Battle-tested Green taking on all comers

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

GREEN  Coming off a successful, 22-win season, the Green Bulldogs haven't exactly rested on their laurels and taken the easy road to start out the 2020-21 season.

Zack Oddo (14) of Green puts up a floater in the lane as James McCollough Jr. (25) of McKinley moves in on the play during their game at McKinley on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.

Through seven games, they've played a brutal schedule filled with Northeast Ohio parochial powers and other local powerhouse programs. Mix in two Federal League games and the Bulldogs have put themselves up against some of the best, leaving them with a 3-4 record that includes several close losses but also a 2-0 league record.

"Overall I like where we're at. We weren't pleased with our performance or our attention to detail against Hoban ... defensively we did not play well that night, so we have to keep that defensive intensity up," veteran head coach Mark Kinsley said.

The rugged schedule is partially by design and partially due to scrambling to find new opponents when scheduled games are moved or canceled due to COVID-19 issues. The result has been a series of games against Cleveland St. Ignatius, Hoban, St. Vincent-St. Mary, Medina and Stow alongside league contests against Hoover and Lake.

The St. Ignatius contest was one plugged in late to fill a COVID-related vacancy and saw the Bulldogs overcome a late deficit to force overtime, with the Wildcats ultimately prevailing 54-46.

The duo of juniors Zach Oddo and Trey Martin tallied 16 and 10 points, respectively, in the loss to lead the offense as they have done for much of the season. They've gotten offensive support from freshman Brady Rollyson, who led the team with 16 points in a 62-51 win over Lake.

Being able to get seven games in thus far has been a positive development for Green, as Kinsley admitted that players and coaches began the year unsure how often they would actually get to play.

"Coming into this year we weren't sure we were going to get to play one game, let alone seven," Kinsley said. "We've added a couple at the last minute. We knew our first two league games being Hoover and Lake at home, so those were two big games because you've got to win at home if you're going to win a league title."

A 2-0 league start is solid, but a four-game stretch ahead will see Green finish its first pass through league play by battling Perry, Canton McKinley, GlenOak and Jackson in succession. The outcome of those four games likely won't decide the race, but it will determine the pecking order entering the second half of the league slate.

There is a decidedly different vibe in gyms this season with attendance limits in place for all games. Those measures, handed down by the state, limit schools to a small percentage of their seating capacity, capping out around 300 fans. In a league where crowds for big games can surpass 2,000 depending on the venue, having 250 or 300 fans in a large gym is simply a different experience for all involved.

"Without the big crowds I think it takes away a lot of the home court advantage," Kinsley said. "Usually you have a couple hundred students and a full gymnasium, but now maybe it's maybe 270 fans and 60 of them are the visiting fans."

Gone are screaming students with their faces painted and parking lots filled to the limits and in their place are quieter, less raucous atmospheres. Still, the process of playing and practicing is a welcome break for players after spending much of their weekdays sitting in front of a screen doing distance learning.

Green, which began the year doing online learning only before switching to in-person classes for a short time, followed by a return to online-only classes, has winter sports athletes whose main chance to get out of the house and see their friends most days is a practice or a game. Basketball, at least for a few hours, is an escape from many of the ways the pandemic has changed daily life.

The fact that the on-court journey has been extremely challenging thus far for Green isn't a surprise, but the Bulldogs believe those tests are readying them for the battles to come the rest of the way.