set to meet in finale
on Saturday night
By Greg Gulas
The seventh annual United Way Basketball Classic is set for Saturday at Poland High School with the Bulldogs’ girls meeting the Champion Golden Flashes in the opener at 1 p.m.
Three boys games will follow with last year’s Pennsylvania state quarterfinalist Hickory Hornets taking on the Struthers Wildcats (2:45 p.m.), Boardman going up against the Girard Indians (4:30 p.m.) and in the finale at 6:15 p.m., Poland will meet the Canfield Cardinals in the continuation of their Route 224 series.
It’s the only time this season that the Bulldogs and Cardinals will meet.
“We were able to get both Canfield and Poland finalized at the time this great rivalry was coming to an end,” said Bob Hannon, president of the Youngstown-Mahoning Valley United Way. “I cannot tell you how appreciative we are of athletic directors Brian Banfield [Poland] and Greg Cooper [Canfield] for making this happen.”
Since taking over as head of the Mahoning Valley’s United Way, Hannon has spearheaded efforts that have helped raise over $32 million.
“This is one of our top fundraisers annually and we truly appreciate all that Poland High School does on our behalf,” Hannon said. “We’re always looking to add new schools and are excited to have both Struthers and Hickory playing for the first time.
“This is arguably our strongest field in seven years and we expect all games to be highly competitive.”
Coach Ken Grisdale’s Bulldogs were 22-2 a season ago and must replace three starters from last year’s team. They defeated Orange 82-52 in the Coaches vs. Cancer exhibition at Struthers on Nov. 29 and topped Howland 63-45 on Tuesday.
Returning are starters Braeden O’Shaughnessy (19.2 points) and Dan Kramer (16.2) while players to keep an eye on include Andrew Centofanti, Michael Cougras, Jeff McAuley, twins Adam and Zach Kassem, Jacob Hryb, Collin Todd and Stephen Bannon.
“We’re in the process of trying to figure things out,” Grisdale said. “It’s special to play in the classic and go up against Canfield. The United Way stepped up to make this happen and it should be exciting with a good crowd.”
The Cardinals went 15-9 last year under head coach Todd Muckleroy, looking to replace nine players lost to graduation.
“Our roster isn’t as big this year, but we feel all can play whether they start or come off the bench,” Muckelroy said. “It’s certainly a win-win for Poland, Canfield and both communities. Bob Hannon wanted to see both teams play and each program looks forward to representing their schools in this great basketball showcase.”
Canfield features Conor Crogan (8.0), Kyle Gamble (6.0), Aydin Hanousek (10.0 points, 6.1 rebounds), Brenden Bova and Luke Pallante.
Girard was 12-12 last year under Craig Hannon, who has seven seniors dotting his roster.
“This is always a special event because of my father and our kids really enjoy the competition.” Hannon said. “It’s a great cause with excellent competition.”
The Indians feature Austin O’Hara (7.0 points, 5.2 rebounds), Austin Claussell (16.5) and Christian Graziano (9.0), also welcoming back Adam Connelly who missed last season due to a broken leg.
Boardman went 9-14 under head coach head coach Pat Birch, who looks to play a bevy of juniors this season.
The Spartans feature team captain Cam Kreps (6.0 points, 7.0 rebounds), Derrick Anderson (4.5) and Ethan Andersen.
“We’re a little younger than I thought we’d be,” Birch said. “We stress how much do we trust each other? The X-factor is the locker room because this team truly cares about one another.”
Struthers went 15-11 a season ago but have a new coach in former YSU assistant Mike Wernicki.
“We don’t have a lot of depth and lack size, so we’ll need to grow up quickly,” Wernicki said. “We shoot the ball well and are above average athletically but must stay out of foul trouble. In a community that has so much need, the game is secondary to the cause.”
The Wildcats feature Carson Ryan (15.9), Kevin Traylor (10.4), Trey Metzka (7.5) and Brandon Washington.
Wernicki’s squad will go up against a state-tested Hornets team that went 21-6 last season.
“Struthers is our opening game and we are looking forward to the challenge,” head coach Chris Mele said. “We’ll have some nerves and jitters but look forward to getting started.”
The Hornets feature Donald Whitehead (16.0), Jaylen Jarvie (9.0), Mike Filardi (5.3) and Peyton Mele (9.4), who lettered as a freshman a season ago.
In the lone girl’s contest, Nick Blanch’s Bulldogs are coming off an 18-5 season and feature the return of leading scorer Sarah Bury (16.3 points per game), Jackie Grisdale (11.5), Kat Partika (6.2), Brooke Bobbey (2.6) and Kailyn Brown (3.8).
“We’re athletic, have a strong work ethic and strong desire to get better every day,” Blanch said. “Every team brings something to the table and there are no losers when playing for such a great cause.”
The Golden Flashes were 20-4 last season, coming off back-to-back 20-win campaigns under head coach Michael Cole. They feature the program’s single game, season and career three-point shooter in guard Abby White (14.0), guard Allison Smith (12.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists) and forward Emma Gumont (14.4).
“We’ve bumped up the schedule this year look and forward to challenge of facing a really good Poland squad,” Cole said. “Win or lose, we want and need to go up against teams that will challenge us and make us better.”