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  • Bulldogs 2022-2023 Winter Sports Preview: basketball, bowling, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling and ice hockey

Bulldogs 2022-2023 Winter Sports Preview: basketball, bowling, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling and ice hockey

The 2022-23 Stow-Munroe Falls boys basketball team will be able to go big or small depending on the situation.

“If you’re behind late in the game, you have to go small and quick,” 35th-year head coach Dave Close said. “Last year we played more of a big-style game, but we featured guys inside and out. We can put a big lineup in there and a small lineup in there just by interchanging one player. We had good scoring balance last year.”

Close lost two seniors – a starter and the first player off the bench – from last season’s team that finished 16-10 overall (6-6 in the Suburban League National Conference) and was competitive in a Division I district final loss to state-ranked Green. However, Close will have four seniors, three of which are starters, on this season’s team.

Leading the way for SMF will be two players who were honored as First Team All-National Conference last season – junior small forward Reece Raymond-Smith and senior center A.J. Pestello.

“Reece is a very good shooter,” said Close. “He also uses his body well around the basket. He’s right in there. He’s very multi-dimensional offensively. He’s 6-foot-6, but he has a very good shot. He’s hard to defend down there.

“A.J. is also 6-foot-6. He’s a very good post player. He’s very athletic, and defensively he can block and alter shots. He’s a very good rebounder and runs well. He shot 65 percent from the field last season, which is very good.”

Senior power forward Nathan Boozer will be a workhorse for the Bulldogs.

“Nathan is good in the post, he can step out onto the floor a little bit – he’s expanded his game there a little bit,” Close said. “He’s a tremendous screener as well. He’s kind of a bull in a china shop for us.”

Pacing SMF out front will be senior point guard Titus Baskerville, senior shooting guard Nick Timberlake and junior shooting guard Tyler Fleishour. Baskerville was Second Team All-National Conference last season, while Timberlake was Honorable Mention.

“Titus can penetrate and create plays,” said the coach. “He’s a tremendous passer to run your offense. He gets the ball to people where they can score and has improved his ability to score, too. He’s very multi-dimensional.

“Nick is a very, very good shooter. He reads screens well, moves without the ball well. Tyler is a good ballhandler, a physical player too. He’s very good at attacking the basket and is really good defensively as well.”

While all six of those players were in Close’s rotation and played a lot of minutes last season, the coach is thrilled with some of the younger players who are moving up from the junior varsity team.

“We think they’re integral to us becoming a better team,” he said. “Some of those guys are beginning to step up, and they’ll be earning some playing time, too.”

The National Conference is loaded this season top to bottom, and Close knows it.

“Brecksville-Broadview Heights won the conference last season. I think they ran the table,” he said. “Everyone is saying they have the best two players in the conference back – the best post man and the best point guard. Everybody in the conference has a lot of key players back top to bottom. The only team that graduated a lot of seniors was Twinsburg, but everyone tells me they had a great summer, so they should be right in the mix.

“There’s no easy game this season in the conference. I’m not one to make predictions, but we hope to compete every game. We’re going to get better with the style we play, and we hope that’s good enough to win important games.”

The Bulldogs will tip off the season at Jackson at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23.

Girls basketball: Bulldogs chasing seventh consecutive National Conference title

It is getting a bit monotonous for the rest of the league, but a seventh straight Suburban League National Conference championship seems like it could very well be in the cards for the Stow-Munroe Falls girls basketball team in 2022-23.

“That’s certainly what our goal is again this season. I like our chances,” 24th-year head coach Bob Podges said of his team that lost only one senior to graduation who was a major contributor last season. “This season we only have one senior, but I have three juniors who will be in their third season starting. Even though it’s a fairly young team, it’s a very experienced team. I believe this team has the potential to be one of the best teams I’ve ever had. We’re going to be quick and fast, but we also have three kids who are 6-foot or taller.”

Last season, Stow-Munroe Falls finished 22-3 overall and 12-0 in the National Conference. The Bulldogs lost to Solon in a Division I district semifinal.

Leading the way will be two juniors, point guard Anna Hurst and shooting guard Alaina Ray. Hurst was honored as First Team All-National Conference last season, while Ray was named Second Team.

“Anna has a tremendous wealth of basketball knowledge. She has a lot of basketball experience,” said Podges. “She’s a leader on and off the floor for us. She distributes the ball extremely well, and she can also be a scorer if we need her to be one.

“Alaina is a really, really good shooter from the perimeter and is a great 3-point shooter. She’s a very strong defensive player, too.”

