With new faces on the floor, a new coach and new gym, the Coventry Comets were bound to look different this season.

COVENTRY TWP.  With new faces on the floor, a new coach and new gym, the Coventry Comets were bound to look different this season.

How that new look would translate into wins and losses was unclear, but nine games into the season, the results have been mostly positive. At 6-3 overall and 4-2 in Portage Trail Conference play, Coventry is still developing its identity but has found away to win in the process.

“I feel like we’ve made really good progress up to this point … we’ve made good progress all year,” first-year head coach Mike DiFalco said. “Against Woodridge, we had our best defensive game and with the progress and chemistry we have, I’m happy where we’re at.”

The Woodridge game was a tough defeat for Coventry, which came as a close as any team had all season to toppling the undefeated Bulldogs, falling 59-58 on a last-minute basket. The contest dealt the Comets their second league loss and although they responded by defeating one of their biggest rivals, Springfield, in the next game, a two-game deficit in the league standings means it will be a tough road to get back into the race for the PTC Metro Division title.

Still, holding an explosive Woodridge offense to 59 points was an encouraging sign for the Comets. The defense has been anchored by 6-foot-5 junior center Sam Vanadia, whose height and long arms have made him a disruptive force around the basket. DiFalco, who spent several seasons as a graduate assistant at the University of Akron under head coach Keith Dambrot, likened Vanadia’s impact to that of former UA center Zeke Marshall.

Marshall was much taller than Vanadia, 7-foot-1 to be exact, and went on to play professionally in the NBA Developmental League, and while Vanadia may not be on Marshall’s level at this point, he has been able to change shots and disrupt shooters without fouling.

He’s one of several key players receiving their first chance to shine on the varsity stage. Sophomore forward Jarmond Hogg is another and two players who were key reserves last season, guards Treon Sibley and Drew Williams, have made a definite impact in the first half of the season.

“These guys are doing well playing together at this level and they’ve come together and done a good job of understanding what it takes to win,” DiFalco said.

The two games against Springfield each season have become big contests for the two schools given their shared border and ambitions to use their respective new schools and home gyms as launching pads for a rise to the top of the PTC. While the message from its coaching staff has been to treat every game the same, Coventry’s game against the Spartans on Friday had “a little more on top of it,” DiFalco conceded.

Although the two-game deficit in the standings to Woodridge will be tough to overcome, the first-year coach says his team believes it’s in good position to make a run at a third straight PTC Metro title. That will require a win in their second matchup with the Bulldogs and help from other teams in the league, but playing to a virtual draw with Woodridge is proof that Coventry can compete with any team in the conference.

As players learn their new roles and a new system, DiFalco is doing the same as he nears the midway point of his first season as a head coach. 

“What I’ve learned is just the ability to adapt to different situations because night in and night out, the same lineup isn’t going to produce the same thing as they did the game before,” DiFalco said. “We have a lot of guys who can score and a lot of guys who can get it done on the defensive end, so you see what’s working that night and roll with it … you see which guys play better with each other.”

Learning the right lineup combinations is part of the growth process for the Comets and finding a way to win while that process plays out is the challenge that will pay a big role in determining how the season goes. Nine games in, the balancing act has yielded six wins and confidence that there are more to come in the weeks ahead. 

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