SPRINGFIELD TWP. The Springfield Spartans are about to find out if the foundation they’ve laid is ready to support a winning campaign.
For the past two seasons, the Spartans have worked to put in place a system that third-year head coach Tim Cole believes will take them in the right direction. During those two seasons, they’ve been a young team that has endured some tough outings against more experienced teams and as the 2017-18 season dawns, they’re looking to turn the corner and become one of those teams that has given them headaches of late.
"We’re rally excited about this year. We finally have some older kids … we’ve been very young the past couple years, but now a lot of those kids are at the junior and senior level, so depth should be a strength for us where it’s been a weakness the pat couple years," Cole said.
Among the returning players, the back court duo of Jeff Wilson and Trevor Price will provide good experience handling the ball and directing the offense. They’ll be joined by Brody Carper, a three-year starter in the post who brings his size and strength from playing as a lineman on the football team and will need to hold his place on the block and rebound well if Springfield is to succeed this year.
The returnees also include Debone Riley, who transferred into the district and joined the team last season and used his length and athleticism to contribute off the bench. An explosive leaper, Riley could be a key player on defense if he can use his long reach to disrupt passing lanes.
Add in Tyler Dawson, who played as a sophomore but took a year off from basketball to focus on getting bigger and stronger for football as a junior, is now back with the team, along with Tance Cline, Andrew Smith and Zack Ickes, and Cole believes he has the makings of a solid rotation that will allow the team to keep playing well even when its starters rest.
"We’ve made the schedule increasingly more difficult every year … some people try to schedule as hard as they can, others are more concerned with getting as many wins as possible so they schedule easier," Cole said. "We try to find a lot of teams that are about the same as us to get games that will be more competitive and give us a good test."
The nonleague schedule is filled with interesting dates for both geographic and competitive reasons. In the season opener, Springfield will play Rootstown, which was missing its best player when the two sides faced off last season but looks to be at full strength and will have some of its football players, fresh off an undefeated regular season and Portage Trail Conference County Division championship along with a playoff run, on the court with the energy from their gridiron success to boost them.
Another big game is Manchester, a team not far from Springfield and with whom the Spartans have had some exciting games in recent years.
"Two years ago, they got us on a buzzer beater and a lot of their team this year is seniors with a lot of experience, so it should be a great test on senior night," Cole said.
He also pointed to a home game against Mogadore, another neighboring district with whom Springfield has strong ties. The Spartans defeated the Wildcats in the first home game in the new Springfield High School gym a few years ago and the two sides have played each other regularly since then.
That includes three summer league or team shootout matchups this past summer, when the luck of the scheduling draw pitted them together often enough that Cole said he jokingly told longtime Mogadore head coach Russ Swartz that next year, Swartz should just call him and set up an open gym contest between the two teams "so we don’t have to drive an hour away to play each other."
There are plenty of elements in place to make for an interesting season for the Spartans and the question is whether they can also make an interesting season a winning one that will take the program to the next step in its development process.
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