When the Windham Bombers step onto the court at Canton Memorial Fieldhouse tonight at 8 p.m., they will face one of the best teams any team could face: Villa Angela-St. Joseph.
Just ask John F. Kennedy coach Shawn Pompelia, whose Eagles faced Division IV's second-ranked team in the state twice this season as a part of the North Coast League. The Vikings outscored Kennedy by a combined 88 points in those two contests.
"I'll be honest: They're so good that I could take an All-Star team from Trumbull and Mahoning counties and you'd be hard-pressed to beat this team," Pompelia said. "They're one of the best teams in the state in any division, and the way they're playing right now, they're going to be a tough out in this tournament."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Windham’s Parker Rickey drives while trying to control the ball as McDonald’s Christian Rusinowski defends during Friday’s Division IV Warren District final. Windham plays Villa Angela-St. Joseph tonight in a regional semifinal in Canton.
Luckily for the Bombers (23-3), they come from Portage County, but that won't make it any easier.
One of the biggest hurdles facing Windham tonight comes in VA-SJ's size. The Vikings (21-4) boast at least three key players who stand 6 feet 7 and taller, led by senior Demonte Flannigan and sophomore Carlton Bragg. Flannigan, who has committed to play at Cleveland State next season, and Bragg, who already has scholarship offers from Ohio State, Illinois and West Virginia, average 16.7 and 16.2 points per game, respectively.
The Bombers have no player above 6-3.
Adding in the Associated Press Northeast Lakes District Player of the Year, Duane Gibson, at point guard, it's difficult to key on one player.
"They have five players who are probably future Division I basketball players in college," Windham coach Marty Hill said. "Obviously, it's pretty hard to focus on just one. They're big, athletic and talented players. So, it's a formidable task for the Bombers."
To go with their size, VA-SJ gets after it on defense.
The Viking pressure the ball up and down the court in an attempt to create offense from their defense. Hill said that the team's district final opponent McDonald plays in a similar manner, but the gulf between the teams is enormous.
"It's not really a fair comparison to compare McDonald - and that's no disrespect to McDonald," Hill said. "Playing St. Joe's is a whole different animal."
With all of this knowledge, the Bombers understand the magnitude of the task at hand, but if there's one thing they do have, it's experience.
Windham is making its third straight regional appearance and has players, like seniors Matt Knight and Cameron Pozsgai, who have been around the program while still in grade school.
Both Knight and Pozsgai followed the Bombers to Columbus during their run to the state semifinals in 2006 as team managers, and both have fathers involved in the program. Knight's father played for Hill in the 1980's, while Pozsgai's father, Bill, is an assistant under Hill.
"They both come from basketball backgrounds," Hill said. "We knew that they were going to be good athletes. Basketball's a game of skills, and when you're around the game as much as they were when they were younger, that gives you a good headstart.
"Obviously, it's paid dividends for us and them."
As he hopes his team's experience and hunger to win at this level will be an asset in tonight's game, Hill said that an easy game doesn't exist in the regional tournament.
"I've been coaching a long time," Hill said. "When the kids get into the regional (tournament), no matter who you play it's always a tough team. I just try to get them to relax and play the way they'd been playing to get them there. That's all that you can expect."