good of a record, but Hirschy says they can’t just assume they are going to be able to show up and win.  “They are coming off a tough loss to Kenton, non-league, and a tough road loss to Shelby, but form what I can see they do some real good things.  We haven’t seen a lot of zone this year.  We are going to see some 2-3 zone and we will have to battle that too.  It will be a tough test for us down at Tiffin Friday night,” he said.

          Willard (4-2,2-0) is tied with Norwalk for the top spot in the league standings and they face the unbeaten Truckers in a couple of weeks.  Hirschy says they have to develop the attitude that can get them tough road wins in the league.  “Right now you have to cherish road wins.  I know we didn’t play well a couple of weeks ago down at Sandusky, but it was a league road win and we will take it.  Right now that is a big thing being able to play good basketball on the road under adverse conditions and find a way to be there at the end.  That is what we are going to try and do.  I am hoping that that along with the non-league teams that we play, like Ashland, Lexington, and playing Galion this Saturday.  Hopefully that will help us as we get though the tough schedule,” said Hirschy.   

 

 
   

Willard Doing Some Good Things

 

          After sweeping last weekend, the Willard Flashes have won three of their first four games.  Now, coming up Friday they play their longest standing rival.

          It was some clutch plays at the end that gave them a win (60-56) over Sandusky in Northern Ohio League play last Friday.  Then after a quick turn around they beat Ontario (63-49) in game that was played at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.  Coach Dave Hirschy says he saw a lot of improvement and a lot of it was related to the play of Matt Cok.  “Yes it was a good weekend for us and hopefully that can catapult us into this weekend because we have a tough double this weekend with Bellevue and Ashland.  I was pleased with some of the improvements that we made.  Last week, I just felt like some things came together for us.  I really felt like our kids responded to our four guard set up.  We went a little smaller last week, if you can do that with our team, because we aren’t real big to begin with.  Having Matt Cok back really made a big difference for us last week, maybe even more so on Saturday.  He didn’t score a lot, but he kept us organized.  When we needed baskets he just seemed to be part of everything we did.  We had some other kids step up as well,” said Hirschy.

          Bellevue opens its season by coming to Willard to play the rival Flashes on Friday night.  Of course, they had the pads on just two weeks ago playing the state championship football game.  However, Hirschy thinks they will be ready to play basketball.  “I look at a team that makes the run they made in football to the state championship game, those are special kids.  There is always a little bit of rust and I don’t know if we are going to see that from these kids at Bellevue.  They are veteran players,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “You take a kid like Santoro, who is the premier point guard in our league.  You take athletes like Jarvis and Stamm.  They have some shooters in Smith and Dedinger.  They have the nucleus back.  They are well coached, Mike does a great job over there.  I don’t look for it to be a thing where they are going to come in rusty.  I think they are going to come in with fire.  I think we are going to have to be really prepared for the intensity that they will bring to the table.  As we watch film from last year’s games they really hurt us on the perimeter.  Defensively they switched things up and tried to keep you off balance.  I think they will be fine and it will be a good basketball game.”

          Of course, Jalen Santoro, the offensive player of the year on the football field, is the point guard.  And like football, Hirschy says he is the distributor.  “He is a special kid.  We knew that from the first day he stepped on the floor as a freshman.  You could just see it.  He is the glue.  Everything runs through him.  He is a very good player, but more importantly he is a clutch player for them.  He always seems to come through with the big baskets when they need them.  I know last year he basically carried them in our game in the second half.  I accidentally said something to Mike after the game about hoping I get invited to his graduation party and I forgot he is a junior.  Here he is again, it seems like he has been there forever.  They are picked second in our league this year and rightly so,” he said.

          For the Flashes to win, Hirschy says they have to take care of the ball and be able to defend the numerous offensive sets they will see from the Redmen.  “One big thing we have to get better at is taking care of the basketball.  We are making far too many careless turnovers and in many cases unforced turnovers.  I see it in practice too.  We want to play fast, but sometimes on the offensive end you have to slow yourself down.  We are playing a little too fast still.  We have to be able to defend their sets.  They do a good job of screening, they do a good job of cutting and we are going to have to be on the top of our game on the defensive side of the basketball,” said Hirschy

 

 
   

Willard Girls Maturing

 

          Willard has a lot of girls that are new to varsity basketball season, but their coach likes the way they have been maturing and coming together as a team.

          They almost upset Northern Ohio League favorite Bellevue on Saturday taking it down to the final play before losing (48-47) to the Lady Red.  Coach Jon Dawson likes the way the Lady Flashes hung in there.  “It was heartbreaking the way we lost.  We had a shot at the end.  I was really proud of the kids with the way we played.  We hung tough with a really, really good basketball team.  The Santoro girls is getting a lot of recognition in the area.  I thought we did a really good job on her.  We gave ourselves a chance to win in the end and that’s all we asked for,” said Dawson.

          Last Tuesday, Willard (2-3) was handled by Upper Sandusky (57-48) and Dawson thought they competed a lot better against Bellevue.  “I think we are still having a lot of ups and downs like any young team.  Last Tuesday at Upper we didn’t play very well at all.  Just a lot of things went wrong.  There are a lot of things we need to work on,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “I told the kids if we can play like we did against Bellevue, with that kind of effort we are going to win a lot of basketball games.  I really believe that.  These young kids are starting to come together and figure out the system and start to believe in each other the more they play together.  I really like the progress we are making so far.”

          Tuesday night, the Lady Flashes travel to Edison (1-4) to face the Lady Chargers of the Sandusky Bay Conference.  Dawson says Edison is used to seeing quality competition.  “They graduated a lot of kids off a pretty good team.  They are playing a lot of young kids too.  I don’t believe they have a senior on the roster.  The Reid girl is a very, very good player and they are playing a lot of juniors and sophomores.  We will focus on her.  Liz Hill is another junior they have, who does a lot of things for them.  They are used to playing some good teams like Perkins and Clyde and those teams and they are used to that.  It’s going to be a good match up for us on the road,” said Dawson.

          It’s the third game in a week for Willard and with a 22 game schedule Dawson says it seems like there is always a game right around the corner, but that’s okay.  “The kids enjoy competing in games.  It’s fun for them.  It’s very fast paced.  There is not a lot of time off right now, not a lot of down time.  You know with being in a only a six team league, only 10 league games, there is a lot of scouting and preparation for non-league games.  We end up playing 12 non-league games, so that requires us to go see more games and trade more tape.  It’s all part of it.  I enjoy it, but it is a busy time for us, that’s for sure,” said Dawson.

 

 
   

Willard Must Avoid Turnovers

 

          Willard won one and lost one on the opening weekend and they must improve their ball handling skills as they open Northern Ohio League play against Sandusky on Friday night.

          Last week, they beat Upper Sandusky (44-29) in their first game, but lost a tough one at Lexington (58-54) on Saturday night.  Coach Dave Hirschy says they just made too many ball handling mistakes against the Lexington pressure.  “We got off to a decent start, but Lexington did a good job of pressuring the basketball.  They got us to start our offense about 15 feet form where we needed to start it from.  I was impressed with their perimeter defense.  They were able to do some things with us and speed us up some and we had some trouble there.  Really our best offense might have been the offensive glass because Branson Owens, my starting junior post, played his first varsity action last week and did an outstanding job on the glass and kind of kept us around.  We got a 16-10 lead in the first quarter, but just kind hung on in the second.  Lexington made a surge, and I think we had a one-point lead at the half.  I wasn’t very comfortable,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “I just didn’t think we had played very good basketball at that point.  The third quarter was a complete disaster for us.  We extended too many possessions.  We allowed them to hit the glass.  Temple really stepped up.  He surprised me.  He stepped out and hit three threes in the game.  They kind of got a little bit of a cushion at the end of the third going into the fourth.  We turned the ball over way too many times, 18 for the game.  We were fighting from behind.  We got down 12.  We were lucky enough to get the clock stopped a few times and they missed some free throws and we hung around.  We had opportunities to possibly tie it or even take the lead late, but it just wasn’t to be.”

          The Flashes (1-1) travel to Sandusky (1-1) for their opening Northern Ohio League game on Friday night.  The Blue Steaks beat Toledo Waite (45-38) last Friday and lost (100-55) to Toledo Bowsher on Tuesday.  Hirschy says the Streaks aren’t very big or very experienced, but they are athletic again.  “We are going to see full court extension no question about it.  If they saw either of our games last week they are going to get up into us and pressure us and try to get us to turn it over.  They are not very big.  In fact, they might be the only team that is smaller than us in the league, but they are extremely athletic.  They have some kids that can get it up and down the floor.  Lucas Wills, a point guard for them that has some varsity experience, Jordan is a pretty good player for them.  He hurts us a little bit last year.  They have some kids that are athletic and can get to the glass and get to the basket on dribble penetration,” he said.

          The Willard coach says the Streaks will do some of the same things Lexington was successful doing against them last Saturday.  “Offensively they do a lot of two man game stuff, a little bit like Lex, where they will come out and screen a little on the basketball.  We have to do a better job of getting help defense and we have to do a better job of defending pick and roll.  They are a team that is going to try and get up tempo.  They played a pretty solid Toledo Bowsher team the other night.  We are going to have our hands full.  We are going to have to play good basketball.  We are going to have to take a lot better care of the basketball than we did last week,” said Hirschy.

          Willard beat Sandusky both times they played them last season and Hirschy says it will take a similar effort on Friday night to come out on top, including handling the full court pressure.  “It is like an avalanche.  I thought last year we played two pretty solid games against them.  We were able to eliminate those cluster turnovers because I thought our kids really took good care of the ball.  The second game last year was one of our better games of the year.  We took care of the basketball, but more importantly we defended really well.  Over the last three or four years we have had pretty good offensive outputs against Sandusky.  We have been able to do some things and get to the basket.  Where we had trouble was on the defensive end.  We had trouble with their athleticism and keeping them out of the paint.  That is going to be a big key as well (Friday) night,” said Hirschy.     

 

 
   

Lady Flashes Need Better Decision Making

 

          Willard has won two of its first three games this year, but the Lady Flashes still have a long way to go if they are going to be a Northern Ohio League contender.

          They outlasted Sandusky (47-45) in their first league game on Saturday.  Coach Jon Dawson says right now they are just having too many turnovers.  “I think we are kind of fortunate to have two wins right now.  We are not playing great basketball.  We were able to get a road win at Sandusky for our league opener on Saturday.  We are still having trouble passing the basketball with way too many turnovers.  It is something we have to work on everyday in practice.  Every time we step on the court we keep working on taking care of the basketball.  If we are going to compete for a league championship that certainly has to be better.  We are very pleased to be 2-1 right now,” said Dawson.

          Some of the young players have been tentative in taking their shot.  Dawson says when you are open, pull the trigger.  “Sometimes they get a little bit ahead of themselves.  I have young kids handling the ball.  Sometimes it is taking the ball down the floor and thinking about where they can pass it instead of just, hey, where can I make a play?  We have had times when maybe the guard with the ball is open for a good shot or a good drive and they are more concerned about who they can pass it to and we aren’t making that extra effort to step around the defense and make passes and that kind of thing.  It is something we stress to them everyday in practice and hopefully it will keep getting better,” said Dawson.

          Willard travels to Upper Sandusky (2-1) for a non-conference game on Tuesday night.  Dawson says the Lady Rams have some players that are athletic, inside and outside.  “They are very talented team.  They have everybody back from last year’s team except for one player.  They have a lot of size with Grabowski and Born inside and very talented guards.  They handle it very well,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We have the size to match-up with them.  Their bigs are very athletic and very good with the basketball.  It’s going to be a good test fro us.  They will get into us and make us handle it.  If we don’t do a better job handling the basketball we could be in for a long night.”

          Dawson says he would prefer an up tempo game and he wants to take it to the Upper post players.  “We have to do a good job of getting some transitions baskets and getting it going up and down because if we let them get into a half court game with the size that they have it is going to be a battle for us.  We need to keep attacking the basket and getting their bigs in foul trouble.  We are talking to the kids about it being possession by possession we are really breaking it down and getting one good possession at a time.  If we do that I think we will be fine,” said Dawson.   

 

 
   

Willard Counting on Guard Play

 

          Willard will be without the serves of Matt Cok on this first weekend of the high school boys’ basketball season and they are trying find the keys to succeed without him.

          Coach Dave Hirschy says he believes they have made some progress toward that end.  “We are making some improvements.  We are making strides in the right direction.  It was just a matter of being able to overcome Matt’s (Cok) injury in the third practice of the year, but that is part of the game.  If it had to happen it’s better in the preseason.  I think maybe we will have him back by week two, maybe for our first league game against Sandusky.  At this point it has forced everybody else to pick up the slack so to speak.  I have been happy with the effort in practice.  I have been happy with our focus in practice,” he said.

          One thing that Hirschy wants to see is for them to slow down on offense and make better decisions with the ball.  “(Tuesday) night in practice we were playing way too fast on the offensive end and we tend to do that sometimes because we do have some decent athletes.  We have to improve our skill set so to speak, but sometimes we get to playing too fast and it turns into a bakery because we have so many turnovers in the gym.  (Tuesday) I wasn’t real happy with our offensive production.  The effort has been good on the defensive end.  We are going to have to continue to play solid defense to stay in games and make up for some of our deficiencies.  Part of that is our lack of verticality.  We aren’t that big inside.  Hopefully we can take care of business with our quickness and athleticism on the perimeter,” said Hirschy.

