LAKE TWP. How much success does it take before a program can be considered one of the best?
The Lake Blue Streaks have been as consistent as any program in the Federal League for the better part of a decade and have notched some noteworthy accomplishments in the past few seasons, yet don’t receive the same attention as some of their rivals.
The 2016-17 season is shaping up as more of the same for Lake, with an 8-2 record through its first 10 games, and an undefeated start in league play. Unlike Jackson, with whom they’re tied for first in the standings, the Blue Streaks don’t start two Division I college commits. Yet, a team that has reached the district championship game four straight seasons keeps hammering away, winning games and proving its persistence.
“I really like the work ethic of this team. The kids are working really hard together and believing in each other on a daily basis,” head coach Tom McBride said. “The word we’re using this season is growth and we’ve seen that on a consistent basis.”
The strong start to the season might not be a surprise for those who have followed the program for years, but a squad that returned just three main pieces from a team that lost a 48-42 decision to Warren Harding in the Alliance Division I district final one year ago still had a lot of new pieces to put together as the season began.
Players such as Jimmy Kirven, Jake Maranville and Joe McBride have helped steady the Blue Streaks in the early going. Kirven’s outside shooting has fueled the offense, which has also gotten a boost from two players with a familiar last name for Lake fans.
Mike and Matt Spotleson are twins who are also the younger brothers of former Lake standout Mitch Spotleson, now a starter for the Malone Pioneers. The twins have made a big jump this season, according to McBride, and have carved out their own identity.
“Matt and Mike finally broke through where we thought they would and I think they got tired of being known just as Mitch Spotleson’s brothers,” McBride said. “As twins walking through school and a lot people don’t know who’s who … even as JV players, I had a hard time telling who’s who, but now I definitely know which is which.”
Mitch Spotleson is one of several former Lake players now completing collegiately, following in the footsteps of former star guard Eric Coblentz. Brothers Chaese and Chandler Vaudrin are now suiting up for Geneva (Pa.) College and Walsh University, respectively, and McBride enjoyed the fact that earlier this season, Chandler Vaudrin and Mitch Spotleson squared off when Walsh defeated Malone.
“We tend to talk weekly,” McBride said of the two players. “Mitch is really trying to be a leader for Maloen and it’s unique to watch Chandler as a freshman and see how his role has developed from high school … I’m really grateful that those two guys have kept in contact.”
Those players have made an impact on those who have come after them at Lake and with each successive successful season, the Blue Streaks have built what their coach believes is a tradition that is among the best in the area. As one of the smallest schools in the league, Lake teams often play with a hard-nosed approach as they go up against those who doubt they can compete with their bigger rivals in all sports, but whether they get the headlines or not, the Blue Streaks refuse to accept that they’re the underdogs.
A game earlier this season against one of the favorites in the league, Hoover, underscored that point. The game included what McBride deemed “not our best execution,” but a scrappy, physical effort was enough to push Lake to a win. Another round of league games remains, including the first of two showdowns with Jackson this Friday, as part of a stretch that includes Canton McKinley at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse and a red-hot Perry team that has been arguably the biggest surprise in the league of this season.
It’s a stretch McBride described as “the gauntlet,” but Lake has seen such spans before. In 2014, a run to the regional championship game concluded with consecutive overtime games against Jackson and Cleveland East Tech and the following season, a run to the regional semifinals went through an undefeated Green squad, Walsh Jesuit and Garfield Heights.
The difference this season, according to McBride, is that the program has built to a level where Lake believes it doesn’t need any gadgets or gimmicks to consistently contend with the best of the best.
“It’s kind of unique as the years have gone on … we maybe used a lot of smoke and mirrors in years past, but we’ve gotten to a point where we’re allowing kids to play basketball and make plays,” McBride said. “We feel like we’ve bridged the gap from being in the middle of the Federal League pack to consistently playing for championships. Our kids have pride and they don’t look at themselves as smaller, they just know that we’re able to do what we need to in order to run with the best teams.”
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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