Senior shooting guard Katey Croyle will be a key weapon, and a possible starting guard will be junior Rachel Frailey.

“Katey started for us the entire season last year,” the coach said. “She has a lot of experience and is a leader on our team. We’re looking for her to be one of our primary scorers this season. Rachel is our best on-the-ball defender who also has a really good 3-point shot.”

The starting forwards will be freshman Kennady Dodds and junior Cienna Lazar.

“Kennady has a lot of talent,” said Podges. “She’s played extremely well in the preseason. We’re looking forward to really big things from her. She’s extremely strong and exceptionally quick for her size.

“Cienna was in our rotation last season. This year, she’s going to be a stronger contributor. She’s been primarily a great rebounder and defender.”

The Bulldogs will tip off the season at home against Westlake at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22.

Boys bowling: Experienced Bulldogs look to build on district berth

The prospects for the 2022-23 season are good for the boys bowling team.

Stow-Munroe Falls lost only one senior to graduation from last season’s team that finished 10-2 and qualified for a Division I district tournament.

“We have a lot of starters coming back from last season, so, for the most part, our starting lineup is back,” fourth-year head coach Kevin Gates said. “We have a lot of depth from our junior varsity team last year that has gotten better, and we expect them to help us out a lot on varsity. Overall, I think it’s going to be another really competitive season.”

Leading the way for SMF will be senior Michael Stein and sophomore Adam Walters. Stein had an average score of 206.2 last season, while Walters averaged a score of 205.2. Both were honored as Second Team All-Suburban League.

“Michael is a four-year starting varsity bowler, so he has a lot of experience,” said Gates. “He cares very deeply about the program and his teammates, and it’s due to his dedication to the team and his teammates that pushes him and motivates him and makes him a better bowler.

“Adam has been a varsity bowler from Day 1. He’s a lot like Michael in that he deeply cares about the team and deeply cares about bowling. He’s been a bowler his whole life. He works really hard. He bowls a lot, even in the offseason.”

The three other starters will be sophomore Ethan Gealy, senior Luke Bovard and junior Dillon Lazer. Last season, Gealy had an average score of 193.42, Bovard averaged a score of 188.11, and Lazer had an average score of 186.9.

“Ethan was on the varsity team for most of the season. I started him off on junior varsity and then moved him up pretty quickly,” Gates said. “He shows up to practice all the time, he puts in the work, kind of like Adam and Michael. He naturally throws the ball great. A year later, since last year, he’s throwing the ball even better as his body is maturing. He’s getting stronger, and every part of his game is improving. There are still levels to go, but he showed a lot last year on physical talent alone that he can be really good. As he gets older and understands the game a little bit more, improves his mental game, he’ll be even better.

“Luke has been on the team all four years. He has a really positive attitude – he doesn’t let things bother him. He has a short memory, which serves him well in stressful bowling competitions. He’s able to stand up there and commit and repeat shots to the best of his ability. He’s a good spare shooter and does the most of what he can every time he’s out there.

“Dillon has improved rapidly. He took a big jump from his freshman to sophomore season, and it showed in the numbers last year with his physical talent. As we go forward and work on other parts of his game, I only see him getting better and better if he continues to work. We’ve seen him put in the work before, and I’m hoping he can keep climbing the ladder as his high school career continues.”

Lending depth will be senior Tyler Hall and juniors Noah Brown and Ian Barter.

The Bulldogs will open the schedule at the Suburban League preseason tournament at Roseland Lanes in Oakwood at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 18.

Girls bowling: Young-but-veteran squad has new coach optimistic

The 2022-23 SMF girls bowling team will have no seniors this season, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any experience on the team.

“I have seven juniors and a freshman, but the juniors are veterans,” first-year head coach Al Petrosino said. “I have a lot of work to do with them, but we’ll be ready. They can bowl. I’m just working with them right now on their confidence and their game. I got them some new equipment, too. They all throw the ball pretty well. The biggest thing is that I have to get them all consistent to the line, stay focused and have more confidence.

“We could go pretty far this season. They’re really trying to learn what they’re trying to do on their shots. I’m trying to make them think about what they’re doing, and hopefully they’ll learn from there. There’s not a single reason why these girls can’t do well. They all have the potential.”

Pacing Stow-Munroe Falls will be juniors Aoiffe Sharar and Mackenzie Kolczynski.

“Aoiffe throws the ball great. She’s solid to the line,” said Petrosino. “She knows her equipment and knows pretty much what to do. She’s good.

“Mackenzie will be right up with Aoiffe. She’s pretty confident when she throws. She can pick up her spares, so that’s a good thing.”