          Upper Sandusky, the defending black division champion of the North Central Conference, comes calling for the season opener on Friday night.  Hirschy says they have to show patience or Upper Sandusky will eat them up.  “Joe Riley is one of the better guards in that league.  He is certainly going to be a force to be reckoned with come Friday night.  I think what Shane (Adams) wants to do is to be there at the end.  They don’t necessarily hold the ball, that is kind of a misnomer,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “I think what they do is they are patient and work for a good shot.  They try to wear you down and test your patience.  I told our guys that if we play like we practiced (Tuesday) we are in trouble because we will be lucky if it’s a 50 possession game.  If we are lucky enough to have the ball 30 of those 50 possessions and we turn the ball over half of time I think that speaks for itself.  We have to play defense for 40 seconds or more because they are patient.  We have to be patient on the defensive end.  If we do get the ball back we have to take good care of it.  That is a key going into this weekend.  Upper is a good team.  They are a disciplined team on both ends of the floor.  We are in for a battle come Friday.”

          Then on Saturday they travel to Lexington to play the Minutemen, the defending co-champ of the Ohio Cardinal Conference.  Hirschy says they don’t bring a lot of lettermen back, but in a way that doesn’t matter.  “Coach Hamilton was such an integral part of that staff the last couple of years I can’t see that team being a whole different.  They are going to be disciplined on the offensive end.  Their half courts sets are going to be solid.  They are not as big as they once were, but they are still solid athletic kids. Wilkee had a career against us last year.  He is an outstanding player.  He is not only a good catch and shoot guy, but he can do things off the dribble.  They are a tough team to beat at home.  We were fortunate to go down there two years ago and hold on and win.  They know how to win over there,” said Hirschy.             

 

 
   

Lady Flashes Good in the Open Floor

 

          Willard hopes they can move up and compete with Bellevue and Shelby in the Northern Ohio League girls’ basketball race.

          We start to find out how good they can be when they travel to Mansfield Madison for their opener on Saturday night in non-conference action.

          Coach Jon Dawson, in his fourth year on the Willard bench, likes what he has seen from the girls, but like most coaches, wishes he had more installed before the season started.  “We got a little bit a late start with the success the volleyball team had and a lot of kids coming over from that.  It just seems like yesterday we were getting started.  We have all five of our scrimmages in all ready and here it is game week.  I have been happy with the kids and what we’ve got in so far.  As it gets closer we still feel like we have a lot of stuff to put in and you never feel like you are ready,” said Dawson.

          Willard made it to the district tournament in volleyball this year before losing to eventual state runner-up Norwalk.  Dawson believes that is a big positive for them.  “The kids I have coming over from the volleyball team are all returners from last year and they are pretty much veteran kids.  We didn’t need to spend a lot of time with those kids learning offenses and understanding varsity basketball.  It gave me a chance to work with some of the younger kids that we are going to count on heavily this year.  It was kind of nice thing.  I think those kids taking a few days off to just let their bodies get refreshed and come in with that refreshed mentality was a positive for them,’ said Dawson.

          Getting down the floor and being able to scoring baskets in transition will be a big key for Willard this year, according to Dawson.  “I really like our transition game right now both offensively and defensively.  That has been the one thing that stood out in our scrimmages.  We are pretty deep this year, probably deeper than I have ever been in my four years,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “As we rotate kids in and out we seem to have pretty good athletes and we get up and down the floor well.  Offensively, we are making that extra pass and finding people in transition.  We seem to get back defensively and getting set in our defense.  I really like that aspect where we can rotate kids in and out and get down the floor.”

          Shelby and Bellevue shared the league title last season, but Dawson believes this year it’s going to be a little more competitive.  “I think there is going to be some good balance.  Norwalk and Sandusky both bring most of their kids back and are going to be very good.  Shelby lost a lot of key kids, but when Hostetler’s back they are obviously going to be one of the teams to be reckoned with.  Bellevue, I know they lost the Raifsnider girl, but with Santoro and the group they have coming back they are going to be really, really good.  I think we can compete with anybody if we play to our capability, but I’m sure with a lot of coaches that playing to potential thing is always kind of scary.  I think it going to be very competitive from top to bottom this year,” said Dawson.    

 

 
   

Willard Has to be Small and Mighty

 

          Willard may not be very tall, but they have some kids that play basketball and they should be competitive in the Northern Ohio League race this winter.

          Coach Dave Hirschy says they have suffered a significant injury, but so far other players have been able to fill in and absorb the loss.  “So far, so good.  We had a pretty good summer.  We did the regular routine.  We were at a number of shootouts and went to the Eastern Ohio Camp.  We started the season off on a pretty good note.  We had a temporary setback in an injury to a critical player on our team Matt Cok, who fractured his hand the third practice in.  Hopefully we will get him back in four of five weeks.  Other than that, things have gone well.  Kids have picked up their play a little bit when we needed them too.  We talked a lot about that when Matt went down with his injury that basically this gives everybody the opportunity to step up their game a little bit and so far they have,” said Hirschy.

          Willard will likely not get a lot of easy shots in the half court because they don’t have a lot of height.  Hirschy says they must be good decision makers with the ball and be good shooters.  “We better be good at shooting it because we aren’t very big.  This is the first six-foot and under team I have coached in 29 years.  All kidding a side I’ve got Hadden Adams, who around 6’5”, but other than that our post guys I can look in the eye and I am just over six-foot, so we are not very big.  We are going to have to be able to shoot the ball well from the perimeter.  We have to take advantage of driving lanes and make good decisions with the ball.  We have talked a lot about spacing the floor this year.  That’s pretty critical to our success on the offensive end,” said Hirschy.

          Defensively, Hirschy says they have to be able to make the right adjustments and not let the other team get wide open shots.  “Defensively we are going to have to be able to switch defenses.  We are going to have to make adjustments and just take care of ourselves on that end of the floor.  I think right now the big thing is just being able to communicate and do the little things better.  We have a long ways to go defensively, but that’s why we have preseason,” he said.

          Sometimes teams that lack height like to pressure the ball a lot, but Hirschy says they don’t have a lot of depth right now either.  “I would love to be able to say we could extend the floor and turn it into a 94 foot game, but the problem is I don’t have a ton of depth.  We are only going to go seven or eight deep and you will wear those guys out in a hurry.  We are going to have to pick and choose our spots as far as being able to pressure the ball and pick up full court and so on and so forth.  Obviously we have given that some thought.  Right now what we are trying to do is build from the basket out and do a better job in the quarter court.  We will see where we are at going into week one with Upper,” said Hirschy.

          As far as the Northern Ohio League is concerned, Hirschy says you have to consider Norwalk the favorite, but there are a lot of other good teams in the league too.  “I think it’s going to be a very competitive league.  Obviously Norwalk will be the head on favorite as they should be.  Bellevue has some kids coming back that are pretty good basketball players.  A lot of it is going to depend on how far they go in the football playoffs and the start they get.  I don’t think it’s going to be a problem with those kids transitioning from football to basketball.  They have done that in the past,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “There are too many people throwing dirt on Shelby right now and I don’t know why.  They have Fenner back they have Rody back.  They have some key kids back from teams that know how to win.  Shelby will still be right there.  Tiffin brings some size to the table, plus they have a very quick guard in Longsway.  Sandusky is young, but they are always athletic.  It’s going to be a very interesting league.  I guess right now everybody is saying we are playing for second, but that’s not how we are looking at it.  We have to go in and play the game and take it one game at a time and just see where it leads us.”           

 

 
   

Willard a Playoff Long shot

 

          A big win over Norwalk last week has given the Willard Flashes an outside chance to make the postseason playoffs.  It’s a long shot, but it is possible.

          Last week, the Flashes shutout once beaten Norwalk (24-0) to improve their overall record to 4-5 and move them to the number 12 spot in division four, region 14.  You must finish in the first eight in order to qualify for week 11. 

          There were not too many people that thought the Flashes had much of a chance against Norwalk, but coach Mark Matula says they played their best game of the season.  “We probably played our most compete football game that we have played to date.  The offense did exactly what we had planned from the very beginning.  We had a 12 play drive, a 15 play drive, a 13 play drive.  We kept Jake Fetheroff, Peacock, and the Finch kid off the field.  Offensively we did what we were supposed to do and we finished drives,” said Matula.

          Of course, it rained pretty heavily last week and Matula admits that the field conditions played a role, but his kids played some good football too.  “Defensively we were about as simple as we could be.  We did a great job with coverage.  I am not going to lie the field conditions came into play, but we as coaches chose our offense.  You have to live with it no matter what field you are playing on,” he said.

          The first thing Willard needs to earn a playoff berth is a win over Shelby (1-8,0-4) in their final Northern Ohio League game on Friday night.  Despite their record, Matula says the Whippets have some kids that can make plays.  “I think they are a talented football team.  They have some good athletes in the Baird kid and the Osley kid.  I just think that they are kind of in the same boat that we were in coming into the season.  I know they were 0-10 last year.  You have to learn how to win football games,” he told Swankonsports.com, “They have some talent on that football team.  We are going to have to do a good job of being disciplined and carrying out our assignments again.  You know, grinding the football and keeping their offense off the field.  Even though they are 1-8 coming in I told our kids this is a rivalry game.  I know it sounds kind of cliché you throw the records out.  Both teams are coming to win.”

          Matula says he has discussed with his players the possibility of making the postseason.  “It’s funny because we haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.  We have to have a lot of things happen.  I told the kids (Wednesday) that it’s really kind of cool for Willard football.  Even though we are 4-5 we are still in the playoff talk.  I am hoping they take that the right way and understand that, just like I said at the beginning of the year, if we beat the right teams in this conference we have an opportunity to make the playoffs just like anybody else,” said Matula.

          Even if they don’t make the playoffs, Matula says a win over a big rival can have a lot of benefits for the program.  “You try to prepare your young men to win every game.  You hope to have 11 guys on the field that want to win that play.  If you add up enough of those you are going to win the game.  This game is important because you always want to go out with a win.  You always like to send your seniors out with a win.  We are just looking for the same kind of effort that we had last week against a pretty darn good Norwalk team,” he said.  

 

 
   

Again Willard Has to Keep the Ball

 

          Willard has some resources that could make them tough to beat on the football field, they just have to learn how to use them better.

          For the second straight week they are going to play one of the area’s better teams as they travel to Tiffin Columbian (7-0,2-0) to face the Tornadoes.

          Last Friday, they were hammered by Bellevue (42-6) as the Redmen pulled away in the second half.  Coach Mark Matula says on defense they had players in the right position, they just didn’t bring the ball carriers down when they had the chance.  “They are a good football team and as we have talked before.  As we have talked about before when you make mistakes they are magnified against good football teams.  After going back and watching the film we had kids in spots to make plays and one of the things we are trying to get done at Willard is to get our kids to understand that you are going to get put in positions and it is up to them to make plays on the football field.  Watching film we had some guys in spots to specifically make tackles and we didn’t wrap up and get them to the ground.  That is the whole goal of defense.  It doesn’t get any easier this week,” said Matula.

          Columbian beat Bellevue two weeks ago (35-21) and they are loaded with talent.  Matula says he would be hard pressed to find a weakness in the Tiffin attack.  “I think they are solid across the board.  They have a nice offensive line that plays very well.  Of course, they have Jacoby, who has been in the backfield for a while now doing his thing.  They also have Rohrbach, the other quarterback that they bring in.  #28 in a good back.  They just do a nice job of doing what you supposed to do with the football in controlling the ball and having the opportunity to get a big play,” he told Swankonsports.com, “We are going to have to be really sound and fundamental and get people the football.  Last week in the Bellevue game we had the opportunity to sustain some drives and we just didn’t do it whether it be a penalty or a loss on a play because of a missed assignment or whatever.  We have to stay the course and we just have to get better at Willard and on offense we have to control the football.”

          With two quarterbacks does that make Tiffin more difficult to prepare for because the multitude of things they can do?  Matula says not really.  “From what I have seen on film they put Jacoby at quarterback and if they get into a more difficult throwing situation they bring the Rohrback kid in.  I’m sure they could line both of them up in the backfield.  The Rohrback kid can run when he needs to but, Jacoby is obviously the playmaker on that football team and they want to have the ball in his hands as much as possible and who can blame them,” he said.

          The formula is really the same this week as it was last.  Matula says they must sustain drives, pick up first downs and keep the ball out of Columbian’s hands.  “We did a fairly decent job of it last week, early.  I think one the things that we absolutely have to continue to work on is our kids have to believe in themselves and think they can go out and compete and win against these teams.  We think we have some players that we can run this offense.  We have to be able to control the football and sustain drives and keep their offense off the field.  That is what we worked on (Tuesday), that is what we will work on (Wednesday) and that is what we will work on Thursday.  Friday the work is done and we go see how we do,” said Matula.   

 

 
   

Willard Focusing on Fundamentals

 

          Willard is a .500 football team right now, but they are only a couple of scores from being 5-1 and in the thick of the Northern Ohio League race.

