Cougars coming on strong
Now in his third year as boys basketball coach at Central Academy, Greg Wenger is starting the reap the fruits that come along with building a program.
The Cougars have won a school-record six in a row heading into Wednesday's game at archrival Union Academy, and their 8-2 start is easily the best in program history.
The Cougars went 9-15 last year, and the nine wins are a school record — a record that probably won't live much longer.
"These kids have been around each other learning the same things for a couple years now and they're used to the system," Wenger said. ""We've had some talented kids come through, but as far as a team, this is the best team we've had. They've really gelled together. All the players get along. They're just a great group of guys."
The Cougars haven't played since before Christmas, but carried momentum into the break with wins over Piedmont and Sun Valley.
"Beating Piedmont and Sun Valley, those are awesome wins for us," Wenger said. "The kids were thrilled. I wanted a tough non-conference schedule because we play in a good conference and I didn't want them to be surprised by the competition."
The Cougars will have some serious competition in their gym next Friday when Rocky River Conference power Monroe makes the short drive over to CATA.
"It's going to be a really big test for us," Wenger said. "Monroe will be a good benchmark for where we're at. They're the team to beat in our conference. Our conference is really good. I still think we have a long way to go. It's a hard schedule."
The Cougars get most of their scoring from the backcourt. Senior Ryan Grigston and junior Quay Threatt are capable of playing either guard spot. Grigston is averaging a team-high 17.6 points and Threatt is second in scoring at 13.7 ppg.
"With Ryan and Quay it gives us two point guards on the floor," Wenger said. "And both of them can stroke it, too."
Wenger considers this his deepest team yet, and wants to keep developing the bench throughout the year.
"We're a little better at pressuring this year," Wenger said. "We try to make people feel uncomfortable. I know our guys like to get up and down so we try to put in things that help us do that. I want to use our bench a lot because of the way we play. We want to keep guys fresh so we can keep the pressure up."
The Cougars aren't as "guard heavy" as they have been in the past, according to Wenger.
He's been pleased with the play of 6-2, 210-pound senior post Xavier Hamilton (9.4 ppg) and 6-2, 175-pound junior forward Naim Donaldson (8.7 ppg).
"We've got a couple guys that can score inside and that's really helping us out," Wenger said. "We've never had that before. Now we're playing more inside out. Both those guys are really long and athletic. We're rebounding a lot better this year and it's mainly because of X and Niam."
Hamilton and Donaldson were both all-conference players in football.
"I think football helped them," Wenger said. "They can play through contact."
Donaldson might be the Cougars' biggest crowd pleaser.
"He's really athletic," Wenger said. "He'll have three or four dunks in a game sometimes. He gets above the square. I mean he can really get up there."
Wenger likes the progress his program is making, and he credits the players for their approach.
"Even through our down times, these kids were still trying," Wenger said. "They work hard no matter what and I was happy to be around that. They've always listened and they love to learn. That's what makes coaching at CATA a blessing.
"Now that we're winning some games they're still as humble and hard-working. They say to me 'We can't get complacent just because we're winning.' I see that as a sign of maturity."