So close to their goal

Kennedy team earned praise for valiant effort

Tribune Chronicle fil / Eric Murray John F. Kennedy junior Byron Taylor (5), shown in an earlier game against Cleveland VASJ, provided plenty of positives during the Eagles’ tournament run which ended Friday in a Division IV regional final at Canton.

CANTON — Justin Bofenkamp fought a losing battle, holding back his emotions Friday evening.

Anger. Sadness. Frustration.

He and his John F. Kenendy teammates knew they wanted more than a regional final berth. They knew this Eagles team had a sole focus — be the first team in school history to advance to the state final four.

Division IV boys basketball greatness awaited them if JFK could get past a former state champion and seasoned tournament team in Lutheran East.

This Kennedy team has faced many challenges this season — overcoming three ranked teams in the top 10, including defending state champion Cornerstone Christian.

Lutheran East had a challenging schedule, but didn’t beat the teams the Eagles did — Cornerstone, Ursuline, Villa Angela-St. Joseph. On paper, it seemed JFK would be heading to state.

Kennedy hoped it would eventually repeat the success the football team had last fall, winning a Division VII state championship in early December on a cold, Ohio Stadium field.

Instead, the Eagles got out of their normal aggressive style and succumbed to the Falcons, who had the game in hand for the first half — getting up by 15 at one point in the second quarter.

Now, the officials did call a tighter game on the Eagles than they are accustomed to, but it didn’t take away JFK’s potency. The Eagles finally got back their mojo late in the third quarter. When Byron Taylor, a junior guard who ignites this team with his uncanny ability to split defenses and break pressure, hit a late 3-pointer, it spurred the Eagles’ student section into frenzy.

Kennedy used that emotional lift to carry its team through the third quarter.

You would’ve thought this was the Eagles’ moment, this was JFK’s time. This team was going to rally like it has so many times before and make it to state.

There was no comeback. Two last-ditch, 3-pointers came up short of forcing overtime.

This JFK team has aggressiveness and determination that made them unstoppable, except by themselves, which it discovered in Friday’s regional final.

Lutheran East won, but it was more of the Eagles not being themselves which doomed them. This 20-8 JFK team, more often than not, found the will to win.

“When you can get a group of kids like this that can buy in, believe and work hard every single day,” JFK first-year coach Mark Komlanc said. “The best part of this has nothing to do with the basketball part of it. It’s how they’ve grown in the classroom and off the court. I know they’re emotional. They’re upset. In July, we really believed we had a chance to go to Columbus.

“I’ve learned a lot just from those kids. You hear the cliche that hard work pays off. They’re a testament to that. They’re living proof that it’s the truth.”

Komlanc was surprised how things came together with his players. Kennedy had talent, some of the best in the area, there wasn’t ever a doubt about that. How it would come together as a cohesive unit, that was another matter.

Komlanc compared the process with rebuilding the frame of a boat, which was symbolic of the past Kennedy successes on the court. This coaching staff stripped away some of the distractions and focused on what was important, getting the Eagles basketball program to become one of the best in the area and in the region.

“There’s no tickets allowed,” Komlanc said. “You have to work to get on that boat. They worked to build it. We’re going to continue to do that.”

Hopefully, the Kenendy administrators, boosters and parent base allows this growth to continue. It needs to with stability, not constant change as the program has seen in the recent past.