There are few, if any, high school basketball teams in the area that took as hard a hit during last spring’s graduation as Poland did.
Poland head coach Ken Grisdale liked to use his abundance of awesome seniors to rotate, almost hockey style, in waves to always remain fresh during games. Lively legs also led to more energy to hit jump shots on offense and to harass opposing ball handlers on defense. That frenetic pace earned the Bulldogs a trip to the state regional semifinal. With fewer superior varsity players to choose from this season, Grisdale knows he will have to change his philosophy a bit if he wants to make it back to that round.
“We lost seven quality individuals and players,” Grisdale said from his home. “We will have to modify to the strengths of this team. We can’t play the same tempo that we have the past three years. We still want to press and play pressure defense, but we will have to be more strategic due to our lack of length.”
Just because Grisdale doesn’t have the same types of players as in years past, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a lot of kids to choose from to use each night. As many as 15 players will wear Poland uniforms this winter with three certainly set to see the starting lineup. Drew Wagner and Darius Patton are a pair of sub-six foot senior guards who lettered last year and, despite their smallish size, will be counted on to lead the Bulldogs on offense this season. The third definite starter will be senior Anthony Machi who is looking to make amends for a lost season a year ago.
“(Machi) broke his ankle last year and didn’t get a chance to show what he can do,” Grisdale explained. “He is a blue collar guy.”
Seniors Ben Tadla and Brandon Maceyko will be the two players Grisdale will choose between to start as his post player. Junior Colin Reardon is well known as the quarterback of the Bulldogs’ football team and will try to use some of those leadership skills on the basketball floor as Poland’s possible fifth starter.
“(Reardon) is such a great athlete,” said Grisdale.
There is also a whole host of what the coach calls his “role players” who will all battle to see court time this year. Mark Gayetsky is a guard. Billy Stanton and Tyler Kosec are spare forwards. Jerry Lawman, Connor Schultheis, John Bannon and Kyle Davis are juniors who should contribute. Eddie Moore is another possibility for the post position and sophomore Nick Andrews rounds out the group. This roster may not rival previous Poland roll calls, but coach Grisdale is happy with them.
“I like the kids we have,” Grisdale said convincingly. “They are very coachable and are good competitors.”
In order for the Bulldogs to stay competitive in the All American Red Tier they will have to be on top of their games each night. The Red Tier is top notch especially with Canfield and Howland as Poland’s chief rivals. Taming the Tigers will be Poland’s first priority if it is to reach the team’s ultimate pinnacle.
“Our goal is to always win the league title,” said Grisdale adamantly. “Howland has an advantage because they have some nice kids coming back and great overall talent. We’d still be disappointed if we didn’t challenge for a league and a district title though.”
The coach would also be disappointed if his boys did not play a challenging out of conference schedule to prepare them for the rigors of the district tournament. This year, Poland plays Fitch, Canfield, Struthers as well as reacquainting itself with Campbell.
“I’m glad we got the home in home back with Campbell,” Grisdale announced. “It will be neat to get a chance to go to Campbell.”
If Grisdale’s gang gets through that grueling slate unscathed then another long run in the state playoffs may be possible. As December begins, coach Grisdale just hopes his new rotation can live up to the talent of his former one.
“We have a chance to be a very nice team,” said the coach confidently. “If the kids buy into the system we will be alright.”