NORTH CANTON To say that the 2017-18 season has been a challenging one for the Hoover Vikings would undersell the degree of difficulty they’ve faced over the past few months.
After saying goodbye to a senior class that formed a majority of their rotation on a team that challenged for a district title last season, the Vikings have put a new-look lineup on the floor.
With a 3-8 record and 2-5 Federal League mark through the first half of the year, Hoover had found out how truly difficult it is to rebuild in one of the toughest leagues in Ohio.
"We have a very small margin for error and we know that. That’s not to speak ill of our team, but we understand who we are and we know that we have to play with great passion and energy and play together in order to succeed," head coach Todd Blackledge said.
The year began on a positive note, with two straight wins and even after two losses, a win over Perry to open league play. A six-game losing streak followed, with two of the losses by a combined seven points, but three others by double digits.
Those results underscored the reality Blackledge outlined, that if the Vikings play as a unit and with tremendous energy, they can play with their opponents, but if not, then the game can slip away from them. One specific area of the game matters most in that equation, the veteran coach noted.
"The biggest thing for us is that we have to take care of the basketball. We’ve had way too many turnovers to give ourselves a fighting chance in games," Blackledge said. "You have Green, Lake, McKinley and Jackson at the top and then us, Perry and GlenOak are all in the same boat."
The league race itself is muddied, chaotic and unpredictable. Lake began the season strong and was the last undefeated team in the league, but then lost two straight games to Green and Jackson. Green lost early to Lake, but came back to beat the Blue Streaks, Jackson and McKinley.
No one will go undefeated this season and unless Green runs the table, the winner will likely have two or more losses.
"I really am not all that surprised by what is happening in the league," Blackledge said. "Jackson was the big dog the past couple of years, but everyone knew they would not be quite the same and not as dominant with the guys they lost. Green being as good as they are, I’m not surprised because we played them three times last year and (head coach) Mark Kinsley moved a couple of younger guys up to varsity last season and took some lumps for it, but it’s paying off this year."
Hoover’s first scheduled game against Green was postponed due to weather, but that’s the only game the Vikings have had to reschedule so far. The postponement proved to be challenging, as the Vikings had to quickly shelve their game plan for the Bulldogs and instead focus all of their energy on a Mercy Medical Center game against Brunswick.
The 71-45 loss was a tough one for Hoover, but the Vikings were able to respond by playing well in a road game against GlenOak.
A late-game shot by the Eagles gave them the win, but Blackledge believes his players will respond to the setback with more effort and won’t allow a disappoting start to the season to ruin the second half of the year.
"I think that if you’re a competitor if you don’t like losing and don’t like losing by big margins, you work hard to try to turn it around," Blackledge said. "I was encouraged by how we played and battled against GlenOak. We put ourselves in position to win, which we didn’t do against Brunswick, Jackson and Massillon. Against GlenOak, we just came up one basket short because their kid hit a good, hard, contested shot, but we really competed."
Maintaining that competitive spirit down the stretch of the season is the challenge in front of the Vikings, who would love to make their first 11 games a distant memory with a solid finish to the campaign.
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