          It was one those if we could have games last week when they fell just short in losing 16-8 to the Sandusky Blue Streaks in the league opener for both schools.  Coach Mark Matula says they did a good job of battling back in the second half against the Streaks.  “We started out a little slow.  Against good football teams you can’t start slow.  I told the kids after the game that I was proud of the way they battled back.  Sandusky returned a kick for a touchdown and then they had another drive where we ended up stopping them and they kicked a field goal.  We told the kids at halftime that we hadn’t even played that well so you are still in the game and come out and give 100 percent in the second half and see what happens,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “Sandusky scored and made it 16-0 I believe.  We had a drive where we had a long run by Wes Potts.  The offensive line did a great job and he took off and scored a touchdown.  I think both teams got a little sloppy at that point.  We had a chance late in the game.  We threw a halfback pass.  Our kid was wide open, maybe too wide open, and he dropped the ball.”

          Despite the comeback, Matula says they really didn’t do the things they needed to do to win the game.  “We just didn’t take care of business, I guess, which has been our motto this year.  Play the game the way it is supposed to be played and I don’t think we did that last week, so we have had to get back to some basics this week,” he said.

          Willard (3-3,0-1) hosts traditional rival Bellevue (5-1,0-1), #3 in the Swankonsports.com football coach’s poll in the large school division, in a league game on Friday night.  Matula knows that everything the Redmen do runs through quarterback Jalen Santoro.  “Jalen is a very good athlete period, let alone football.  He plays all sports, which I think is a huge plus for him and coach Nasonti.  He just understands the game.  We definitely have to keep him bottled up.  They have some other weapons.  The #44, the halfback in the backfield, is a good ball carrier when they want to give him the ball.  #24 their wide out has caught some passes from Jalen.  Definitely they want the ball in Jalen’s hands and understandably so,” said Matula.

          In order to win on Friday night, Matula says they must possess the ball and play sound, fundamental defense.  “You know, we put this offense in for a reason and this may be the perfect example why we put the triple option in was to sustain drives and have 12, 13, 15, 16 play drives and keep the other team’s offense off the field.  Every defensive coach tells his kids that if the other team doesn’t score you can’t lose.  We have to be very fundamentally sound.  Coach Nasonti has great tradition over there at Bellevue.  We are trying to build some things at Willard.  The thing we have told the kids is come out and play a sound fundamental, physical football game for four quarters and then we will see what happens at the end,” said Matula.     

 

 
   

Willard Feeling Good

 

          Are the Willard Flashes a dark horse in the Northern Ohio League? 

          With teams like Tiffin Columbian, Bellevue, Norwalk, all unbeaten on the season in the league, nobody is talking about Willard, but the Flashes have won their last two against Toledo Bowsher (21-0) and Milford Center Fairbanks (26-7) to improve to 3-and-2 on the season.

          Coach Mark Matula is very pleased with what he is seeing from his young men, especially on defense.  “I think our kids are understanding what we want to do.  I think they are building some team chemistry.  Anybody that knows anything about team sports knows you have to have that or you aren’t going to win very often.  The kids are playing for each other and believing in themselves,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “Every week they understand our offensive and our defensive schemes better and better.  In the last two weeks we have given up seven points.  I don’t care who you play if you only give up seven points in eight quarters you are doing a pretty good job.”

          Matula is in his first year as the Willard head coach and he has brought new schemes and he believes the players are doing an outstanding job of understanding what they are suppose to be doing.  “I think they have gotten better at understanding the scheme of the defense, the responsibilities of the different positions.  The way things overlap and if one or two guys get out of the things that are their responsibility on a given play then you can give up a big play.  We are about as simple and basic as you can possibility get on defense, but our kids have done a nice job of understanding our scouting reports for our opponents and carrying out our schemes and doing what they have been taught all week,” said Matula.

          Willard (3-2) runs the triple option offense and Maulta admits they still have some things to iron out when it comes to its execution.  “Last week we really didn’t play all that well offensively.  So, we still have some things to fix, but the kids are doing a great job for me as a head coach and I know the assistant coaches too.  It’s been really good so far and hopefully we can keep it rolling,” he said.

          On Friday night, the Flashes begin Northern Ohio League play as they travel to Sandusky to play the defending champion Blue Streaks.  Sandusky lost 20 of 22 starters and the Streaks (1-4) have struggled quite a bit.  Still, Matula knows who he is facing.  “They are still Sandusky.  They have athletes there.  They obviously have a talent pool there to draw from.  We are going to have to play another good game.  I was talking with one of my assistants tonight I just want our kids to continue to play the brand of football they have been playing.  I think if we can do that for four quarters against good teams like Sandusky and Bellevue and Tiffin Columbian I think you give yourself an opportunity to win,” said Matula.

          Sandusky still has a lot of speed and big play ability and Matula knows that means they have to have solid open field tackling or there will be big plays.  “With high school and college football other than the Willard Flashes who have the oldest school offense in the world in the triple option.  We have to keep their guys in check and keep them in front of us.  If we get a chance to tackle somebody then we have to get them to the ground no matter what it takes.  They have some guys that are fast and some guys that are big and we have to gang tackle.  For us it has to be a total team game.  We have to do what we have been taught and carry out the game plan,” said Matula.  

 

 
   

Willard Concerned With Self

 

          Willard has shown they have the potential to be a good team, but they have to do it on a far more consistent basis if they are to become a winning team.

            After a win over Margaretta on the opening week they were crushed by Ontario (40-12) last Friday.  Coach Mark Matula says they just made some mistakes you can’t afford to make against a team like Ontario.  “We are still working on some things that we need to work on.  Against a good football team with good football players when you make mistakes they can make you look bad.  Their running back Jordan Campbell did a great job.  We still have some things to work on.  I told the kids we have experienced a victory and we have experienced a defeat and we can learn from one of them as much as we can the other.  We are just going to continue to work on what we are working on and continue to get better,” said Matula.

          There are some new schemes this year in Willard and Matula says the players need to do a better job of understanding where they need to be on the field.  “I think we need to be a little more gap conscious.  We have to know our assignments a little bit better on the defensive side of the football.  Friday night there were some instances when we just didn’t tackle very well.  In the first game it was a little bit like that,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Again when you come up against a back like Campbell, and they also inserted Boatwright in at quarterback, they can break some tackles.  You have to get people to the football.  We have to get better at everything we have been preaching through two a days and the first two weeks of the season.”

          Willard is at home for Bucyrus (1-1) on Friday night in non-conference play.  This is a rivalry that dates back to when the Redmen were still in the Northern Ohio League.  After a 1-9 season last year, Matula believes that new Bucyrus coach Aaron Eckert has helped them turn the corner.  “I think they are a good football team.  They are excited by their first win of the year.  Obviously he has the kids going in the right direction.  It’s kind of funny, Bucyrus is my alma mater, I graduated from there.  I’ll be coaching against my alma mater for the first time in a football game.  Coach Eckert has the kids going in the right direction.  They have some weapons.  We are going to have to play smart, fundamental football again this week,” he said.

          Matula says coaching against his alma mater is much different from anyone else on the schedule.  “I don’t think so.  I am old man.  I graduated from Bucyrus in 1981.  I have been gone ever since I graduated and went to college and started my career at Edison.  I’m sure I will see some people that I know and that know me.  It will be fun for me to see the old red and white, and I guess, black now,” he said.      

 

 
   

Willard Needs to Bottle up the Run

 

          Willard made some big plays on offense, defense and special teams and turned that into a win on week one.  Again this week they face a strong running team as host Ontario in non-conference play on Friday night at Flashes Field.

          Corey Bohach blocked a punt and then caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter as the Flashes rallied to beat Margaretta last week.  First year coach Mark Matula says they didn’t dominate the stats, but they made the plays they needed to.  “We made two big plays and our defense played the preverbal bend and don’t break defense.  We got a couple key turnovers.  We got a huge turnover on a punt.  We hit the returner and our guys had great coverage and we recovered the fumbled punt.  Then we proceeded to drive down for the winning score and just stopped Margaretta on their last series,” he told Swankonsports.com, “The biggest thing with the kids is they just did not quit.  They kept playing the entire game.  I thought our kids were hitting as hard on defense at the end of the game as they were at the beginning of the game.  Like I told the kids it’s not where you are at the beginning, it’s where you are at the end.”

          Even with the win Matula believes his players understand that they need to execute better on both sides of the ball if they are going to beat the better teams on their schedule.  “We looked at the film in a big way and watched the entire game.  We have gotten to the point with the kids that I think they understand that it’s not just about watching the fun stuff on the film, but picking out what we did well and the things we did poorly.  I think the kids knew after the film session that we didn’t really play technically assignment wise very well.  I mean we won the football game, which is the whole goal, but we can definitely be a better football team assignment wise,” said Matula.

          Ontario (0-1) lost their first game of the season as Lexington scored twice in the fourth quarter to beat them (34-26) in the opener.  Jordan Campbell ran for 293 yards in a losing effort.  However, Matula says Ontario is a lot more than just him.  “It is not just him.  You have to be aware of the Phelps kid at quarterback.  He’s 6’2”, 210.  They have the Crider kid, who is a receiver that is perfectly cable of catching the ball.  And they have some size.  I think their offense revolves around number 5, the Campbell kid, and that’s our focus.  I think that is probably the strong suit of our defense.  If we keep taking strides like we have in the last two days,” Matula said.  

 

 
   

Run Game to Determine Winner

 

          Willard is now running out of the triple option and they are going to have to slow down the run game too as they travel to Margaretta to face the Polar Bears in their season opener.

          Mark Matula is in his first year as the Flashes head coach and he believes the players are excited about finally playing a game for real.  “I get the feeling that the kids are ready.  They have been through camp days and two a days.  Of course, we have had two scrimmages, but those are just scrimmages.  We talk about that this is their reward for all of that hard work.  It’s going to be fun to watch and see how they react,” he said.  Matula says kids can get a little stale during August.  “I don’t necessarily agree with all of the two a days after going through camps days with helmets on.  I understand why it is set up that way.  Kids do get tired that’s part of the two a day experience.  Once you get into game week you figure out that the practices are a little easier in the sense that it is just one practice a day.  They are definitely ready to hit somebody else and for it to matter.  I know one of the things we talked about that (Friday) it’s for real and we are keeping score for a reason,” said Matula.

          Matula cut his teeth as an assistant at Edison in the Sandusky Bay Conference and he is familiar with what the Polar Bears like to do on the field.  “They have a really good athlete in Austin Moore that plays tight end and outside linebacker.  He is about 6’3”, 6’4” and 205 and can run.  He is just a good athlete.  Their quarterback Tyler Hill is a heady kid,” he told Swankonsports.com, “He has a good arm and will run if he has to.  The thing about it is I have a lot of experience with Margaretta.  They are pretty much the same as they have been.  They are just a tough hard nosed football team.  We are going to have to match their physicality with our physicality and see what happens.”

          Matula knows the Flashes have to stop Margaretta’s run game and be able to eat up some yardage and put points on the board with theirs.  “We have got to stop their run on a consistent basis.  Coach Farlo runs the wing-t and runs the buck sweep and trap and the double hand off.  Those are things he has always been good at.  We have to stop their run and make them one dimensional.  We hen we get the football we have to grind on them a little bit.  I think we have some very comparable weapons in the backfield.  You really can’t concentrate on one guy in the triple option.  If we run things right and the way the kids have improved I think we have a real good chance to win the football game.  All of the clichés matter.  You have to take care of the ball and not have drive killing penalties,” said Matula.     

 

 
   

Willard Flashes are Giant Killers

 

          In the last two weeks the Willard Flashes baseball team has beaten two teams ranked in the top five in the state of Ohio and right now they have to be one of the most dangerous teams in this part of the state.

          Two weeks ago the Flashes (11-8,3-4) beat Norwalk (16-2,5-2) and on Tuesday night they downed Bellevue (15-4,4-3) in a Northern Ohio League game (5-4) and Flashes are starting to play pretty good ball.  Coach Joe Whitmer says especially anytime they have their number one pitcher on the hill they are tough to beat.  “Anytime I put Kyle Fluharty on the mound we have an opportunity to win.  Our kids have been executing.  We have talked about execution and our kids are starting to buy in and execute and it’s helping our team,” he said.

          Willard has another tough challenge on Thursday night as they meet “NOL” co-leader Tiffin Columbian (10-5,5-2) in a league contest on the road.  Tiffin beat Willard (5-4) in their first meeting April 10 at Willard.

          The “NOL” might just be the best baseball league its size in the northern part of the state.  Whitmer says every team in the league is loaded with talent.  “Four of the six teams are ranked in the state, two in division one, and two in division two.  It’s a solid league.  Shelby, who is young, is still challenging, they have beaten Sandusky and what not and then there is us.  We have three seniors, so I consider us somewhat young.  A lot of it depends on who is on the mound.  I like the Tuesday, Thursday format.  It’s getting us looks at different pitchers on different nights.  You can’t throw your number one all of the time.  It has given the league a lot more diversity from that aspect,” said Whitmer.

