NORTH CANTON  The Hoover Vikings girls basketball team's season has been many things, but easy isn’t one of them.

It’s been a campaign marked by plenty of challenges, some good wins and more than a few close games that went the wrong direction. Injuries have played a part in that process, but as the year enters the home stretch, the Vikings aren’t looking to make excuses.

"I think that we are learning a lot this season, even though our record is maybe not where we anticipated it might be," head coach Abbey Allerding said. "We are improving as the season comes to a close and we feel like we still have a lot of work to do as a team."

The Vikings’ 7-10 record is below their usual standards, but as several teams across the Federal League in both boys and girls basketball have shown the past couple seasons, no program can keep its record near perfect and keep an iron grip on the league title on an annual basis.

Every program find itself going through a season or two when some combination of youth, inexperience, injuries and scheduling leave it with a campaign that looks more like a long, uphill marathon than a smooth, easy downhill run.

Allerding has coached teams that made deep runs in the state tournament, but this season Hoover has lost key players both before and during the season and playing in the Federal League doesn’t afford many easy nights.

Mix in an appearance at the Classic in the Country and you have a taxing schedule that has put a young team with just three seniors to the test.

"As a whole, the team is still excited to get out there and play and it’s been great to see so many young kids coming into new roles," Allerding said.

One of the toughest losses of the season came last month in overtime to archrival Jackson as the impressive scoring streak of senior guard Taylor Mikesell continued and powered the Polar Bears to a comeback win after which Jackson head coach Anthony Butch observed that the Vikings may be "the best 5-8 team in the state," a reference to Hoover’s record after the game.

In assessing how the Vikings responded to that defeat, it’s worth noting that they won their next three league games, including a revenge win over a Green team they lost to earlier in the season. That game illustrates a point Allerding believes is key for her young squad going forward.

"I hope that we are learning from those losses and looking at the different ares we need to improve in," she said. "I also think playing in the Federal League it’s such a great league, coming up against good competition every night, then playing Classic in the Country played two of the top teams in the state (Wadsworth and Pickerington North)."

As the final few games of the regular season wind down and the tournament nears, there’s also a chance to end the season on a positive note by playing well in the sectional tournament. Most of the Federal League resides in the Canton Division I bracket, so games are often between foes very familiar with each other and playing for the third time in a season.

A tournament win or two - or more - could be a huge boost for Hoover as its young players both look to help the seniors go out on a high note and also build momentum heading into the offseason. It may not have been an easy year, but if the Vikings can make it pay off with growth and progress, then it may not be long before the program is right back in the thick of the league race and a contender to play deep into the postseason.

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