By VINCE PELUSO
Coming off an 18-win season, the most successful during his four-year tenure at Pymatuning Valley, Lakers boys basketball coach Ryan Fitch has decided it’s time to move on.
A teacher at Badger High Hchool who lives in Howland, Fitch said his decision had nothing to do with PV, just that the travel was wearing him down.
“You know this obviously wasn’t a decision I made because I didn’t like PV or anything like that,” he said. “I live in Howland, I’ve done the drive for four years and I was just tired of making it.”
Fitch racked up an impressive record with the Lakers, going 61-27 (.693) and 18-6 this season, including a Division III sectional semifinal win against Cardinal.
The Champion high school graduate said his players deserve the credit for the team’s success.
“I give all the credit to the kids, good players make good coaches,” he said. “I was lucky enough to have some really good players who bought into the system and worked really hard. I was lucky.”
This year in particular was special for Fitch given the success he and the Lakers enjoyed.
“I really had a lot of fun this year,” he said. “We won our side of the NAC, got a tournament win against Cardinal and really battled Ursuline in the sectional championship game.
“Overall, I was very, very pleased. Not only this year but overall.”
The 2011-12 Star Beacon Ashtabula County Coach of the Year also had the pleasure of coaching a strong senior class that included 1,000-point scorer Tim Cross and twins Austin and Grant Nowakowski.
“It was an absolute pleasure to coach those three,” he said. “It was an honor to work with them, I had them for three summers and they never missed a thing. It carried over and that’s why those guys were the players they were. Everything they did was for the program, nothing was for themselves.
“Those three were just great, they’d do anything for you as a coach.”
Fitch entered in what some might think was a tough spot, coming in after Jeremy Huber had a run of success with the Lakers.
But Fitch never saw it that way.
The two played against each other in college and had similar coaching styles, so he felt the program that Huber built carried over to his four-year run.
“Jeremy obviously ran a great program, but I think he had the hard job because he took it over when it wasn’t very good and he turned it around,” Fitch said. “Winning builds more winning. The attitude when I came in was everyone expected to win and we were going to win. That made my transition easy.
“He and I knew each other well, we played against each other in college and we brought the same type of intensity and things like that.”
Much like when Huber left, Fitch believes that the winning should continue next season and beyond.
“You know I think they’ve got some really good kids in that sophomore class coming up that can really help,” he said. “They’re kids that work hard and play hard. Quintin (Ratliff) is also coming back. So, I think with a good summer they should be fine.”
Fitch said he has plenty of memories during his time with the Lakers but PV’s five-overtime win over Mathews and Cross scoring his 1,000th point rise to the top of the list.
“I still often think about the five-overtime game against Mathews my first year there,” he said. “It was senior night, we hit a shot to win, that game definitely stands out.
“There were a lot of games over the years. Tim Cross obviously scoring his 1,000th-point at Geneva was a great night. I’ve never coached a kid that scored 1,000 points so that was a great experience.”
Just because Fitch’s career at PV is done, doesn’t mean his coaching career is over.
“I told them when I stepped away, it’s not that I wanna be done, I just want to be closer to home to make other parts of my life easier,” he said. “I’ve got a few assistant job offers, so I’m mulling those over and probably will have to make a decision in the next few weeks.”
As Fitch likely takes a step back into assistant coaching, he thinks it’ll benefit him if and when he’s given the opportunity to become a head coach again.
“The couple offers I have as an assistant would be working with some great coaches who have been really successful,” he said. “It’s nice to see how other guys do it. I spent three years as an assistant at Lakeview, a year at Liberty and saw two different styles. If I go somewhere else, I’m sure I’ll see a third way to do it.
“You never stop learning as a coach. There’s always something you can take away.”