Comets jump right into the fire to begin season

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

COVENTRY TWP. It would be difficult to script a more difficult start to a season than the one the Coventry boys basketball team faced last week.

The Comets, fresh off a stint in quarantine and with just one scrimmage to get ready for competition, played an opening-week schedule that few teams would choose to attempt. With games against strong parochial school programs CVCA and Hoban sandwiched around a contest against Federal League power Jackson, it was an immediate jump into the deep end for the Comets.

Coventry senior Cameron Ray puts in a layup during a recent game against Springfield.

It's a schedule that stems partly from needing to find opponents as previously slated contests were wiped out due to COVID-related issues with opponents, but also from an intent to play an elevated level of competition for second-year head coach Devon McAfee and his team.

"I'll be honest, it's a testament to what we want to be in terms of team identity when it comes to being ready for league play and tournament time," McAfee said. "We want to play those harder games so we're ready for the league and it's always good to play against the best around to see how good you are, as well as seeing what changes and adjustments you need to make."

To be sure, the results were not what the Comets would have wanted in terms of wins and losses, but taking on Division I powers Jackson – which has won two state championships and multiple Federal League titles in the past decade – and Hoban, which has captured plenty of postseason wins and dominant seasons in recent memory, is a task few non-Division I programs would willingly take on.

Add in a talented CVCA team and it was quite the opening week for Coventry. The 0-3 record tells part of the story, but part of the equation is the game-to-game progress the Comets are hoping to see not just in the early season, but throughout the year.

"For sure, we saw a huge improvement, especially versus Jackson. They're a Division I team and it was like they were giants height wise, but we really showed a lot of heart and got a lot of compliments from their coaching staff," McAfee said. "A lot of teams didn't want to play them and to put up nearly 60 points against a Division I powerhouse shows a lot."

With four players 6-foot-6 or taller, Jackson has the sort of size Coventry likely won't see much of on a nightly basis in Metro Athletic Conference play. Its tallest player, 6-foot-5 Kamden McAfee, has grown five inches since last season, but he and his fellow front court members had their hands full against the Polar Bears.

What the Comets also hope to see less of is quarantine, which is where the team was until three days prior to the CVCA game in their season opener. With just one preseason scrimmage instead of the five allowed under Ohio High School Athletic Association rules and three days of practice before their opener, there wasn't as much time to prepare as they would have liked.

No one on the roster or coaching staff is looking to use those facts as an excuse, but McAfee knows that it takes time for a team to round into form and put its new pieces in place.

With that in mind, the team's returning players are being counted on even more and with senior Lucas Wagner and junior Landon Burkhart leading the offense in the first three games, there is a solid foundation for the team at that end of the court. Wagner tallied 20 points and Burkhart added 14 in the 76-52 loss to Hoban, one game after Wagner noted 19 points in an 88-59 loss to Jackson.

There is also the matter of adjusting to a new point guard as senior Cam Ray has slid into that spot, taking over from Ronnie Thompson. Ray notched double figures in each of the team's first two games, offering hope that scoring balance could be a key part of the equation with MAC play beginning this week.

That, of course, hinges on the ever-changing schedule that is sure to take many more twists and turns before the season is over. The goal, McAfee said, is to get as many games as possible in. That will mean rolling with changes when games are canceled and finding new opponents at the last minute, as happened when canceled games against Rootstown and Warren Harding were axed and became games against Jackson and Hoban on consecutive nights.

Amidst all of that, there's also the need to ensure that all COVID-19 protocols and health guidelines are being followed so the Comets themselves don't have to return to quarantine and call off any games.

During their previous quarantine stint, they made heavy use of a social networking app known as Hega, which allowed them to stay connected and encourage one another even though they couldn't get together or be in the gym.

"We have this app we use for constant communication ... guys shared a lot of positive quotes, as well as words of encouragement, and we try to stay in their ears about positivity," McAfee said. "One of our mottos this year is 'Strength in numbers,' and we want to continue to grow. They do a lot of Zoom calls among the players, and our senior leaders Lucas (Wagner) and Cam (Ray) reached out to guys making sure they're stretching, eating properly, getting enough sleep and doing their quarantine home workouts."

Those connections will be counted on and put to the test in a most unusual season and after a massive opening test in their first three games, the Comets have an eye on turning their early adversity into wins in the weeks to come.