COVENTRY TWP. Ask any high school basketball coach how they’d like losing the top 10 players from their rotation from the previous season … then watch the pained expression creep across their face.
Third-year Coventry boys basketball head coach Mike DiFalco, who has amassed a 33-13 record in his first two seasons at the helm for the Comets, has that rather unenviable task in front of him. After a 16-8 campaign that saw the Comets reach the district semifinals, a large senior class graduating and transfers have nearly completely turned over the roster.
"We have a lot of new faces and losing our top 10 from last season is tough," DiFalco said. "But we have a lot of new guys I’m really excited about and so far, this has been the most enthusiastic, hard-working group I’ve had since I’ve been here and they’ve showed me a lot already.
There are three players back from last season and while Wyatt Stover, Cody Juersivich and Lane Boyer did see court time, they will find themselves asked to do more this time around as they work a slew of new teammates into the mix.
While their tangible contributions of points, assists, rebounds and defense will be important, DiFalco is also asking the trio to be veteran voices who help their younger teammates adjust to the varsity game and play the way the coaching staff asks.
"They’re going to take on a senior leadership role with a lot of younger guys in the program," DiFalco said. "They’ve been with me three years now so they know what I expect of them and that will be big for our new guys against varsity competition."
One notable new piece is transfer Jaret Griffith, who played last season at Gould Academy in Maine. Griffith is a 6-foot-4 combo guard who has racked up some notable honors at his previous stops and has been playing on the varsity level since the start of his high school career.
Griffith’s size and athleticism should help fill the void left by a senior class that had both height and quickness and anchored 17- and 16-win seasons the past two years. How quickly Griffith can step into the lineup and fit alongside his new teammates will dictate much of the early season for Coventry as the Comets tackle a slate that wasn’t exactly toned down in order to make it easier for a new-look roster to gel and find its way.
Contests against Highland, Perry, Norwayne and Marlington all promise to test Coventry before Portage Trail Conference play begins, but arguably the biggest test of non-league play could well be a trip to Geneva College in Pennsylvania to face one of the Keystone State’s defending state champions Sewickley Academy.
"That should be a really good test and tell us where we are in our sixth game of the season," DiFalco said.
If there’s one area where the Comets could have their most work to do, it’s the defensive end, where All-PTC center Sam Vanadia anchored the attack and served as the paint police, blocking a team-best 96 shots and making the lane an unwelcoming place for opposing offensive players. His 6-foot-6 frame is gone and now playing for Ohio Valley University, so defensive focus and cohesion will be a work in progress and a necessity for a squad that doesn’t have a similar player to put in his vacated spot on the floor
"Sam was a very valuable piece last season. He blocked everything and really led our defense," DiFalco said. "We have to really work on stopping the ball, keeping people in front of us and making a conscious effort to go after people defensively."
That is one of many areas in which this season figures to be a work in progress. Contending for a PTC Metro title as they have done the past two years - albeit coming up just short of that mark - could be within reach if there is sufficient growth and progress in chemistry and cohesiveness through the non-league portion of the schedule, but the first few weeks of the season figure to present enough hurdles without looking too far ahead.
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