St. C. boys must adapt to new roles quickly
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — A quick glance up and down the St. Clairsville roster that features 31 players in grades 9-12, shows a large class of juniors, sophomores and freshmen, but just three seniors.
Based on those numbers alone, it would be easy to think the Red Devils might be a year away from doing really impressive things.
That’s not how third-year head coach Ryan Clifford sees it when he evaluates his Red Devils, who are coming off a 13-10 season that ended in the district semifinal against Tri-Valley.
“I would be selling our kids short if I thought we were a year away,” Clifford said. “Our juniors saw quality minutes as sophomores and have been successful all the way through.”
While several of the juniors lettered a season ago, many, however, are preparing for big role changes. They’re going to go from coming off the bench to more of a featured role after starters Nate Harris, Brett Vike and Cade Wolfe all graduated.
“There’s definitely a difference when the spotlight is on you, but these kids are ready to step up and play,” Clifford said. “It’s their turn.”
Losing Harris, Like and Wolfe won’t be shortchanged by Clifford. Harris and Vike were chosen to play in the OVAC All-Star Game. Wolfe was a steady defender.
“Nate and Brett were two catalysts who played a lot the year prior, so we leaned heavily on them,” Clifford said. “We played a lot of young guys, but most nights, it was how those seniors went, we went.”
While there are plenty of unknowns about the Red Devils in terms of adapting to new roles, the bigger set of unknowns is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. It cost all teams basically an entire summer’s worth of work beyond open gyms and skill work.
Luckily, the Red Devils have been spared major setbacks in terms of quarantines and having a glaring number of absences. Still, though, Clifford is preaching to his players to remain vigilant to the protocols and procedures, so they’re able to play as many games as possible.
“There are definitely a lot of unknowns,” Clifford said. “I have confidence in how we handled the summer, but I sat the team down the first day we were all together and told them we’re not going to drive ourselves crazy with the unknowns. We’ll just take it one day at a time and try to embrace the fact that we can still be here (practicing and playing).”
Clifford realizes that schedules and personnel may change daily. He’s not going to worry about it. He simply wants to do everything he can to provide what hopefully is an entire season for his team.
“I promised our kids we will do our best to get 22 games in,” Clifford said. “If that means calling a team third period (of the school day) and picking up a game, then that’s what we’ll do. We’re going to enjoy every day because we realize this isn’t a typical season.”
Speaking of the atypical season, the Red Devils entire roster — football players included — have had almost the entire preseason.
The Red Devils football team advanced to the regional championship game before bowing out, but because of the advanced calendar and shortened regular season, Clifford welcomed the majority of his group still several weeks earlier than has become customary.
“It’s been nice having everyone for what feels like an entire month,” Clifford said. “Though, it never feels like you have enough time. The kids came from football with a fantastic attitude, ready to go.”
When the Red Devils take the court, while many new faces will take on new roles, there will also be a turn-back-the-clock mentality in terms of the approach.
“There’s no secret we want to be up-tempo on offense, but we want to get back to pressuring the ball (defensively) and playing more of a full-court style of defense,” Clifford said. “We were known for that for a while.”
Clifford believes his club will be able to do that because of its personnel, which includes several “multi-sport athletes.”
“We have several two and three-sport kids and we want to use their athletic ability,” Clifford said. “We plan to play to those kids’ strengths. Our kids have put a ton of time in and their athletic ability allows us to play a different brand than since I’ve taken over.”
Leading the list of returnees is 6-4 senior swing player Will Balgo. He has the ability to play on the interior with his size, but also possesses an adept shooting ability. He averaged better than 12 points a game last season.
“Will was two days removed from football and he was probably the best player in our first scrimmage (against Cambridge),” Clifford said. “He’s an athletic kid who can shoot and he’s strong in the post.”
Serving as the Red Devils center and basket protector when they employ their full-court man defense is 6-7 junior Avery Henry. He was a force last season on the glass and showed an ability to score.
“Avery really came on late in the season,” Clifford said. “His size is a game changer. You just can’t simulate it in practice. Plus, his basketball skills are improving every day.”
Junior Drew Sefsick (5-11) is a multi-faceted guard. He had some big moments last season, making a spot start at Steubenville where he scored 20. Mostly, he came off the bench.
Junior Colin Oberdick (5-11) is a strong perimeter shooter and will also draw the assignment of guarding the opposition’s best player.
Junior sharpshooter Ryan McCort (6-1) is another scoring option who the Devils will lean on. He saw quality minutes off the bench as well.
Coming off the bench this winter will be junior Carson Woodford (5-11), who Clifford called a “glue guy that every team needs”; junior Saul Crist (5-11) and junior Andy Schmidt (6-1).
“In order to play the way we want to play, we’re going to need those guys off the bench to give us good minutes,” Clifford said. “Part of our rationale is that we feel like we have enough guys who have done the work and they’re ready for their turn.”
Two other seniors on the roster are Braden Roski (6-0) and Jovahn Mckennan (6-1). Junior Joey Balgo (5-11) is also vying for time.
A large collection of sophomores ticketed primarily for jayvee duty are Jacob Parsons (6-1), Jacob Saffell (5-9), Kyle Biery (6-1), Luke Porter (6-2), Andrew Vera (5-11), Drue Jozwiak (6-2), Jamarcus Webster (6-0), David Pugh (6-0), Gary Widmor (6-1) and Jeremy Thomas (5-10). Freshman Cole Thoburn (5-7) will also be at the reserve level.
The balance of the ninth graders will play with the freshmen squad. That group includes: Ryan Newton (5-10), Caleb Keenan (6-1), Colton Westlake (6-1), Tristin Boroski (5-8), Jimmy Muhly (5-10), Marius Trouten (5-9), Cason Kish (5-8), Christopher Schmidt (5-7) and Landon Matko (5-8).
St. Clairsville’s coaching staff is intact. Clifford is being assisted by Kevin Sacco and Eric Gay at the varsity level. Brian Gay is the freshman coach, while Jeremy Schafer and Kurt Clifford guide the junior high.