Goals remain the same

Harding shoots for more success minus graduated Simpson

Coming off a 23-4 season that included a Division I district championship, the Warren G. Harding Raiders will be missing a big part of their recent success, graduated point guard Gabe Simpson.

Harding returns 6-foot-10 senior post Derek Culver, a West Virginia commit, but will miss Simpson and fellow graduated seniors Shakem Johnson, Mark Herron, Kahmaree Bush and Jahari Provitt.

“We will certainly miss our graduating seniors, but our goals haven’t changed much. We think we have the capability to do what we did last year and more,” Harding coach Andy Vlajkovich said. “Every team forms its own identity. We don’t talk about replacing people a lot, but I know, and the kids know, how great Gabe was. You can win a lot of different ways, not just one particular style.

“We will look a little different and the staff will have to adjust and the players have to adjust, but the chemistry’s been real good.”

Along with Culver, Harding’s returning letter winners include seniors Lynn Bowden, Tiryn Frank and Marlin Richardson, along with sophomore Dominic McGhee.

The Raiders also have some new players in 6-2 senior Andrew Ziegler from North Carolina, and brothers Mike Hughes and Chris Hughes, who played previously at Ursuline. In addition, sophomore Kemondre Muhammad is expected to contribute.

“I give the returning guys a lot of credit, they’ve welcomed these guys into the family with open arms, and I’m proud of the newcomers, they’ve handled the change well,” Vlajkovich said. “I’m especially proud of the culture we’ve created here.

“I think we had a great fall, both athletically and academically, the guys really bought in. We will be a different team than last year, we will be very versatile and not as big. I think last year we had one primary ballhandler in Gabe and he was really, really good. But this year we are more diverse in the backcourt, we have more guards who can handle the ball.”

Culver is expected to be more of a force offensively, and Bowden, who transferred in a year ago from Liberty, probably will be more of a factor this season also.

“We still will play through Derek, he will get his touches, but we are more well-rounded and deeper as a team,” Vlajkovich said. “I give Lynn a lot of credit. He averaged 20 points a game at Liberty and had all his football success and he came in last year with no ego, no sense of entitlement. I have a ton of respect for that. This year, you’ll probably see his numbers bump up and he’ll be more aggressive offensively.”

As usual, Harding has put together an agressive non-conference schedule that includes a showcase event in Morgantown, W.Va., during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Harding also has road games at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Sharon Kennedy Catholic, and Canton McKinley, plus home games against Cleveland St. Ignatius, East Cleveland Shaw and Maple Heights.