In a season full of shattered records, awards and a potential state championship, boys basketball coach Mark Chicone remembers his team’s lowest point total as the apex of the year.
“I really thought that was probably the most important win in our season,” Chicone said of a 39-35 victory over Walsh Jesuit in February. “It really became a drag-down, sock-it-out fight for every rebound and every possession. It was a very physical game on the road against a very good team.”
The head coach hopes his team will recall that win and more Friday when it faces Dayton Dunbar in the Division II state semifinals at 10:45 a.m. Friday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus. Since Dunbar is undefeated and ranked No. 1, a low-scoring defensive tilt like the Walsh game is possible. If it’s an offensive affair, Chicone says his guys have that covered, as well. They scored a season-high 112 points three weeks ago in a playoff .
Senior point guard Joey Vuyancih became the during the Cougars’ record 23-2 year, but Chicone said a pair of big men meant just as much to Lake Catholic’s success.
“The play of Danny Schweikert and Mark Baniewicz inside,” Chicone said when asked the difference between this team and those of previous years. “Mark was a limited role player for us last year, and Danny wasn’t as strong as he is now. In the offseason, he put an awful lot of time into his speed and strength.
“Both guys, physically, now give us that presence where we don’t have to double (team) down like we did last year, which creates open looks.”
Schweikert, a senior forward, figured the team would be good back in training camp. He realized the full extent as the victories piled up.
“We knew we were going to be a good team, but we didn’t know how good,” Schweikert said. “We were coming in with a tough schedule, so everyone was doubting us, saying we’d be lucky to hit .500. Eventually, we started getting big win after big win, and got a lot more confidence. Now, we feel like we can beat anyone.”
For Schweikert, the season’s lone sore spot has been the absence of his father. Instead of his usual place in the home and road stands, Naval reservist Matthew Schweikert is on his first .
“It’s weird that he can’t enjoy it with me, but I know he’s listening to radio broadcasts, reading newspapers and staying up to date,” Danny said of his father. “I can talk to him on the phone every now and then.”
The student-athletes said their support helped one another through such adversities. Senior Mark Whalen tore his MCL two weeks before the season started and relied on encouragement to help him through rehabilitation.
“I’ve grown real close to these guys,” said Whalen, one of seven seniors on the team. “I made long-lasting friendships with these guys, and it’s great. You can win as many games as you can, but the relationships you build with these guys will last forever.”
The Cougars hope to say the same thing about the upcoming weekend. If the team beats Dunbar, it will face the winner of the semifinal between St. Clairsville and Elida on Saturday for the state championship.
Despite the scoring record and being named Division II co-player of the year, the 6-2 Vuyancih sees the championship as the biggest reward he could achieve thus far.
“It’s great to be the leading scorer and all that, having all these accolades and people recognizing me for stuff,” he said, “but it would feel a lot better to win a state championship as a team.”