          Fluharty is one of the league’ top hurlers, but Whitmer says when the other guys pitch they need to start playing more consistent defense to give themselves a chance to win.  “I have a couple of other guys that are doing a great job for us, but they aren’t as much a strikeout pitcher as “Flu” is.  He had 10 (Tuesday) night in six innings worked.  He’s a strikeout guy,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “The other guys are groundball, fly ball guys.  So, when those other guys are up, we understand we have to play defense.  That has been a fault of ours.  We have had a couple of games where defensively we fell apart.  If we continue to pick the baseball and play defense we are very tough team to beat whoever is on the mound.”

          Of course, you can have the best pitching in the world, but if you can’t hit too, you are going to have trouble winning.  Whitmer says lately they have had the whole package.  “We have six returners that hit everyday last year and that helps.  We have worked really hard to have a plan at the plate.  The kids really love to hit.  Right now, things are really falling in our direction and I hope that continues,” he said.      

 

 
   

Willard Working Hard to be Consistent

 

          Willard won its first baseball game with ease, but their coach knows that it’s not going to be that easy the rest of the season.

          The Flashes hammered Oberlin (25-0) in a non-conference game on Tuesday evening.  Coach Joe Whitmer says the players did everything that he asked them to do.  “I was very pleased.  Our kids came out focused and did a lot of things right.  Some things we have worked on in practices they pulled over to the game.  We have been preaching to the kids when we do it in practice take it to the game and let’s go forward,” he said.

          Things are going to get tougher this week as they play Seneca East on Thursday, Mansfield Senior on Friday and play two against unbeaten Edison on Saturday.  Whitmer says they have to forget about what happened on Tuesday.  “We preach to our kids that you have to have a short memory in this game.  You are going to make an error and they it’s going to come right back to you.  You will over slide one day and the next day come back and be right on the ball.  We need to focus pitch to pitch and that is one thing that we talked about (Tuesday) night regardless of the score let’s stay focused and take care of business one pitch at a time.  That is going to be our biggest struggle this year staying focused the entire ball game,” said Whitmer.

          It’s a new Northern Ohio League this year and if the Flashes are going to be competitive they have to be ready when league play starts.  Whitmer says they have to keep improving.  “We try to put some good teams on our schedule early that will challenge and get us ready for a solid “NOL.”  Each game gets these kids a litter bit more in tune.  I have new guys in the lineup that are learning how I coach, learning my expectations and these games help tune them into that,” he said.

          Willard (1-0) has an outstanding pitcher in Kyle Fluharty, but Whitmer says they need to have pitching depth if they are going to be a contender in the league.  “It’s a completely different game than softball.  You can have one pitcher in softball and be pretty good.  In baseball, you have to have three or four if you want to be good.  Pitching and defense is what wins championships,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “You have to have depth.  We might be a little different this year with staff and try to make sure they get their innings in here and there.  We have a good returner in Kyle Fluharty.  I have three seniors at my one, two and three.  We preach to those guys that you have to throw strikes, that holds your pitch count down and you get the throw more innings.  We talk to our pitchers about pounding the zone, staying near the plate and giving our defense a chance.”

 

 
   

Willard Hoping Pitchers Grow up Quick

 

          If the fall and winter seasons are any kind of predictor then it should be a competitive baseball season in the Northern Ohio League this spring and the Willard Flashes hope they can be part of it.

          Coach Joe Whitmer thinks they have a solid nucleus from which to build from this year.  He says they have some quality kids returning to the team from last year.  “We have a lot of talent back.  We have six guys back that play extremely hard each and every day, a good core of seniors and a good core of juniors.  You know, we have high expectations every day.  Each time we come out we want to improve our game.  We are going to take each game out by out, inning by inning and see if things fall into place for us,” said Whitmer.

          Whitmer believes that baseball is the kind of sport that you must take one game at a time.  He says they are teaching their players the have short memories.  “Honestly we are teaching our pitchers, pitch by pitch because a lot of them if they throw a bad pitch they are down immediately.  We are using the terminology, next pitch.  If you throw a bad one, let’s get back on the bump and throw another pitch.  We want to make sure these kids battle and compete each and every pitch and every game,” he said.

          One the real positives with the Flashes this year is the type of leadership they have been getting on and off the field.  Plus, Whitmer says they have their most experienced players in the critical positions on the field.  “Right now, I have some good leaders.  I have your verbal leader and your role model leader.  I like our leadership on the field.  A fourth and fifth coach is really nice to have.  We have a couple nice guys back in the middle of the infield,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We have six guys back and all six are up the middle.  My catcher is back, number one pitcher is back, the shortstop, second baseman, and centerfielder are all back.  That’s a good core to have.  I hope these new bats are able to expand our good points.  You know, we have been through a long season.  The season puts a grind on you each and every day and hopefully with the experience of being through it that’s what going to help us get through this long season.”

          The Flashes are not going to have a lot experience in their pitching rotation, at least at the beginning of the season, but Whitmer hopes their defense is going to keep them in games.  “Everything always concerns you.  In practice not doing the right things at the right time.  I guess our pitching depth is a concern.  We have two guys back and two of them had a lot our innings last year.  I have two guys with a lot of experience and three guys that have never pitched at this level before, so that’s going to be an issue.  However, our defense I believe is going to be somewhat solid.  If they put the ball in play hopefully we can pick it and get the outs we need,” said Whitmer.

          Norwalk won the “NOL” title last season.  This year, Whitmer believes the race will tight and hopes the Flashes can be part of it.  “The league is going to shuffle up a little bit with Sandusky coming in.  They have some pretty good talent there as well.  Tiffin Columbian has a ton of talent back and Norwalk too.  I like those three teams and Shelby is always competitive.  Bellevue is always competitive also.  Baseball, in my mind, is much different than football and basketball.  You play one team on Friday night or Saturday night.  We are playing three league games in a week.  You know, you have to have pitching depth and injuries can occur.  You have to have so much flexibility if you are going to win the league.  I think the league will be very challenging.  I hope we compete each time out and I would like to see us at the top,” said Whitmer.        

 

 
   

Willard Must Not Gamble

 

          Willard stressed getting the ball down the floor last week when they beat Tiffin Columbian and Shelby in the sectional tournament and this week they must play almost totally opposite when they meet Elida Wednesday night in the division two district semi-finals at Ohio Northern University in Ada.

          For the first time in recent memory division two teams form the Greater Mansfield area are not playing their district games at Ashland University against schools from the Sandusky area.  Willard coach Dave Hirschy is hot and cold about the tournament being held at Ohio Northern.  “I think somebody in the OHSAA is geographically challenged.  All kidding aside it is what it is and I am just glad that we are at the point that we are at and we get a chance to explore these new geographic boundaries.  The teams that are coming out of the west are coming from great conferences and great programs.  The team that we are playing (Wednesday) night is no exception to that rule.  I know that Ohio Northern is a great venue.  I spent four great years there as an undergrad.  I am thrilled to death to be playing there to be quite honest on a personal note.  It doesn’t matter where you play at this point you have to be ready to go and be 100 percent focused and I think that is where we are heading, said Hirschy.

          Elida (19-3) won the Western Buckeye League this year.  Hirschy says they have one the best players in the Northwest part of the state and some other talented players to go with him.  “They are an outstanding offensive team.  They have a lot of firepower.  Reggie McAdams is one of the best players in the Northwest District.  He is a 6-6 senior heading to Akron, who can play outside and can post up.  I have compared him to John Diebler and that has probably opened up some eyes.  Maybe he is a poor man’s John Diebler.  The bottom line is he plays a lot like John and that is who he reminds me of.  He is a volume scorer,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “A lot of their offense goes through him and another kid by the name of Mathias, who is an excellent player as well.  He is a 6-3 sophomore who plays with a lot of court savvy.  The coach’s son Eric Thompson is a great standstill shooter.  They have athletes that can defend.  A kid named Stratton comes out and defends both inside and outside.  They have a quick slashing point guard in number 11 McDonald, who is just as quick with the basketball as anyone we have seen up to this point.”

          Hirschy feels Elida will try to get in their face and go after them with some intense defense and they will have to handle that.  “Defensively they are basically a man-to-man team.  They will show some pressure during certain segments in the game, but they create some difficult match-ups that’s for sure,” he said.

          Elida has a variety of skills and Hirschy feels they are kind of like a cross between two of the best teams they have played this season in Norwalk and Lexington.  “I was telling Steve Gray at our “NOL” banquet (Monday) night that they are a hybrid between Lexington and Norwalk.  They have the size of a Lexington and they have some of the difficult mismatches like a Norwalk.  They Stratton kid reminds me a lot of Jeff Thomas of Norwalk.  Basically McAdams reminds me a lot of Brooks of Lexington.  If you could combined those two teams I guess that’s what you would see.  They are awfully good.  Their three losses are to some quality opponents in Lima Central Catholic, Toledo Central Catholic and Van Wert.  They are a solid team and they are very, very well coached,” Hirschy said.

          Willard (12-10) has the potential to score a lot of points in a game.  They beat Shelby (76-74) in the sectional final.  They outscored an athletic Sandusky team twice.  However, Hirschy believes Elida is not a team they want to run with.  “We are going to have to be a little bit more patient offensively.  We are going to have to make them work on the defensive end of the floor.  We are going to have to execute our sets to precision.  If we don’t like what we have we have to bring it back out and reset and be a little more deliberate on the offensive end of the floor.  We have to kind of let our offense be our defense so to speak, kind of like ground control in football,” said Hirschy.

          In addition, Hirschy says they must play outstanding defense and they can not allow the athletic Bulldogs to dominate the boards.  “Defensively we have to know where the big three are at all times.  We have to know where McAdams, Mathias, and Thompson are on the floor.  We can’t give a lot of free looks.  We can’t extend possessions.  We have to make sure we get a whole plethora of one and outs.  If we allow them two of three shots at the basket they are going to take advantage of that.  If we can take care of that we will be there at the end,” said Hirschy.      

 

 
   

Willard Has to go Four Quarters

 

 

          They are 0-2 so far this season and Friday night marks the last chance the Willard Flashes get a chance to beat the rival Shelby Whippets as they meet in the division two sectional finals at Bucyrus High School.

          In semi final play on Wednesday night, Willard (11-10) railed from a 24-9 second quarter deficit to beat the Tiffin Columbian Tornados (59-50) to advance to the match-up with Shelby.  Willard coach Dave Hirschy says they played with a lot of heart.  “I have been on them a lot this season.  I told them after the game there have been times when I have questioned their toughness, I have questioned their mental capacity and called then out.  They answered the bell (Wednesday) night in spades.  I was really, really happy with the effort, especially in the second, third and fourth quarters,” he said.

          Willard began the game in a zone defense and that didn’t work at all against the Tornados.  Hirschy says they had to make some adjustments in order to get back in the game and his kids adapted well.  “I credit Tiffin, they just came out of the gate and they were just incredibly on fire.  They made four threes in the first quarter.  We started in a zone in hopes that maybe we could cut down on their penetration and obviously contest jump shots and if they were missing shots early on a neutral floor, I felt we could get off to a good start.  Well, that backfired, they shot the ball like Bucyrus was their home gym.  So, we had to get out of the zone pretty quickly and go man, but our kids answered the bell.  We had some adversity with Haden (Adams) getting injured.  It really showed the character of our kids,” said Hirschy.

          Execution of the half court offense against the Tiffin Columbian man-to-man defense was key for the Flashes in the second half, but Hirschy says it was their work on the boards, by Marcus Hahler in specific, that kept them in the game early.  “The thing that carried I think in the first half was the fact that we were getting to the offensive glass.  I thought Marcus Hahler kind kept our ship a float so to speak.  We were struggling offensively, but we were able to get to the offensive glass.  You know, we slowed down a little bit offensively.  It had been a while since we had seen man for four quarters.  We were able to run some of our offenses, some of our sets,” he said, “Once the kids slowed down I thought they did a pretty good job of either getting to the basket or they had good looks.  Matt Cok struggled for the field.  He didn’t take a bad shot, those are makable shots for him.  I thought we got pretty good shot selection on the offensive end.  For the most part we played pretty solid defense.  They were able to get to the front of the rim a couple of times, but that is more of credit to their athleticism.  When you have guys like Lonsway and Boyer that are so exceptionally quick it’s just hard to contain them,” said Hirschy.

          Once again Shelby was able to rally from as many as eight points down in the second half to beat Clear Fork (57-50) in their semi-final game.  Hirschy says there is just no quit in the Whippets.  “If you use a boxing analogy they are like Marvelous Marvin Hagler.  They are a 15 round boxing squad.  I mean that in an all complementary sense.  When you play them you better be ready to play four quarters because they don’t go through lulls.  They may have a bad possession here and there.  They may get down, but they are never out.  That is a credit to the job that Troy has done with that program and to his senior leadership.  I mean with Conner and Garrett and those guys, they just have no quit,” he told told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “We have to prepare for a 15 round fight.  We went seven rounds maybe in the first game and probably four rounds the second game.  There is just no way you can get up on that team and relax.  If you get down to that team they will just keep coming at you.  They are relentless.  In this point in the game we just have to find a way.  We have a quick turn around time to figure out a way that we can last and be consistent against a very solid basketball squad.”

