Three of the four schools heading into the Division IV boys basketball state tournament this weekend already have a state championship. It’s the loner though that’s the favorite this time around. New Knoxville, which has just 59 boys in the school, takes on a solid field including Bedford St. Peter Chanel, Haviland Wayne Trace and Worthington Christian.
Should the undefeated and No. 1 ranked Rangers take home their first title, they will have no doubt earned it. The case could be made that New Knoxville is facing a D-III trio. The enrollment cutoff for D-IV is 133 boys and Chanel (132) and Worthington Christian (130) are painfully close. Wayne Trace is in its first season in D-IV after making three D-III state tournaments.
Don’t feel sorry for the Rangers, though. New Knoxville has won 24 of 25 games by double-digits, its closest contest being a seven-point decision over Rockford Parkway on Dec. 14. Other victims have fallen by margins of 78, 54, 46, 43 (twice) and 41 points. Oh yeah…New Knoxville starts one senior.
NEW KNOXVILLE (25-0)
Basketball coach Dan Hegemier has had a lot of success on the state level. Now he’s trying to rub some of that off onto his hometown.
Hegemier, a 1970 graduate of New Knoxville, and the Rangers are making the school’s second appearance at the state tournament and first since 1947 when the result was a 43-34 loss to Columbiana in the title game.
Hegemier has been to the mountaintop before, winning state titles in 1987 and 1993 at Fort Loramie. The Redskins also made the state tournament in 1988.
“It’s been 61 years since New Knoxville has been to state and we’re elated to have the opportunity to go to Columbus and play for the state championship,” Hegemier said. “It’s a lot of fun when you can take your hometown there. I just really enjoy that. As far as talking to the kids as far as being prepared and what to expect we went over that. I told them it’s just like going to a three-day team camp only it’s a big team camp.”
The Rangers enter the state tournament as the favorites.
New Knoxville is 50-1 the last two years, its only loss coming to eventual state champion Georgetown in the regional finals last season.
“We lost four seniors last year when we went 25-1 and got beat by the state champion,” Hegemier said. “We lost good kids, but we knew we had good quality people coming back. These young kids can all run, pass and shoot. Did we expect to be 25-0 right now? No. But we felt we’d be pretty good.”
Just how good has been somewhat of a surprise.
In winning back-to-back Midwest Athletic Conference titles, the Rangers have done so with a relatively young line-up.
New Knoxville starts just one senior, albeit a good one in senior point guard Tony Meyer. Meyer, a three-year starter, was the MAC player of the year. He averages 12.1 points, 5.1 assists and 3.5 steals.
“When a kid is the MAC player of the year at 5-11, he has to do a lot of things,” Hegemier said. “Tony does a lot of things.”
So does the rest of the cast.
Rounding out the starters are 6-0 junior guard Caleb Allen, 6-2 junior forward Austin Arnett (11.3 points, 2.9 assists, 1.9 steals), 6-3 sophomore forward Ryan Vanderhorst (5.2 assists) and 6-7 junior post Brad Piehl. Piehl is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder averaging 13.7 and 6.2, respectively.
Meyer (first team), Piehl (first), Vanderhorst (second), Austin Luck (second team) and Allen (honorable mention) were All-MAC. Luck, a reserve guard, came off the bench to hit six 3-pointers in a regional semifinal win over Houston. He averages 11.4 points.
“We’re going to play man-to-man and we’re going to guard you,” Hegemier said. “We want to get the ball out and run the floor. After that we’re going to run some sets or some type of motion offense.”
It’s no secret what the Rangers have to do to stop Wayne Trace in the semifinals.
“I know coach (Al) Welch and his team’s play hard,” Hegemier said. “They get after it and they force you into mistakes and you can’t do that. They're going to run up and down the floor and do a variety of sets. If you leave them open they are going to shoot it and make it.
“We have to tire them. They have very good ball handlers and Wayne Trace will not beat themselves. You can’t count on them throwing the ball into the third row. They pass the ball very well and they have a good feel for what they are doing. You have to keep them out of the middle, can’t let them drive baseline and you have to get a hand in their face. They are a tough team to guard because they are not going to throw the ball inside and stand and watch. They are going to try to create.”
The Rangers season this year coupled with last year has created a buzz around the small Auglaize County town.
In addition to the Rangers regional final appearance last season, the girls basketball team finished state runner-up in 2007. The girls volleyball team was also state runner-up last year.
Hegemier is hoping his team can bring home the big trophy.
“The girls tried to do it last year and ran up against a very talented team,” Hegemier said. “Hopefully we can get the opportunity to change that.”
HAVILAND WAYNE TRACE (21-4)
The last time the Raiders made the state tournament in 2001 they faced some guy named LeBron James in the semifinals and were sent packing. Wayne Trace hopes this trip turns out more like its visit in 1991, when it ran away with the D-III state title. The Raiders also made state in 1987.
Those three previous trips were in D-III. This is WT’s first year in D-IV.
