With Lakeside, Edgewood and Grand Valley now in the Chagrin Valley Conference, bringing the number of schools to 22, representatives from the three county schools talked about the future while reflecting on the past.
Lakeside and Edgewood moved into the CVC from the All-American Conference, while GV arrived from the Northeastern Athletic Conference.
The Dragons showed improvement some sports last season. New coaches have been brought in, while others are continuing to build their programs in hopes of changing their fortunes.
Lakeside Athletic Director Jason Baxter is looking forward to seeing what the effect of moving into the CVC will be.
"The short-term, obviously, is the competitiveness," he said. "We’re in a little bit of a lull out here competitively. I think we have a ton of great programs, a ton of great coaches, facilities. I think we have a lot of things in place and I think our kids are really starting to buy in to some of the stuff that our high-level coaches are doing and asking them.
"I just think we were so far behind — and this isn’t saying the CVC’s a lesser conference than the AAC was, the AAC was just kind of a bigger beast. We were playing schools that were just so much larger than us and had a wider base of athletes, to where the CVC. I just, I go to bed thinking about this some nights and where some of our teams can be next year in the CVC. Outside of some culture stuff and some academic team goal stuff, I think our goal, at least my goal for our coaches to have, is to win the conference.
"The biggest long-term goal is just building toward being competitive with some of the top teams in each sport. This year is kind of the base line in seeing how we can build from there, like against Perry in football, Edgewood in cross country. Because we want to be great in our division, but we’re also going to play some crossovers too, so we’re going to see a lot fo new faces, a lot of new logos across the way."
Baxter is particularly intrigued to see how a handful of sports play out.
"I’m really excited for volleyball," he said. "I think volleyball showed how competitive they can be last year, going 11-12 and winning some AAC games," he said. "I don't want to think any teams are going to be pushovers, but I think volleyball, under Stephanie’s leadership (Stephanie Kubec), can take it to the next level.
"Boys basketball, Jon Mannarino, has been working those kids all summer. … He took advantage of his 10 days, getting his guys ready. And then softball will be another one because obviously softball had a really good year last year. We struggled a little bit in the AAC, it’s kind of where we got snagged a little bit, but I really hope the girls can take what we learned in the Mentor game and how we can be competitive with anyone and win the CVC and hopefully more with that group."
The main focus, though, is for the Dragons to continue moving forward themselves, Baxter said.
"I want the coaches to go in every day, knowing that they're making their program better and we’ll be able to go toe-to-toe with teams not only in the CVC and our division, but we can also go into the postseason," he said. "That's been my biggest thing here. As much as I love county rivalries and what that brings, I love it, but I think we need to think bigger sometimes."
The Warriors have had AAC success, especially with boys basketball and girls cross country, in recent years.
How Edgewood will fare in the CVC is anybody's guess.
"I don't know, honestly," Athletic Director Steve Kray said. "I know we’ve played some of those guys in non-conference games last year. It’s not like we’re taking a step back in competition going over there, because the people we’re going to play — in most sports. Perry’s legit, Geneva’s going to give you a run for your money in everything.
"Orange, Chagrin Falls, Lakeisde’s going to compete and just because it’s a rivalry game you can throw everything you know about them out the door, because anything can happen in those kinds of games. So I think we’re going to come in a good point, we’re at a good point in our programs. We are young and we’re going to be young, this is a smaller senior class. I'm proud of the way our summer’s gone. We did that Warrior Strong program and we had nearly 100 kids here every day for three months. So I'm proud of our kids for doing that and I hope that’ll show in the fall."
Kray isn't abandoning playing former conference foes, either.
"I told Mr. (Rich) King, our AAC commisioner, when we left, we were treated outstanding when we were down there," Kray said "We’re still playing some of those guys. I'm trying to keep Poland on the schedule in basketball because I think that's a good rivalry game now. Niles McKinley, we’re going to play them in some things, so I think the relationships are still good."
Poland and Niles, however, are now in the Northeast 8 Conference.
The Mustangs won't be in the same CVC division as Lakeside or Edgewood in most sports, but doesn't mean the competition will be easier.
GV Athletic Director Terry Hejduk is happy at the timing of the Mustangs going into the CVC.
"From the guys sports end, baseball and football, player wise, we might have had a little bit better athletes last year, but we have some solid athletes, very intelligent athletes on both sides and we’re going to be super good there," he said. "You look at cross country, I’m not sure exactly where our numbers are, but we have one of the Steimle's (John) back.
"Girls side, we have (Annabell Hlebak) coming back, she had some good solid numbers — I think she has a time in the top 10 in school history. Soccer wise, we have a new girls soccer coach (Vail Foltz). We lost a great soccer senior class on the girls side, but the freshman class we had had some players that, when I talked to coach (Nate Mailach) when he left, he was very very impressed with.
"Boys soccer wise, coach (Rick) Huffman has done a great job. If you followed our programs over the last three years that he's been here, we’ve gotten better, better and better.
"Our volleyball program, we had a great senior class two years ago. This year, we have an unbelievable senior class that can rival that. They're coming to a point where it’s their senior year, they heard everything that went on with the senior class a couple years ago. They want to go out and prove a point this year that they're just as good. … in the district, we got beat in sectional and district last year by Cardinal and Berkshire. If you go back and look, they just graduated a lot of seniors, so I think that the district title is ours for the taking right now."
Hejduk is also excited about the school's winter and spring sports prospects.
GV also needs non-conference contests and Hejduk has turned to his NAC friends.
"(Pymatuning Valley Athletic Director) Mel (Nowakowski) has done a great job over there at PV working with me," he said. "We obviously have 22 schools in the CVC. I'm trying to stay true to the CVC and schedule some CVC teams, but also, there's some great relationships built over the years in the NAC. Mel’s been great with me, getting in games.
"I’ve got games against Badger, I’ve got games against Maplewood, games against Mathews. I think we’ve got Bristol on the schedule in a couple things, and the NAC been very good with that. They could've said, ‘Hey, you left us, don't call us,’ but the schools have been great."
The Mustangs won't play in PV in football this year, but the southern county rivals will seek to pick it back up in the future.
"We’re looking to get them back as soon as we get our schedules matched up and have an opening," GV coach Clint Nims said. "We definitely want to get them on our schedule."