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Former Willard coach Nossaman returns to state

By DON HOHLER • Updated Mar 21, 2019 at 3:01 PM

POWELL — It’s been 18 years since Greg Nossaman has had a team in the state championships.

The 2000-01 Willard team was the only other one for a coach that has won 365 games in 33 years of coaching. And that outcome almost two decades ago was not what the coach at Powell Olentangy Liberty had hoped for as the Crimson Flashes were handed a 70-66 defeat by Warrensville Heights.

“Getting there is one thing. Winning it all is another,” Nossaman said.

The Patriots (24-4) face No. 7-ranked Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (23-4), the defending Division II state champions, at 8 p.m. Friday in the Div. I state semifinals at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus. The other semifinal will also be a barn-burner at 6 p.m. as Lakewood St. Edward (19-8) plays undefeated and top-ranked Cincinnati Moeller (27-0).

Nossman was quick to point out that his team is anything but a collection of over-achievers.

“We are led by six seniors who played great basketball last year until we were struck down by an injury to our leading scorer, Ben Roderick,” he said. “He tore his ACL. We had just beaten one of the best teams in our area the game before only to have our 1,000-point scorer go down.

“With him out, we lost our next six games; no blowouts, but losses,” Nossaman added. “The bottom line is 28 points and nine rebounds out of our lineup was something we could not overcome.”

Now Roderick (6-feet-5, 200), a first team All-Ohio choice and one of seven finalists for Mr. Basketball, is back — complete with 27.5 scoring including 55 three-point shots, and 7.8 rebounds.

Nossaman knows all about prolific scorers, however. He had both Jimmy Langhurst (2,199 points) and Nick Dials (2,180 points) while at Willard.

The other Patriot starters include Carnegie-Mellon-bound 6-4 wing player Nick Nakasian who averaged 15 points a game and 6-3 Mitchell Kershner who is going to play at Div. III Rochester University.

“Those two guys are 4.0 students with 34-plus ACT scores, kids I call the rocket scientists of the future,” Nossaman said. “Mitchell has not lost a game this year, as he was injured (toe injury from football) when we lost our four games. I call him our glue guy.”

Joey Thatcher is the point guard with an eight-point, four-assist average while Wyatt Hofer (6-4) is the No. 5 player. He does not score much, but plays in the middle and takes care of the other post players..

The rest of the eight-man rotation is sophomore Henry Hinkle (5-10), the team’s best free-throw shooter who averages eight points a game, senior Jack Metzger (6-4), who is known better for throwing a baseball and academics. He threw a three-hitter in Liberty’s state championship game win. He will pitch for Dartmouth next fall. The last one is junior Kal Jayaraman (6-4). He and Metzger hit important three-point shots in the Patriots’ tournament run.

“Our first two tournament games were blowouts, but since then, we have had to go all-out, winning all of them in the last three or four minutes,” Nossaman said. “We have a system in place that the young men know. Ben is a four-year starter and two others have started for three years. It’s taken this kind of talent to win in Central Ohio the last three or four years.

“An injury here and there has done us in several seasons,” he added. “I don’t see injuries necessarily as bad luck. It is more timing of injuries and sickness, and we have avoided that this year with the exception of Kershner and his toe injury.”

Like many schools with good football programs, Liberty had a state semifinal squad this past fall. That meant the basketball team got a late start and faced Cincinnati Taft in its opener.

“We played them after just four days of practice,” Nossaman said. “We lost by one but then followed with four straight wins. We then made our Florida trip and lost by eight to a team out of Tennessee. We came home and lost to Orange by four and followed that with a two-point loss to a very sound Hilliard-Davidson team. Since then we have strung 14 in a row.

“We face a tough one in a well-coached St. Vincent-St. Mary team, but everyone’s standard for winning remains the same and that is to take care of the basketball,” he added.

Friday’s game is not the first time Nossaman has faced SVSM deep in the tournament. In 2003-04, Willard lost to the Fighting Irish, 77-60, in a Div. II regional semifinal at Savage Arena in Toledo. Two years later n 2005-06, his 24-0 Willard team led by Langhurst was edged, 65-63, by SVSM in a regional title game — also at Toledo. 

Overall, Nossaman’s teams finished 173-62 in 10 seasons at Willard. The Crimson Flashes won five Northern Ohio League championships and five district titles, as well as the regional championship in 2001.

This is also Nossaman’s third and final year as a past president of the Ohio Basketball Coaches Association. Along with longtime Ontario coach Joe Balogh, the two will again coordinate the Century Award winners ceremony on Saturday afternoon at halftime of the 2 p.m. Div. II championship game.

One coach who will be honored will be Norwalk’s Steve Gray. He will be presented a watch in recognition of 400-plus career wins.

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