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Poland boys wait patiently for football teammates

Waiting and watching, the Poland boys basketball team has done plenty of it this preseason.

There are 10 players on the Bulldogs football team, and basketball coach Ken Grisdale expects five of them to make an impact on the varsity team.

The Poland football team is heading to a Division IV state semifinal against Newark Licking Valley on Saturday.

“You get through it knowing these kids have worked extremely hard,” said Grisdale, whose team was 23-3 last season and advanced to a Division II regional semifinal. “They deserve every opportunity to extend their season as long as they can. It is difficult preparing for a basketball season, but basketball is a marathon. Our goal is to be the best team we can be in February or early March. There’s plenty of time for that to happen.”

Senior guard Michael Cougras and forwards Adam Kassem and Zach Kassem, along with junior guard Andrew Centofanti are the returning letterwinners.

There’s a lot of untapped potential for these Bulldogs. There’s depth and a lot of promise.

“We haven’t had a chance to see it yet,” Grisdale said. “That’s intriguing. We’re patient. We’re going to wait. You only get an opportunity to extend your tournament, not every year. You want everything good to happen for them.”

No rush for the incoming football players. Grisdale said it’s about the journey for basketball. After all, it is a 22-game season lasting until about mid-February.

“I’m not going to rush it,” he said. “They’re going to need a little bit of down time. You don’t lose championships in the beginning of December. The league is important, but we don’t get into league games until about the third week of December.

“We’re ultimately looking to make a tournament run.”

The Dec. 3 home game against Campbell has been cancelled, while the Dec. 10 game at Howland has been moved to Dec. 23. Poland’s first game, as of this week, is Dec. 14 against Cardinal Mooney in the United Way Classic at Poland.

This is not the first time Poland has dealt with a delay due to football being in the postseason. The 1999 team won the Division III state championship going 15-0, the first team in Ohio High School Athletic Association history to go perfect under the then-newly formated playoff system in which the top eight teams made the postseason.

“We were able to push things back that year a little bit,” said Grisdale, who is entering his 27th season with a 473-146 record. “We did what we could early and we tried to get stronger as the season went along.”

Poland beat Chaney in last year’s Division II Boardman District title game to advance to the regional. This year, anyone getting past the Cowboys is going to be a tall task.

“They were really good,” Grisdale said. “I think people have to predict them to be the team to beat in the district.”

Once everyone is on the team, the Bulldogs will know where they stand in a system that has had plenty of success over the years.

“We have some core things we like to do,” Grisdale said. “If you watch over the years, we change a lot, too. I’m not going to ask kids to do something that won’t give them the best chance to succeed. This team is going to be different. Last year, we focused a lot on (graduated seniors) Braeden O’Shaughnessy and Dan Kramer and built everything offensively around them.

“This year, it’s going to be more diversified. We’re still in the process where we want to go with the ball a lot. Those answers won’t come until we get the football kids here.”

It’s about patience for the Bulldogs.

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