“I told the kids to enjoy (the regional final win) but when we get back to practice it’s time to get back to business,” said WT coach Al Welch, who has led the Raiders to all their state tournaments. “I think that’s the big key for kids going to the state tournament – will they come to practice and get prepared because there is so much hoopla around them right now.”
A lot of the hoopla surrounding WT also has to do with Welch. The veteran coach has announced that this will be his last season in charge of the boys program that he’s lead for the last 33 years. In all, Welch has spent 38 years coaching in the district.
“I didn’t announce it until late January because I was debating in my mind whether I wanted to do that or not,” Welch said. “The kids haven’t said much to me, but I’ve heard the statements they’ve made to others and they’ve said they wanted to take me to state my last year. They’ve got part of their goal done and now I’ve heard they want to send me out with a win. We’ll see.”
The Raiders are led by a veteran group that includes six seniors and a junior amongst the top seven players.
Aaron Hockenberry, a 6-1 senior guard, is the team’s leading scorer (18.7 points per game), while 6-2 senior point guard Dane Treece averages 10 points and 5 assists. Welch called those two the squad’s best “all-around players.”
Also in the starting line up are 6-3 guard Riley Linder (11 ppg), 6-2 post Nathan Jewel and 6-2 forward Ryan Davis. All three are seniors.
Key players off the bench are 6-8 senior post Alex LaBounty (9 ppg, 4 blocks) and 5-9 junior guard Kevin Hale.
“We were very, very good in 1991 so that team is very tough to rank anyone against,” Welch said. “I think this team is a lot like the ones I brought in 1987 and 2001. This team is not quite as big as those teams were but I think this team shoots the ball a little better.
“We’ve played all styles and all different types of teams so I think we’re prepared to play anyone right now.”
As it is, WT faces New Knoxville, a team that offers ample challenges. Welch though feels like his team is up to the task.
“We’ve played in so many of these type games that our kids know they have to perform and have to raise their level,” Welch said. “We’re playing against a very, very good New Knoxville team that definitely has to be the favorite to win this thing because they’ve lost what one game in two years. Our kids have to play 32 full minutes to beat this team and that’s how we approached it with LeBron. I think the big thing this week is we want to be close with four minutes to go and see what happens.”
BEDFORD ST. PETER CHANEL (17-8)
Record-wise the Firebirds enter the state tournament with the least impressive tally. Chanel’s eight losses are three more than any team in any division, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Firebirds schedule is arguably the toughest in the state among D-IV schools and rivals that of a D-I program.
“The one thing is our strength of schedule has helped us,” Chanel coach Bernie Tarr said. “We have (Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph) down there (in D-III) from our league and Akron Hoban made the regional. Our non-league schedule consisted of (Lakewood) St. Edward, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Dayton Dunbar, East Cleveland Shaw and Bedford. (That slate) really helped us once the tournament started.”
Another thing that has propelled Chanel is its fast-paced, tenacious tempo. The Firebirds burn up the court for 32-minutes and cover all 94-feet.
“Everything triggers from our defense,” Barr said. “We want to get out and press 94-feet baseline to baseline and wear you down. In our two wins in (the) Canton (regional) that really helped us gain control toward the end of the games. I think we wore out Malvern and we finished that game on a 20-5 run over the last five minutes.
“(The pressure) sort of sets up our offense. We want to get out and run as much as possible.”
The Firebirds start five juniors, led by 6-5 standout post Lamar McKnight. McKnight (6-5) averages 19 points per game and chips in 10 rebounds. McKnight scored 31 points in Chanel’s regional final win over Malvern.
Chanel’s other starters include 5-11 point guard JoVaughn Brown (14 points, 6.5 assists), 5-10 two-guard Jareed Robinson, 6-2 wing Jordan Duke and 6-4 post Arthur Jordan (12 points, 8 rebounds).
Robinson and Duke are the defensive leaders and against Worthington Christian the assignment is simple.
“Their perimeter shooting is something we have to make sure we close out on,” Tarr said. “We want to make sure they don’t get good looks. We also want to make sure we contain the basketball with their dribble-drive.”
Tarr is in his eighth season at Chanel and has state experience, having led the Firebirds to Columbus in 2003. Although this roster is new, the coach’s message is the same as before.
“We told them to keep both feet on the ground,” Tarr said. “They are the same person they were last week. Nothing has really changed as far as who they are. We have to remember the goal and what we want to accomplish.”
Chanel’s last title came in D-III in 1999.
WORTHINGTON CHRISTIAN (25-1)
The Warriors are making their fourth appearance at the state tournament and searching for their second state title. Worthington Christian won the D-IV title in 1999 over Fort Recovery and lost in the state championship game in 1994 to Upper Scioto Valley. The Warriors also made the 2000 tournament before losing to St. Henry in the semifinals.
Head coach Kevin Weakley was a member of the 1994 squad and knows taking home the hardware is not an easy chore.
Especially this season.
“I think D-IV this year is as strong as it has been in a while,” Weakley said. “You look at New Knoxville and Wayne Trace coming out of really solid conferences. Chanel probably plays the toughest D-IV schedule in the state and I think we’ve played a pretty good schedule too. When you take a look at the field it’s probably one of the better ones in the past few years.”
