By VINCE PELUSO
For the first time since playing in the Northeastern Conference, the Edgewood Warriors will have a conference title to play for when they enter the All-American Conference.
While when the AAC begins its realignment that includes the Warriors isn’t official yet, the target is to integrate them into the league beginning with spring sports in 2014.
Edgewood baseball coach Bill Lipps’ team will be among the first play in the league.
Playing as an independent in his first two seasons with the Warriors, Lipps said it’ll be nice to have a more consistent schedule as he lost games due to rainouts.
“I think we get a chance to be consistent with our play in the sense that we’re getting a consistent amount of games in,” he said. “Rainouts will be forced to be made up where as in the past, we never knew if we were gonna have those games made up.”
Lipps also thinks the new league will provide the opportunity for Edgewood to establish new rivalries as it begins to play teams regularly.
“If you consistently play the same teams over and over again and I mean in the fall, winter and spring, you start to develop some good rivalries,” he said. “I think that’s real healthy for the high school athlete.”
First-year football coach Josh Franke won’t see his team enter the AAC for another two seasons.
Although that’s still a ways off, he is excited about the prospect of joining a league in the future.
“It’s always good to play for a conference title, you want to have goals and the first goal is to win a conference title,” he said. “Playing the same teams year in and year out, it’s good to build up that familiarity and it creates more incentive to beat those teams. Wins and losses from previous years motivate the kids a little more to win the next year.
“So that’s definitely something to push for as far as a conference title and that needs to be the very first goal. Because if you win your conference, you’re for sure going to the playoffs, so it’s nice to have those pillars to strive for.”
For basketball coach John Bowler, the AAC provides an opportunity to play a different set of teams.
As an independent, Bowler said most of the teams he played out of the county were more toward the Cleveland area, but the AAC will send his Warriors south instead of west.
“I think it’ll be a challenging league for us,” he said. “It’ll be interesting going down south instead of heading west toward Cleveland. We’re not as familiar with as many of those teams down south.”
As far as just being part of a league is concerned, Bowler likes the idea of having something other than personal pride to play for during the regular season.
“With us in basketball, the goal is always beating the county teams and the city teams,” he said. “Even after you do it, you don’t get anything for it except self satisfaction. It will be nice to add that to your goals. I think it gives you more incentive to win these games during the season.”
Girls basketball coach Dave McCoy, who is also the JV baseball coach and was on the boys basketball staff at Edgewood when it was in the NEC, said he looks forward to having goals beyond just trying to win a tournament game
“I feel with playing independently, the only thing we had to look forward to was the tournament,” he said. “With a league comes different recognition for the hard work our girls put in and it gives them different exposure.”
McCoy said he has seen a difference between the way a team prepares for a conference game opposed to when it plays an all-independent schedule.
“Definitely, the game preparation is much different,” he said. “Each league game is going to take on an added significance opposed to another independent game. I think it will fire the girls up more.”
For Bowler, he believes his team will have to adjust to a different style of play as well as different officials.
“The officiating will be different. I think they play a little more physical down there,” he said. “We experienced some of that playing in Pennsylvania. It was totally different from Northeast Ohio. I’m sure down south, they ref a little different. There’s certain things refs will put an emphasis on, so we’ll have to get used to it.
“But we’ve also tried to play some of those teams. We’ve scrimmaged and played LaBrae and Newton Falls, so it’s not totally new for us. It’ll be exciting for us to play those teams. I hope they’re as accepting of us as we will be of them.”
Lipps has experience coaching baseball in a league, when he was the coach at Brookfield.
While some baseball coaches try to plan their rotation around league games, Lipps said he doesn’t anticipate his approach to rotations and lineups will change whether he’s playing in a league or not.
“I don’t know, I always thought when your guy is ready to pitch, you pitch him and then you just kind of get into a rotation that way,” he said. “As soon as you start saving a guy for a Monday game, it gets rained out. When I was in Brookfield I was kind of the guy who said, ‘the guy who’s ready pitches,’ whether we’re playing a league game or an independent game.
“Maybe someone will talk me out of that approach, but I’ve always thought that.”
Although he’s new to the area, Franke said he knows his team is stepping into a talented conference.
“It really is a great conference, it’s stacked full of talent,” he said. “But, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Part of that is if we wanna be a playoff team and eventually a state championship team, we wanna play the best week in and week out. You want to experience some adversity and playing against the best you get that.
“What you don’t want is to get a wakeup call in the playoffs against a team that’s played a tougher schedule and been through that adversity. The more good teams you play, the more times you’ve been put in that situation, the more experience you get from it.”