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Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Celina's success built on chemistry

Eight seniors lead the way for 13-2 Bulldogs

By Ryan Hines
Team chemistry.
It's difficult to define but easy to recognize.
The Celina boys basketball team, ranked 11th in the state for Division II with a record of 13-2, credits team chemistry as the main reason for this year's success.
"The biggest thing for us is that we play together as a team. We're just really good friends that hang out together off the court and it just gives us a great team chemistry," said Kahl Knapke. "We have eight great guys as the foundation with a good group of juniors that have a focus on the team. Just a great team to be a part of."
Knapke is one of eight Celina seniors determined to make this a special season for a group of Bulldog hoopsters that are much more than teammates.
"There is no doubt in my mind that this is a special group of young men. It's rare to have eight seniors on one team, but 'Which of these eight seniors could you take off this year's team?' They all are contributors to what we are doing and they all have a role to play," said Celina head coach Chris Bihn. "They are not only great teammates but they are really close friends. They get together all the time off the court. Meet up at one of their houses after games and just hang out together."
So what happens when this tight-knit group gets together off the court?
"We spend so much time together bonding as a team. Late night XBox, Wii, Connect and just eating together," said Mitchell Ross, who is unanimously recognized as the best dance game player on the team. "It's a lot of fun to hang out because it's just a great group of guys. We work hard when we are on the court, but we also like to hang out and have fun together off the court."
Kyle Fink's basement is considered the best man cave and favorite final destination for the Bulldogs following games.
"I think that guys like to come to my house because I have a lot of game systems and games that we all get together and play. We just have a good time together," said Fink, who is also the locker room music DJ. "It's good to hang out off the court because I really think it helps us play well together on the court."
John Homan believes that friendship off the court gives the Bulldogs an advantage on the floor.
"I don't think there is any doubt that our friendship off the court for all these years is a big contributor to our success the past two years on the court," said Homan. "We have so many guys that contribute and I think that we all like to watch each other succeed because we are so close. If someone is having an off night, there is always someone there to encourage you. That's what great teammates do for each other."
The friendship dates back to the early days of American Youth Basketball (AYB) in fifth and sixth grade.
"We've been friends since fifth and sixth grade. We've developed a lot of team chemistry from playing together at AYB tournaments," said Nate Loughridge. "I think the reason we are successful now is because of all the time that we spent playing basketball together way back then. It's still a lot of fun to be playing with the same great group of guys. I think that we're just best friends that enjoy the time we spend together, on and off the court."
There certainly were some rough patches during the dog days of summer at those AYB tournaments according to Nate Bihn.
"When we played AYB in those early years we were always playing against teams that were a year ahead of us. When we were in sixth grade we were playing against seventh-graders and so on until the high school years. The first couple times that we played we were losing by 30 points," said Bihn.
Long summer weekends of basketball helped mold this team into what it has blossomed into today.
"I think that the first game they played was against an All-Star team from Ann Arbor and the Michigan team beat us by like 70 points or something like that," said coach Bihn. "They took their lumps playing against players that were older, but they gained a lot of toughness in the process and made them a more determined group. In between the AYB games, they spent time together doing different things and it really helped them grow together as a team and care for one another."
Most of this senior crew also played a vital role in last year's unexpected tournament run to the regional finals. Losing just one step away from the state tournament a year ago has left this year's team hungry for more postseason success.
"We've been playing together for so long and we came so close to the state tournament last year. It was a great run and most of us were big parts of that team. We want to do it again, but win a couple more," said Greg Riemesch. "It was tough being so close last year and not making it to state."
Phil Johnson hopes that the Bulldogs finish the season strong to show people around the state that Celina is for real.
"We are all working hard to make this a special season. Last year we were in the tournament with a record that wasn't as good as the other teams that we were playing cause we struggled at the end of the regular season. People didn't expect us to get to where we finished. This year we want to go into the tournament with a great record and take it a step further," said Johnson. "We have high goals and we are focused on making sure we achieve them."
It takes more than just team chemistry, friendship and desire to build a state championship caliber team. Talent is also an important ingredient that is necessary, and Nate Bihn believes that the Bulldogs aren't lacking in that area either.
"I don't think that we have that one outstanding player, but what we do have is a bunch of good players," said Bihn. "I would think that it's tough for teams to play against us because we have a lot of different guys that contribute, and in a lot different ways. We have guys that are strong inside and strong outside players. I think that we all play off each other and we aren't just a one-man team. The more people that get involved, the better as far as I'm concerned."
It's still anybody's guess as to how the rest of the season will unfold for Celina. The Bulldogs are still very much in the Western Buckeye League title hunt as one of the three co-leaders with three league games remaining.
Then there is the much-anticipated postseason.
It will take a pretty incredible effort to eclipse last year's tourney run, but none of the eight seniors are gonna be happy unless they win a WBL championship and get a chance to play in Columbus.
"I think that ever since the end of last year that all of us have been driven to do even better this year," said Knapke. "So far we have had a good season, but our ultimate goal is to get to state. It would be great to go out as seniors by playing in the state tournament. What else could you ask for?
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COLDWATER - Coldwater native Frank Bonifas was presented with the Coldwater Chamber of Commerce Citizens of the Year award at Wednesday's annual honors banquet. [More]
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