Surprise, surprise! Many people believed it was a foregone conclusion that the Cleveland VASJ Vikings would win the 2014 DIII State Championship, but the Lima Central Catholic Thunderbirds had other plans. The Vikings, bolstering a roster that consisted of three Division 1 recruits, marched their way to the championship where the 2013 DIV State Champs met up with a game LCC squad.
The Thunderbirds proved yet again that great guard play still wins out no matter what the level. Strapped with three guards that will go to college for free, the T-Birds found a way to outlast the much taller Vikings to capture their second state title in five seasons.
Division III lost a lot of talented seniors and teams from the Class of 2014, but there is enough coming back to keep DIII more than formidable. It won’t be as deep as last season, but still very good at the top.
The Vikings will once again be considered the favorite on paper with all but one player returning from last year’s state runner-up squad. However, as we found out last March, paper champions are just that. VASJ head coach Babe Kwasniak would be the first tell you, LCC was the better team on that day, but we can guarantee the Vikings have been chomping at the bit since.
There is a lot of basketball to be played between now-and-then, so it will be interesting to see which teams rise up as legit threats to one of the state’s most talented teams.
D-III Southwest District Preview
Dayton Chaminade Julienne (15-10)
*Lost to Cincinnati Summit CD in the regional semifinals.
Myo Baxter-Bell (6’4/Sr.); Alan Vest (6’3/Sr.); Jacob Harrison (6’0/Jr.); Christian Montague (6’0/So.); and Zach Burneka (6’1/Sr.).
Miles Joiner (6’3/So.); Danny Meyer (6’1/Sr.); Remy Hudson (6’2/Jr.); Phariz Watkins (6’1/So.); and Darrell Miller (6’5/Sr.).
• Myo Baxter-Bell averaged 13.2 points per game and 4.4 rebounds a night, which helped him earn 1st Team All-GCL honors.
• Alan Vest totaled 10.2 points, 4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. Vest made 44 three-pointers shooting 41 percent behind the arc. He earned 1st Team All-GCL honors.
• Jacob Harrison scored 7.7 points per game and made 52 three-point goals. Harrison, who quarterbacks the football team, was rewarded with 2nd Team All-GCL status.
• Coach Staley has 375 career-wins.
From the Coach:
“We have talented returning players and expectations are high,” mentioned longtime CJ boss Joe Staley. “How well we guard and rebound defensively will decide how successful we’ll be this season. Development of our bench will be another huge key to our success.”
Many Division III schools claim to play the toughest schedule in the state, but with the exception of VASJ’s national slate over the past two seasons, no one plays a better schedule than Joe Staley’s Eagles year-after-year. CJ will face the likes of Lexington Catholic (KY), Moeller, Thurgood Marshall, Dayton Dunbar, Gahanna Lincoln, and Lima Central Catholic along with leagues games against Roger Bacon and Kettering Alter. CJ was one of four teams to beat Lima CC a year ago, which propelled them to an 11-2 record to close out the year following a tough 4-8 start. The returning Baxter-Bell, Vest, and Harrison give the Eagles one of the better three-headed monsters in DIII. Baxter-Bell, who spent his first two high seasons at Lakota East, is just too big, strong, and versatile for most high school defenders. He should have a great senior year. As Staley mentioned, the development of the bench is going to determine how far this team can go. In our opinion, there aren’t five better DIII teams in Ohio than CJ. The Eagles will no doubt be battle-tested by the time the tournament rolls around, which is a big reason along with their talent that we believe Coach Staley and his team could be returning to the final four for the first time since 2004.
*Lost to Anna in overtime in the sectional finals.
Kyle Ahrens (6’6/Sr.); Jace Barga (6’0/Sr.); Brett McEldowney (6’3/Jr.); Kyle Rutschilling (5’11/Sr.); Jared Niekamp (6’3/Jr.); Zach Steinbrunner (6’5/Sr.); and Justin Marshal (6’4/Sr.).
A.J. Ahrens (6’2/Fr.); Justin Ahrens (6’2/Fr.); Keaton McEldowney (5’11/Fr.); and Austin Knapke (6’2/So.).
• Kyle Ahrens was averaging 24 points per game before a season ending broken leg halted his junior season amidst a (9-0) start. Ahrens helped the Tigers to a state runner-up finish as a sophomore averaging nearly 20 points per game and leading Versailles in almost every major category. He is signed to play at Michigan State.
• The Tigers own two state runner-up trophies (2004 and 2013).
What a night it will be on opening night when senior Kyle Ahrens returns to the Versailles’ line up after playing just nine games as a junior. The Tigers were off to a (9-0) start a year ago before Ahrens’ went down with a broken leg. Versailles lost its next seven games and 10 of its final 14 contests. It was fitting that Anna ended Versailles season in the tournament since Ahrens broke his leg in a regular season game against the Rockets. Not only was he lost for the season, but the team’s second leading scorer (Damien Richard) went down with a torn ACL. The Tigers and Ahrens will be looking for redemption from what could have been a special team last winter. It’s hard to imagine a player of his caliber and one going to Michigan State could be underrated, but Ahrens really has never got his just due for how good he is. At 6-foot-6, he is one of the most versatile players in Ohio. He will have to be sensational early on until the younger kids gain some experience, but this kid is too good to leave this team outside the Top 10. Southwest Ohio has several quality teams, so there are no guarantees, but one thing is certain the Tigers will have the best player on the floor most nights.
Other Top Teams from Southwest Ohio
Cincinnati Roger Bacon, Dayton Stivers, Cincinnati Summit CD, Cincinnati Shroder, Clark Montessori, New Lebanon Dixie, Miami East, Anna, Brookville, Hamilton Badin, CHCA, Purcell Marian, Dayton Northridge, West Liberty-Salem, and Arcanum.