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JFK basketball coach patiently waits

With the start of the high school basketball season just weeks away, most area teams are practicing at full throttle.

Warren John F. Kennedy High coach Mark Komlanc is, well, somewhat stuck in neutral as he waits for all of the cogs of his engine to be put in place.

Because of Kennedy’s football success, Komlanc is currently practicing with a depleted roster. Roughly eight to 10 of his players also play for the football team, which tonight faces Cuyahoga Heights in a regional semifinal contest at Ravenna.

“Honestly, it’s a great problem to have but it does make things interesting,” Komlanc said. “I’m scheduling scrimmages, but at the same time I have to let these schools know that I might not have enough players depending on how far the football team goes in the playoffs.

“Right now, half of our guys in practice are freshmen. It’s kind of funny, we’ll be practicing, and I’ll see half of my team walking in through the gym from football practice.”

Komlanc began coaching at JFK in 2016, the year the Eagles football team won a state title. He quickly realized that short-handed practices in November might become a yearly ritual at the school.

“That year we had one full team practice, then played Farrell the next day,” Komlanc said. “(Former JFK football player) Justin Bofenkamp came straight from football and played a full 32 minutes our first game.”

While some might believe that Kennedy’s football success hinders the basketball program, Komlanc insists that just the opposite is true. In fact, several of his players who debated whether or not they wanted to play football were highly encouraged by Komlanc to do so.

“When these kids come off the football field following a playoff run, they’ve been battle tested, they know what it’s like to be in a win-or-go-home situation,” Komlanc said. “And, they’re certainly in shape. It’s not like I’m welcoming in a group that has been sitting around doing nothing.

“I’ll push any of my players who are on the fence toward football. It’s not like we have to worry about computer points. It’s a long basketball season and we have plenty of time to prepare for March. I would be thrilled if I don’t get those kids back until early December, just like 2016.”

HORNETS NEST

South Range is faced with the unenviable task of trying to accomplish what just six schools have been able to achieve in 129 tries – a win over Kirtland.

The Raiders (8-3) and Hornets (11-0) meet tonight in a Division V, region 17 semifinal at Niles’ Bo Rein Stadium. Since 2011, Kirtland has appeared in seven state title games, winning four. In that span, the Hornets own an overall record of 123-6.

The Raiders are faced with the unenviable task of trying to accomplish what just six schools have been able to achieve in 129 tries — a win over Kirtland.

The Raiders (8-3) and Hornets (11-0) meet tonight in a Division V, Region 17 semifinal at Niles’ Bo Rein Stadium. Since 2011, Kirtland has appeared in seven state title games, winning four. In that span, the Hornets own an overall record of 123-6.

Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde, now in his 14th year at the school, owns a career record of 170-17.

“I don’t know if there are any secrets to what we do, we just have a bunch of kids who have been together since day one all the way back to kindergarten,” LaVerde said. “They bond at an early age. They love each other and they truly play for each other.

“When I came here 14 years ago, I immediately sensed that this place was different. Around here, peer pressure is a great word. A kid sees his classmates and teammates working in the weight room on their own seven days a week, and they feel like they need to follow suit. Peer pressure pushes this community to achieve greatness.”

A year ago, Kirtland went 15-0 and won the Division VI state title. However, the Hornets lost nine starters on both offense and defense.

“We just have kids ready and eager to fill the voids,” LaVerde said. “And we have kids eager to put in the time and effort. We’re a public, closed-enrollment school. We’ll have a freshmen class of 15 players and you worry that you have to find a way to keep them all. Then by the time that class becomes seniors there are 18, 19 of them.”

Despite his astounding success, LaVerde admits that the losses stick with him more than the wins.

“Oh, you never forget the setbacks,” LaVerde said. “I can tell you about every single play from our last six losses. The 10-9 loss to Coldwater will never go away. Against Minster we were up nine with 3 minutes left. Just recover an onside kick and we win.”

Ironically, LaVerde credits South Range coach Dan Yeagley for part of his success both as a teacher and coach.

“My first year here we played South Range in a playoff game and Dan was just wonderful, he’s the best,” LaVerde said. “He is everything you want in a high school football coach. And we both teach AP calculus. He sent me some of his tests and worksheets way back when that I still use today.”

TAKING IT ALL IN

Following a 1-2 start to its season, Poland has reeled off eight straight wins to advance to the Division IV, Region 13 semifinals. Tonight the Bulldogs will play Indian Creek.

After suffering back-to-back losses to Boardman and Howland, one might think the Bulldogs implemented wholesale changes to right the ship.

In reality, the ‘Dogs simply stayed the course, according to coach Ryan Williams.

“I can’t say enough about the way our kids remained focused and on track,” Williams said. “It all came down to the fact that everyone on this team wanted to right the wrongs. They took in everything like a sponge, they just absorbed whatever was being presented to them.

“There were so many times where it was the players, not the coaches, stopping practice to point out mistakes and asking if they could go over something again to get it right. In film sessions, they would point out the mistakes before we had a chance to do so. It has been so refreshing. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Poland’s roster included 22 seniors. Williams noted that the upperclassmen approach each game and each practice session “with a lunch pail mentality.” He added that this year’s success is proof positive that talent alone does not win games.

“I mean, yeah, we certainly have a lot of talented players, no doubt about that,” Williams said. “But this (winning streak) isn’t just because we’re more talented than the opposition.

“This group has been more eager and willing to learn than any group I’ve been around. Things could have gone the other way when we were 1-2, but they wouldn’t allow that to happen.”

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