Stritch setting sights on another long tourney run

J. Patrick Eaken

Joey Holifield, a third team All-Ohioan as a junior, knew that he was going to have to carry the load for the Cardinal Stritch boys basketball team his senior year.
        The 6-foot-3 senior point guard has done that, averaging 22.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game. He’s shooting at a 55 percent clip from inside the arc (103 for 187), 50 percent from beyond the arc (5 for 10), and 82 percent from the charity stripe (95 for 116).
        Meanwhile, the Cardinals are 11-3 overall and a perfect 5-0 after their first run through the Toledo Area Athletic Conference schedule.
        As the top returning senior, Holifield wants to build off of last year’s 24-4 season and Division III state final four tournament run.
        “It was a great experience,” Holifield said. “We worked so hard to get there last year and I’m just trying to bring that experience to this year’s team by working hard and giving it everything I’ve got.”
        That does not mean he’s not getting help — the Cardinals remain a talented basketball team.
        “He’s been a big leader,” Stritch coach Jamie Kachmarik said. “I’ve asked him to score more than in years past just because we had so many different options. But now he’s been playing really well all season long, is very consistent, and Jhaiden Wilson is as well.”
        Wilson, a 5-7 junior shooting guard, is averaging 18.6 points, two assists and 2.4 steals. They call him a “shooting guard” because he does exactly that, making 42 of 98 three-point shots (42.9 percent) and shooting 51.6 percent from inside the arc (49 for 95) and has made 36 of 42 free throws.
        There is even more talent on this team because four players transferred, filling in the gaps left by the graduation of guard Jordan Burton and forward Little Anderson, who are both playing collegiately.
        “This is a new team, but we’re still good. We’re getting everything together, coming together as a team. We’ve been practicing very hard and I think we can be very good this season,” Holifield said, adding that he’s found himself in more of a leadership role.
        “I try to lead more by example, play as hard as I can for the team to follow and just pick people up when they don’t feel like they are playing good,” Holifield added.
        Making it easier for Holifield is that he has already signed at NCAA Division I Oakland University.
        “It feels very good to be signed to Oakland. What got me there is the coaching personnel and the similarities between from the head coach there and my head coach (Kachmarik). I like it. There is a family there and I want to be a part of it,” Holifield said.
        Kachmarik, a former NCAA D-I coach, says having already signed typically helps a high school basketball player get on with his senior year.
        “Yeah, you know, it takes the pressure off and it’s his senior year not having to worry about what you’re going to do next year and all that type of stuff,” Kachmarik said.
        There was another signing on this year’s team — 6-6 senior forward Devyn Jones will play at Concordia University, an NAIA school in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
        “It was kind of that way, too, for Devyn, but he signed, so that took the pressure off of him,” Kachmarik said.
        The problem for Jones is that he has had limited playing time because of an injury.
        “The poor kid went up for a dunk against Waite and kind of got clipped and got fouled, fell, and broke his arm,” Kachmarik said. “Hopefully, once he gets back we’ll have to reinsert him and kind of start over again. But when you do sign early, it takes the pressure off of you.”
Up and down season
        Stritch’s entire season has been that way — up and down, including a season opening 55-52 loss to St. Francis, a 61-55 loss to Evergreen, and 73-68 loss to Greenwood (Ky.) in the championship game of the Not So Maui Classic in Covington, Kentucky.  However, the team is averaging 70 points per game and 15 players have gotten into the scoring column.
        “It’s been good. Its adversity, its mental toughness, and different guys have to step up at different times. We opened up the season at St. Francis, which was a tough game trying to get adapted to the new team and the guys who have transferred in and that type of stuff, and then we got hit with the injury bug,” Kachmarik said.
        “Devyn Jones broke his arm in game two at Waite (72-43 win), so then we had to readjust again, and we ended up losing at Evergreen. But, we should get Devyn back for the last four games and then the tournament run. So, (6-1 senior forward) Ben Dunsmore has been out the last couple games with a broken nose, so we’ve had our fair share of injuries right now.
        “We’ve been fighting and scrapping, but Joey and Jhaiden have been leading the way, especially this past weekend. We played a tough Maumee Valley team here (74-39 win) and then Oak Harbor (79-72 win), which is very tough, good and well-coached team, and (OH senior guard Jac) Alexander is a really good player, so they came in here and gave us a battle right to the very end.
        “It was a good weekend for us. Joey had a huge weekend. In those two games he had a combined 51 points and 20 rebounds, so he’s been doing what he does.”
        Also contributing big-time has been 6-2 junior guard Jalen Smith and 6-2 senior guard Brandon Burks, who combined have averaged 10.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals. You can throw in 6-7 junior forward Ross Thompson, who adds another 3.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and has blocked 11 shots this year.
        “Jalen Smith has been working hard all year and now it’s starting to come together. He had two big games this weekend, scored double digits in both games, and as a junior he’s starting to figure out his role and where he fits in,” Kachmarik said.
        “Brandon Burks has been a solid guy who plays a lot of point guard for us and does a good job defensively for us after transferring over from Central this year. Ross Thompson, who transferred over from Whitmer, was playing really well but he only got to play the first 11 games so that was almost like an injury again. Right when we started to mesh with him, his time was over.”
        As the second half of the TAAC schedule and the tournament looms, more than anything, the Cardinals want to see another lengthy tournament run.
        “My mentality here is we always play for March. Once you get through playing the year, the TAAC and all of that, if you win it, you win it,” Kachmarik said.
        “My job here is to make sure we’re playing the best basketball in March. That’s always been our focus is trying to make sure we are prepared for that run. As I always say, ‘you are remembered when you get to regionals and to Columbus. League titles are what league titles are.’

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