NORTH CANTON  You can take the district out of North Canton, but you can’t take the difficulty out of the district.

The district tournament featuring Hoover and five of its Federal League peers has moved from Walsh University to the Canton Memorial Field House and along the way, lost Canton McKinley to the Akron Division I district.

The second-seeded Vikings, who are ranked ninth in the most recent Associated Press Division I state poll, will tip off its tournament run at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at home against Akron Garfield. Fifth-year head coach Abbey Allerding and her team know that while the venue may have changed, the challenge is every bit as steep if they hope to make a return to the regional tournament.

“It will definitely be different not having it at Walsh, but the Field House is a good venue for it. It’s a historic place and a neat place to have it,” Allerding said.

One notable omission from the district, aside from the familiar court at Walsh, is Canton McKinley. The Bulldogs were slotted in the Akron bracket, giving them an escape from the Canton bracket containing the six other Federal League teams. That group of six includes Hoover and GlenOak, which was ranked fourth in the most recent state poll.

“The district is still very tough even with McKinley out of it and there are still a lot of top teams,” Allerding said.

Another of those top teams is third-seeded Jackson, which just happens to be Hoover’s arch rival and one of three teams to defeat the Vikings this season. If both reach the district semifinals, they will face off for a third time this season, providing a deciding result in the season series that is tied at 1-1.

Playing any team for a third time is difficult, but potentially playing two league rivals for a third time in a bracket Jackson head coach Anthony Butch described as “the toughest district in the state” is another task entirely. While tournament games have an atmosphere and appeal all their own, Allerding said that a trace of the normal rivalry feel also colors such contests.

“I think as it has been a lot of years in the past, if you play a team for a third time, it’s hard to do, especially at this time of year,” Allerding said. “I think any time you’re in the tournament, it obviously has a tournament feel, but there’s also a special part of it, facing someone you know so well.”

This time of the season is especially meaningful for seniors, who know that each game could be their last with the teammates with whom they’ve shared so many memories and experiences over the years. For Hoover, Maddie Blyer and Frannie Jeremiah are the only seniors on the roster and both would love nothing more than to leave the program on a high note.

“I think there’s a sense of urgency for seniors when they get to that point in the season and for us, Maddie and Frannie do a good job of communicating that,” Allerding said.

The postseason can also bring challenges for a team when it comes to its rotation and whether the same number of players who saw court time during the regular season are still seeing as many minutes in the tournament. Some coaches prefer to stick with the same rotation, giving players a sense of familiarity, while others shorten their rotation and lean more heavily on their experienced veterans in big moments.

According to Allerding, the Vikings will take a game-by-game approach to that concept, keeping the rotation the same or shortening it depending on the opponent and game situations. Whoever takes the court, Hoover will need to be at its best to overcome the likes of GlenOak, Jackson, Perry and the rest of the Canton Division I district field.

Winning the district will be an excellent proving ground for whichever team emerges and moves on to the regional rounds at the Canton Civic Center, but first they’ll have to survive three or four difficult rounds to hoist the district championship trophy. New location, same tall mountain to climb. 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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