Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)
Starting a basketball season 1-0 isn’t a huge deal for a lot of teams.
It means everything when the team went 0-12 the previous year.
“When you go winless, it puts a chip on your shoulder,” Avon Grove senior guard Aiden Violette said. “It makes you want to do better. I haven’t had the greatest high school career wins-wise. In the end, I just want to win. It eats at me and bites me every day.”
Ikeem Mays (above, in September) is entering his third year as Avon Grove's head coach. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Avon Grove went 4-18 in 2020 and 4-17 in 2019; it’s looking to far exceed those win totals in 2021 and is already on the right path after its opening game Friday night in the Octorara Tip-Off Tournament, a 58-32 win over Solanco.
The Red Devils advance to face Octorara, a 79-60 winner over Oxford, in the championship Saturday.
“Last year's games were so close together,” Red Devils head coach Ikeem Mays said. “There were so many things going on. COVID, you’re battling that. There were just a lot of challenges presented and we didn’t play like ourselves.”
Mays is entering his third season as head coach, but this was the first season the Red Devils have had an actual offseason to prepare. The team was able to find out who it was early and provided bonding opportunities for the players.
The Red Devils won, and will have to continue to win, without Elizabethtown commit Reese Ziegler who went down for the season with a torn meniscus that occurred during a workout in October, shortly after his college commitment.
Mays believes the team can do that, especially with seniors such as Violette, who had 20 points, and Tyler Arnold, who scored 18, stepping up. Senior Tyler Newman, who was not at the opening tournament, will also play a pivotal role.
“They are two of the top leaders on this team,” Mays said about Violette and Arnold. “They put a lot of time in. So yes, they are going to be the two guys that carry us most of the time.”
Tyler Arnold (above, in Sep.) had a big second half to help Avon Grove win its season opener. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Red Devils led the Golden Mules 26-19 at the half, with Violette shouldering much of the scoring responsibility and keeping the lead around five points. They exploded in the third quarter largely behind Arnold, who was injured and missed last season. He hit multiple mid-range jumpers and Avon Grove outscored Solanco 17-2 which pushed the lead to 22.
“I think we have a really good team,” Violette said. “Arnold and I are scorers, but we have a well-balanced team. There are a lot of good shooters and passers. It just comes from experience. Arnold and I have been here from the jump.”
Other contributors Friday included sophomore post presence Adam Ziegler (six blocks) and senior Jason Bozman (12 points), who is a steady, quiet player that gets to his spots.
Violette went on to say the Red Devils’ game is getting out in transition, which they did Friday night. He hopes the defense continues to improve and letting up only two points in the third quarter is a great starting point.
The team feels like last season’s winless record was just a product of many outlying factors, including a pandemic that frankly has affected the entire world. If any major determination can be taken away from an opening tip-off tournament, here is one: Avon Grove will not be winless in 2021.
“We definitely want to win this tournament first,” Violette said. “And then just keep winning. Like I said before we were winless last season so we just want to win every game that we can. I know there will be ups and downs in the season but all we can do is work on what we do best and get better.”
Solanco was led by forward Ayden Maggs, who had seven points and seven rebounds.
In the second game of the tournament, 6-4 junior forward Elijah Hamilton scored 25 points and 6-8 senior forward Joe Sims had 16 points, six rebounds and two blocks to lead the Octorara Braves over the Oxford Hornets 79-60.
Jaden Hager led all scorers with 27 and Matt Boyle chipped in 15 for the Hornets, who will face Solanco in the consolation game Saturday.