BOUNCE: Season awards for the ACAC boys

Heritage’s Nyles Knapke works against the pressure of Southern Wells’ Keith Miller during a January 9 game.

Boys basketball season is over, but just like last year, I am not quite done with things yet. So over the next few days, Bounce will be giving out some awards of his own, solely of my own opinion, about each of the four main conferences in our area and beyond. Don’t forget that Outside the Huddle will award their official Player of the Year and Coach of the Year coming up soon.

Today we head to the Allen County Athletic Conference.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Joe Reidy, Woodlan

Every time OTH talks MVP, it is important to point out that we focus on exactly what it stands for and it isn’t “BEST PLAYER.” Who was the most valuable to their team with what they provide? Sometimes it means the best player, sometimes it doesn’t, but specifically it is who is MOST VALUABLE to a team’s overall success. I am NOT naming a traditional conference player of the year, but focusing in this column on overall value.

With the lack of a big senior class – Woodlan had just Brennan Donovan – you have to look for juniors to show leadership depth and Reidy took that over this season for sure. He followed and learned along his previous two seasons and when put to the task this year, Reidy was a solid leader. But when Woodlan really needed him, when he needed to take over games, he was able to help put a relatively young team on his back and lead by example too.

The Warriors fell short of any titles this season, but they had some major marquee wins along the way including against sectional champion Fremont, ACAC foe Jay County and Class 3A state runner up Leo. Reidy, this season, scored less than 15 points just twice and had less than 10 rebounds only five times. Woodlan’s youth is pretty solid, but without Reidy’s value, they likely would have had far more growing pains than a 10-11 finish.

Honorable Mention: Hayden Nern, Bluffton; Luke Saylor, Heritage; James Arnold, South Adams

BREAKOUT PLAYER: Dalton Wasson, Heritage

Wasson clearly has fans out in Monroeville if you follow along with OTH’s FAN VOTING. But besides that, he certainly earned some following for his play in helping the Patriots to a conference title. Wasson could have been labeled as “just a shooter” coming into this season because that really was his bread and butter. But if you watched the Patriots, he really filled in behind leading scorer Luke Saylor really well.

Every team needs a solid second option and Wasson took ACAC opponents to task this year with his off ball movement and his defensive stalwartness that took a lot of pressure off Saylor and coach Adam Gray. The first seven games of Wasson’s season really are what developed this break out year. He hovered around 50 percent shooting from the field while he scored in double digits every single game out; 7 of his 10 double digit scoring games of the season.

Honorable Mention: Braden Smith, Woodlan; Alex Miller, Woodlan; William Rickerd, Southern Wells; Kiel Eldridge, Heritage

MOST UNDERRATRED: Trey Schoch, South Adams

Can I get on my high horse briefly? Thank you. James Arnold was terrific for the Starfires. He was a monster double-double threat in a conference full of double-double threats. But night in and night out, no opponent knew if South Adams was going to be led by Arnold, Aidan Wanner or Trey Schoch. Schoch developed his game from being a shooter and a gritty defender to just be all over the floor all of the time; the ultimate intangible threat.

Often, Schoch led this program in scoring in single games and actually had a team high 16.7 points per game, just a fraction in front of Arnold. He was fifth in rebounding despite that just not being his thing and he led the Starfires in assists as one of the better combo guards in the ACAC that could play the point or on a wing. And then he was named All-ACAC Honorable Mention. HONORABLE MENTION…as the leading scorer on arguably the second best team in the ACAC.

That’s it. I think I spelled it out. Underrated may be Trey Schoch’s middle name.

Honorable Mention: Ethan Poling, Adams Central; Nyles Knapke, Heritage; Ethan Dirksen, Jay County; Kiel Eldridge, Heritage; Harrison Schreiber, Bluffton; Aidan Wanner, South Adams; William Ricked, Southern Wells

Woodlan’s Joe Reidy shoots a free throw during January 2’s game against Fremont.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Adam Gray, Heritage

Adam Gray’s first ACAC title came in a weird year, he will even agree with that. But he took a younger team and set them up to be the class of the conference for at least another season. They broke records and even on nights where it looked like the Patriots may give their coach a heart attack, they really looked like they were enjoying the process together. That factor comes directly from how a coach leads his team.

Gray stepped into a great situation when he took over Heritage for the 2018-19 season, won a lot and then graduated basically everyone. That kind of turnover from a championship level program usually means several years of a rebuild. Yet, here they are just two seasons later as a championship program again. Gray’s coaching game planning works and it works well. Don’t expect this to be a one and done kind of team ever under Gray’s leadership.

Honorable Mention: Josh Hendrixson, South Adams; John Baker, Woodlan

GAME OF THE YEAR: Woodlan vs. Bluffton, January 12 ACAC Tournament

Two of the top teams in the conference and recent rivals squaring off in the opening round of the ACAC Tournament here. What made this even more important is the winner actually ended up getting to the tournament finals through this game when Jay County withdrew from the tournament.

It also helps when the conference’s top to scorers are going to head to head and neither Woodlan’s Joe Reidy or Bluffton’s Hayden Nern avoided the pressure and both played stellar games. Woodlan led by as many as 16 points before the Tigers charged back in the fourth quarter. With just three seconds to play, Bluffton exploited the rotation of Woodlan’s zone with Nern finding a pretty open three point opportunity to take a 53-52 lead and the win.

Honorable Mention: Woodlan at South Adams, Feb. 17; Adams Central at Bluffton, Feb. 9; Bluffton at South Adams; Feb. 24; Heritage at Southern Wells, Jan. 9; Jay County at Heritage, Feb. 12; Jay County at South Adams, Feb. 9

BOUNCE’S PICK TO BE 2022 ACAC CHAMPS: Heritage

Well let’s get started with the fact that you can count their graduating players on just two fingers. Those guys were also their sixth and eighth leading scorers. The Patriots have a lot to be excited about moving forward as 2020-21 was still supposed to be a season of some growing pains yet they went undefeated in conference regular season play.

As graduation harms teams like Bluffton and South Adams, the Patriots will just keep flexing. Obviously Luke Saylor (19.9 ppg) will continue to lay claim as a top 3 player in the conference and with more time and maturity, expect more consistency. Kiel Eldridge really started to shine in the second half of the season, Nyles Knapke is one of the best shooters in the area regardless of conference or class and you can read about Dalton Wasson above.

Yeah, the ACAC should still be competitive next season and maybe even, once again, the regular season champion won’t be the same as the tournament champion, but if I’m putting my eggs in one basket, it is that of the Patriots.

These opinions represent those of  Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH

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