September 30, 2014

Elyria
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High school basketball: Royals crowned year’s best, Sydney Clark top D-IV player

Columbia coach Larry Babics was named the Division III Coach of the Year in the Northeast Lakes district.

Columbia’s Larry Babics and Lake Ridge’s Lisa Medvetz were named coaches of the year while Lake Ridge senior Sydney Clark was the Division IV Player of the Year, as the Northeast Lakes all-district teams were released Monday night.

Clark

Medvetz

Clark, who never came off the floor this year, is a four-year letterwinner who averaged 12.9 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, 2.0 steals and 1.6 assists for the Royals. Those numbers helped Lake Ridge to a No. 8 ranking in the final AP poll, a district title and a regional semifinal matchup this Thursday against No. 2 Berlin Hiland.

“Wow, I’m kind of shocked I was named the player of the year,” said Clark, who is undecided on a college. “I knew it was possible, but I didn’t think it was this possible. I just try to be a good team leader and all-around good player.”

Boys first-teamers in the district included Elyria senior Kody Bender in Division I, junior Cameron Kuhn of Vermilion in Division II, senior Zach Stopper of Columbia in Division III and Devin Gabriel of Lake Ridge in Division IV.

Girls district first-teamers included Clark and Royals seniors Sharday Baines and Monet Saunders in Division IV, Lorain senior Alex Harris and Elyria senior Mary Jones in D-I, senior Aubree LaForce of Vermilion in D-II and Elyria Catholic seniors Brittney McNamara and Karissa McGrath in D-III.

Baines averaged 11.5 points, six assists, three steals and three rebounds for the Royals. Saunders went for 12.5 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks, two assists and two steals per outing.

Medvetz (nee Verhoff) was honored after leading the Royals to a 19-3 record in the regular season. The coaching fires were burning for the former Lorain County Miss Basketball even when she was still playing at Indiana State.

“I’ve always coached even when I played,” Medvetz said. “I was coaching AAU ball in college as well as giving personal lessons. It’s something that I have always wanted to do and have always enjoyed.”

Following college, Medvetz spent five years as an assistant coach at Notre Dame College before making the jump to Lake Ridge. While there was no question that the Royals were a talented bunch, they were also coming off a two-year postseason ban by the Ohio High School Athletic Association for recruiting violations.

“The ban was never a concern of mine,” Medvetz said. “The penalty was fulfilled and we’re moving away from it. I saw an opportunity to build a program from top to bottom. That’s what drives me.”

The Royals won 15 straight — including seven straight against Division I teams — this season.

“It’s a great situation for me,” Medvetz said. “I have a great group of girls. They are tough mentality and they have the desire to push themselves. I have some great assistant coaches on the bench with me. So I’m very fortunate to be where I am.”

In Division I, Jones led the Pioneers in scoring for the second straight year with 15.3 points per game. She also led in the team in steals (3.7), assists (2.8) and 3-pointers while her 5.1 boards were second highest. Harris had a brilliant career at Lorain where she has career totals of 959 points, 1,028 rebounds and 376 blocks. The four-year letterwinner received all-state honorable mention last year, is a North-South game representative and has signed with Penn State.

LaForce is a four-year letterwinner and Vermilion’s all-time leading scorer. She averaged 16.7 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals as she helped the team improve from six wins to 13 this season.

Both McNamara and McGrath were four-year letterwinners and two-year starters for EC. McNamara is headed to Chestnut Hill University after averaging 10 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.2 assists this season. McGrath averaged a double-double — 12.9 points and 12.3 — for the second year in a row.

Bender, who is headed to West Liberty University, led the Pioneers in points (18.7), assists (5.4), rebounds (4.6) and steals (3.1). The four-year starter moved from shooting guard to point guard this year and has nearly a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio.

Kuhn, a junior, averaged 20.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, three assists and two steals for the Sailors this season.

Six months ago, Babics was preparing for his seventh season as coach of the Raiders girls basketball team when he was asked to take over the boys team two days before practice started.

Under Babics, the Raiders rolled to a 21-1 regular-season record and the No. 4 seed in the Painesville district tournament. The Raiders play second-seeded Gilmour Academy tonight in the district semifinal after losing in the sectional final a year ago.

“It never crossed my mind to coach boys basketball,” Babics said. “I always consider myself a girls coach. Leaving the girls a week into practice wasn’t easy. It was, without a doubt, the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make as a coach. We had our whole team coming back along with a good group of freshmen.

“The only thing I regret is that I didn’t see it through with the seniors who were with the program since seventh grade. But I did try to help out as much as I could.”

While Babics believes that basketball is basketball he admits there was a learning curve for him. As the girls coach, he knew his players, his fellow conference coaches and his opponents. Once he crossed over to the boys team, he was starting from scratch.

“I had to get a crash course on just about everything,” he said. “Thankfully, we had a strong group of returning players from last year’s 15-7 team. I was also able to retain all four of the assistant coaches. So I wasn’t stepping blindly into a situation.”

The Raiders got off to a strong start by winning their first six games, but it wasn’t until after the eighth game that Babics knew the Raiders had a chance to be special.

“Once we won the DiFranco tournament, I knew we were going to be pretty good,” he said. “We could have very easily gone in there and split both games or even lost both. But we beat a pretty good Amherst team and then beat Midview on their own floor in the title game.”

The lone blemish on the Raiders schedule was a six-point loss to Parma. Since then, the Raiders have won 12 straight.

“Any success I have is because of these players,” Babics said. “They welcomed me into the program and bought into what I had to say. It would have been easy to let things just fall apart. But they didn’t allow that to happen.

“They have been a great group to coach and I hope we have a few more games together this season.”

Stopper played a big part of the Raiders success this season as the senior averaged 19.1 points on 52 percent shooting from the field, 31 percent from beyond the arc and 79 percent at the free throw line.

Gabriel was the lone area player named to any team in Division IV.

Contact Hans Schneider at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.