By Ryan Kaczmarski
Recently, the Messiah Lutheran Schools, in Fairview Park, sent both its boys and girls varsity middle school teams to the National Lutheran Basketball Association tournament held at Valparaiso University. This was the fourth time in the history of the school that the boys team went to nationals, and the second for the girls program.
Although the boys team lost both their games at nationals, the team can be proud of its stellar season in which it went 21-0 and won the All-Ohio Lutheran championship.
“The boys have won the state championship back-to-back years now,” Messiah boys basketball head coach Brian Polenz said. “Last year it was such a surprise – we kind of snuck up on people – but this year, it was just an amazing season.”
The team won every tournament it entered this season, as well as the Cleveland Lutheran Elementary League (both the regular season and the league tourney).
This year’s team had four of the five starters from last year’s state championship team returning for their eighth-grade season, with this year’s fifth starter being last year’s sixth man, but all 10 players on the team had major roles in the undefeated season.
“The thing about our squad this year is we had a ‘team,’” Polenz explained. “We had a lot of very good players, but the way they played together throughout the year and to have all that experience back was tremendous for us to have.
“My starting five consisted of all eighth-graders, with Rory Zakereckis playing forward. He’s our top scorer, and we had solid contributions from Liam Doup, who was our shooting guard and second leading scorer. Nick Moore was playing post and is a solid defender and good rebounder.
“Owen Albers was our floor general and leader on the floor,” he continued. “He’s very unselfish on the floor. He doesn’t need to score and is what a true point guard is all about. Colin Neumann was our fifth starter and a deadly shooter. He had a great championship game, pouring in 16 points, including four 3-pointers.”
The girls team went 15-6 in the regular season, finishing fourth in the state, but also lost its two games at nationals.
“Expectations were higher this year than last year,” second-year coach Sean Moennich said. “We made it to the state tourney last year and finished fifth.”
This year, the girls team won the CLEL regular season as well as the league tournament, and went down to the state tournament as the No. 1 seed, but lost in the state semifinals.
“We were rewarded for a great season in being selected for the national tournament,” Moennich said. “I feel we exceeded expectations, as far as making it to the national tournament.”