WGH could make run at Alliance

Warren G. Harding’s boys basketball team has been a work in progress this season.

Canfield High School graduate Andy Vlajkovich took over the program from now current WGH football coach Steve Arnold, who led the hardwood warriors to a couple of Division I regional appearances and a state Final Four appearance in 2009.

Hard shoes to fill for any first-year coach.

After graduating Canfield, Vlajkovich went on to be star point guard at Grove City (Pa.) College. After assistant coaching jobs at Boardman and Canfield, along with a couple of head coaching jobs, he came aboard with Arnold prior to the 2011-12 season.

This season, Vlajkovich has steered a very young Raiders team to a 12-8 record.

They are coming off an impressive 65-49 victory against a taller Lorain team that dominated the Raiders by more than 20 points more than a month ago.

Progress, thanks to pressure defense.

WGH won the turnover battle 25-9, committing the fewest turnovers this season.

The Raiders have to play at Canfield on Tuesday and are at Cleveland Heights Friday before they can turn their full attention to tournament play.

The Division I sectional/district at Alliance High School has a strong makeup of Federal League teams that play a half-court game. The top three seeds, Lake, Green and North Canton Hoover, fit that mold. However, Green is not in the Federal League.

Then there is the fourth-seeded Warren G. Harding, which play a full-court pressure style defense that leads to the Raiders offense. Hence Friday’s game and the massive turnover ratio in favor of WGH.

“The top three seeds down there are very organized, very structured, very well-disciplined, very well-coached,” Vlajkovich said. “But, they typically play half-court basketball. We kind of bring an up-tempo pace, some pressure, some effort and some energy.”

Playing in the Lake Erie League has been a benefit for Harding.

“Our league plays a lot alike,” Vlajkovich said. “If you’ve seen one Lake Erie League team play, you’ve pretty much seen it all. We’re going to the tournament with some of the better teams in the Federal League and you’re going to see a contrast in styles.

“I think we have to keep getting better at our system and keep getting better at what we do. So far, they are.”

Harding has a first-round bye and plays the winner of fifth-seeded East and 10th-seeded Boardman in a March 1 sectional final. The winner of that game most likely faces top-seeded Lake in the district semifinals. Then, it’s probably either Green or Hoover in the district final.

Harding beat East by three earlier this year and clamped down on Boardman last week, holding the Spartans to 27 points.

If WGH plan to make a run this year, it has to be with seniors O’Sha Jackson, Gregory Jackson and Mik’Quan Dorsey, who combined for 40 points in Friday’s win over Lorain.

“They’ve been great for us all year,” Vlajkovich said. “They are three really, really great kids and three kids I really love and care about.

“I think they can get this job done in Alliance.”