          Hirschy says the Whippets (16-5) now how to run their offense.  They know where shots should come from and they know you should take them and sometimes that can be a difficult concept for the high school aged player.  “One thing that has always been a key and I have been impressed with was when Troy first got there they ran a lot of high low stuff and post oriented offense.  Now they have gone to a five out motion and their kids know their roles so well.  They read defenses so well for a high school basketball team.  They curl screens, they fade screens.  They know where the ball needs to go at critical times.  They space the floor, they penetrate gaps.  If need be they can run their sets.  When you play Shelby you have to prepare for a lot of different things.  They have two guys that are pretty solid and can break you down if the offense goes south, with Nelson and Arnold.  You look at how well Calver is playing right now.  Tre has had some big games.  He played really well the last time we played them.  He hit some big threes (Wednesday) night as did Grant Fenner,” said Hirschy.          

 

 
   

Can Willard be Consistent?

 

          Willard has all of the elements of a good team, but can they prove that for 32 minutes?  That’s what they are going to need to advance in the postseason tournament. 

          The Flashes (10-10) play Northern Ohio League rival Tiffin Columbian (9-11) in the division two sectional semi-finals on Wednesday night at Bucyrus High School.

          They had been playing some pretty good basketball, even in a loss to unbeaten Norwalk, until last Friday night when they were blitzed by rival Shelby (61-40) in a league game.  Willard coach Dave Hirschy says they went through a period during the third quarter when it looked like they were in a daze.  “We laid an egg in the third quarter, actually it kind of started in the middle of the second.  We had a very good competitive first quarter with them, we had the lead 12-11 going into the second.  We just had a few bad possessions in the second quarter where we turned the ball over and gave them an opportunity to go to work on the offensive end.  We got down seven at halftime,” Hirschy told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “We just had a rugged third quarter where we couldn’t get over the hump.  Garrett Arnold caught fire.  We got him in early foul trouble, but he was able to avoid of getting in any desperate foul trouble.  They came out in the third and really shot it well.  They had some other kids step up too.  Tre Calver stepped up for them and really had a nice game.  Conner Nelson was Conner Nelson.  He was a load inside and they put everything together in the third.  They went on a 13-0 run and it was game, set and match after that.”

          Willard has played two pretty good games against Tiffin Columbian.  They lost the first one (57-47), but they took a significant early lead and held on to beat Tiffin (74-70) earlier this month.  Hirschy says they are going to have to be hitting on all cylinders if they are going to beat Tiffin for a second time in less than a month.  “It’s going to boil down to execution.  It is going to boil down to getting over the first tournament game jitters.  Basically execution is going to have to be flawless in order for us to beat them.  They are a good basketball squad.  I have said it before they can put five scorers on the floor.  Whenever you play a team that has that kind of offensive fire power you are going to have to have your “A” game,” he said.

          The biggest thing in Hirschy’s mind is being able to avoid going through a dry spell in the game offensively or falling asleep on defense and allowing Tiffin to get a lead.  “I just think right now we have put a couple of big nights of practice together.  I feel real good right now about my team.  It’s just going to a matter of when we go over to Bucyrus of putting everything together and not having that bad run.  Putting together a consistent four quarters is something we are still striving for.  We have played well for two quarters, we have played well for three, but rarely have we put a four quarter game together.  I would like to see that happen, better late than never,” said Hirschy.

          Basketball is a game of momentum and Hirschy understands that Columbian is going to have runs in the game.  He says the difference will be how they respond to them.  “It is being able to handle those runs.  Everybody is going to have them and it’s how you handle that adversity.  There are times when we have done a pretty good job, in fact the last time we played Tiffin they made a huge run at us and we were able to counter it and it was one of our better games as far as that category is concerned.  Unfortunately one of our worst games was last week as far as being able to handle adversity,” said Hirschy.   

 

 
   

Willard Making Things Happen

 

          The Willard Flashes continue to play some pretty good basketball as they took unbeaten Norwalk into the fourth quarter and then beat Mansfield Madison last week.

          On Friday night they conclude the regular season portion of their schedule with a visit to Shelby to meet the rival Whippets in a Northern Ohio League game.

          It was kind of a game of ifs and buts for the Flashes (10-9,4-5) last Friday at home against unbeaten Norwalk as the Truckers pulled out their 18th straight win (66-58) of the season.  Willard coach Dave Hirschy says if they could only erase the second quarter things might have been different.  “It basically boiled down to a tough second quarter for us.  We were tied at 12 at the end of the first quarter and then in the second quarter they got guys in good position offensively and we didn’t get some guys covered to be honest with you out of our zone.  I think they went five straight possessions were they scored.  We had two of three empty possessions where we just threw it away.  The lead swelled up to 15 at halftime,” Hirschy told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We went through one bad spell in that basketball game, but it was enough to make a difference.  We fought back in the second half and got it to two points with the basketball.  Cory Bohach, we got him a good look.  If he would have canned the three we would have got the lead and I don’t know what would have happened from there.  It was one of those games where I felt like if we could just get the lead we might be in good shape.  After that they were able to get the lead back to four or six and then we were just kind of see sawing back and forth.  Our kids put a valiant effort together in the second half to make things close.”

          On Saturday night, the Flashes were able to edge (53-49) the injury plagued Madison Rams.  Hirschy feels Madison coach Doug Rickert has done a great job with what he has had to deal with.  “I feel for Doug because he’s a great coach.  He kind of has the “Midas Touch.”  He coaches baseball and they are successful.  He coaches basketball and they are successful.  With injuries and things that have happened over there this year he can probably coach the chess team if they had one because he is able to move all of those parts and do some things.  He has just done a whale of a job,” he said.

          Hirschy says his kids just gutted it out in the end to come up with the win.  “It was a battle.  Thompson had a great game for them.  I mean they were shot handed.  Lampert just barley played a little bit.  Brooks was out for the whole game.  Black played sparingly, in and out.  We were fortunate.  We got a lead.  We got up I think 14 at one point.  They buried a couple threes to make it an eight point game at the half.  In the second half we kind of built on the lad a little bit, but they came roaring back.  Some of their young kids really stepped up and played well,” he said, “I was proud of my guys that we were able to hang on because we were battling two opponents.  We were battling Madison and we were battling fatigue.  At the end of the game we had nothing left in the tank.  I had to extend some minutes on some guys that had played quite a bit the night before,” Hirschy said.

          Shelby (14-5,6-2) beat Willard (67-55) in mid-January and Hirschy says he knew the Whippets were going to be good again this year despite some losses to graduation.  “Shelby has had our number of quite some time now.  Troy does a great job over there with those guys.  A lot of people counted them out this year after Ingle graduated and some of those guys.  We knew as long as Garrett Arnold and Conner Nelson and some of the other kids were there they were going to be tough.  One thing that people fail to remember is guys like Jacoby Wilson and Tre Calver, those guys got valuable minutes last year.  They know how to play the game,” he said.

          Willard’s only loss in the second half of league play comes last week to Norwalk and Hirschy says if they are able to turn the tables on the Whippets they have to do a better job rebounding and on defense.  “If you play good defense you are always going to be around and that’s what Shelby does.  They are as good on the ball as anybody we play.  They just do what they do.  I know that sounds pretty generic.  They go out on the basketball floor and say this is what we are going to do and you have got to stop it.  They do a marvelous job of that.  With that being said we are going to have to do a lot better job this time around rebounding the basketball.  They killed us on the boards last time.  Rody came in and just had the game of a lifetime against us last time.  We can’t let so many guys get open looks like we did the last time,” said Hirschy.     

 

 
   

Willard is Improved and They Will Need to be

 

          Willard has won six of its last eight basketball games and the Flashes have become one of the most improved teams in the North Central Ohio region over the second half of the season.

          Coach Dave Hirschy says they have been able to correct some of the faults they were making early in the season, but he still feels they can get a lot better.  “We have made some improvements certainly and there is more room for improvement.  You know me the glass is always half empty.  Somebody said you never happy.  I said I like to quote Chuck Daly “I am just an optimist with experience” and we always have to be ready for the next one.  I am happy with where we are at right now,” he said, “I think our kids are doing a nice job of buying in with trying to reach that goal of getting better the second half of the season.  So far, we are undefeated in league play in the second half of the season.  So, that is one of the goals that we set for ourselves at the halfway point.  We have two tough ones coming up this weekend and we have to get ready for those,” said Hirschy.

          Last Friday, Willard took a 19 point first half lead and held on to beat Tiffin Columbian (74-70) on the road in a Northern Ohio league game.  Hirschy was impressed by the composure his team showed in an emotional second half.  “I am not sure that is a game we would have won the last two or three years.  Because we got a lead, but we need to do a little bit better job of taking care of those leads.  Tiffin is a good basketball team and we knew they would make a run at us.  I credit the kids, they did a great job of keeping their composure, probably a little bit better than the coach did.  We had some calls go against us that were questionable, but the kids just hung in there.  They hung tough and I am very proud of that fact.  We were able to build that lead, but once they made the run we were able to counter it a little bit, so that says a lot about our kids,” said Hirschy.

          This Friday night, the Flashes (9-8,4-4) host the unbeaten Norwalk Truckers (18-0,8-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power poll in the large school division, in league action.  Norwalk has had squeak out wins over Shelby (46-45), Sandusky (66-65) and Bellevue (53-51) in recent weeks.  Hirschy does not believe they are showing signs of weakness.  “Everybody goes through a little bit of a lull.  A lot of teams go through those lulls and end up with losses.  Norwalk just finds a way to win and I think that’s a credit to what they do.  I was talking to Steve (Gray) Saturday at the freshman tournament.  We were talking a lot about that.  It’s hard to keep winning and maintaining winning.  You are not going to blow out everybody.  Our league is tough.  People watch film and they try to come up with ways to stop what you do.  It’s a credit to the Norwalk kids and the Norwalk coaching staff that they were able to win those games, those close games.  They are going to have close games in the tournament too.  I think that is going to help them down the road as a team.  Right now, we have to take care of what we do and hopefully get better at some things we have been trying to do here in the second half.  I hope we can find some chinks in their armor, I don’t think there are many,” said Hirschy.

          Norwalk won the first meeting (60-45) on the first week of January and if they are to pull the upset, Hirschy says there are a couple of things that his Flashes must to a better job with.  “Last time, the two glaring things that stood out in my opinion were offensive rebounding and transition defense.  I just felt Norwalk took it to us in conversion.  They went from defense to offense right now.  I was very impressed by how they ran the floor.  Film doesn’t simulate that and your JV team doesn’t simulate that in practice.  That was one of the glaring weaknesses was how athletic they were,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “Their length really hurt us.  There were times we thought we were in good checkout position and they were athletic enough to get around us or get above us.  We have to do a much better job of keeping them off the glass.  I can’t remember what they had the first time, but it was in the teens in offensive rebounds.  They beat us by 15 and it could have been a lot worse.  We were fortunate to get our of there just losing by 15, so we have to take care of transition defense and being able to keep them off the boards.”

          In non-conference play on Saturday night, Willard pays a visit to Mansfield Madison (9-8) to face an athletic Rams team.  Hirschy knows that will be a challenge too.  “It doesn’t get any easier, that’s for sure.  Coach Rickert year in and year out does as go a job as anybody.  They are athletic.  They get up and down the floor.  They shoot it well and they get up and down the floor.  I am going to have to start looking at them a little bit latter, but right now our focus is Norwalk.  Madison is going to give us a real good test, we go down to their place.  They normally play very well at home.  I just have bad nightmares from two years ago when they hit 10 threes down there against us.  I thought we played well offensively and did some good things.  I kept looking up at the scoreboard and the next thing you know we are down 10, 12, 15 points.  They were just able to counter everything that we did,” said Hirschy.     

 

 
   

Willard Playing Well

 

          Willard is the kind of basketball team that might be pretty dangerous come the postseason tournament because they are beginning to put some things together.

          They railed from nine down with less than four minutes to play to beat rival Bellevue (75-71) in overtime last Saturday night.  Willard coach Dave Hirschy says they really had to dig deep and make some key steals to come up with the win in the game.  “We were down by two going into halftime and Bellevue was shooting very well form the perimeter.  I believe they had four or five threes in the first half.  Four of their first five possessions, in fact, were threes.  Those were contested threes where they were just shooting the ball extremely well.  We were just lucky to be down two at half.  We came out and didn’t play a very good third quarter.  Bellevue got up on us by 12 points I believe at one point.  In the fourth we were looking at some foul trouble for some of our guards.  I believe we were down nine with 3:30 to go.  It was kind of an act out of desperation,” he said, “We scratched and clawed and extended for the floor a little bit.  We were able to creates some turnovers and convert them into easy baskets.  Some clutch free throw shooting kept us around.  We had some bad judgment on defense at the end of the game that allowed Bellevue to win it.  Luckily they spilt some free throws and we were able to get it into overtime and then win it.  It was a testimony to our kids they worked extremely hard to get back in the ballgame.  I was extremely proud of their effort,” said Hirschy.

