With Ohio schools being closed until at least early April, certain businesses being state ordered to shut their doors, events everywhere being canceled due to the ongoing situation with COVID-19, it would not be wise to assume the Ohio High School Athletic Association will let the winter sports tournaments conclude.
Tournament play was halted a few weeks ago when the outbreak stretched into Ohio.
One of the teams most affected by the stoppage is the Evergreen boys basketball team, who was in the midst of a program-best season with a 25-1 record and an upcoming regional final matchup with Ottawa-Glandorf.
But following their 64-54 win over Johnstown-Monroe in the Division III regional semifinal on March 11 – a contest played with limited fan attendance – the next day it was announced that all winter tournaments were postponed indefinitely. Furthermore, with the growing speculation that schools will be closed for the remainder of the year, it is more likely the Vikings have played their final game.
“First and foremost, I support (OHSAA Executive Director) Jerry Snodgrass and the OHSAA,” said Evergreen head coach Jerry Keifer. “Of course I am heartbroken for my players, especially my seniors. To get to a regional finals game and a win away from a state berth. Mason Loeffler was 11 points away from breaking the all-time scoring record at Evergreen, he will never get that chance (at breaking the record).”
What a season it was for the Vikings.
They won the program’s first ever outright Northwest Ohio Athletic League championship, claimed sectional and district championships, and were headed to their first regional final game.
Propelled by a good mix of savvy veterans and skilled young players, it all came together for Evergreen in 2019-20.
It all started with their seniors, most notably the combination of 4-year starters Mason Loeffler and Nate Brighton. The duo each eclipsed the 1,000-point mark, Loeffler at 1,542 points and Brighton 1,048.
“I was truly blessed with 5 seniors. They all are good students and better friends, which led to the amazing chemistry we had this year,” explained Keifer. “Also, having two 1,000-point scorers and 4-year starters has all the makings for a strong foundation. All of my seniors had a game or two where their play was the difference between winning and losing. Just looking back at them as freshmen, and where they are today it’s amazing to me how far they have come. A lot of blood, sweat and time spent in the gym. I can assure you of that!”
Was this season one Keifer and the rest of the Vikings could have predicted? Quite frankly, no, they were most likely not expecting they would lose only one game on the year and come within a game of the state final four.
But that’s what happened, and it’s the result of having such great team chemistry.
Each person had an impact on the season in some form or another. From Brighton and Mason Loeffler; to fellow seniors Nick Etue, CJ Hauk and Shane Ruetz; as well as sophomore starters Evan Lumbrezer and Ethan Loeffler.
“We had some returning players. Had some youth, but they filled the roles of the seniors last year really well,” said Brighton. “Our youth, they really didn’t get enough credit this year. But they really stepped up big for us.
“We do the little things too. We talk, communicate, we play defense. Defense is a huge reason we’re 25-1 right now.”
Brighton said he and his teammates were not completely caught off guard by the OHSAA’s decision, especially after the professional sports league’s decided to suspend their seasons.
But it does not make the situation any less difficult.
“I feel like it would be different if it wasn’t our senior year,” said Brighton. “Not just the basketball thing, but getting to go to school, getting to see everyone. Getting to do the things like a typical senior would. I feel like that’s kind of hitting home the most. Not being able to play in our last game. After we beat Johnstown, none of us (seniors) really expected that game to be our final one.”
Even if the Vikings are not able to finish out their season, they will still be able to look back on this experience and relish the memories.
“It was an unforgettable season,” said Brighton. “The seniors, we’ve been together forever. We all kind of dreamed of winning league’s, winning sectionals, winning districts since we were younger. So it’s everything we’ve wanted.”
Coach Keifer has experienced a lot in his storied career, having manned the Evergreen sideline for 28 seasons. Nevertheless, this will undoubtedly go down as one of the most memorable.
The fan support – from both the students and community – was there all season for the Vikings.
“For me it will be how the Evergreen community rallied around this team and the tremendous support our student body and community showed us,” said Keifer on what he will remember most about the season. “The sellout crowd for the Archbold (regular season) game and the crowds for our sectional and district games. I wish they all could have been at Bowling Green for our regional game.”
All things considered, this group of Vikings left a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten in northeastern Fulton County.
While they will most likely be unable to complete the season, the Vikings are OK with that outcome, says Brighton. He cites public health being of greater importance.
“Safety is the main priority,” Brighton said. “You can’t really be too mad about that. It’s people’s lives, so it’s bigger than basketball.”
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010