The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 8, 2013

Bowler’s bunch striking

Coach’s second time around spared nothing when it came to his team framing 15 victories

By VINCE PELUSO
Staff Writer

— For Edgewood boys coach John Bowler, coaching basketball isn’t so much a job as it is an enjoyable passion.

So when Bowler reflects on the 2012-13 basketball season, one word comes to mind — fun.

“It was a great year,” he said. “A lot of good memories, a lot of real close games, it was just a really fun year. I enjoyed the kids.”

As is usually the case when anyone is enjoying something as much as Bowler enjoys coaching, winning follows.

And the Warriors did plenty of winning this season.

After an 8-14 campaign his return to the bench in the 2011-12 season, Bowler nearly doubled that win total as the Warriors went 15-7 in the regular season and received a bye into a Division II sectional final at Lakeside.

For his efforts, Bowler is the 2012-13 Star Beacon Ashtabula County Coach of the Year.

“I thought we’d have a better season that we did last year,” he admitted, looking back to the beginning of the year. “I thought we’d win more games, but I didn’t think we could possibly win 15 games and do as well as we did. We beat a lot of good teams.”

A testament to the job that the now two-time coach of the year winner — Bowler last won the award in the 1988-89 season while at St. John — is the fact that he flipped the script from his first season, despite losing four of his five starters.

The lone starter Bowler did have coming back was Andrew Konczal, who he turned into the 2012-13 Star Beacon Ashtabula County Player of the Year and completely transformed his game from a 3-point shooter to the county’s leading rebounder.

Beyond turning Edgewood into a winner and adjusting Konczal’s game, Bowler also got his team to buy into a team concept rather than focusing on their own individual success.

The Warriors had six players average more than seven points per game, but no player average more than 14 and he heard no complaints from his players as they sacrificied individual numbers for team wins.

This, despite having two of the top scorers in the county in Konczal and point guard Connor McLaughlin.

“Everyone knew on a given night, anyone could score and you can’t be jealous,” he said. “Connor and Andrew knew that assists and rebounds are just as important. I don’t think either came out of the game without foul trouble this whole season, those two probably played more minutes than any two players in the area.

“They knew we didn’t just have any room for jealousy. Part of that is my coaching and my personality and part of that is their upbringing. They’re quality kids.”

Ironically, in many ways, this season was seen as a rebuilding year for Bowler.

“We lost the four starters and I kind of saw it as a rebuilding year for us because we played a lot of juniors,” he said. “They have experience, though, so it wasn’t as bad as you would think.”

One thing that may have helped Bowler’s group on the court was its success on the football field.

While no coach wants to have to delay practice waiting for his players to get out of the previous season’s sport, the success of Edgewood’s football team, which made it to the playoffs for the first time in school history, did seem to carry over to basketball season.

“I think when a school starts winning, whether it’s football, basketball, whatever the sport, it carries over to the other sports,” he said. “Once they think they can win, they start winning, and basketball is such a mental game. Once they start getting a little confidence, part of that confidence is going to come from winning.

“I’m hoping for our guys it carries over to baseball. I already can’t wait to go watch them play.”

Bowler felt the biggest difference between his first season at Edgewood and his second was the unselfish attitude his team showed.

“I think the difference this year might’ve been the kids, I want to say they played very unselfishly, not that we were selfish the year before, but we made that extra pass this year and they really go into playing defense,” he said. “I think they understood my system a little bit better and we had absolutely no trouble. There was no discipline, everyone was at every practice on time. No one was late.

“We stayed healthy, too. That’s always a big thing.”

While there were plenty of memorable games from the 2012-13 season, the one that sticks out in Bowler’s mind is the Warriors’ come-from-behind victory at Conneaut.

“Probably the Conneaut game at Conneaut, we made a heck of a comeback,” he said. “We made a lot of comebacks, like against Fairport. We made some comebacks down 15-18 in the 4th, but the one against Coinneaut at Conneaut was the one I’ll remember the most.

“That’s a big rivalry for us, and I’ve never seen the kids as happy as they were against Conneaut.”

Beating county teams is something Bowler said he takes pride in. Edgewood beat every Ashtabula County opponent it faced (they played all except Lakeside) going 6-1, with its only blemish coming in the regular-season finale at Jefferson.

“We take pride in that,” he said. “We wrote down goals at the begginning of the season and, believe it or not,1 5 wins was a goal and beating everyone in the county we played was a goal. We really wanted to win a sectional, we didn’t get that one, but we got the other two.”

The lack of a sectional title is one of the few disappointments of the season for Bowler.

A season of success ended in disappointment when the Warriors fell to Warrensville Heights in a sectional championship game, 84-49.

While the loss wasn’t the way Bowler wanted the season to end, he did say it helped show him what he and his team needs to do to take the next step in the tournament.

“It really does show me what we need to do,” he said. “I took a lot of mental notes, I wrote down a lot of notes based off what I saw. I’m going to beef up the schedule and try to drop a few Division II teams and try to go to Division I to get better prepared for the tournament. Not being in a league, it’s good to beat the county teams but for me, it’s all about the tournament. Our goal is to stay in it through the district level.”

Despite losing three senior starters, Bowler believes the future is bright for the Warriors.

With junior-varsity coach Paul Stofan and assistant coach Jay Bowler (John’s son), both of whom Bowler gives much of the credit to for his success, he sees plenty of positive outcomes ahead.

“I’m excited about basketball right now, even though I know we lost,” he said. “I can’t wait for it to start. Connor got a taste of basketball success, Matt Fitchet got a taste, some of the JV guys will be ready to step up. I think some of the JV guys were ready three quarters of the way through the season and maybe I should’ve given them more of a chance, but what we’re trying to do is build a program.

“Between Paul and Jay, we’re trying to build a program not for just one or two years, but five, six years down the road. We’re already looking at sixth graders, right on down the road so we won’t have a down year.”

As long as Bowler is at Edgewood and having fun, it’s a safe bet that the Warriors won’t be having many down years in the future.

Peluso is a sports writer for the Star Beacon. Reach him at vpeluso@starbeacon.com.