Other starters will be juniors Andrea Kennedy and Jolie Garinger and freshman Isabella Raines.

“Andrea is a lefty, and that’s unique. You don’t see too many lefty bowlers. Her average could be better than Aoiffe’s and Mackenzie’s,” Petrosino said. “Jolie throws the ball pretty well. She’s pretty consistent. Isabella is willing to learn. She has a lot of talent. She’s been to every practice and has great potential. I can’t wait to see what these next four years are going to be like for her.”

Juniors Ace Ades, Carley Finnegan and Julia Leffel-Elliott will provide depth for the Bulldogs. 

SMF will begin the season at the Suburban League preseason tournament at Roseland Lanes in Oakwood at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 18.

Gymnastics: Pair of state qualifiers has Bulldogs eyeing district berth in ’22-23

Two returning state qualifiers highlight the 2022-23 Stow-Munroe Falls gymnastics team.

Sophomore Samantha Tokar qualified for the Division I state meet last season in the all-around, while senior Kristen Coreine qualified in the floor exercise but will compete in all four events.

“Samantha is awesome,” second-year head coach Tara Fitzgerald said. “She’s done gymnastics for years. She’s very driven, a very hard worker, very focused, just very dedicated. I’d say she should definitely be on the podium at states by her junior year. Being so young, she still has a lot of room to improve.

“Kristen also has been doing gymnastics for years. She’s just so graceful. She has beautiful, fantastic technique, she’s flexible, she just knows how to hit everything she does.”

Stow-Munroe Falls finished sixth in the sectionals last season, something Fitzgerald would like to improve on this season.

“We lost one senior to graduation last spring, so this season’s team is pretty much the same as last season,” she said. “I’m expecting another really good season with them. Qualifying for districts as a team is my end goal, and maybe getting a few more girls to states as individuals would be awesome. I think we’re capable of qualifying for districts as a team. I think, this season, being the girls’ second season with me and with each other, it’ll be a stronger team itself. They’ll work together better.”

The Bulldogs open the season Dec. 28 in a meet that will include Walsh Jesuit and Brunswick at Gymnastics World of Twinsburg.

Girls swimming: Plethora of district qualifiers has Bulldogs optimistic about ’22-23

The prospects are high this season for the girls swimming and diving team.

“We had probably 12 district qualifiers last season but only lost two of them to graduation. We have a veteran team,” sixth-year head coach Ryan Miller said. “We can only get better. It’s going to be pretty tight in the [Suburban League] National Conference. Outside of Hudson, the race for second between us, Wadsworth, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Nordonia will be close. It’ll be fun seeing the girls at meets and seeing them compete.”

Pacing Stow-Munroe Falls will be seniors Annalia Dye and Paige Galperin. Dye’s main events are the 200-yard freestyle and 100 freestyle. Galperin is a diver.

“We had high expectations for Annalia last season, and she stepped up big, had some huge drops and tapered really well at the end of the season. She just missed qualifying for state in the 200 freestyle,” said Miller. “We’re optimistic and excited for what she has to bring to the table this year. She worked [hard] last summer and this entire offseason. She’s really emerged as a leader for the team.

“Paige has made it to districts all three years. She has some injuries she’s going to have to overcome, but she’s a determined worker. If there’s anybody who can get through that, see the light at the end of the tunnel and knows what it takes to do that, it’s her.”

Three swimmers who look to be key components to SMF’s success will be sophomore Kaitlyn Casalinova and juniors Julia Reed and Andie Russell. Casalinova qualified for districts last season in the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and as part of two relays. Reed advanced to districts in the 500 freestyle, and Russell qualified for districts in the 200 individual medley.

“Kaitlyn is one of our true sprinters,” Miller said. “She kind of saw her potential and everything that she’s really capable of about halfway through last season. She really turned it on as far as understanding where the hard work can get her. We’re trying to make sure that that’s a staple early in the season for her, understanding what it takes and what she can do. Being so young and as fast as she was last year, we’re excited to see where she goes as far as the result of the hard work.

“Last year was Julia’s first season swimming with us. She transferred in and, after a slow start, had an outstanding season. The thing I love about Julia is that there’s so much room for improvement still in the best way possible. There are a lot of things that can be cleaned up. She has a lot of areas where she can work on some little things. That ought to make a big difference and a big impact on her races.

“Andie has really started to excel in the 200 IM. She’s overcome a lot. She’s someone who had this absolute lights-out swim at sectionals last year. It was kind of like an eye-opener for her. She really turned it on, left it all in the pool and realized what she could do and what it takes. As a result of that, she’s picked up where she left off last season. We have high expectations for her.”

