NORTH CANTON It may not last long, but it’s palpable as another high school basketball season begins.
Local boys and girls teams and their coaches reunite on the floor as a group for the first time in many weeks, ready to embark on another campaign, with goals and hopes ahead. Those ambitions vary in terms of their size and magnitude, but every team wants to accomplish more than it did last time around.
For Hoover girls basketball, the quest to get back to the top of the Federal League officially began in the final week of October, when the OHSAA allows teams to begin practicing. Head coach Abbey Allerding is in her fifth season at the helm and eager to get rolling on the new year.
“The first days is always exciting because it’s the first time you’re able to get together as a team since those 10 days (of team workouts) in the summer,” Allerding said. “You can do individual workouts in the fall, but some of our girls are also playing other sports.”
The veteran coach noted that while many of her players return from last season on either the varsity or junior varsity rosters, there are usually a few new faces when each season begins. As practices get underway, the focus is a mixture of conditioning and reinforcing the ideas of philosophies on which the program runs.
During drills, Allerding is as active as her players, moving around the court, demonstrating the proper technique in drills and stopping to point things out to individual players. She demands a fast pace as players work on their defensive stance moving down the court, but also reinforces the need to be calm and under control when running the offense.
Veterans such as seniors Maddie Blyer and Frannie Jeremiah have been through the process with Allerding before and the veteran coach counts on her upperclassmen to shoulder much of the leadership burden.
“The leadership our older girls have shown is great. They’re willing to help guide the younger girls along and always be encouraging to them,” Allerding said. “Maddie is a steady, stabilizing force for us and an all-state player last year. Frannie is also a very calming force, very fundamental, and she does all of the little things you need on the court and does them in such a humble way.”
The relationship between veterans and younger players can be a dicey one for a few reasons. Having a younger player who might take away some of your playing time can create tension, as can a upperclassman’s desire to have the best season possible and shine for college recruiters, leaving less time to mentor a freshman or sophomore playing at the varsity level for the first time.
What Allerding believes will make a difference for her squad is a strong connection that extends beyond simply playing basketball together.
“One of the great things about this team is that they genuinely love each other and they’re excited to be out there on the court together and to hang out together as well,” Allerding said.
While acknowledging that the Vikings have “a lot of work ahead of us,” the energy in Allerding’s voice is high as she leads practices. Anyone who has attended a Hoover contest the past four seasons can attest to that same trend being true in games as well.
Last season, the Vikings finished 19-3 and 9-3 in league play, one game behind McKinley in the Federal League standings. It was a quick turnaround after a disappointing 2014-15 campaign, one that proved the Vikings were still one of the top programs in the league along with Jackson and McKinley.
All three teams figure to be in the thick of the race again this season, with Hoover, Green and Lake battling to get into the mix as well. But for those first few days, when the season is still new and everyone is trying to find their role and see where they fit, a unique energy exists. No games have been played, jerseys haven’t been handed out and the possibilities are plentiful for every team, no matter how the previous year ended. In some cases, the goal is a .500 record, in others it's a league title and for the top teams, the dreams of district, regional and even state championships are on the goal list for the year ahead.
Soon enough, wins and losses will start to pile up, injuries will hit and those dreams will be revised on the fly, but for now, it’s simply good to be back to basketball.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB