Aaaahhhh......The good old days of the now defunct Pioneer Conference. Playing Berea and Midpark, two schools usually smaller than yours in enrollment, most of the time not quite as good as your team in most sports. The two bordering communities of Berea and Middleburg Heights had kids in both cities that grew up together, and playing against each other as they grew older made for one of the better rivalries in the Cleveland area. No high school sports fans will ever forget the last game of the high school football season every year at Finnie Stadium on the campus of Baldwin-Wallace College.
A funny thing happened to the rivalry....the schools merged
This fall, the Berea Braves and the Midpark Meteors became no more. They merged into one school, the Berea-Midpark Titans. Keeping the colors of the blue and red of Berea, and the orange and brown of Midpark, the Titans school colors became orange and blue.
With any new school, there are adjustments. Meeting new friends, adjusting to the idea of forming a new "history" of the school, and from a sports perspective, having competition for your position. One group has thrived in this new "era" of Berea-Midpark. So much so that a top ten state ranking in both sports can show it:
The Berea-Midpark basketball program
The girls teams of Berea and Midpark have been pretty good over the last few years. Combining them has made the Titans one of the best teams in the area, and a state championship contender. One interesting twist to the girls team is that their head coach, Kevin Braaten, is a 1992 graduate of Strongsville, another old Pioneer Conference rival. The team doesn't seem to mind. The Titans are off to a 16-1 start, with the only loss being to Magnificat, another top ten team in the Cleveland area, on a last second tip in. Among the more eye opening wins for the Titans are a 65-53 win over state runner up Twinsburg, and a 90-58 win over Hudson, another top program in the Cleveland area. They are led by senior post player Stasha Carey, and senior point guard Jess Barnes.
Carey is a four year starter for the Titans if you count her time at Midpark High School. A dominating presence at 6'4", she has committed to the University of Pittsburgh next season. She is averaging double figures in points and rebounds, a point not lost on her head coach:
Stasha commands double and triple teams every time she touches the ball. Her rebounding, both offensively and defensively, has been a real key to our success
Barnes is leading the Cleveland area in assists, and is the key the makes the Titans engine go. A three year starter, Barnes also can hit the open three pointer when defenses collapse to stop Carey. Her head coach holds her is just as high of regard as he does Carey:
I truly believe this, and I have told Jess this, that there isn't another point guard I would take over Jess in the whole Cleveland area
The boys team, one would think, would be a little more of a mystery. Both the Berea and Midpark teams of the past were good, not great. It would be hard to predict what kind of success the merged school would have
Guess no more
Under the leadership of head coach Duke Barther, the Titans sure have opened peoples eyes around the Cleveland area. They are also off to a 16-1 start. While the Titans flew under the radar in the beginning of the year, one headline got the Titans the attention they have proven they deserve:
Berea-Midpark 70, St. Ignatius 61
Want respect? Then beat a team that no one thought you could. That is what the Titans did when they took down St. Ignatius in front of a sellout crowd at Berea-Midpark. They did with a huge game from senior point guard Alex Brown. After 27 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists, even St. Ignatius coach Sean O'Toole was impressed:
The kid is a great point guard. He did some unbelievable things tonight. We play as many good teams as we can because come tournament time, we can say we played a kid like Brown
Showing the sense of confidence the new Titans have, Brown described the feeling of beating one of the Cleveland area's most consistent basketball programs:
This is huge for us. Everyone says this is an upset, but for us it isn't an upset. We are just as good as they are
Brown is far from a one man show. Senior Daveon Posey added 17 points against the Wildcats, and senior Michael Schuller added 13. They key to the game may have been the defensive presence of fast improving Nolan Gerrity. The 6'11" junior center frustrated the Wildcats on the inside all night. With Gerrity controlling the paint, the Titans held the Wildcats to just 34 points over the last three quarters.
Are the Titans just a one year wonder, playing off of the fact of the "newness" of their new school? Not a chance. The cupboard is nowhere near bare in the upcoming years. Besides Gerrity returning next year, the Titans boast a strong sophomore class with 6'6" Brett Swinnerton, 6'3" Nick Gassman, and 6'1" Joey Bachie all being contributors on this season's team. The Titans face their toughest stretch of their schedule this week. Tonight, they take on Westlake, ranked eighth in the Cleveland area. They follow that up with a back-to-back Friday and Saturday nights with a Friday night home game against ranked Brecksville, and a Saturday night game on the road against Omari Spellman and North Royalton.
Want to see a couple of teams in the Cleveland area? Check out both teams of Berea-Midpark. There is still room on the bandwagon.