Though Cody Sarensen’s previous basketball coaching job was about 90 minutes east of Springfield in Lancaster, it didn’t take the second-year coach long getting up to speed on the Catholic Central High School boys basketball team.
Relatives in Springfield provided him with a fast-break history lesson.
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“I had family that went to Catholic Central and they filled me on in the history and the tradition,” Sarensen said. “Something I take great pride in is trying to bring back or keep the traditions alive. It’s been really neat the past couple of years to learn about the tradition of Central. I was familiar with the amount of times the went to state, won district championships and things like that. What’s really cool is every year I get to meet more and more people who played with the program all the way back to the 1950s. It’s neat to bring all that back together.”
The Irish are adding to their legacy this season, which just might include the program’s first Ohio Heritage Conference championship. Catholic Central (12-2 overall, 8-1 OHC South Division) holds a two-game lead over Greeneview with five conference games remaining. Fairbanks (7-5 overall) leads the North Division at 7-2.
According to the OHC website, Catholic Central hasn’t won an OHC title since the league started in the 2001-02 season.
“We had high expectations for our kids because they are a really great group of kids to work with,” Sarensen said. “We kind of knew the potential we had. I’m as excited as they are we’re able to get off to a good start like this.”
Seniors Dominic DeWitt and Jacob Woeber – two of five seniors on the roster along with Trey Brown, Gunner Weaver and Deece Catanzaro – have given the Irish strong post play needed following graduation losses last season. The seniors have also helped the Irish to their first state ranking in recent seasons.
Catholic Central has appeared in all three Division IV state polls. The Irish – who opened at No. 4 in the first poll – are ranked No. 9 this week. Sarensen can’t say for certain, but he thinks this could be the team’s first appearance in the state polls in about six seasons.
On Tuesday night, Catholic Central rebounded from its first conference loss with a 64-56 victory over Triad. The Irish hope it’s the start of new winning streak.
After a season-opening loss to non-conference opponent Kenton Ridge, Catholic Central ripped off 11 straight wins. The streak came to an end Jan. 19 with a 57-44 setback to West Jefferson.
Catholic Central finished 15-10 in Sarensen’s first season as coach.
“The consistent grind. Keeping our daily routines and habits the same,” Sarensen said of his game plan for success. “We don’t really do anything special. Just get into practice and work.”
Experience has helped, too. A handful of sophomores who saw varsity playing time last season have taken on larger roles.
Junior Trey Dunn is in his second season at point guard, while junior Sabien Doolittle is also a second-year guard. Junior Mykah Eichie has emerged and the additions of junior Peyton Harris (a transfer from Columbus) and Brown (a transfer from Springfield) have added additional experience and depth.
“Anytime we can push the ball we’ll definitely do that,” Sarensen said of a team that boasts speed and athleticism. “At the same time we talk a lot about trying to get high percentage shots. You always tell the kids if you can get a layup, get a layup.”
Catholic Central’s past success includes eight district championships, five regional championships, three state championship game appearances and a state title in 1996.
There’s still plenty of basketball to be played, but Sarensen likes where this year’s team is headed.
“We’re all human and they’re high school kids. But I know they’re excited and they know the potential they have,” Sarensen said. “If we continue to do the little things like fundamentals, I think we can make a good run in the tournament. If they want to sit down and play defense and do the little things to help win at turnovers and all those fundamentals, if they do that they put themselves in a pretty good position to win ball games.”
Catholic Central hosts Madison Plains (3-7) on Friday. A South Division showdown with Greeneview follows on Feb. 2.
“I think the excitement is coming back a little bit,” Sarensen said of the Irish tradition. “I know they’ve always had a really good following regardless of the season they’ve had. But I think there’s a lot of people coming to games who may not have necessarily been there. … Seeing this close-knit community is pretty special for sure.”