Van Wert’s Nik Wolford defends a Celina ball handler in a game at the Cougars’ Den earlier this season. The Cougars face off with Wapak Friday. (TB file photo)
Van Wert’s Nik Wolford defends a Celina ball handler in a game at the Cougars’ Den earlier this season. The Cougars face off with Wapak Friday. (TB file photo)

BY JIM COX

Times Bulletin Correspondent

sports@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - There hasn't been an easy Western Buckeye League game yet for Van Wert (2-4 in the WBL, 9-8 overall). This Friday's matchup should be no exception. Wapakoneta (3-3, 10-8) comes to town with a lot of assets, including all five starters back from last year.

The team is led by three seniors, all of whom have scored in the 20's at least once this season: 6'5 Jake Buzzard, 6'3 Travis Bertram, and 6'0 Alex Greve.

"They're a good team, big in size and are balanced offensively," said Van Wert coach Dave Froelich. "They have some big wins on the year and have the nucleus to be one of the better teams in our league, and have shown it at times. They'll present us a physical challenge inside as we can't help too much because of their effective outside shooters. They will play big on defense, change defensive looks, and challenge all shots with length and quickness."

The Redskins' three WBL losses have come at the hands of the league's leaders - Elida (6-0), Bath (6-0), and Ottawa-Glandorf (5-1). Wapak is clustered in fourth place with Celina and Defiance. The Redskins already have wins over both of those teams. The Cougars, by contrast, have lost to both. On the other hand, Van Wert beat Marion Local, and Wapak did not. Both teams lost to Bath, Elida, and Lima Senior. Warning: Wapakoneta has a win over St. Henry, the Cougars' highly-touted Saturday night opponent.

Without point guard Joey Hurless (ankle injury), the Cougs have just suffered through a tough weekend, losing at Defiance and Lima Senior. Except for the first half Friday night at Defiance, however, they played well. "We learned a lot about our team last weekend, as we had to make some changes in a hurry, and some roles got changed due to circumstances out of our control," said Froelich. "We played well for six of eight quarters after we had a chance to get acclimated. We played with a level of toughness, and this will carry over for the remainder of the season." Hurless's availability for this weekend's games is uncertain.

The WBL title will be decided this Friday when Elida travels to Bath, and next Friday when Bath goes to Ottawa-Glandorf. The Cougars face perhaps an even bigger challenge this Saturday at St. Henry (15-3).

The Redskins were the top-rated team in Division IV until losing to New Bremen and Celina last weekend. St. Henry is now ranked sixth. The Redskins are loaded with stat sheet stuffers, led by Kyle Stahl, who averages a double-double, including nearly 20 points per game.

"Our focus this week is on Wapak as we need to get a WBL win, get a home win, and stop this negative streak," said Froelich. "Because of the makeup of St. Henry, they will have similar looks (to Wapakoneta), so it won't be much of a change in preparation when we get to them Saturday morning."