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Poland ready to begin a new chapter in the Northeast 8
November 28, 2018

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The 2018/2019 schedule for the Poland boys basketball team seems normal enough as the Bulldogs battle Howland and Canfield to begin the season.

Those matches with All American Conference schools, however, will not have the same meaning as in past years. That's because the Bulldogs begin play in the brand new Northeast 8 conference this winter. Now, games against Struthers, South Range, Girard, Lakeview, Hubbard, Niles and Jefferson will carry extra weight. Veteran Poland head coach Ken Grisdale sees his team's new slate as a huge challenge.

"This is the toughest league situation we've had in a few years," said Grisdale, who is entering his 26th season at the school. "All of these teams have a chance to win. The league is wide open."

One of the NE8 league foes that Poland's coach is very familiar with is Lakeview. That Bulldog bunch upset Grisdale's Bulldogs last March eliminating Poland from the district playoffs in the process. Grisdale believes that gaining revenge over Lakeview, and subsequently advancing farther in the tournament, is a true possibility.

"On paper we have a great nucleus," Grisdale said. "It all depends on how quickly we can come together. If we do, then I think we can challenge for a district title."

Two Bulldogs that already have their stuff together are seniors Braeden O'Shaughnessy and Dan Kramer. This dynamic duo will be expected to lend experience and offensive firepower to Poland's lineup. At 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-3 respectively, this pair brings some size too. Poland's coach is ecstatic that he'll have these boys back.

"They're three year starters and make us go," Grisdale said. "They are great penetrators."

Building a starting group around O'Shaughnessy and Kramer may be a difficult chore for the coach. Juniors Adam Kassem and Michael Cougras are a pair of possible starters.

"Kassem has the ability to catch and shoot," said Grisdale. "Cougras is a good shooter and draws defenders off of O'Shaughnessy and Kramer."

Poland has three potential players that can alter a game from the post. Seniors Collin Todd, Jacob Hyrb and Stephen Bannon all stand roughly 6-foot-2 and Grisdale plans to rotate them throughout the season. He also hopes they will lend a hand on the defensive side of the court.

"We have a three-headed monster in the post," he said. "We will count on them defensively to cause a lot of turnovers."

While Grisdale has a good idea who should get the most starting time, he still needs to find viable reserves to spell those seven Bulldogs. He'll have a senior, two juniors and two tenth-graders to choose from. The single senior should get the call early and often.

"Senior Jeff McAuley will probably be our first guy off the bench," said Grisdale. "Junior Josh Blasko will be fighting for more time. We have one sophomore, Andrew Centofanti, who is a good shooter and good defender. Junior Zach Kassem and sophomore Brody Todd are also in the mix."

One would think that with six seniors on the roster, the Bulldogs should have enough seasoned players to make Coach Grisdale sleep well at night. Unfortunately, grade rank doesn't always equate to varsity skill.

"We have a good group of seniors, but we're lacking experience," Grisdale said. "Some of the younger kids are going to need to step up. We're making some progress so far this offseason."

If that progress continues into the regular season then it'll give the Bulldogs a ray of hope. If it lasts into the start of 2019, then Poland's first year in its infant league may just end with a NE8 title.

"We are trying to find chemistry," Grisdale said. "We are also still trying to figure out what we're good at. We need to piece the puzzle together. We don't expect that to happen immediately. It'll take a few games."

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