It's been an impressive season for the Hoover girls basketball team.

It's been an impressive season for the Hoover girls basketball team.

With 15 wins in their first 18 contests, the Vikings have bounced back strong from a down season last year, yet there is little relief or comfort in that success.

Why?

Because as one look at the league standings shows, the Federal League is a meat grinder this season, full of quality teams that - much to the chagrin of all seven league coaches - will all compete in the same district tournament.

"I think it's unfortunate they went away from the blended districts this year, which is different from most other districts across the state. Our district will be highly competitive and require a great amount of focus," Allerding said.

Allerding's lament is one shared by other Federal League coaches. The veteran coach pointed out that last year, the Ohio High School Athletic Association went to blended districts that combined two district tournaments into one larger entity, allowing twice as much room for Federal League teams to spread out and not have to play each other as often in the sectional and district rounds.

That isn't the case this season. All seven league teams - Hoover, Jackson, Lake, Canton McKinley, Perry, GlenOak and Green - will compete in the North Canton Division I district, an arrangement that means that state-ranked teams such as Hoover and McKinley could meet before even getting through the district final.

Most leagues don't have that dilemma because they tend to be bigger than the Federal League and include teams from multiple Divisions. The nearby Portage Trail Conference, for example, features teams from Division II, III and IV, so its teams are scattered at different sectional and district tournaments around the area.

This year is an even more extreme example of the depth of the Federal League turning the postseason into a true battle royale, according to Allerding.

"It is a very competitive league this year. Every team is well-coached and always well-prepared. It requires your team to be at its best every night," Allerding said. "The entire league - every team - is working hard and improving. Every team is competitive and there aren't any breaks. It creates the mental challenge of having to come focused every game and not take any breaks."

Parity, though, often suggests a bunch of good teams, but none that really stands out as elite. Yet Hoover and McKinley  have both spent multiple weeks in the Associated Press Division I top 10 and conversely, neither one is undefeated in league play.

McKinley nearly lost to Green, which started 2-7 in league play, and lost on a buzzer-beater to GlenOak. Hoover suffered a tough overtime loss to Jackson earlier this season and a pair of narrow losses to McKinley, but have otherwise been untouched in league play.

"The Federal League is very challenging, requiring us to be ready every single night. At the same time, it certainly prepares you for other tough games," Allerding said. "Because every game is so competitive and requires so much effort, it helps to have a solid rotation. I am proud of our team as a whole, both the starters and all the kids that have stepped up coming off the bench."

That grind will now extend to the postseason, whether league coaches like it or not. The stakes will be raised with each round that passes, creating an amped-up version of the regular season. It may indeed have the effect of weeding out teams capable of making it deep into the postseason were the blended districts still in place, as Allerding suggested, but for now it is the reality the league's seven teams must face.

Only Garfield, Louisville, Massillon and Barberton are non-Federal League teams in the sectional and district bracket at Walsh University, meaning it is likely that every game in the sectional final round will feature at least one Federal League team. As many as three of the four sectional finals could be all-Federal League matchups, including a matchup of Jackson and GlenOak that is already set because both teams received first-round byes.

Whichever team emerges from the North Canton district later this month will have earned its place at the Civic Center, perhaps not having won its own league, but having emerged victorious over its six league rivals when it matters most.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936 or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB