OHIO CITY, Oh - The 2021-22 Junior Varsity Basketball Cats demonstrated every aspect of a team at Saint Ignatius High School. All 16 student-athletes showed what it means to be a Man For Others on and off the court and through their hard work and grit, they have made program history, going undefeated on the season with a 21-0 record.
"This team was together from the start; we competed every single day, the kids made it easy to coach," explains Head JV Coach Tom Parker '10. "The kids made me look outstanding because of our depth; 1 to 16 could have played at any point. These are such great kids; they were truly Men For Others."
This season, there was a cohesiveness for the JV Wildcats that was evident early in the year. Freshman Quinn Woidke was one of three freshmen that made the JV roster this season and was a spark plug for coach Parker's team. "We had our ups and downs in some games, our first game at home against Walsh Jesuit, we were down nine, but we came back and won," says Woidke. "We always stayed together."
The Walsh Jesuit game was the first home game of the season for the Wildcats; in a back and forth contest against their Jesuit rivals, the JV squad was able to pull off a comeback victory that showed the potential of what the team could have become with the young talent.
For Parker, this was his third season as the JV head coach, seventh overall as a coach at Saint Ignatius. Parker also was a four-year student-athlete from 2006 to 2010 and came back in 2015 to coach Freshman. In 2019, he was named the head coach for the JV Wildcats. Under Parker, the JV Cats have achieved an impressive overall 54-7 record.
The JV Cats averaged 57 points per game this season while holding their opponents to 39 points. The closest contest came against the Massillon Jackson Polar Bears, where the Wildcats held on and won 51-48. Impressively, there were just four games this season that ended in a single-digit victory; 17 wins were in double figures.
The Wildcats were close to an undefeated record in the 2020-21 campaign, where they would go 18-2. Parker brought the guys together entering the following season by asking what their goals were for the new season. "At the beginning of every season, I ask each player a personal goal and team goal, every single player said they wanted to go undefeated," Parker explains. "I said let's make it happen; when we were getting close to the end of the year, we kept repeating, let's capture our goal."
The last loss for the JV Cats came on January 8, 2021, where Saint Ignatius fell to St. Edward on the road 51-50. Last season, the Wildcats' two losses came in one-point games against the Eagles and the Archbishop Hoban Knights. Since their last defeat, the JV Cats have won 32 games in a row.
"I didn't even think of that, that is pretty cool and great to be a part of," says an impressed Parker, "I don't think about the game like that and I don't think about each win; we move on to the next game and with that mindset, I had no clue we haven't lost in a whole calendar year. I want to continue to build these guys up for the varsity level and to win a State Championship and this happened organically with no thought."
One of the captains for the JV team this season was 5'10" sophomore guard Ezekiel Alfonso. No matter the score in the game, Alfonso kept a positive attitude around the team and played his heart out each minute on the floor. "It was a great season, it felt like we accomplished so much and I felt so grateful to be a part of the team," says Alfonso. "This team felt like a family; from top to bottom, we were a cohesive team, no matter how many minutes someone played."
It has been quite the year for sophomore Sean Martin. Martin was a standout running back and defensive back for the Saint Ignatius football program in the fall. Martin saw time on the JV team and was a starting defensive back for the varsity team by the end of the season. As the football season ended, it was evident the athleticism Martin brings on to the court and has split time on the JV and varsity basketball teams.
"It's a great experience, JV. I used to get better and work on different things for varsity," explains Martin. "JV helped me build confidence in my game and I was able to put that out on the floor for varsity."
Of course, the JV Cats had to deal with different obstacles. Amid Christmas break, the JV team had three other games moved or canceled due to COVID-19 but didn't skip a beat when having an extended hiatus from the court. With Parker being an assistant coach on varsity, there were a couple of conflicts in which Parker couldn't coach a JV game and handed the reins to Freshman Blue Coach Devin Jackson '17.
There were signature wins all season long for the JV squad; of course, defeating your rivals is something the student-athletes will remember from this season. The Wildcats defeated St. Edward twice with a 42-28 win at home and a 72-41 win on the road. "When we won against St. Edward on the road was my favorite memory of the year," says Alfonso. "To walk into their gym and win by 31 points, it was big."
Nearing the end of the regular season, sitting at 19-0, the JV squad had a Sunday match-up in the Euclid High School JV Showcase, where they took on Richmond Heights. "The Richmond Heights game was our second last game of the season and they were our best test; we were losing at halftime," explains Martin. "The way we came together in that second half and won by 15 was special."
JV is an essential part of the growth of the student-athletes before taking the next step to varsity. Being a freshman on JV can be daunting, but Woidke developed exponentially, accepting that challenge. "I'm more confident in myself," Woidke says. "At the start of the season, I didn't want to do too much because I was a freshman, but the coaches helped me and I became more confident in my game."
The future of basketball at Saint Ignatius appears to have the opportunity of becoming one of the big powerhouses in Ohio high school basketball. There is plenty of talent among the freshman and sophomore class ready for their chance with the varsity level, which has the Cats mindset on winning a State Championship. "I'm extremely excited and expect for these guys to win a State Championship. I believe we can do it this year, but the next two years are going to be special," says Parker. "This class has the perfect mix to win a State Championship and the future is bright for Saint Ignatius Basketball."
"We want to win a State Championship this year, and for the next couple of years," Martin says. "The future is bright and I think we'll be able to make noise around the city and the state."
As for some of the JV Cats, their mindset shifts to the off-season and working on their skills to get better for a chance to make the varsity team. "We are looking forward to getting better," says Alfonso. "I'm hoping to make varsity next season and I'm up for the challenge."
Martin will continue to play with the varsity team as they are in the midst of the OHSAA Tournament. Woidke is currently practicing with the Cats during the playoffs. "I want to make varsity next season," says Woidke. "I'm looking to improve my ball-handling skills and decision making and getting better overall while practicing with the varsity."
Other JV Cats practicing at the varsity level are Michael Lamirand, Damon Friery and Jack Zapolnik.
The 2021-22 JV Wildcats go down in the history books at Saint Ignatius as the first JV squad in program history to go undefeated. Next season, there will be high expectations with these student-athletes making the next step at the varsity level. The future of Wildcat Basketball is exciting to witness and with the coaching staff of Head Basketball Coach Cam Joyce and company, the Cats are on the verge of becoming one of the best teams in Ohio.