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‘ARE WE GOING TO GET TEAM CROCS?’ COACH CONFIDENTIAL (AARON BLATCH-CRESTVIEW)

I blew the whistle to signal everyone to the baseline, knowing that a coach’s first speech to his team was of crucial importance. As players lined up, I introduced myself and my brother, the new JV coach. I began to talk to our new team about our focus for the summer – “the how.” There are many ways to play basketball. You can have success playing fast or slow, man or zone, running motion or set plays, pounding the ball inside or shooting from the perimeter. Knowing this, we discussed how WHAT we were going to do was far less important than HOW we were going to do it. In every practice, every drill, every game, we would display enthusiasm, communication, and connectedness.

As our opening speech wrapped up, I see a hand shoot up from the baseline. Still learning everyone’s names, I call on an incoming sophomore named Preslyn. I had never met a Preslyn, so that one stood out.

“Coach, I have a question,” she asked.

“What’s that?”

“Are we going to get team Crocs?”

This was my introduction to high school girls’ basketball.

After twelve seasons of coaching boys at the varsity, JV, junior high, and youth levels, this season was my first leading a girls’ program. Crestview gave me the chance to become its head girls coach after Rick Gates moved on to the collegiate level. Despite knowing very little about Crestview or about coaching female athletes, I felt blessed for the opportunity. Now, after my first season has concluded, I know that I was right.

Taking over a program is always exciting, and it takes a tremendous amount of effort from many people to pull it off successfully. The administration at Crestview is first-class, starting with Mr. Manley, the superintendent. Throughout the interview process, I was glad to hear that he had basketball coaching experience himself, so he understands the ups and downs in building a program. Mr. Manley, the Board of Education, Mr. Cusick, Mrs. Nappi, and Mrs. Dickson have been nothing but supportive since my arrival. When I haven’t wanted to bother them with a thousand questions, I’ve had no trouble turning to my friends Jackie Mercer and Melissa Gentry, who have helped me countless times.

I am so grateful for my brother’s contributions to our team. He gave up his own varsity job to come here with me, and our success wouldn’t have been possible without him. Ethan has a role in every aspect of the program – practice planning, Xs and Os, skill development, weight training, youth development, etc. Most importantly, he has tremendous relationships with our kids, who refer to him as Coach Blatch 2.0.

When needing to fill out our high school staff, we immediately turned to two Crestview legends – Alisha Auer and Ashley Harrison. Coach Auer has developed an elite volleyball program and we knew right away we had to convince her to join the basketball staff as well. When she accepted our offer, our program gained not just basketball knowledge but credibility in the community and a connection with potential players. She always knows the pulse of the team, and she takes care of a ton of behind the scenes work. Coach Harrison also has great relationships with our kids, and she pushes them to continuously improve. I am blessed to have dedicated, qualified people working with our players at all levels of the program.

Getting to know the Crestview community has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my first year. So many people have contributed to our success. While I can’t mention everyone, I do want to thank Katie Graham, our unbelievable manager; Barb Lipp and Janelle Montgomery, who did the scorebook; Donny Guy, who ran the clock; Andris Baltputnis, our legendary announcer; Jamie Meredith, who introduced our program to Fellowship of Christian Athletes; Patti Finch, who organized weekly team dinners; the entire Crestview custodial staff, who went above and beyond to accommodate us at all times; Rocky Brown and D.J. Yokley from YSN, who dedicate countless hours to Crestview and high school athletics; Coach Jeff Wilson, who is a good friend and a great role model for members of the boys’ program; my parents, wife, and kids, for their constant support; Coach Gregory, Coach Simione, and Coach Gates, for supporting our staff and letting us be next in line; and to the parents and family members of our players, who sacrificed countless hours for their kids.

That brings me to our players. Basketball season is long, and it can drag if you’re not surrounded by the right people. From that first summer practice to our final tournament game, our players were engaged and energetic. This started with our seniors. Emma, Donna, Kyrah, and Haley played a huge role in establishing our culture. They contributed energy and toughness on the floor, from the bench, and in the locker room. We will return an outstanding group of underclassmen, but these contributions will be difficult to replace.

Don Meyer, one of my coaching idols, encouraged coaches to “build the type of program that wins even when you lose.” I am thankful that we won our share of games this season, but I believe we have a higher purpose. We established the core values of commitment, respect, service, joy, and love. While we are not unerring in the pursuit of these values, they guide us through difficult decisions. I can honestly say that our staff loves each of our players.

I believe that our players love one another as well and that they believe in our purpose. This was shown through many moments throughout the season. I remember Emma, Brenna, Donna, and Baylie fighting through injuries to have productive seasons, never complaining despite the adversity they faced. I remember teammates crying as Emma scored the final basket of her career after she tore her ACL. I remember Tanner bravely stepping up on short notice to sing the National Anthem before our last home game. I remember Haley Eskra and Taryn Gilbert maturely mentoring younger players and holding them accountable when needed. I remember the text from Taryn confirming what I had hoped – that her and Haley were returning to basketball. I remember Jensyn growing as a player and student. I remember teammates loving one another through deaths in their family. I remember Madi Wick organizing a team Christmas party, a welcome distraction after a difficult loss. I remember Preslyn’s incredible ability to connect with everyone she meets. I remember the constant support given to Krista, who has no idea how good she is and will become. I remember constant communication in shooting drills, often led by Payton, Mara, and Trishelle, and how it set the tone for the rest of practice. I remember Addison constantly striving to get better and Lydia developing as a player and competitor. I remember Chloe Davis looking like LeBron, hustling to chase down a driving player in transition. I remember how Morgan and Haley Derringer kept us loose in stressful moments. I remember Kyrah’s selflessness and her anticipation of Senior Night. I remember Riss’ first basket. I remember Shianna emerging as a point guard, player, and leader. I remember ending each practice with “Do-Ups” and Brenna’s puns. I remember Bingo Night at the nursing home. I remember players dressed as princesses and pirates, painting nails and faces, and Chloe Downey dancing and playing with kids who idolized her. I remember the team, a day after being eliminated from the tournament, volunteering to make blankets for Akron Children’s Hospital.

These memories show that we are winning – on the floor, in the locker room, and in the community. We have an incredible group of kids. We have a long way to go as a basketball program, and we strive every day to get closer to where we want to be – to become more skilled, to get stronger, to be more connected. I need to get better, and I will. We still don’t have team Crocs, but we had to leave something for the future. I can’t wait to see what is next for our players and program.

 

Coach Aaron Blatch

Crestview Rebels Girls Basketball

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