‘Finish’ Is the Mantra of Shadyside This Season
By SETH STASKEY
SHADYSIDE — As he prepared for the 2017 season, Mark Holenka had several thoughts running through his head.
Many tied into the tough-to-swallow way in which last season ended in the Division VII regional quarterfinals against Harvest Prep. Just three seconds away from defending the Fleming Field home turf and advancing, the Tigers allowed a hail mary to be completed, giving Harvest Prep a 40-37 victory, leaving Holenka, the players and fans in total disbelief.
“It was definitely a tough ending,” Holenka said. “If you’re writing a movie, the miraculous, happy ending couldn’t have been scripted any better for Harvest Prep. For us? It was like a horror picture, but that’s the way it goes.”
Though he’s still bothered by the loss, Holenka, who is entering his ninth season at his alma mater, used it as a learning experience. He and his coaching staff have also used that loss to help build the mantra and approach to this season, which opens Friday at home against Toronto.
The Shadyside coaches’ shirt for this season has just one word printed on the back. Quite simply, the Tigers want to “finish” better. And that ideal didn’t come to fruition simply because of the playoff game either.
“We felt there were some other games where we didn’t finish well,” Holenka said. “We’re trying to instill the mindset that you can’t think anything’s done or wrapped up until the final whistle blows. That also applies to drills in practice as well as games. I think one word is all that’s needed sometimes. We just didn’t do a good job of finishing things. We can’t coast to the finish line. We must finish hard at all times.”
Seeing that Shadyside has qualified for the playoffs 16 of the last 17 seasons and played for two state championships, won seven OVAC titles and posted three consecutive undefeated seasons in recent memory, the bar has been raised and set. Holenka is aware of that and enjoys it, but also does his best to temper it, too.
For the first time in school history, Shadyside won’t be a member of Ohio’s smallest division. The Tigers bumped up to Division VI for this season. However, Holenka stresses that the regular season schedule is where his total focus lies.
“Everyone’s telling me how tough it will be with all of the big guns in that division like Coldwater, Marion Local, Kirtland, etc. I am like, ‘What?’ We have Toronto and Monroe Central long before we have any need to worry about anything like those teams. I am not sure we can win Game 1, let alone worry about Coldwater. We have other problems to worry about.”
Holenka loves the expectations that the program has built and appreciates how excited the fanbase becomes for the season, but he doesn’t want his team to get ahead of itself.
“Some people think you’re going to line up and just be there every single year,” Holenka said. “It’s not magic. I guess what we’ve done in the past has earned us some respect and name recognition and respect.”
As the Tigers have moved their preseason camp, Holenka actually hasn’t had to delve into the mantra much because of the approach of his team, which features a roster of 40, but boasts only six seniors.
“We have some unknowns and that’s not always a bad thing,” Holenka said. “As a coach, you maybe don’t sleep as well, but it’s exciting at the same time. I know we’re not a doormat kind of team, but I also know we’re not a team that you can just pencil us in to win each week either. Anything can happen on a Friday night.”
Shadyside’s offensive identity could be a work-in-progress and may change as the season moves along. Early, look for a hefty dose of running. While Shadyside has been a ground-oriented team the last few years, this decision is two fold. It allows time for the quarterback, who will be new, to season and it also accentuates the Tigers’ biggest strength, which lies with senior running back Alex Krupa (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and junior back Connor Banco (6-2, 200).
“We have a nice returning backfield,” Holenka said of a duo that combined for 1,620 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. “Those kids really complement each other well. They both have to be unselfish enough to block for the other one who isn’t carrying the ball. They’re great runners and we don’t technically have a fullback or a tailback because they’re so similar.”
Of their combined stats, Krupa, who missed some time with an ankle injury, finished 32 yards short of 1,000 and scored 18 of those touchdowns.
Holenka also pointed out junior Colton Adams (5-11, 147) as another option at running back.
Vying for carries are sophomores Ian Carpenter (6-2, 201), Nick Murphy (5-11, 147) and Jakob Klug (5-10, 169).