To survive that field, the Warriors are going to have to rely on what got them here.
“Offensively we like to create tempo,” Weakley said. “We get up and down and spread the floor. When you look at our team we don’t pass the look test. Physically we don’t match up with a lot of teams so what we try to do is spread the floor and beat teams down the court before they can set up defensively.
“Defensively we like to get out and pressure the ball and deny the inside game. That is going to be crucial against Chanel.”
WC is led by 6-4 junior Brian Hecker who was recently named the Division IV state player of the year. Hecker averages 21.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
“He is very similar in style to the McKnight kid from Chanel in how he scores,” Weakley said. “He can shoot from the perimeter, he can shoot 3-pointers and he has a good mid-range game, but he can also play with his back to the basket.”
Other key players for the Warriors are Brady Beals, Zack Joseph, Tyler Joseph and Bobby Condon. Beals is a 6-4 junior that hauls in 9.5 rebounds per game, while the Joseph brothers are both hitting better than 43-percent of their 3-point shots. Condon is a slashing guard and one of the team’s top defenders.
Reserves have played a critical role in the Warriors tournament run as well.
“I think we have tremendous chemistry,” Weakley said. “Several kids have come on strong the last few weeks that have helped us get to where we are.”
Reserves Josh Sinclair, Nick Thomas (6-4, sr.), Matt Anglea (6-4, so.) and Alex Scott (6-3 so.) are all expected to log minutes Thursday.
As for the gameplan against Chanel, Weakley expressed a couple keys.
“We have to do two things,” Weakley said. “No. 1 we have to take care of the basketball. We watched them play Malvern the other night and Malvern turned the ball over 17 times in the first half. If you do that against a team like Chanel that likes to create easy opportunities you won’t be successful. The second thing we have to do is defensively rebound the basketball. Both of those things have to do with limiting easy opportunities. If we do those things, I feel like we have a pretty good shot.”
Worthington Christian (25-1)
Boys Enrollment: 130
Final ‘08 Ranking: 3rd
State Appearances: 2008, 2000, 1999,
Head Coach: Kevin Weakley
School Rec.: 150-46 (8 yrs.)
PPG: 76.1; OPP: 58.0
F 33 Brian Hecker, 6-4, Sr., 21.0 ppg
G 3 Tyler Joseph, 5-10, Sr., 14.4 ppg
G 22 Bob Condon, 5-10, Sr., 7.5 ppg
G 32 Brady Beals, 6-3, Jr., 7.4 ppg
G 10 Zach Joseph, 5-8, So., 13.3 ppg
St. Peter Chanel (17-8)
Boys Enrollment: 132
Final ‘08 Ranking: Not Ranked
State Appearances: 2008, 2003, 1999,
Head Coach: Bernie Tarr
School Rec.: 136-67 (8 yrs.)
PPG: 67.0; OPP: 58.4
F 12 Jordan Duke, 6-2, Jr., 4.0 ppg
F 20 Arthur Jordan, 6-4, Jr., 13.0 ppg
C 55 Lamar McKnight, 6-5, Jr., 18.0 ppg
G 5 Jo’Vaughn Brown, 5-11, Jr., 13.0 ppg
G 11 Jareed Robinson, 5-10, Jr., 4.0 ppg
Wayne Trace (21-4)
Boys Enrollment: 114
Final ‘08 Ranking: Not Ranked
State Appearances: 2008, 2001, 1991, 1987
Head Coach: Al Welch
School Rec.: 540-210 (33 yrs.)
PPG: 49.5; OPP: 36.0
F 30 Riley Linder, 6-3, Sr., 12.1 ppg
C 44 Nate Jewell, 6-2, Sr., 5.0 ppg
G 32 Dane Treece, 6-3, Sr., 9.0 ppg
G 10 Aaron Hockenberry, 6-0, Sr., 18.1 ppg
G 20 Ryan Davis, 5-10, Sr., 4.0 ppg
New Knoxville (25-0)
Location: New Knoxville
Boys Enrollment: 59
Final ‘08 Ranking: 1st
State Appearances: 2008, 1947
Head Coach: Dan Hegemier
School Rec.: 77-18 (4 yrs.)
PPG: 70.0; OPP: 43.0
F 23 Ryan VanderHorst, 6-3, So., 11.5 ppg
F 5 Austin Arnett, 6-2, Jr., 11.0 ppg
C 32 Brad Piehl, 6-7, Jr., 15.0 ppg
G 10 Tony Meyer, 5-11, Sr., 12.3 ppg
G 20 Caleb Allen, 6-1, Jr., 10.0 ppg
Thursday, March 13 – Championship Semifinals
5:15 p.m. – Division IV Game #1
Worthington Christian vs. Bedford St. Peter Chanel
8:30 p.m. – Division IV Game #2
Haviland Wayne Trace vs. New Knoxville
Saturday, March 15 – Championship Finals
2:00 p.m. – Division IV
Chanel over Worthington Christian
New Knoxville over Wayne Trace
New Knoxville over Chanel