The Bulldogs will open the season at the Dover Invite at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3.

Boys swimming: State qualifier Jacob Hickin leads young SMF squad

Last season, the boys swimming and diving team finished second in the Suburban League National Conference and advanced four athletes to the Division I state meet. Unfortunately, most of the Bulldogs’ district qualifiers graduated last spring.

That presents a big challenge this season for sixth-year head coach Ryan Miller.

“It is a young team this season,” he said. “Our boys will have to step up and fill those gaps and hold their ground in the National Conference and even at the district level. We’re confident as a coaching staff that they’re going to excel and do everything we need them to do on that level and drop time.”

The lone returning state qualifier from last season is senior Jacob Hickin, who competed at state last season as part of the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relays. His primary individual event is the 100 butterfly.

“Jacob is such a diverse swimmer. He can be plugged in as a secondary event in anything from the 100 breaststroke to the 200 IM. It’s just a matter of what it feels like for him and where he’s excelling most at midseason,” said Miller. “He’s just dedicated. He’s come a long way since he was an age-group swimmer, and it’s really been a great experience watching him build up over the years and get to this level. We knew at districts his sophomore year that he was going to do something special this season. The time is now, and he’s ready. I think he has what it takes to make it to state in the 100 butterfly.”

The Ohio High School Athletic Association has increased the number of athletes who qualify for the state meet from the district level from 24 to 32.

“That certainly goes in Jacob’s favor, but even before they made that rule change, we were fairly confident he could make it to state this season,” Miller said. “He just missed the cut last year. We expect him to be better and faster this season.”

Caleb Sun, Hickin’s classmate, is expected to also be a big points producer for the Bulldogs. He qualified for districts last season as part of the 200 medley relay.

“Caleb has been a breaststroker for us over the years, but something that has really shined this season just a few weeks in has been his sprint freestyles whether it’s the 100 or 200,” said the coach. “It’s really coming together, and he’s posting some pretty impressive times in practice thus far.”

Three underclassmen who look to be key cogs to SMF’s success will be sophomores Nathan Edwardson and Michael Vanik and freshman Carson May.

“Nathan has been our biggest shocker this season so far,” Miller said. “We’re probably looking for him to swim the 200 freestyle and the 100 butterfly. It’s always interesting seeing the freshmen come in. You never know what you’re going to get. With a really good taper, Nathan had an outstanding close to last season. This season, he’s certainly picked up right where he left off last year, which is ahead of where we anticipate most of the freshmen being.

“Michael is our lone diver. He qualified for districts last year in that event. The same as with Nathan, it’s the same thing with Michael. Freshman year, you’re kind of getting your feet wet and getting into the groove of seeing what the whole environment of high school swimming is like in Ohio, which is pretty spectacular. Michael has the base, he has that background, he has knowledge, knows what it takes. Being our only diver, he has a lot of weight to carry, and we know that he’s up for the challenge and has a lot of room for improvement.

“Carson is a really well-rounded swimmer, which is what you love to see as a freshman coming in, somebody who you don’t really know what’s going to be their key stroke. We know that he’s a really good breaststroker, which kind of separates him a little bit from all the other kids on the team. He’s going to score points for us and add depth to the team. It’s certainly a challenge, but I think he has what it takes to get to districts. I’ve been coaching him for a long time in age-group level, and he’s somebody who is determined and always steps up to the challenge.”

The Bulldogs will open the season at the Dover Invite at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3.

Wrestling: Return of Teddy Gregory, Jr., from injury bolsters strong Bulldog team

Craig Wilson may be in his first season as the head wrestling coach, but he is not shy about his team’s prospects this season.

“You’re going to have to be good to beat us,” he said. “We’re struggling with the two bottom weights, but after that we get stronger as the weights go up. We have a good mix of kids, including six senior starters. We’re going to be top-heavy. I feel we can compete to win the [Suburban League] National Conference, I honestly do.”

Wilson, who was the head coach at Kimpton Middle School the last six seasons and served as the head coach at Cuyahoga Falls the 18 seasons prior to that, is thrilled to have a senior class that comprises great leaders.

“They lead by example,” he said. “They’re great teammates and team-oriented. That makes you the guy that the kids look up to. They’re tireless workers and give you everything they have. You can’t ever question their heart. This is my 44th year in coaching, and this is the best group of captains I’ve ever had.”

