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December 3, 2021

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Bulldog boys continue rebuild under new head coach

By Cort Reynolds

New Ada varsity head coach Vince Halliday realizes the challenges inherent to rebuilding the Ada boys basketball program.

Three lettermen and one full-time starter return from a Bulldog team that finished 3-19 overall as they dropped seven close games. Ada also went 1-7 in Northwest Conference play.

Halliday served as the head girls varsity coach at Lima Senior for the past 14 seasons, compiling the most wins in program history (161) at a slightly-above .500 clip. 

"I will be the third head coach in three years for the seniors, so I told the group they all have a clean slate to start out with me," noted Halliday after he was hired. 

"We have to find out how to get over the hump and learn how to win the close games."

Veteran local coach Jon Cook stepped in and steered the program through a difficult 2020-21 season with player departures and virus interruptions. The club showed fundamental growth and competitiveness despite a poor record.

Ten players--eight juniors and two seniors--comprise the Bulldog boys roster, led by four returnees. "We will rely heavily on that core four," said Halliday.

Athletic senior post Cayden Murphy is the top returnee. He scored 10 points a game last year. "He has a high motor, plays hard and is experienced," said Halliday of the 6-2 senior. "He likes contact and prefers to work inside, and is our only returning starter," added Halliday. Murphy looks to have recovered from a broken hand suffered during football.

Junior guard Spencer Wall injured a hand in football, but is poised to take over the primary ball handler duties after earning a letter last winter. "Spencer has a high motor and will initiate our offense (as the nominal point guard)," said Halliday. "He is a pretty decent shooter and athlete.

"Once we get into our offense we don't really have a true point guard," Halliday explained. "When we get a defensive rebound, anyone can bring it upcourt."

Junior 6-4 wing Carter Conley is the tallest player on the roster. "He is our smoothest offensive player, he can do more things than anyone else on the roster offensively," noted Halliday. "Carter glides. He has to develop a mindset of being our best player," he added. Conley enjoyed several high-scoring JV games last season, and saw limited varsity action.

Junior Ethan Murphy, a 6-3 guard, lends shooting and size as the other returning letterman among the core four. "Ethan is our most vocal player," said Halliday. "He brings a lot of positive energy and fun, and is a pretty good streak shooter."

Several other Bulldogs are expected to see major minutes.

"We will rely heavily on our junior class," said the new coach. "Cayden, Carter, Spencer and Ethan are our main four, and we are still trying to figure out five through eight."

Junior 5-8 guard Jacob Sutherly will serve as the backup point guard. "Jacob is our second-best on-ball defender," said the coach. "He will play a lot for us."

Burly 5-11 junior post Grant Preston returns to the program. "He is big and strong and plays within himself," said Halliday. "He is a physical presence."

Junior post/wing Gage Hoffer is another strong player at 6-3. "He is our biggest player and will get quality minutes," offered the coach.

Junior 5-11 forward Casen Jones will serve as "a solid shooter off the bench," said Halliday.

Junior Jaden Leal, a 6-0 junior guard, is also expected to contribute heavily. "He is relentless and is our best on-ball defender," said Halliday. 

Ashton Cowan, a 6-4 senior post, also provides interior depth.

"Coaching boys is totally new to me, I have coached girls the last 16 years," admitted Halliday. "We have a great group and they bust their butts for me, which is all I can ask for.

"I don't know what our expectations are, we just hope to get better each day in practice. We want to be more competitive and grow."

The Bulldogs have not finished over .500 in league play since 2012, when they fashioned a 5-4 record.

"I really do not know the teams in the league well yet," said Halliday when asked about the conference race. "Crestview and Grove are the teams to beat, I assume. Leipsic has one really good player. We just want to be competitive in the league."

Columbus Grove repeated as undefeated league champs at 8-0 and should be good again despite having lost some key players from their state runner-up squad. Crestview was second at 7-1, followed by Lincolnview (6-2).

Delphos Jefferson was fourth at 4-4, with Paulding and Spencerville tied in fifth place at 3-5. Allen East and Bluffton tied for seventh at 2-6, with Ada last (1-7). The Bulldogs beat backyard rival AE in Harrod last season, 71-57.

New league member Leipsic replaces Paulding.

"We are pretty long and will have four guys six foot or taller on the floor a lot of the time," Halliday noted. "But we are not as athletic as a lot of teams in the area are. Our freshman class has some athleticism, but needs to develop its skills.

"We will try to play with space and speed and attack the paint," he noted. "We want to utilize our length, be more aggressive and keep teams off balance."

"On offense we will play four-in/one-out, or five-out if needed," he said when he was hired. "We will cut hard, share the ball, drive it and shoot the three. That is the way the game is played today."

On defense, Halliday would like to run and press but says he also has to adjust to his roster talents.

"We will mix up defenses but will be predominantly a man defense team," he said. "I know they played mostly matchup zone last year. I will adjust to the personnel; we won't be a 32 minutes of hell, pressing-type team.

"Ideally I would like to press and run and gun for 32 minutes," he said of his preferred style. "But you have to adapt to your talent. They seemed to have some trouble scoring last year." 

Ada hosts talented county rival Ridgemont Friday, Nov. 26 in the season opener. The Bulldogs almost upset the Gophers last year but lost in overtime in the lidlifter at Ridgeway. Ada then entertains Ft. Jennings Nov. 27.

The league opener is December 10 at home vs. defending NWC champion Grove, coached by long-time former Ada mentor CHris Sautter.

Ada will also compete in the fourth Border Battle tournament Dec. 28-30 at Allen East. The four-team event also features Waynesfield and traditional arch-rival USV, and was cancelled last season due to covid protocols.

Halliday graduated from the University of Findlay, where he played tennis. His father was a career military man, so the family moved a lot and he graduated from high school in Virginia. 

Halliday outlined a few keys to the team being more successful this season. "Handling pressure defense is key since we have no true point guard," he admitted. "We have to limit turnovers and play tough, physical basketball."

Pictured above: 
The Ada varsity boys basketball team, from left, front: Spencer Wall, 
Gage Hoffer, Cayden Murphy, Ashton Cowan, Ethan Murphy.

Middle: Jacob Sutherly, Casen Jones, Grant Preston, Jaden Leal.

Back: JV coach Qua Johnson, freshman coach Zack Ricker, Carter Conley, 
varsity assistant Josh Lehsten, head coach Vince Halliday.