          This Friday night, the Flashes (8-8,3-4) travel to Tiffin Columbian for face the Tornados (8-7,3-4) in a Northern Ohio League game.  Hirschy says the Tornados really stretch you on defense because they have a lot of guys that can score the ball in different ways.  “They have five guys on the floor that you have to be consensus of.  They have five scorers on the floor at all times.  Their bigs can step out and shoot the ball.  Hemminger inside has made improvements by leaps and bounds as far as his post movement and what he is able to do in he low post.  Lonsway is an excellent shooter from the perimeter.  Boyer is a very good penetrater, but he shot the ball very well against us, but then again everybody has.  You have Loura, who is an excellent athlete.  He can post you and he can go out on the perimeter and shoot it.  Kneeskern is one of the better post shooters in our league.  He comes in from that trail position and can just knock down the three,” Hirschy told Swankonsports.com, “There is not anybody on the floor you can relax on.  You have to guard everybody and they are a tough team.  They are as good as anybody when they are playing well.  So much of that is match ups and I think they match up pretty well with our guys.  It is going to be a tough test for us over at Columbian on Friday night.”

          Tiffin beat Willard (57-47) the first time teams met on December 30. Columbian outscored the Flashes 15-7 in the fourth quarter of that game.

          Willard is part of a tough division two sectional tournament at Bucyrus High School.  Hirschy says it they can continue to play well they could do some damage in that tournament.  “At this point we are playing pretty well.  I hope we can continue to do that.  It is going to be a rough road for us here at the end because we are looking at Tiffin on Friday, then next week we come back with Norwalk and Madison and then finish the year at Shelby.  It is going to be a real test for our guys going into tournament play.  So much of it is momentum.  We have talked a lot about that and right now we have some momentum,” he said, “We want to make sure we continue to ride that wave so to speak.  It’s gong to be a real test, but I think our guys are up to the task.  We have been through worse, that’s for sure.  We have had to claw and scratch to get back to.500.  We talked a lot about teams in the sports world.  You look at the Giants.  They won a Super Bowl and at one time they lost four straight and were 7-7.  You look at UConn last year in the NCAA’s.  They were 9-9 in the Big East and they end up winning a national championship.  We have told our kids, stranger things have happened, but you have to stay the course,” said Hirschy.   

 

 
   

Willard Playing Well Again

 

          It seems the Willard Flashes has been up and down as much as any boys’ basketball team in this area this season, but they seem to be up again after a very good performance last Friday night against Sandusky.

          Willard stomped on the athletic Streaks (66-52) last week as guard Kolin Phillips had 17 points.  Even hard to impress coach Dave Hirschy had to smile when reviewing film of the win.  “Actually it was probably our best performance of the year, but you know me the glass is always half empty.  There is always room for improvement.  You never play as well as you think you do when you watch film and you are never as bad as you think you are when you watch film,” he told Swankonsports.com, “ I saw a lot more good than bad, but we still need to do a better job rebounding.  Even though I though we dominated on the glass in the second half.  Our execution was a lot better, but it still needs some improvement.  We have a quality opponent coming up with Bellevue this week, so those are two areas that we really want to address.”

          The Flashes (7-8,2-4) play host to rival Bellevue (6-9,1-5) on Saturday night in Northern Ohio League play.  Hirschy says Bellevue point guard Jalen Santoro lit them up the last time they played.  Bellevue beat Willard (56-49) when Santoro had 26 points.  “Jalen Santoro is one of the better point guards in our league.  The last time we played them he had not found his shooting grove yet, but broke out of his shooting slump against us.  I believe he had four or five threes against us last time.  We didn’t do a very good job of reaching him in our zone.  We have to do a much better job of being aware of were he is at on the floor.  He can hurt you off the bounce and he can hurt you off the catch.  He is one of those guys that dominates the basketball.  He is a quality player.  He is a veteran player,” said Hirschy.

          Being able to execute against the ever changing Bellevue defense is a key anytime you play them.  Hirschy says you must recognize the defense and know how to score against it.  “A big thing that Raf (Bellevue coach Mike Raifsnider) likes to do is he likes to keep you off balance.  A lot of times what he will do is switch defenses.  He will show a defense and then it will bleed right into another defense.  He will come out of a dead ball situation or out of a time out or a quarter break in something different.  He may run a different defense out of a side out.  He tries to keep you off balance and he has been successful at doing that for a long time,” he said.

          Hirschy really believes you can ill afford to be passive against the Redmen because if you do then they will come after you and things get more difficult.  “You have to be in attack mode when you play Bellevue, you can’t set back on your heels.  Because once you do that they will come at you with their press.  They extend the floor pretty well.  There have been times this year when they have been very, very good out of their half court defense.  Where we have had trouble in years past is when we have been back on our heels and we haven’t attacked.  We certainly can’t do that on Saturday,” said Hirschy.

          Now out of the Northern Ohio league race, Hirschy says they are concentrating on the postseason and they would like to put together a win streak going into the tournament.  “It’s not going to be easy.  We have got the rest of our league opponents and you throw Madison in on the loop there we have a tough schedule to round out the year.  Right now, as the old cliché goes we are just going to take it a game at a time.  And just hope we can get better and better going into tournament play,” he said.

 

 
   

Willard Must be Stronger

 

          Willard has the athleticism and the skill to compete against anyone they play, but they have not been able to avoid the stretches of four or five minutes when the other team scores four or five baskets in a row.

          That is what happened last week in losses to Shelby (67-55) in a Northern Ohio League game and Fremont Ross (68-60) in a non-conference game on Saturday night.

          Willard coach Dave Hirschy says they had chances, a really good chance on Saturday night, to win the games.  “You know, I thought we competed quite well.  We just haven’t put together a consistent four quarters for quite sometime now.  Both games kind of mirrored each other with the exception that we had a seven point lead in the later stages of the third against Fremont.  They hit a couple of big threes, much like Shelby did the night before, and got momentum back and we just kind of folded.  We just collapsed,” Hirschy told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “I guess we just have to get up over that hump.  We have to start believing we can take care of business.  Basketball is a game of runs.  We have to be able to handle that.  We didn’t handle it very well either night.  I thought our kids played well in segments we just have to get over that mental hump right now.”

          Hirschy says they have to be able to respond when their opponent makes a run.  He says they back down and make a lot of mistakes instead of battling.  “I felt Saturday we snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory.  I really thought that we put together a good four or five possessions in that third quarter and got up seven with the ball with a chance to put them away.  I think we committed a turnover and they came down and hit a three.  We then committed four turnovers out of the next five possessions.  You can’t panic in those situations.  Teams are going to have momentum swings and they are going to make runs at you.  It’s how you handle it, how you withstand it.  At least in the last two games we haven’t responded very well,” said Hirschy.

          Willard (6-8,1-4) travels to Sandusky (6-6,2-3) in a “NOL” game on Friday night.   The Flashes only win in the “NOL” came against Sandusky (66-62) on December 9.  Hirschy says they must compete on the offensive glass and get back on defense.  “You really have to be consciences of a couple things.  As I look at tape of our last game and watched the last two or three games that they have played.  They are excellent at attacking the offensive glass.  They have great athleticism at every position.  All five guys have got to get a body on someone when a shot goes up.  The second thing that I think we really have to be aware of is getting back in defensive transition.  You know, Sandusky will push the ball at you off of dead ball situations as well as a rebound or a turnover.  They are excellent at converting turnovers into two-point baskets.  We have to make sure we are getting people back.  At the same token we have to make sure we hit the offensive glass.  If we can do those two things, as well as take care of the basketball, we should be in pretty good shape,” he said.

          Another thing is Hirschy says they have to attack the Blue Steaks because many times teams that attack don’t like to be attacked.  He says they have not done a good job with that this year.  “I think that has been one of our weaker areas at least on the offensive end of the floor.  We play back on our heels.  We play too tentative.  I think you have to push it up a little bit against them.  You have to take what the defense gives you.  If you don’t have a situation when you can get an easy basket by dumping it down into the post or get a lay up or anything off a straight line drive.  I think you have to get it right back and run your stuff.  That is something where I am disappointed because we have not done that near enough,” said Hirschy.

 

 
   

Three Wins in a Row For Willard

 

          With wins last week over Marion Harding and Huron, the Willard Flashes have now won three straight games and they have started to put some things together.

          Head coach Dave Hirschy says they are starting to believe in themselves more and they are doing it at the right time.  “We are playing with a little more confidence now and it’s probably a pretty good thing going into the weekend because we are going to need plenty of confidence we are going to be playing in Shelby and Fremont,” he said.

          Kolin Phillips scored 20 points and the Flashes outscored Huron 42-21 over the last three quarters of the game to pick up a 48-40 win on Saturday night in non-conference action.  “I was really pleased Saturday night.  We got down 19-6 to a really good Huron team after one quarter and the kids chipped away.  I couldn’t be prouder of the way they came back.  We cut it to six in the first half and in the second half we made some things happen,” Hirschy told Swankonsports.com on Sunday night, “We pushed out our transition a little more and got some offense from our defense.  That was big thing for us, that is something we have been wanting to door for a while.  We have been striving to reach that goal and we were able to attain it Saturday night.”

          Hirschy says at the beginning of the season and then through the holidays they talked about getting better after Christmas and winning three of their four games this month, the only loss was to unbeaten Norwalk, he feels they have done that.  “That was one of our goals.  Last year, we got off to a great start and we really didn’t get better after Christmas.  We talked a lot about that.  No matter how bad things get, and at times they got pretty bad, we were 3-6 at one point.  We reassessed our goals and now we are 6-6.  We are going into a brutal part of our schedule, but I like going into it 6-6 rather than three and whatever,” he said.

          Willard (6-6,1-3) plays host to Shelby (8-3,3-1) in a Northern Ohio League game on Friday night.  Hirschy says the Whippets are more than just Garrett Arnold and Conner Nelson.  “When you watch them on film they have so many kids that can shoot the basketball.  When you think of Shelby you think of Conner Nelson and Garrett Arnold, but you look at how Calver is playing, you look at how Wilson is playing right how, you look at how Fenner is playing.  They are shooting the ball with a lot of confidence.  The play loose, they get after you defensively,” said Hirschy.  Arnold is a four year starter at point guard and Nelson is a three year varsity player.

          When they were struggling this year the Flashes had some trouble with turnovers.  Hirschey says they have to be able to handle the Whippets press.  “It’s going to be a real stiff challenge.  They do what they do and they do it quite well.  That’s a credit to coach Schwemley.  They have been doing it for how many years now that he has been there.  They are just a solid basketball team that plays with a lot of confidence and a lot of swagger.  We are going to have to find a way.  One of the big keys is going to be handling the pressure.  We can’t let them create offense through their defense,” said Hirschy.

          Willard and Shelby have been long time rivals and Hirschy knows this might be an important game when it comes to tournament seeding as well.  “Shelby brings a great cheering section over.  It’s a rivalry.  It’s one of those things where out kids are going to have to have their “A” game ready there is no question.  Right now, the “NOL” is one team race and hopefully Tiffin can do some things to disrupt Norwalk.  We can’t control that.  We can only control what we do.  We just want to focus in on Shelby.  I just hope we can compete and make it a good basketball game,” said Hirschy.  

 

 
   

Willard Must Avoid Turnovers

 

          Willard may be a basketball team on the rise after playing maybe their best game of the year last Saturday night.

          Last week, the Flashes (4-6) lost to unbeaten Norwalk (60-45), #1 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power poll for larger schools, but beat a pretty good Margaretta team (62-38) rather handily on Saturday night in non-conference action.

          Willard coach Dave Hirschy says Norwalk forced them to do some things that they really aren’t very good at doing.  “It was a combination of things.  Norwalk is very talented and very athletic.  It is tough to simulate that kind of athleticism in practice.  They absolutely destroyed us on the offensive glass.  We had them with 14 offensive boards and I think they converted on 10 of those.  You take 20 points out that equation and it’s a little bit of a different story.  We kind of also got caught up in the tempo and forced some poor shots.  Our shots selection was not good.  I credit Norwalk for that because they were able to get us to the speed game that we are really capable of playing,” said Hirschy.

          In the Margaretta game, Hirschy thought the Flashes shot selection was a lot better and they didn’t turn the ball over as much as they have this season.  “On Saturday, we kind of turned it around.  We made a couple of changes and our point guards did a great job getting us in our offense.  I thought defensively it was one our best performances of the year.  I was very pleased with the bounce back effort that our kids put forth on Saturday,” he said.

          With wins this week at home over Marion Harding on Thursday and Huron on Saturday would bring the Flashes back to the break even point this season.  However, Hirschy knows that won’t be easy.  “That’s what we are hoping, you know.  It’s not going to be easy, you know, Marion Harding brings in a lot of athleticism and coach Jury does such a good job with those kids year and year out.  Huron is one of the premier programs in the “SBC.”  We are going to have a tough task in front of us, but we are used to that.  We have a little bit of momentum.  We are coming off the best game of year for us.  We are hoping we can carry that into the games this week.  If our shot selection improves and I thought it did Saturday and if can continue to defend and rebound like we did Saturday then anything is possible,” Hirschy said.

