Welcome 2013 as the Portage Trail Conference basketball season gets down to serious business and teams position themselves for a possible division-title run and a future tourney trip. The County Division appears to be a three-horse race that could get sorted out as early as Friday night, while the Metro sees Norton in the lead with several teams in the wings.
PANTHERS LOVE DISNEY
For the second year in a row, the Norton Panthers took a holiday trip south to Disney's Wide World of Sports Tournament in Orlando, Fla.
After a successful trip last year when Norton won 2-of-3 games, Panther coach Rod Swartz said they had no plans of returning again this year.
"It takes a lot of planning and money and I thought it was a great experience, but something you probably only do once," said Swartz. "But the parents really wanted to return, and with the state going to 22 games we needed to replace the three games down there last year plus pick up another two games, so when I approached the school they gave me the approval. You can't do something like this without a great group of parents and we had a total of 56 people at Disney."
The tournament totals about 80 teams, with eight teams in each bracket. Schools are placed according to history and size in an effort to make sure everyone has an enjoyable experience. Norton opened with a 72-56 win over Foxborough (Mass.) and came back the next night with a win over Cinnaminson (N.J.) 80-60. For the bracket championship on Monday, the Panthers defeated Bay Village (Ohio) 36-33.
Swartz and his team was still in Florida on Wednesday, and he said some were returning that night and others should get home today. He was quick to point out that Norton has a big game on Friday when it hosts Crestwood.
"Last year we lost to Crestwood on our return, so we need to be ready to play," said the former Mogadore High School standout. "We have a tough three-week schedule coming up to end the first half. We have to travel to Streetsboro and then play Kent before hosting a tough Green team."
The defending Metro co-champs are currently 8-1 overall and unbeaten in the division at 4-0.
Swartz said that he really believes the division is more equal from top to bottom.
"You better be ready to play every night or you're going to get beat," he said. "We know we are walking around with a bull's-eye on our back because everyone wants to beat us."
Norton's only loss of the season came to a very tough Cuyahoga Falls team in the second game of the season.
"We returned a lot of kids from last year but we also have a lot of kids in our rotation this year that lacked experience," said Swartz. "So we are still building team chemistry and I really think we have not played our best basketball yet."
OTHER METRO ACTION
A key matchup Friday will see Coventry visit Ravenna. The Comets have lost three of the last four games after starting the season at 4-0. The Ravens, who have only one division win, could pull a big upset here if they play as a team.
Much-improved Springfield has won four games in a row and Roosevelt better be ready to play when it visits the Spartans on Friday.
Meanwhile, Streetsboro needs to stop the bleeding. The Rockets have lost five games in a row, so the visit by Field could be just what the doctor ordered.
EARLY COUNTY SHOWDOWN
Mogadore will travel to Windham on Friday night in a battle of co-leaders of the County Division. Both teams are currently 4-0 in division play, while each team sports one non-league loss.
Both these Division IV teams could very easily be undefeated at this point. Mogadore lost to Springfield when it had a complete offensive collapse, while Windham did not play well when it traveled to defending state champion Berlin Hiland.
If both teams turn it up for this encounter, it could be the first of some classic battles this season. Neither team can afford to have a letdown because both teams have the ability to run away with some hot shooting.
OTHER COUNTY ACTION
Garfield will visit Southeast in a contest that should favor the Pirates on their home court, but the G-Men are one of those teams that when they put together a complete game they could upset a contender.
The Vikings will host East Canton in hopes of gaining another division win; both teams are 1-3 in the division. Rootstown, meanwhile, came close in getting that elusive first victory last week in a 46-45 overtime loss to Lake Center Christian. The Rovers will host Woodridge on Friday night.