The Wildcats are on their way to the last four for the first time in 20 years. The last time Saint Ignatius made it into the final four, they were state champions with a 49:46 win over Cincinnati Elder to win the program’s first and only state championship. The Cats are now only two games away from a national title when they take a trip to Dayton, Ohio.
As the Wildcats near the semi-finals against Westerville Central, head basketball coach Cam Joyce has figured out ways to get his boys used to playing in a college arena. On Thursday, the cats were exercising in the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. “That was very special,” says Joyce. “I just want to prepare these guys as well as possible for this weekend.”
“It shows that our hard work is paying off,” said Senior Henry Raynor. “This will help us get used to the feel of the arena.”
The University of Dayton Arena is hosting the final four actions this weekend, and coach Joyce credits his wife with the idea of practicing in an arena before traveling to Dayton. “I was going to get college court on Friday or Saturday, but she got the idea to do arena practice before the trip,” says Joyce. “Coach Kyle Hubbard had a connection with the Cavaliers and they could get us in and I think that brought a new energy to practice.”
“It’s crazy to see the different levels between a high school and a professional gym,” says Junior Guard Jon Effertz. “That’s what everyone works for to achieve this level. So it was very special.
The Wildcats seem to be getting better after every playoff game. After the slow start against Parma, the cats shot at all cylinders and ended close competitions against Lorain, St. Edward and Lima. “I think that’s attributed to our defense,” said Will Yontek senior center. “There is great confidence that we can get stops late in the game to get a W.”
“Closing games shows the growth of this team,” says Joyce. “Earlier this season we played great teams and we made mistakes late, but now we’ve seen those moves late in the season and we take them late in the season.”
The Wildcats lead a young grid with a freshman point guard, CJ Little. At first, if you see Little play, you wouldn’t believe he is a newbie. Little appears to be a veteran of the sport at his age. A playoff run for any freshman can seem daunting, but Little Credits coach Joyce over the course of the postseason.
“Coach Cam helped me and guided me through the playoffs,” says Little. “I had problems in the beginning, but he calmed me down and I’ve been playing better since then.”
Together with the young cast of Wildcats, Braydn Szczepaniak is in her second year. The 6’4 watch has taken on a significant role in the playoff run with senior captain Mike Mattimore from the line-up. Szczepaniak was a critical point in the Wildcat defense.
“We have a lot of trust,” says Szczepaniak. “We are ready for whatever comes our way in a close game and we have confidence in each other.”