Written by Ryan Brahler (@RyanBrahler)
Canton City School Board, Vice President
Two OHSAA Football Championships, two OHSAA Boys Basketball Championships, one Girls Basketball OHSAA Championship. No doubt about it being an alumni and diehard fan of the Canton McKinley Bulldogs sure does have it’s spoils, at 27 I have been lucky enough to witness five teams achieve the ultimate success in scholastic athletic competition in person.
On Saturday, January 18th The Canton Timken Lady Trojans were playing Manchester at their house; the Frederick C. Harold Gymnasium on the campus of Timken High School in Downtown Canton. Instantly when I walked in the gym you could feel the electricity, this was a big game and both teams knew it. The first game between these PAC-7 foes was a physical contest in Manchester; on that day the Panthers successfully defended their home court. Many were saying this game was the “PAC-7 Championship.” Just for a quick history lesson, women’s sports teams at Timken have never won any sort of championship, when I was in high school it was an achievement for the Lady Trojans to win a game.
After the 2012-2013 season wrapped up, we knew we had something very special going on in Downtown Canton. Alahna Singleton had emerged as arguably the best player in Stark County, and Mariah Mercer had developed into an elite point guard and legitimate number two scoring option behind Singleton. Not only did we have supreme confidence in our players but we also knew that Head Coach Jason Hmiel had really grown into his position and was ready to step up to the task in 2013-2014. A couple role players had strong off-seasons and the entire coaching staff was committed to putting in the work that was needed to accomplish the goal that was finally within reach. Coming into this season the Lady Trojans would have what is believed to be their the all time leading scorer, rebounder, and assister in program history all on the floor together.
Early in the game, the Lady Trojans faced some adversity as both Ms. Singleton and Ms. Mercer got into foul trouble. Mercer went out very early in the first quarter, and although Singleton remained in the game most of the first half she received her third foul in the second quarter. This meant that in the biggest game in program history a big time effort from the role players would be required, and they didn’t disappoint. Kiondra Hunter, who has collected over 1000 rebounds in her four years with the Lady Trojans has been a solid contributor and came up big on this day, also Ashari Watkins would hit two big time three pointers to help keep the game competitive while Mercer and Singleton had to sit. After three quarters of a very tightly officiated game, Manchester found itself with a 7-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
One year before Head Coach Jason Hmiel came to Timken the program was in a dark place, and was likely soon to be on the verge of folding entirely. If you are familiar with Stark County basketball and the name Jason Hmiel rings a bell let me refresh you. He played for Head Coach Larry Taylor at Jackson and played on one of the best teams in school history. After that he became a member of the Cincinnati Bearcats basketball team and roomed with Kenyon Martin, who at the time was the best player in all of college basketball. After graduation he would take on a couple of coaching stints in Cincinnati, he then found his way back home to Stark County and was coaching at Tuslaw. After Tuslaw he would make his way to Timken where he is currently in his 8th season as Head Coach of the Timken Lady Trojans. In his 7th season, the Lady Trojans achieved a major milestone and reached an important goal, they went 14-8 and broke the record that the 1982-1983 edition of the Lady Trojans held when they went 13-8.
Right at the start of the 4th quarter the Lady Trojans grabbed control of the game and hit the ground running. Mercer hit a couple big time three pointers; those along with the offense rebounding effort from the Lady Trojans put them in position to grab the lead about halfway through the quarter, when they got it they never looked back. Singleton would put the game on her shoulders and carried the scoring load to push the Lady Trojans to a 15-point win 72-57 over Manchester. The large student contingency would run into the corner to greet their peers after handshakes and team huddle. It was as spectacular of moment that I had ever witnessed in athletic competition at any level. The ultimate underdogs had risen up and they knew for the first time that their goal was within reach; the light at the end of the tunnel could be seen. The reality of breaking the wins record for the second year in a row, and more importantly winning their first conference championship was in their hands, all they needed to do take care of business. The girls celebrated the win with their classmates and had a moment none of them will ever forget, and it would also be a win that would rank right up there with the five wins I mentioned in the first paragraph in terms of how special of a moment it truly was.
Flash forward to now, Wednesday January 29, 2014, the goal has been achieved with tonight’s victory over Triway, the Lady Trojans led 29-22 at halftime and would never look back. They cruised to a 49-37 win and clinched at least a share of PAC 7 Title. Singleton lead the Trojans with 33, on this night though there would be no celebrating as the ladies and the coaching staff were focused on moving forward and winning their league title outright. They have two league games left and only need to win one of those to clinch outright, this Saturday at Fairless and then in their home finale/senior night next Wednesday night against Indian Valley.
Categories: Northeast Ohio Girls Basketball