The Cincinnati Christian School boys basketball team lives by the motto to “stay hungry, stay humble and stay driven.”
That mentality is part of what coach Carl Woods said has helped the Cougars get to this point — one win from securing their first outright Miami Valley Conference title after sharing the Gray Division crown with Cincinnati Country Day last year.
And it’s especially important as the Cougars (15-6, 8-4 MVC) try for that feat Friday at home against a struggling New Miami team they beat 90-25 on Jan. 8.
“We’ve just been keeping the boys focused, keeping them engaged to the goals we set forth prior to the season,” Woods said. “We set out to embark on obtaining the conference title again. It was a little dicey in the beginning because we had several guys go down to injury, but we got guys back healthy and now we’re in position to hopefully obtain our first outright championship.”
CCS came into the season expecting to be in the hunt, but even Woods said he grew concerned after the injuries started piling up.
The team was without Brady Roberts for the first 18 games after he underwent shoulder surgery following a car accident that happened before the season, and senior forward Nathan Grammel (8.4 points, 4.8 rebounds per game) missed the first five games because of injury. Then the Cougars suffered injuries to their top two players — junior forward Christian Keese (14.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and guard Dylan Woods (13.9 ppg) — before or during the first matchup with Cincinnati Country Day, a 67-53 loss on Dec. 4.
“We were down four or five starters within the first two weeks,” Woods said. “We were aching.”
The CCD loss began a stretch of three straight defeats, all in conference, but the Cougars bounced back to win 11 of the next 14. Woods said players such as Daniel Nimmo (5.2 ppg) and Nick Hesselgesser (2.8 ppg) both stepped up at key times, and the addition of transfers Matt Fisher (Little Miami) and Elijah Taylor (Lakota West) — who became eligible in early January — added some depth off the bench, though the 7-foot Fisher has been hindered by injuries.
The Cougars have won five straight after Wednesday’s win at Talawanda, a streak that began with a 59-57 win over CCD on Jan. 29 and put them one game ahead for the division lead.
“I think that was really important for our confidence and got us to how we are playing now,” said senior guard DeJuan Ringer, who averages 5.5 points, 4.6 assists and 4.3 steals per game. “It basically got us on the road we’re at.”
The Cougars have been hungry for another title since the 2014-15 season ended at 17-8 in the Division IV sectional finals.
“We had to share it last year, so we wanted to win it outright this time,” Keese said. “We wanted to win it back-to-back and keep it going. We felt more confident we could win it outright this year.”
Grammel added, “It feels great honestly just to have a shot at it. This has been a set goal the whole season, and we’ve worked hard as a team and really we couldn’t have done it if we weren’t as whole of a team. The coaches have done their part, we’ve done our part, and we’ve been successful.”
Beyond a league title, the Cougars hope to make a run through the postseason as the second seed in the sectional at Taylor next week.
However, CCS won’t look beyond Friday’s game against New Miami, especially not after losing an expected win against Miami Valley Christian Academy on Jan. 23 when the Cougars “came out lackadaisical,” according to coach Woods.
Dylan Woods said that won’t be a problem this time.
“We definitely don’t want to look over any team,” he said. “We realize how important this game is, so we’re not taking anyone lightly.”
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