Two of those seniors are Teddy Gregory, Jr., and J.T. Hill. Gregory qualified for the Division I state tournament in the 195-pound weight class as a sophomore. A broken thumb caused him to miss the entire season last year, but he will wrestle in the 220 weight class this season. Hill came one match away from advancing to the state tournament at 175 pounds a year ago and will compete at 190 this season.

“Teddy is a really, really hard worker,” said Wilson. “He listens. He has confidence, but he works tirelessly. He’s one of the hardest workers in the room no matter what sport he plays. He’s a team-oriented person and a leader who doesn’t come around very often. He’s the consummate leader. His father was a state champ for Stow when I was an assistant coach. J.T. is also a tireless worker.”

Blake Kaminski and Micah Bentley are two other seniors who are expected to have big seasons. Kaminski will wrestle at 157, while Bentley will compete at 138 after winning two matches at 132 at districts last season.

“Blake is pretty wiry, a tall, skinny guy, but he worked out all summer, and I expect him to go to state this season,” Wilson said. “Micah is like the mild, meek kind of kid when you look at him. He looks very unsuspecting, but when he gets on the mat, he’s pretty physical.”

The Bulldogs will open the season at the Solon Comet Classic at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2.

“That will be a good gauge,” said the coach. “Some of the top teams in the state will be there, so we’ll get an early-season judge on where we’re at and where we need to be.”

Ice hockey: Bulldogs will be in a league of their own this winter

After two seasons as a club team and three seasons as an independent, the ice hockey team is now a member of the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League.

“The GCHSHL encompasses all of Northeast Ohio basically,” said Ryan Schelien, the Bulldogs’ head coach since the team’s inception in 2019-20. “Our first two seasons, we had some kids from other schools on the team, but last season was our first season as an Ohio High School Athletic Association team as all of our players were Stow-Munroe Falls students. The GCHSHL wanted us to play in the OHSAA postseason tournament before we’d get into the league, and we did that last year, getting to the second round, losing to [Shaker Heights] University School.”

Stow-Munroe Falls will compete in the middle of three divisions of the GCHSHL, which is unheard of.

“Usually, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up, but we’ve been very competitive all of our seasons,” Schelien said. “Our guys are pretty good players.”

SMF had 10 players its first season and 15 players its second and third seasons. This year, it has 18 players on the team. The Bulldogs won 10 games their first season, 14 games their second season and finished 20-6-1 last season.

“Last season was pretty special,” said Schelien. “Our numbers are going up, and we’re being competitive. Those are two good things when you’re starting a program. Last year we played the teams that we’re playing this year in the league, but they didn’t count for anything for us. So this is a special season for us because we’re actually going to be playing in a league and playing for a Baron Cup championship along with playing in the OHSAA tournament again.”

Schelien lost four seniors to graduation last spring but will have six seniors and four juniors on this season’s squad.

“The same guys who started with our team four years ago are now seniors,” he said, “so we do have some veteran presence on the team.”

Senior goalie Nathan Nyitray will be the key to SMF’s success this season.

“We go the way Nathan goes,” said Schelien. “He has a lot of experience with us in the net and has been playing a long time as well. He plays really well in the big games.”

Junior center Mason Schelien, the coach’s son, senior left wing Christian Gier and senior right wing Reece Hricik make for a very good front line.

“Mason can do a little bit of everything for us. He’s pretty strong across the board. I can pretty much put him anywhere, and he does a good job,” the elder Schelien said. “He was our leading scorer last season with more than 50 points. He’s a big kid, and he can take over a game if he wants to. We’re expecting some pretty good things out of him again this season.

“Christian is also a bigger kid. He has really great hands, he’s really good around the net, he’s a goal scorer. He scored a lot of goals for us last year. Reece pretty much ends off that line of him, Mason and Christian. He’s like 6-foot-4 on skates, so he’s another big kid. He throws his body around, he gets in front of the net and scores a lot of goals there and causes havoc.

“All three of those guys play well together. They were a line last season, and I only expect good and better things coming from them this year.”

Junior defenseman Alessio Simpson will also be key to the team’s fortunes.

“Alessio has really come on. He put a lot of work in during the offseason. He’s become a very good offensive defenseman,” said the coach. “He can create a lot of offense even though he’s a defenseman. He’s a strong defenseman, but he can rush the puck, make some plays up ice and has a really good shot. He’s one of our better defensemen back there right now.”

The elder Schelien is expecting good things from his team this season.

“I think we’ll be strong in the new league,” he said. “On paper we should do very well, but we still have to put the work in to get there. In the OHSAA tournament, which is only one division, we’d like to get two wins and see what happens after that.”

The Bulldogs will open the season against North Olmsted at the Kent State Ice Arena at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19.