As for who will be handing the ball off to Krupa and Banco, it’s been a battle in camp between junior Anthony Coggins (5-11, 143) and freshman Jacob Visnic (5-9, 180).
“Anthony’s the most experienced guy, especially when you consider it’s his fifth year in the program, counting junior high,” Holenka said. “He definitely has the leg up, but Jacob has been solid. If he’s not at quarterback, he could easily move to running back.”:
Junior Austin Price (6-3, 181) has also gotten some work at quarterback, but he’ll see the bulk of his time at receiver.
“We have depth at receiver,” Holenka said. “We have quality kids there, so we could use that spot to run plays in. We don’t have that one standout yet, but we have some kids who we think could become on.”
Along with Price, sophomore Kelly Hendershot (6-0, 160) will be a viable option and start on the opposite side. He caught 13 passes last season for 156 yards.
Senior Colton Stutzman (6-2, 152) and junior Collin Holmes (5-7, 151) are other strong options to help in the passing game.
Other receivers listed on the roster, who are trying to earn a spot in the rotation, include: senior Colton Selmon (5-11, 148), juniors Kyle Tomlinson (5-6, 142), Seth Nardo (5-7, 146), freshmen Walker Skapik (5-7, 135), Brendan Schrader (5-10, 127), Jordan Joseph (5-9, 140) and Gunnar Kernik (5-7, 136).
Tight end is also a strength and because of the size of sophomore Sam Merryman (6-1, 170) and junior Wyatt Schrader (6-0, 175), Holenka admitted they could use them split out, too. Sophomore Matt Lucey (5-11, 174) and freshman Alec Shepherd (6-1, 140) supply depth at that position.
Shadyside not only feels comfortable running the ball because of its backs, but also because of its offensive line, which returns a solid nucleus.
“There’s some youth moving into the line, but they’re kids who were on the coat tails of the guys who were starters last season, so we feel good about them,” Holenka said.
Junior Andrew Jobe (6-0, 250) returns to anchor the line at center. The two guards are also experienced with seniors Dylan Hanson (5-10, 205) and Josh Robinson (5-10, 241) ticketed for duty.
Both of the tackles will be first-time starters. Junior Ian Falcione (5-11, 203), sophomore Caleb Davis (5-10, 251) and senior Richard Francis (6-0, 275) have battled for the jobs. Also in the mix have been junior Zak Merryman (5-10, 201) and freshman Mason Geraud (6-2, 318).
Other linemen working to get into the rotation are juniors Timmy Kosek (5-8, 181), Trey Porter (5-9, 211), Ricky Contraguerro (5-9, 191), Evan Meadows (5-10, 330), sophomore Ryan Cain (5-5, 247), freshmen Parker Gibson (5-4, 155), Camden Brown (6-1, 200) and Ethan Olack (5-4, 202).
Junior Zeke Merryman (5-9, 203) is expected to take over the kicking duties for the Tigers. He’s battled some injuries throughout his career and spent a lot of time in the offseason working as a kicker. Price returns to handle the punting duties. Sam Merryman will handle the long snapping, but he could do some kicking.
The Tigers defense will also be asked to do its part to help the Shadyside offense, especially early in the season.
“We have the majority of our defense back,” Holenka said. “We had a couple of losses up front, but we feel like we have a slew of (defensive) tackles we can use. We have one person to replace on the second and third levels.”
Using a base 4-3, the Tigers feature Krupa as a third-year starter at defensive end. The other post has been a battle between Sam Merryman and Kosek. At tackle, Francis, Robinson and Davis have led the way in the push for the spots.
The linebacking crew is led by Hanson, who led the team with 82 tackles last season. He’s joined there by Banco, who is a returning starter, in the middle. The ‘will’ linebacker has been a competition in camp between Price, Wyatt Schrader, Klug and Visnic.
Stuztman drew high praise from the head coach on his corner play as he returns to one of the starting spots as a junior season. Hendershot will roam at free safety.
Adams and Holmes have been locked in a battle for the strong safety spot and Price could be the other cornerback.