          Marion Harding has struggled record wise this season, but they will come after you with some athletes.  Hirschy hopes some changes they have made in their lineup will continue to pay dividends on Thursday night.  “I have a freshman point guard in Carson Ebert right now and he has done an excellent job of taking care of the basketball.  That is one area that I think we have really improved on.  Basically I have three guards on the floor.  We started the year with Colon Phillips on the point.  We moved him over to one of our wing positions.  Matt Cok has played some point for us and he is on the other wing.  So, basically I have three point guards on the floor,” he told Swankonsports.com, “I think that will help to alleviate some of the turnover problems that we’ve had.  We have moved Marcus Hahler back into the post, who had played some wing for us.  So, I’ve got four pretty ball handlers on the floor at one time.  I look at our Sandusky game from a few weeks ago and we handled their pressure quite well and we were able to convert their pressure into some easy baskets.  I’m hoping if we do see pressure from Marion Harding that we take good care of the basketball.”

          Huron (5-3) comes calling on Saturday night and Hirschy says the Tigers are a really good basketball team that is just a whisker away from being better.  “I think they have lost three games that could easily have been won.  They were one or two possession type games.  They are returning most of their team back from last year that made a good run in the tournament.  Coach James does an excellent job down at Huron and they have athletic kids.  They can get up and down the floor, they execute very well and they defend very well.  Again we are going to have to handle the ball and do a good job of creating good shots out of our offense,” said Hirschy.      

 

 
   

Willard Faces Big Challenge

 

          Willard has been up and down as a basketball team this season and they better be really up when they travel to Norwalk to play perhaps the best team in the area on Friday night.

          Last week, the Flashes had a good first half, which led to a 28-27 lead over Tiffin Columbian in a Northern Ohio League game, but the second half belonged to Tiffin and the Tornados beat Willard 57-47.  Willard coach Dave Hirschy says they were not able to maintain things after the break.  “I felt like we played one of our better halves.  We got Tiffin to stand around a little bit.  We kind of got them a little a bit out of rhythm.  The biggest thing was to get them out of their transition and we didn’t do that as well as we intended.  They are awfully good when they get the ball in the open court.  We lost Boyer a couple of times and he got a hot hand and kept them around in that first half.  We managed to have a one-point lead going in at halftime.” Hirschy told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “We didn’t come out with the same inspired play defensively.  We extended too many possessions in the third quarter.  We allowed them to be quicker to loose balls and offensive rebounds.  Loura and Boyer, some of their main cogs, really took it to us in the second half.”

          Norwalk (8-0,3-0) is unbeaten on the season, ranked #1 in the Swankonsports.com basketball power poll for larger schools, and leads the “NOL” standings by a game over Tiffin Columbian and Shelby.  Hirschy says they have the personnel to do just about anything they want on offense.  “They have a good combination of perimeter play up front with Haraway, Cook and of course inside Federoff is one of the better post players and I think Cashen in one of the better offensive rebounders in the area.  Their bench has been giving them quite a bit too.  They can go up and down.  They can go a variety of ways.  They are good in transition.  They are good in the open floor.  They run their sets extremely well.  They have committed a little bit more to the dribble drive offense this year, which I think suits their personnel,” said Hirschy.

          Norwalk coach Steve Gray has always featured a lot of combination zone defenses and tough man-to-man.  Hirschy says they will see a lot of pressure too from the Truckers.  “Defensively, they come at you in waves.  They’ll show a multitude of looks.  They will trap you in the full court.  They will try and run and jump you a little bit.  We have to be prepared for about anything with Norwalk.  Coach Gray does a great job over there and they are a great team,” he said.

          Willard (3-5,1-2) may not have to play a perfect game to beat the Truckers, but they will have to clean up the mistakes they have been making in order to have a chance to win.  “We are going to have to be a little tougher.  You know, that is a big thing that I have been preaching for about eight games or so.  We are going to need a little bit more toughness on both ends of the floor.  I think our execution has to improve immensely on the offensive end of the floor.  We can’t commit as many silly turnovers.  Our turnovers are glaring turnovers.  They are turnovers that you can ill afford to make as a basketball team.  You can’t turn the ball over against a zone for instance.  I can live with turnovers once in a while if they are in transition if you are trying to make that extra pass.  Ours aren’t those, ours are silly turnovers.  We have to eliminate those.  Defensively we can’t lose shooters.  We have to know what our assignments are and we can ill afford to have empty possessions,” said Hirschy.        

 

 
   

Willard Has to Maintain Contact

 

          Norwalk is threatening to run away and hide in the Northern Ohio League and the Willard Flashes need a win to keep themselves in contention in the league race.

          They host the Tiffin Columbian Tornados in a league game on Friday night.  They have not played since December 20 (a 50-41 win over Galion) and coach Dave Hirschy says it has given them some time to sort of catch their breath and work on some things in practice.  “We took that time to sure up some things that we needed on both ends of the floor.  Turnovers have been sort of a problem for us this year, so we have taken some time to take a little bit more care of the basketball,” said Hirschy.

          Many teams either get better or they get worse coming through the stretch of days around the holidays when kids aren’t in school.  Hirschy says they want to be the former.  “We wanted to be that team, the first one in quite some time at Willard, that gets better after Christmas.  That is one of our big goals.  It is not going to be an easy task.  We have a tough stretch ahead we play Tiffin Friday and come back next weekend and play the league leaders in Norwalk, and then play Margaretta, one of the best teams in the “SBC.”  It’s going to be a challenge to our players,” he said.

          For the Flashes it is the Columbian Tornados (5-1,1-1) on Friday night in league play.  Hirschy says Tiffin has a lot of kids that can play, especially on the perimeter.  “They have an excellent core of perimeter players, starting with Joanna Boyer.  He plays a little bit the point and a little bit of the wing and he is one of the fastest players in our league with the ball in his hands.  Then they come back with shooters on the perimeter.  They also have a post player that can play out on the perimeter.  They have a lot of athleticism on both ends of the floor,” said Hirschy.

          If they are to make a game of it, Hirschy says they have to get into their offense without making silly turnovers, something that has plagued the team in recent games.  “Offensively we have to take a lot better care of the basketball.  We are leading the league in turnovers.  There is not anybody even close to us.  I think we need to make better decisions with the ball.  The problem with our turnovers now is they aren’t turnovers in transition.  They are careless turnovers.  Along with that I think our offensive execution has to improve,” said Hirschy. 

          The Willard coach has been pretty happy with what his team has been doing on defense this year, but he says they still need to get better on that end too.  “Defensively I think we are doing some good things.  We need to continue to work on our man-to-man defense and doing a better job of closing out and doing a better job of communicating.  I think our rebounding has improved drastically over the last three or four games.  Hopefully, that will continue to improve throughout the course of the season,” Hirschy told Swankonsports.com on Thursday.

          Four teams have 1-1 league records, including both Willard and Tiffin, and Hirschy says they need a win to keep in contact with front running Norwalk.  “With a smaller league, a six team league, teams can start separating themselves pretty quickly.  That is certainly a concern and we want to come out and play our best basketball at this point.  We are all chasing Norwalk at this point.  Right now we have to take care of ourselves and hopefully it will work to our advantage.  Falling back two games it could be insurmountable at this point.  We just have to take care of Columbian and go from there,” said Hirschy.

 

 
   

Willard Needs Better Start

 

          Willard lost two basketball games over the weekend because they didn’t get off to a better start.  They have a chance to make amends on Tuesday night when they host the Galion Tigers in a non-conference game.

          Last Friday night in Northern Ohio League action they lost at rival Bellevue (56-49) and again had problems shooting the basketball when they lost a non-conference game to Ashland (54-41) on Saturday night.  Coach Dave Hirschy says they have not shot well, especially early in games.  “No we struggled from the perimeter.  We have not shot the ball very well from beyond the three-point arch.  We are getting good looks we just aren’t converting on them,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “Friday night we just kind of dug ourselves a hole.  We got down 18 at one point.  We cut it to 15 at the half.  The kids did a nice job of fighting back and really getting back into the game in the second half.  We had opportunities, I think we cut it to three in the second half three or four different times.  We should have cut it to one, we had a good opportunity, had a good look and couldn’t cash it in.  Saturday night it was a combination of things, but I really felt Ashland played a nice ballgame.  For as bad as we shot it from beyond the arch, they shot it very well.  I think they were 9-14 from three.  They were unbelievable.”

          Hirschy thinks the Flashes (2-4) need to put one in the win column against Galion because right now the kids are having problems believing how good they can be as players.  “I think for nothing else from a confidence perspective.  I think our guys are suffering from a little lack of confidence.  We need to get that back.  We need to get back up on the horse and get going again.  We have had some opportunities this season where we have looked good, where we have played good basketball,” he said, “There have been far too many situations where we haven’t taken care of the basketball or we haven’t executed or we haven’t made that big stop defensively.  This is a big game for us.  We really want to play good basketball going into the holidays.  It will give us momentum coming out of the holidays.  When the smoke all clears we are still only a game back in our league.  We are 1-1 and everybody but Norwalk has suffered one loss, so we are still in the hunt.”  The Northern Ohio League takes a break on this Christmas week with no conference games.

          Galion used to be a member of the “NOL,” up to last year of course and Hirschy is very familiar with what the Tigers bring to the table.  “They have a lot of guys back.  I’m familiar with them, Ed has been with their program for a while now.  They are running a little more flex offense over there now then they did before.  Their kids execute very well.  McCuen is an excellent low post player who can do a lot of things.  He can get out and shoot from the perimeter and he has excellent hops.  He gets off his feet quickly and crashes the boards well.  When he is playing at the top of his game, he is pretty darn good.  Ridge Durbin is an excellent point guard, who has done nothing but get better.  He was a freshman last year and the second time we played them he was awfully good.  He has range beyond the three.  They have other guys too,” he said.

          Now if the Flashes can play as well in the first quarter as they have in third quarter this year they may be alright.  Hirschy knows his teams must play better early in the contest.  “I think right now the big thing is to get off to a good start and kind of build from there against Galion because they are a team that has shown if they get off to a good start they build from there.  We saw their Madison game and they were good.  They are quick defensively.  They get their hands on a lot of basketballs because they are aggressive.  We are going to have to play very well.  We are going to have to play a flawless game offensively,” said Hirschy.     

 

 
   

Willard Meets Old Rival

 

          At one time the Willard versus Bellevue boys’ basketball game defined the Northern Ohio League.  That is not so much the case any more, but fans of the two schools still don’t like each other much.  That distaste renews itself on Friday night as the Flashes travel to Bellevue.

          Willard (2-2) beat Sandusky 66-62 in a big “NOL” game last Friday and they lost a non-conference game (66-58) to the Ontario Warriors last Saturday.  Flashes coach Dave Hirschy is looking for a little more consistency from his troops from game to game.  “I thought Ontario played an exceptional game.  We didn’t execute very well, but a lot of that had to do with how well they played defensively.  We have to shoot the ball better on Saturdays.  You know, we have come off Friday night games when we have shot the ball fairly well and gone into Saturday and just haven’t executed or shot the ball well.  We don’t want to blame tired legs and those kinds of things.  We get a lot of shots off in practice under duress.  I think our guys are petty focused with the task ahead of us this week,” said Hirschy.

          Bellevue (1-3) has one of the best point guards in North Central Ohio in Jalen Santoro, who was also their football quarterback.  Hirschy says he is the engine that runs the Redmen.  “Bellevue has one the premier point guards in this area in Jalen Santoro.  He has been playing since he was a freshman.  He is very talented and can do a lot of things with the ball.  He is a great pull up shooter and he is able to get the ball into the paint with penetration.  They can be a tough team to beat.  They are replacing some pretty good shooters from last year’s team.  They have a lot of perimeter quickness.  They can get up and down the floor, it’s a typical coach Raifsnider type team where they try to change defenses and keep you off balance,” he said.

          Belleviue, like Norwalk, changes defenses a lot when they are playing forcing the other team to make adjustments.  Hirschy says they have been working a lot on that aspect of the game.  “That is something that they were very successful with against us a couple of years ago.  In our practice sessions this week we have been doing a lot as far as looking at different defenses and being able to adjust on the fly,” he said.

          Some Willard-Bellevue games over the years have been wars on the floor.  Hirschy says his kids have been very good this year at keeping their focus and making sure they don’t let emotion be too much of a factor in games.  “That is something I think this year’s team has done a really good job of up to this point is keeping their composure and being able to handle situations.  You know, maybe handling a bad call or making a turnover and being able to move on to the next play.  That is something we talk a lot about,” Hirschy said.

          This is the third double weekend in a row for the Flashes as they play Ashland of the Ohio Cardinal Conference on Saturday night.  Hirschy says they have tried to have some fun with the schedule that has been presented to them.  “We have tried to compare it to what a lot of the college teams do,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “You know, I was telling our guys last week in practice that the first weekend we kind of compared it to the Maui Classic.  We are breaking it into tournaments.  I kind of wish we were playing in Maui.  The following weekend I said with Sandusky and Ontario, this is kind of like going cross country and playing in Madison Square Garden, just like Duke and some of the big time teams do.  This week coming up is like Anchorage, Alaska, because we have three games.  We follow up Saturday’s game with Ashland and come right back and play at home Tuesday against Galion.  Hey it’s basketball and the kids have to enjoy that, they are getting a chance to play.  It’s not like having to go up and roof a house or work a tough construction job.”      

 

 
   

Willard Faces Tough Weekend

 

          Willard faces another tough weekend as they host Sandusky in their Northern Ohio League opener on Friday night and then travel to Ontario for a huge non-conference test on Saturday night.

          Last week, after beating Upper Sandusky (58-50) the Flashes lost their home opener to Lexington (60-41) last Saturday.  “I thought Lexington played an exceptional game.  They have a three headed monster, especially when Mason Willke shoots the ball like he did against us.  Rasheed Brooks is everything that’s advertised.  Having Colin Michael inside hasn’t hurt that team a bit.  We had a hard time getting to shooters at times.  They extended us a little bit and hit some big shots.  Our kids didn’t quit.  We got down 16-6 early and actually had a chance to take the lead in the middle of the third quarter,” said Willard coach Dave Hirshey.

          Sandusky, of course, is a new member of the “NOL,” and they won the league in football this fall.  They have a fine basketball tradition, that includes former Indiana University star Scott May.  “They are very experienced.  They have a lot of kids back.  In fact, I was going through the scorebook from last year and some of their kids had exceptional games against us that are coming back.  We did a pretty good job against their senior nucleus, but some of their other kids stepped up.  Xavier Charter, who is getting some major looks in baseball, is a pretty good basketball player too.  They have some other kids that are just quick and athletic.  The Smith kids does a good job of hounding the ball defensively,” Hirshey told Swankonsports.com,” It’s a typical Sandusky team.  They are athletic and get down the floor.  We are going to have to do a good job of taking care of the basketball and we are going to have to do a real good job of defensive conversion.”

          Sandusky can score the ball quickly and the Blue Streaks (1-0) would like to turn the game into a track meet.  Hirschey says they can not let that happen.  “I don’t think we can afford to get into quick shot mode.  I think we have to run our offensive sets.  We have to get the ball reversed several times.  We can’t settle for just jump shots, sometimes shots that are missed short are better than outlet passes for a team that runs up and down the floor.  I think we have to make them work on the defensive end of the floor.  We have to take care of the ball and we are improving in that area.  We only had 12 turnovers against Lexington.  We are going to need to be at 15 or below to stay competitive,” he said.

          It will be a different kind of game, but another tough one as the Flashes travel to Ontario on Saturday night.  “I am very impressed with how they play.  I got a chance to see them against Crestview on Tuesday night.  They have some kids that know their roles.  I was impressed with Drew Boatwright, but I was equally impressed with his brother.  I thought he did a great job of being a floor general.  They have some kids that are young, but they play like a veteran group,” said Hirshey.

 

 
   

Willard Meets Old Rival

 

          Willard has been able to score points, especially in transition, this year, but they also have to get better on defense.

          The Lady Flashes (2-1) outscored Sandusky 84-64 on Saturday in a Northern Ohio League game.  “Yeah, we were shooting the ball well and we were getting our transition game going.  There wasn’t a lot of defense played in that game by either team.  It was nice to get some numbers up,” said Willard coach Jon Dawson.

          Ali Graham poured in 31 points for the Lady Flashes against Sandusky and Dawson says she is more than just a scorer and is developing all parts of her game.  “She is a four year varsity player for us.  She is doing some nice things.  She has always been a scorer, she has added a lot to her game.  She had nine rebounds against Sandusky and five assists.  She is doing a lot of things for us this year.  She capitalized on some of our transition.  She is becoming a well rounded player,” said Dawson.

          There have been a lot of good things for the Lady Flashes this year, but Dawson knows they are going to have to get better, especially on defense, if they are going to compete with the best teams on their schedule.  “We were watching the film of the Sandusky game, four minutes into the second quarter we are up 20 points and that’s what we ended winning by, so the last 20 minutes of the game we ended playing even with them,” Dawson told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “I think we need to sit down and defend a little bit better in the half court.  Our press had a lot of break downs in it.  With the young kids playing, we just have to bear down and play defense.  That’s the number one concern for us right now.  We are not very good in the half court on offense right now.  That was evident last week against Lexington.”

          Willard plays at old rival Upper Sandusky in a non-conference game on Tuesday night.  Of course, for more 30 years this was a Northern Ohio League game and the teams are very familiar with each other, playing twice in the “NOL” last year.  “Willard and Upper have always been rivals in girls’ basketball, with good battles throughout the years.  They have a lot coming back.  It all starts with two really good sophomore post players in Taylor Grabowski and Jordan Warren.  They have good size and are very athletic kids.  They are going to try and press us and sit back in their 1-2-2 zone and take advantage of their size,” said Dawson.

 

 
   

Flashes Prepared to Open Season

 

          Willard is among a solid group of boys’ basketball teams that form the new look Northern Ohio League this year and the Flashes open the season with a double weekend visiting Upper Sandusky on Friday night and hosting the Lexington Minutemen on Saturday night, both in non-conference play.

          Coach Dave Hirschy is pleased with how his team has shown improvement during its preseason scrimmage schedule and during practice sessions leading up to the opening week.  “I think we have done a good job of distributing the basketball.  I think our kids are starting to understand their roles a little bit better.  We are building our depth slowly, but surly.  I still have one kid banged up from football.  We should have him back next week, which will further help us in the depth category,” he said.

          Of course up until this year Upper Sandusky was part of the “NOL,” so Hirschy is very familiar with the Rams and what they bring to the table.  “They have everybody back and they are going to be very, very strong defensively.  They made a lot of progress throughout the year last year.  Their kids got better and better and got more confident as the year progressed.  I’m sure they are going to carry that confidence into this season,” he told Swankonsports.com on Sunday night, “I’m not sure, but I don’t think any of their kids played football, so they were together for most of the fall.  Those kids are going to be pretty seasoned going into that first game.”

          Upper Sandusky coach Shane Adams has been emphasizing defense since he got the job with the Rams prior to last season.  Hirschy knows that the Rams will take advantage of any mistakes they make handling the ball.  “It all starts with defense with Upper.  Their kids are just very aggressive on the ball.  They really jam the passing lanes and get out and deny.  We are going to have to be extremely tough with the basketball.  We are going to have to be smart with the basketball,” he said.

          Willard’s home opener will be Saturday night against the defending Ohio Cardinal Conference champion Lexington Minutemen.  Big Lex graduated some good players, but they return many too, plus they will have 6-5 Colin Michael back, who didn’t play last season due to a knee injury.  “What Lex brings to the table is that toughness.  They will attack the glass.  They are athletic.  They are going to come in and give us a big test as well.  It will be a fun weekend of basketball for our kids,” said Hirschy.

          Not only will it be a double weekend this week for the Flashes, but they play both Friday and Saturday nights next week and the week after that.  Hirschy says he likes getting their feet wet on the opening Friday night of the season.  “It’s not ideal, but it is what it is.  I can remember when I first got here we didn’t play on the opening Friday.  We only played on the Saturday night.  Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for because I was upset because I wanted to play on that opening Friday and now we get three straight doubles,” he said.

 

 
   

Willard Young, but Talented

 

          Willard has some talented young girls’ basketball players who are going to find out in a hurry what varsity basketball is like in the tough Northern Ohio League.

          With just four upperclassmen Willard coach Jon Dawson knows there is going to be a little bit of a learning curve for the Lady Flashes.  “I’ve got a really young team right now.  Everyday is a new adventure with them.  We are progressing quite nicely though.  It’s going to take some time, but I think eventually we will get there,” he said.

          Willard will have some players with some height and that will be a factor for them and Dawson believes they will have some good balance too.  “I think we have a little bit of size.  Hopefully our rebounding is pretty good.  I like our balance I think I have five kids on the floor that can score at any time.  It’s a good feature, I don’t think they will be able to key on any one person.  I think we have some good leadership out there,” Dawson told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday.

          At times there will be a lot of youth on the floor for the Lady Flashes.  Dawson understands that mistakes are going to be made as the girls get used to playing at the varsity level.  “We are a young team.  I only have two seniors and two juniors, the rest are sophomores and freshmen.  So, we are just looking for that consistency.  The younger kids are not realistically ready to play varsity basketball.  They are going to get thrown in the fire.  They will have to get used to the speed of the varsity level.  It’s all new to them.  It will be a work in progress,” he said.

          The Northern Ohio league is going to be very good, especially at the top of the league and that means Willard will be tested quite a bit in league play.  “Certainly Bellevue with first team All-Ohio Leslie Rafsnider back along with most of their other kids is the favorite.  They have a freshmen point guard that’s coming in and I’ve heard a lot of good things about her.  They will be a tough match for anybody.  Shelby, again, has almost everybody back with Emma Hostetler they are going to be awfully tough,” said Dawson.    

 

 
   

Defense the Key For Willard

 

          If things go right the Willard Flashes just might be in the mix in the Northern Ohio League boys’ basketball race this season and much of that success depends on the Flashes ability to play defense.

          “I’m really excited about the group I have coming in this year.  I’ve got five seniors back and some kids with some playing experience.  So far, in the preseason they have done an excellent job.  They have been very focused and worked extremely hard.  We have a scrimmage coming up Saturday with Port Clinton which is going to be a good test for us,” said Willard coach Dave Hirschy.

          Willard has some players with long arms this year and Hirschy hopes that gives them an advantage when it comes to defending the other teams and being able to rebound.  “I hope we do a better job defending the basketball this year.  We are pretty long and it’s kind of deceptive.  Scott Burma is 6-6 and Haden Adams is right around 6-4, 6-5, but other than that we aren’t extremely tall.  Colin Phillips for example is my point guard and he is right around 6-3, but with length.  He plays more like 6-5, 6-6.  I’m hoping those guys can cause some disruption just with their length alone.  We have average quickness, but I think our kids are ball savvy.  I think our kids react well to the ball.  With our size I think we will be able to rebound better than we did last year,” he said.

          If the Flashes are to be competitive in what should be a pretty good “NOL” they must play defense and they have to make those tough fourth quarter free throws.  “Defensively we have to be able to pick it up and play for four quarters.  We can’t take possessions off.  Last year we were pretty good defensively, but there were just too many critical times when we needed stops and we weren’t able to get that done,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Our free throw shooting has to be better.  We lost a handful of games last year.  We had some games when the free throw line abandoned us.  Last and not least being able to take care of the basketball at the end of quarters.  I want us to become a much better team at controlling the clock,” said Hirschy.

          Willard should be improved, but Hirschy feels that Norwalk is clearly the favorite to win the “NOL” title this year.  The Truckers shared first place in the league with Shelby last winter.  “You know Norwalk has everybody back, so they are going to have a target on their back.  They are solid all of the way through. This might be the best year in a long time in our league when it comes to point guard play.   Bellevue has Jalen Santoro returning and he has been a player since he was a freshman.  Johna Boyer is back at Tiffin.  He’s one of the quickest kids with the ball.  Shelby has Garrett Arnold and he is a phenomenal player,” said Hirschy. 

 

 
   

Willard Stays in the “NOL”

 

          Willard High School officials announced in a press conference Thursday morning that they plan to stay as a member of the Northern Ohio League for the foreseeable future.

          There had been speculation that the Flashes might seek membership in the North Central Conference, where former league members Galion and Upper Sandusky reside, or the Sandusky Bay Conference, or even possibly the Firelands Conference.

          Athletic Director Dave Ball told Swankonsports.com that after much investigation they believe that Willard is best suited for the Northern Ohio League.  “In the past two years since Upper Sandusky, Galion and Fostoria made the decision to leave the league and Sandusky made the decision to come in there has been much speculation about Willard’s involvement in the Northern Ohio League and if there was a future for Willard.  We wanted to come out and make a definitive statement that we are committed to the Northern Ohio League.  We are charter members.  We have been in the league since 1944.  We are an “NOL” school and we are an “NOL” town.  Our athletes, our coaches, our students, our community, and our administration have expressed a desire to stay in the Northern Ohio League.  We wanted to end any and all speculation that we are going somewhere else,” said Ball.

          In terms of enrollment Willard is the smallest of the current six members of the “NOL.”  According to enrollment figures on the Ohio High School Athletic Association website when combining both boys and girls in the upper three grades both Norwalk and Sandusky have 755 students, Tiffin Columbian has 675, Bellevue 543, Shelby 522 and Willard 432.  Ball says they did look at other options , but felt that staying in the “NOL” was the best option for Willard.  “When we became the smallest school in the league with the recent changes that just happened this year I think that increased the situation of us looking at the Northern Ohio League and was that the best fit for our school district.  Sandusky coming in was notability bigger.  Norwalk has grown, while Willard has declined in enrollment significantly over the last three to five years.  There was talk about should we explore our options with the surrounding conferences like the North Central Conference, the Firelands Conference and the Sandusky Bay Conference.  I believe that we did put out feelers and get some information back and weight the pros and cons.  In the end, we decided the Northern Ohio League is where we belong,” said Ball.

          It has been rumored that Vermillion, a current member of the West Shore Conference, will be joining the “NOL”, but Ball would not confirm no deny the story.  “There is never as much going on in this discussion as people think there is.  There just isn’t that much activity.  As of right now we are aggressively pursuing all options.  We’d like to get to seven teams, we’d like to get to eight teams,” he said.

          Two sources close to the situation say that Vermillion has made the decision, but has not officially signed any documents.  Calls placed to Vermillion about the situation by Swankonsports.com were not immediately returned. 

 

 
   

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