— When the St. John’s boys basketball team started its 2016-17 season
on Dec. 9, it opened with two losses to Midwest Athletic Conference foes
Versailles and Fort Recovery around a victory over long-time rival
After a tough home loss to Crestview on Dec. 30, the Blue Jays stood at 3-3.
win over Minster at home on Jan. 6 touched off a 10-game winning string
and they haven’t looked back, with only a difficult loss at Marion
Local on Feb. 10 the only blemish.
That is one reason the 21-4
Jays are playing the 5:15 p.m. Thursday Division IV State semifinal
against Cleveland Heights Lutheran East at the Jerome Schottenstein
Center on the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus.
will be the Blue Jays’ first State game since winning the title in 2002
and first under head coach Aaron Elwer, who was part of a State
runner-up team in 1998.
One major reason was the intangible of team chemistry, according to the coach.
is one of the best — if not the best — teams I’ve ever had with that,
with their ability to really pull for each other and root for each
other,” Elwer began. “We did have a hiccup to start the year but when we
got on that 10-game winning streak in January and February, this team
really came together.
“We started out the year with high
expectations — from day 1 we talked about the goals and accomplishments
we wanted for this team — and people wondering how good could the Blue
Jays be this season. We took all the experience we gained the last two
seasons, learned from it and moved on.”
Another determining factor for this flock of Jays was simple tradition.
John’s boys basketball has a lot of tradition and the school and
community really got behind this team, especially as it turned the
corner,” Elwer continued. “I am so excited for this opportunity for our
players, our school and our community to be playing in this game.
I said before, one of the reasons I came back to St. John’s 10 years
ago was to take them to State again and I’m pleased that it’s
Still, Elwer makes no bones about the major challenge his team faces in the 18-9 Falcons of head coach Anthony Jones.
of all, that record is misleading. They have played a very difficult
schedule, facing teams that are at State this week like Cleveland Villa
Angela-St. Joseph and Lakewood St. Edward’s,” Elwer continued. “The
first thing that you notice is their extreme athleticism and overall
team speed; it’s better than we’ve faced all year. They have the ability
to apply intense ball pressure on the defensive end.
offensive end, they have the ability to make plays themselves or create
opportunities for their teammates. They will present a difficult
challenge but as I tell our players all the time, difficult challenges
present chances for big opportunities.”
The Jays will trot out a
starting five of 6-8 senior center Tim Kreeger (17.2 points, 6.9 boards,
2.3 blocks, 2.0 assists per game), 6-1 senior forward Owen Rode (8.6
points, 5.0 boards, 2.1 assists), 6-0 senior guard Josh Warnecke (2.3
points, 2.7 rebounds), 5-10 junior point guard Collin Will (3.4 points,
2.4 assists) and 6-4 sophomore forward Jared Wurst (10 points, 5.1
Elwer’s 8-man rotation brings 6-0 senior guard Robby
Saine (5.1 points), 5-11 junior Connor Hulihan (4.1) and 6-0 junior
Richard Cocuzza (3.6) off the bench.
The Jays average 55.1 points and 28.2 boards per game, while giving up 43.9 points and 20.8 rebounds.
sure there will be emotions and such when we get in the game and
first-time jitters for these kids; I’m also sure we will likely have to
face an early punch by them,” Elwer added. “The key is not to let the
emotions and atmosphere take us out of our game and overwhelm us, nor
can we let that happen when they apply the pressure we know we’ll face.
These guys have a great ability to trust the game plan the coaches give
them and put it into action on the court; they will have to do the same
this week and not get away from that.
“We will continue to watch film and prepare a scouting report to the best of our ability and see what happens.”
Jones also spoke about the rugged schedule his Falcons faced even as they had to meld new players in during the season.
have faced all kinds of good competition in all four divisions. We’ve
had an up and down season record-wise because of it, as well as the fact
we played the first 11 games without some transfers that were sitting
out,” Jones recalled. “It took us a while to get acclimated to each
other; you think it happens in practice but the lack of game experience
together shows up in competition and that’s what happened to us. We had
five of our losses by two points or less. I would say that it wasn’t
until toward the end of the season — game 20 — that things really came
“We had to come from behind in both our Regional games
and won the Malvern game in overtime; all those close games we lost
earlier, we learned from them to win in the tournament. The thing is, I
have spoken to colleges at Division I, II and III for about seven of my
kids; they have made offers but there have been no commitments yet.”
specifically mentioned 6-8 senior Justin Motley, 6-3 junior Jordan
Burge and 6-3 junior Keandre Graves as players on the college watch
“We had a film exchange yesterday and I haven’t seen a lot
of film on St. John’s but two things stand out to me,” Jones added.
“They have a 6-8 kid (Kreeger) that is a paint presence on both ends of
the floor, particularly blocking shots defensively, and they shoot the
three with regularity and well. Obviously, containing the big guy in the
paint is one focus for us, while making sure we get out on the shooters
and challenge those shots is the other. We want to keep everything in
front of us.”