Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — One game at a time … all 69 of them.
If you know Unioto basketball coach Matt Hoops at all, you know that “one game at a time” has always been the central message to any of his teams. But it’s hard not to look at what’s at stake in a “bigger picture” sense, and what’s been at stake, this coming year and in years past.
The Shermans are currently winners of 69 consecutive Scioto Valley Conference games — an SVC record winning streak that embodies five straight conference titles, four consecutive gold balls and two district championships.
It’s not easy to go undefeated in the SVC. It’s not easy to go undefeated in any league. So when you consider the fact that Unioto has done it four years in a row … well, it’s unbelievable.
Sometimes, not even Hoops himself believes it.
“It’s been a few times, when I was like mowing the grass and just random things pop into your head and you’re like, ‘Has that really happened?’ Apparently it has,” Hoops said, smiling. “I read something the other day where it said that Unioto was going for its sixth consecutive conference title. That just looked weird to me. I’ve not allowed myself to … I guess … get too wrapped up in it. You just want each year to be a great year and a memorable one for all of your players.”
While Hoops focuses on making each year great, conference opponents focus on trying to beat Unioto. Many have tried, and over the past four years, zero have succeeded.
Winning is hard enough. Winning 69 straight with with a gimongous “X” painted on your back is near impossible … and don’t expect that target to go away anytime soon.
“We haven’t talked about it but I’m sure other teams are [targeting Unioto]. But I’m sure they have in the past. After the first gold ball [in 2015], we lost four really good seniors and I’m sure people thought, ‘Oh we can get them now.’ That didn’t happen,” Hoops said. “That next year’s seniors weren’t the same players as those before them, but they worked really hard. The next year’s did the same. So it’s just a culture that’s been built.”
You just want each year to be a great year and a memorable one for all of your players.
But the question has to be asked … was last year’s senior class the greatest loss out of the past five cycles? Guards Logan Swackhammer and Brandon Kennedy are both playing collegiately while forwards Peyton Hill and Gabe Fisher gave the Tanks a bonafide inside presence.
Those names are gone and have been replaced with Gabe McBee, Chance Smith, Cade McKee, Carson DeBord, Cameron DeBord, Gunnar Greenwalt and others.
Only one of those names represents a returning starter and only two represent a senior. In short, Hoops is left with a group that has limited experience but plenty of upside.
“You just … you don’t try to emulate how [last year’s seniors] played but you do try to emulate how they prepared,” Hoops said of last year’s senior group. “Those guys were dedicated to the game. We’ve got a lot of guys who have seen that for themselves and are also trying to do what they’ve done. We’re not asking them to be any of those guys. We’re asking them to be themselves, play to their own strengths and it’s coming along. Some days are better than others. But you’re going to have that with a little bit of youth.”
It’s nothing Hoops hasn’t dealt with before and his 182-118 coaching record speaks for itself.
His biggest question mark this season? Finding a go-to scoring option. The answer has yet to be found.
“I think there’s a feeling of uncertainty,” Hoops said. “But until we line up and play, we don’t know. But I think the feeling of not knowing is a good feeling. It’s what drives you everyday. Anything can happen at anytime, and we’re still learning about ourselves.”
The Shermans dropped their first game this season in a 66-47 loss at Logan on Nov. 30. They’ll try and bounce back Friday evening, hosting Zane Trace in both teams’ conference opener.
A win would mean a 70th straight in SVC action while a loss would be the first in league play since Dec. 7, 2013 … a 57-56 overtime loss to those same Pioneers.
As the cycles continue to change, so do coaching approaches, adjustments of game plans and names on the roster. But make no mistake about it: the expectations Hoops holds his players to have never wavered.
“We expect the same out of this group as we have every other group,” Hoops said. “We’re not real big on setting team goals because sometimes if you don’t reach those early in the season, what are you playing for mentally? That’s why we always talk about getting better everyday and taking things one game at a time. Hopefully the wins will come that way.”