NORTH CANTON It’s become a tradition for the Hoover girls basketball team and despite a few logistical issues, this year’s edition was a success.
The Vikings have made three straight trips to Pittsburgh to take on a pair of top Pennsylvania teams, wedging the treks between the first and second wave of Federal League games the past three seasons. Their opponents on these trips, Keystone State powers Mount Lebanon and Blackhawk, have been two of Pennsylvania’s best programs in recent years.
With the school’s holiday break in full swing, the team was able to pack up and head out on a Thursday afternoon for the two-hour drive to Pittsburgh. Along the way, the bus stopped for a team meal and a chance to spend time together away from the court.
When Hoover arrived at Mount Lebanon for the game, the gym was empty. That left time for players to hang out, talk and relax, providing a few minutes of rest before the game.
The event was originally scheduled to feature four teams, but the fourth team pulled out shortly before the event, leaving Hoover and its two Pennsylvania rivals. The Vikings were the only one of the three to play two games in the mini-tournament, as Blackhawk and Mount Lebanon had played one another a few days earlier.
“Once it was time to get set for the game in the locker room, the girls got focused,” Hoover head coach Abbey Allerding said. “This is our third year playing these two teams and they’re historically strong … two years ago when we played Blackhawk, they ended up being the state champion for their division.”
This time, Blackhawk edged out to an early seven-point lead, but Hoover was able to battle back for a 66-60 win that got its tournament run off to a positive start.
Being able to take a long bus trip, have fun and get focused when game time came was one of the positives Allerding drew from the trip.
“It’s hard traveling and going on the road and to come in and get focused, but we were able to do that, come out and play hard,” Allerding said.
After the game, the team headed back to its hotel for the night. Any time a high school team or group has the chance to take an overnight trip and stay in a hotel, players tend to relish the experience and the chance to be away from home with friends. For the Vikings, there was still one more game to play, but the evening provided more chances for team bonding.
Playing two games in two days isn’t easy for a team, but Friday began with Hoover knowing that it would have to not only do that, but play those two games in less than 18 hours.
A 1:30 p.m. tip-off for the Vikings’ game against Mount Lebanon meant there wasn’t as much time for fun and sightseeing as there had been on last year’s trip, as their game had been moved up due to the tournament having just three teams. A white elephant gift exchange at the hotel was one of the off-court highlights of the trip and with some of the team’s parents also staying at the hotel, there was a family feel throughout.
Despite the games serving as a break from league play, Allerding wasn’t ready to call it a true respite.
“I wouldn’t call it a breather … they were both quality teams, so it was its own challenge even though it was great for the girls to get to go on the road,” the veteran coach said.
Mount Lebanon provided another stiff test, but Hoover was able to survive for a 62-53 win to raise its record to 10-1. As the game came to an end and the trip with it, there were a few moments to savor the win before the Vikings boarded their bus for the drive home. One final team meal and two hours of driving later, the team arrived home with a 2-0 trip record, some fun memories and a boost of confidence heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
With the chase for the Federal League title heating up - four teams entered the second half of the season within two games of one another for the league lead - the teams in contention for the title need every edge they can get if they’re going to battle past the rest of the pack for the top spot.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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