NORTH CANTON As much as players and coaches would like to win every game, the reality for most teams is that the season - especially the first few weeks - are a learning process with a few bumps along the way.
Hoover girls basketball has carved out such a track record of success and championships over the past decade that it can be easy to forget this reality, but the Vikings are navigating a challenging start to the new campaign and trying to find the right path to the winning finish that has become their forte.
"I feel like the first few games, the beginning of the season, is always just finding out who you are. Every team is a new team … you graduate kids and kids step into new roles," veteran head coach Abbey Allerding said. "It’s been a little unique for us this year, we lost two starters from last year, but we also lost Makenna (Drabeck), unfortunately, at the end of the summer, so that was three starters, and then we lost one of our top kids off the bench, so we have a lot of people getting into new roles."
Allerding noted that beyond simply graduating senior starters and having Drabeck lost for the year before the season even began, there has been a series of smaller injuries that have slowed other players.
Having injuries is an unrelenting reality of basketball, but if teams are fortunate, those injuries don’t happen later in the year, when they want their roster healthy for big league and tournament games. In the face of those injuries, Allerding is hopeful that her team will approach them with a positive mindset
"It’s been a really great opportunity for our girls to face some adversity early on, which hopefully will be something that, even not just with basketball, but in life, can help them develop," she said.
She acknowledged that there could be pressure based on the perennially high expectations for Hoover, but believes that shaking off those pressures and simply being the best that each year’s team can be is the best response. Through the course of the injuries and losses in two of their first three games of the season, the Vikings have relied on players from throughout the roster to be encouragers, leaders and contributors.
"I am so blessed to have such an awesome group of kids and so it’s been neat to see different girls step into different roles and even different nights, different practice nights, to have different kids stepping up. We also have our three seniors who are quality leaders," Allerding said, adding that unity is an essential piece of the puzzle. "For all of my teams, I feel like it’s so important to be a team. That’s something we really spend a lot of time talking about. We try to spend a lot of time developing that, so we recognize how important it is to be a great teammate and team."
A lot of the team chemistry hinges on players building it off the court, according to Allerding, but the team also organizes team bonding activities and coaches try to spend time with players off the court too. Starting league play early in the season - a loss to Green came in just the third game of the season - is another reality of Federal League play that both coach and players deal with every year because the Federal League starts its league slate sooner than most conferences.
Those early league games can shine a bright light on a team’s strengths and weaknesses and illuminate where improvement is needed before season’s end.
Having led the program deep into the postseason multiple times, Allerding has seen what qualities a team needs to capture a league title as well as district and regional tournament victories, so this getting this year’s edition of the Vikings to the point that they’re ready for the biggest games on their schedule is the priority even if the road they’re traveling at the moment has hit a bump or two.
"The season is a process and we recognize that and it’s what we talk about every day, that we need to commit and get better today," Allerding said.
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