Maumee Valley might have finished in third place in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference in the regular season with a 10-4 league mark, but the Hawks are the TAAC’s final team standing in tournament play.
Third-year coach Rob Conover’s team has eliminated three conference rivals in advancing to a Division IV regional semifinal, where it will face recent state power Convoy Crestview (22-3) at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center.
The Knights of coach Jeremy Best were D-IV state champions in 2014, when they were ranked No. 1 and finished a perfect 29-0.
The Hawks (20-5) earned their regional berth by beating TAAC foes Emmanuel Christian (58-45), Ottawa Hills (56-47), and Toledo Christian (64-47). Fifth-ranked TAAC champion Cardinal Stritch (23-2, 14-0) lost to Archbold, 74-65, in a Division III district final Saturday.
Maumee Valley, which last reached a regional in 2012 when former coach Jim Robinson guided the Hawks to a 22-2 finish, got to the regional this time by winning a season rubber match against the Eagles, doing so without its most experienced and productive player.
Jaiden Woodley, a 6-foot-6 senior who averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds through 16 games, is out for the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury.
“That was a huge loss for us and one you can't replace,” Conover said. “Jaiden is a captain, averaged a double-double, was a rim protector, and was playing the best basketball of his career.
“We told the guys that not one of them could fill the void, but if each one of them elevated their game, then collectively we could compensate for the loss, and we have done that.”
The Hawks’ youthful starting lineup is led by 6-1 sophomore point guard Zeb Jackson, a first-team All-Northwest District selection who averages 19 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game.
“Zeb has had a great year and has really done a nice job in the last couple games in particular, as I think all of our guys have, doing whatever is needed to help our team win,” Conover said. “He played a very poised game on Friday against TC. He rebounded well, made good reads, and really played great defense.”
The lone senior starter is 6-4 guard A.J. Johnson (7 points, 7 rebounds), and rounding out the lineup are 6-1 junior Parker Chatman (8 points, 5 rebounds), 5-9 sophomore guard Dez Jett (7 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists), and 6-3 freshman forward Steve Coleman (12 points, 8 rebounds).
The Hawks also have overcome the off-court distraction of the filing of a lawsuit by members of the coaching staff against four parents who they accuse of making repeated negative comments about the staff around midseason.
“Every team goes through something that creates the opportunity for distractions, and what we do is focus on what we can control, which is effort, execution, and our approach to the game,” Conover said. “Our kids have done a great job staying focused on what is within our control.”
The next hurdle the Hawks need to overcome is a tough, battle-tested program in Crestview.
The Knights have been led by 6-7 junior forward Javin Etzler, a first-team All-Northwest District selection who averaged 15.2 points and 6.5 rebounds during the regular season. Their other top players include all-district honorable-mention picks Derek Stout and Wade Sheets.
“At this point in the tournament, every team is going to be good and Convoy is no different,” Conover said. “They are aggressive at both ends of the floor, they have really nice size and length, and the Etzler kid can really fill up the stat sheet. They also have four or five other guys that can hurt you as well.”
Crestview advanced to the regional with three tightly contested victories, beating Parkway (55-48), Ottoville (72-67 in double overtime), and Green Meadows Conference co-champion Hicksville (43-42). Ottoville and Hicksville finished the regular season at 17-5.
“They run a lot of really nice sets that have layers to them, which is difficult to prep against in three days,” Conover said, “so we really have to rely on sound defensive principles and communication on the defensive end. Stout is a tough kid that is really good inside of 15 feet, which keeps you from focusing all your attention on the perimeter.”
Despite being young, Maumee Valley does not lack in confidence according to its coach and will be ready for the challenge ahead.
“We know nobody is going to give us anything,” Conover said, “but I promise that I would not want to be walking into the Stroh with any other group. I trust our guys and our staff, and we are really excited for this opportunity.”
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