NORTH CANTON The first month of the season has given the Hoover Vikings plenty of gifts: five wins in six contests, a 2-1 Federal League start and a healthy boost of momentum entering the core of the schedule.
“The Federal League is as strong as ever and we’ve got some really good teams to contend with, so I’m excited about our start,” veteran head coach Abbey Allerding said.
Hoover’s lone loss so far came to a much-improved GlenOak team by just four points, so there is plenty to be excited about as the Vikings get ready for a three-game non-league stint that will see them make their third straight annual trip to Pittsburgh to take on two top teams from the state of Pennsylvania, Blackhawk and Mt. Lebanon.
Because the Federal League starts league games sooner than most conferences - in both boys and girls hoops, teams play a Federal League game in one of their first three contests - league play is stretched out across the year rather than compacted into the latter portion of the season.
Allerding, sounding like a coach who wouldn’t mind seeing league games pushed back so teams can get their feet wet first with a few non-league contests, noted that teams must “plan accordingly and just worry about getting better throughout the season” because league games “are the beginning, in the middle and at the end” of the campaign.
One of the key pieces in the Vikings’ strong start has been senior Frannie Jeremiah, who had not started before the season but has become one of the more consistent contributors for Hoover. Jeremiah is a player whose solid, fundamental play Allerding has praised over the past two seasons.
Still, for a player who doesn’t receive a chance to start until their senior season, finally getting a chance to start and shine is even more exciting.
“I think she’s just very composed and very fundamental and she’s a really good kid,” Allerding said. “She’s excited to be in that role of finally starting.”
Jeremiah may not receive as much of the spotlight as fellow senior guard Maddie Blyer, but her presence in the back court has boosted Hoover in the early season. Both of of the team’s seniors have a different role when it comes to leading, according to Allerding, while juniors Alexis Green, April Chimera and Makenna Drabek have taken steps forward in their own ways in the first six games.
The Hoover offense has been running at a high level of efficiency so far this season, with the Vikings scoring 52 or more points in every game and averaging 62 points per game through six contests. Included in that span were a hard-fought, 67-61 win over Green and a 70-28 rout of Lake, with the two victories elevating Hoover to 2-1 in league play in what projects to be a multi-team, season-long scrap to the finish. McKinley and Jackson are expected to be two of the favorites, but they don’t face Hoover until Jan. 4 and 7, respectively.
Before then, the Vikings will spend Dec. 30 and 31 in Pennsylvania, battling Blackhawk and Mt. Lebanon as part of the Pittsburgh Classic. It’s a breather from league play, but it’s not much of a breather beyond that. It’s the fourth straight year taking an out-of-state trip east for Hoover and promises to test the Vikings’ early-season status.
“They (Hoover players) don’t really catch their breath too much during Christmas break, because we go to Pittsburgh to face two very good teams,” Allerding said. “We’ll be playing in unfamiliar territory on the road and having to travel and play, hopefully it prepares them for the (postseason) tournament.”
After going to Delaware three seasons ago to play in a tournament, Hoover has gone to Pittsburgh the past two seasons and used the experience as a way to elevate their own level of play against quality opponents with an eye toward district and regional tournament success.
The Federal League itself is excellent training for that pursuit, as all seven of its teams are in the same bracket and spend the first few rounds of the postseason banging heads and trying to battle their way through an unofficial extension of the league season to reach the regional tournament.
GlenOak’s 59-55 win over Hoover on Dec. 10 proved that there is plenty of life in the league beyond the Vikings, Jackson and McKinley and Green’s strong showing against Hoover one week earlier underscored that fact.
“I really try to never underestimate anyone in the league because it’s always so strong,” Allerding said. “Jackson doing well, McKinley is doing well, GlenOak and Green are doing well … it’s just a tough league. It’s also a long season with 22 games now, so if you don’t play consistently well, then it’s really a long year.”
Not just surviving that grind, but excelling, is the common goal across the board for the Federal League’s seven teams. Emerging as the best among that group is an aim that won’t be earned until early February, but a strong start is a good first ingredient in the recipe for success.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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