Title shot validates Mogadore's return to league relevance

By Tom Nader | Sports Editor Published:

It has been a steady climb for the Mogadore Wildcats boys basketball team.

One that may not have seemed possible after the program posted back-to-back winless 0-14 division records during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons.

One that has been four years in the making and one that has presented a championship opportunity to the Wildcats when they hit the floor on Friday night.

That is when the Wildcats will host a Windham Bombers team that is sitting atop the Portage Trail Conference County Division standings, holding a one-game lead over Mogadore.

Win or lose, it is the opportunity itself that should not be forgotten for the Wildcats.

Dating back to the 2006-07 season's 0-20 record, the program has slowly been building itself back into a winner. In successive seasons, the Wildcats have gone 3-19, 8-15, 14-9, 13-10 and jumped to the next level last season at 19-6.

Last season also produced a Struthers Division IV district championship for the Wildcats, offering validation to the program's rebirth, but not unseating the understanding that there is always work to be done.

"We don't want to have just one good season or one good team, we want to build something that is sustainable for years to come," Mogadore boys basketball head coach Russ Swartz said.

For Swartz and his Wildcats, the team's success has been regained through confidence in themselves, each other and the system they are playing within.

Not coincidentally, they are the same layers that have lifted the school's football program to annual statewide recognition.

When Mogadore football players trot onto the field, they expect to win. In many cases, though the scoreboard reads 0-0 at kickoff, opponents are already mentally trailing 14-0.

History and tradition will create that aura and create a subconscious advantage.

As a Mogadore graduate that understands and was part of the school's basketball-rich tradition, Swartz knows how gridiron confidence can translate to the hardwood.

"I know that football is top priority here, and there truly is no bigger fan of our football team than me," said Swartz, who has 24 years of coaching experience, spending six at Southeast and 14 at Norton before returning to his alma mater.

"When I came back to Mogadore, I tried to take that football style and apply it to our basketball team," Swartz said. "Our football team makes very few mistakes and will always out-execute their opponent. That is the kind of basketballt eam we needed to be, and I think the kids could relate to that."

Despite being the second-smallest school in the PTC, trailing only Windham in boys enrollment, Mogadore has ascended from the bottom of the County Division to championship contender.

School size means little, though, when fundamentals and discipline are placed at the top of your priority list like the Wildcats have through fast-paced practices filled with high levels of intensity and focused on perfect execution.

Even during the team's 8-15 season of 2008-09, Swartz said he started to see his team turn the corner. Hidden inside those 15 losses were the number of competitive games the team fell short of winning. It was the start of a belief system that Mogadore belonged on the court with all of their opponents.

By the 2009-10 season, the Wildcats were winning games "against teams that our players were not used to beating; teams with basketball traditions," Swartz said.

To gain a potential share of the title this season, the Wildcats will have to go through the Bombers, who own the most basketball tradition the county has to offer.

The Bombers are also a team that defeated Mogadore once before this season -- a rather dominant 62-45 Windham win on Marty Hill Court on Jan. 4.

Standing on the same court with a basketball power like Windham, with a shot at the title on the line, is an opportunity that no other County Division team can say at this point in the season.

An opportunity the Wildcats have not under appreciated.

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Email: tnader@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9443

Twitter: @Tom_Nader

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