by Rob Barrone

Correspondent

They closed the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division with a championship.

Now the Explorers will give the Suburban League National Conference a try.

Hudson finished 18-5 overall and 8-2 in the River Division last season. The Explorers' season came to an end with a 37-24 loss to eventual Copley Division I district champion Medina in sectional play.

Thanks to another deep run into the playoffs by the football team (11-3), which made it to the Division I state semifinals for the second straight year, the full team has not been able to practice until just days before the season opener.

Hudson is led by 10th-year head coach Jeff Brink, who is 108-90 with the Explorers.

Despite the lack of preparation, Brink will have his squad ready to go at a moment's notice again.

"It's tough to ask our kids to come out after a couple days practice and play a game," he said. "Everybody here is happy for the success of not only our football team, but all of our fall teams. I think it's unfair. It could have cost us a league title last year.

"We don't cry about the things we don't control. If the state and the school says you're going to play then we're going to play. We are just trying to jam a lot into one day."

Despite the bumpy last season, Hudson went on to win 12 of its next 13 games and the second River Division crown in the past three years.

While the football players may be a bit rusty, the nucleus of the returnees from last season is a pair of senior returning starters who did not play football: Zack Meder and Isaac MacGillis.

In all, seven seniors graduated from last season's team with the most notable being Mitch Guadagni, who was the Explorers' three-time defensive player of the year.

Guadagni averaged 11.7 points per game and is now at the University of Toledo on a football scholarship.

Other key graduates include Matt Rightnour, Trevor Colazzo and Jack Sullivan.

"Our No. 1 strength this year is returning two of our leading scorers [Meder and MacGillis]," Brink said. "When you return the Player of the Year in the conference [Meder and Stow-Munroe Falls' Nathan Bower-Malone shared River Division Player of the Year honors], that's a nice luxury to have. We return approximately 30 points between the two guys."

The Explorers hope to run at times and as usual, they expect to hang their hats on their defense.

"Our defense is going to be a work in progress," Brink said. "We will be a different team defensively). We will run our matchup zone. It's unique. No one runs what we run, that I know of, in Northeast Ohio."

The team features six seniors. Meder, a 5-foot-10 guard, led the team in scoring with a 15.1-point-per-game average. He also led the team in free-throw shooting "Zack is a tremendous player and he has had a tremendous career [378 points thus far]," Brink said. "He has a great temperament for the game. Meder not only gives us scoring but also the ability to handle the ball."

MacGillis, a 6-9 senior post, led Hudson in rebounds (169), blocked shots (60) and 3-point accuracy (31 percent).

"Isaac is a 6-9 kid who can shoot threes," Brink said. "He can go inside or on the perimeter. He gives us diversity to use a variety of offensive attacks."

The Explorers also have 6-6 senior David O'Connor in the post. O'Connor was an offensive tackle for the football team.

"Dave is a physical player," Brink said. "He did a great job last year coming back from an injury as a sophomore. He had a great summer for us.

"He will be a guy who surprises some people down the road. It's just a matter of getting him reps, back from football and getting him into a basketball mode."

Senior guard Mike Piekarski was a defensive back and wide receiver for the football team.

"Mikey Pie is an athletic guard," Brink said. "He is one of our best defensive guards. He gives us the ability to pick up the pressure defensively."

Senior guard Peter Funk scored 57 points for the junior varsity team, which finished 17-3 last season.

"Peter Funk is just a solid, fundamental guy," Brink said. "He does everything the right way and is a good leader. He understands his role and is a very unselfish player."

Senior Ryan Martin, a 6-6 senior post, scored 80 points for the JV squad last season. He also played for the football team.

"Ryan gives us more size and he's long and athletic," Brink said. "We are hoping he can give us some minutes in the post to help our inside game. He is a more athletic big guy where Dave [O'Connor] is more physical."

The junior class features five players. Junior forward Jackson Parker (6-4), the starting quarterback for the football team, scored 118 points for the JV squad last season.

"Jackson played a lot of varsity last year," Brink said. "He was one of our better defensive players in our press. He created a lot of havoc because he is long and athletic. Offensively, he gets to the rim.

"I think the success he had in football will translate into a successful basketball season from a confidence standpoint."

Junior guard Spencer McClure scored 133 points for the JV team last season.

"Spencer is going to help handle the ball," Brink said. "He has a point-guard mentality. He does a great job with the ball and gets it to the right people. He had a great preseason and is ready to step up and be a major contributor at the varsity level."

Alex Beck was a standout linebacker for the football team. The 6-3 junior will see some time at one of the guard spots.

"Beck is a big guard and athletic," Brink said. "His strength is his ability to get to the rim. Defensively, he creates turnovers. He is similar to Trevor [Colazzo] and Mitch [Guadagni] in terms of athleticism."

Davey Spitz, a 6-3 junior guard, led the JV squad with 149 points last season.

"Davey is another big guard who had great JV season," Brink said. "He can handle the ball, score and has the ability to get to the rim."

Another junior is 6-3 forward Evan Jones, who Brink said can play "inside or outside."

The two sophomores are guard Greg Mailey, another football player who played on the 16-5 freshman basketball team last season, and post Max Demming (6-4).

"Greg is probably the best shooter in our program," Brink said. "Max did a nice job in the preseason helping us."

Brink's varsity assistant is Bruce Thomas. Grant Spaite is the junior varsity coach and Jeremy Tawney is the freshman coach.

Steve Manna also is back as an assistant coach, while Ken Bauza will take care of the scorebook.

Hudson will compete with Stow, Cuyahoga Falls, Twinsburg, Nordonia, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, North Royalton and Wadsworth in the National Conference.

"There won't be any easy outs," Brink said. "The league should be very balanced. Going from 10 to 14 games is going to be tough.

"Stow is the league favorite. Falls has improved and Brecksville is highly touted in the Cleveland area.

"Wadsworth is always solid. North Royalton was young last year and returns basically their entire team. Nordonia is very athletic and Twinsburg always is as well."

The Explorers are scheduled to make their season debut against Maple Heights Dec. 8 at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.

"We had a successful summer," Brink said. "It's always exciting to start a new season. We always say for us to achieve success is that we have to take care of the little things."

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