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Boys’ Basketball: Off to a winning start

By Lauree Padgett. Exclusive to Haddonfield[dot]Today             

There are few similarities so far between the 2021–22 Dawgs season and last year’s. The biggest difference is that the season kicked off last week on Friday, Dec. 17, when the Dawgs traveled to Haddon Township High School to go up against the Hawks. Last season, which skipped the months of December and January completely due to COVID and then COVID protocols, did not commence until Feb. 6. This contest was still an away game versus Haddon Township, but this time, instead of losing by 8 points, 30–38, which hadn’t happened in literally decades, the Dawgs prevailed 37–30.

That win in and of itself is a good sign, but it also shows what happens when a team isn’t literally interacting with each other for the first time when stepping onto the court for the season’s opening game, which is what happened in the February outing against the Hawks. Paul Wiedeman, who is entering his 23rd season as the Dawgs’ head coach with a more than impressive record of 512–102, noted in an email exchange a few weeks ago what a difference it was to have practices going in full swing and knowing that there would be fans in the stands from that initial tip-off and hopefully moving forward.

Even though this season’s squad had had many practices and some scrimmages prior to the 12/17 game at the Hawks’ home court, the Dawgs still weren’t totally in sync. There were more turnovers than what would normally be expected along with a higher number of bad (not to be confused with missed) shots. Hence, quarter one did not prove to be a rousing display of offense by either team and ended with the Dawgs up by 1, 7–6. Moreover, for most of those 8 minutes, the Dawgs were trailing the Hawks. It was senior Tom Mooney’s pair of foul shots with just under a minute to go that put Haddonfield on top. The only other baskets of the quarter came from a bucket by junior Teddy Bond (little bro to Richie and Will) and a 3 by senior Matt Leming.

Both teams picked up the scoring in the second quarter. The Hawks got to inbound the ball and wasted no time going back on top by a point, 8–7. That edge was short-lived thanks to a 3 by sophomore Daire Roddy, which put the Dawgs up by 2, 10–8, with not even a minute gone in the 2nd. The Hawks would bring the contest even at 10 a few possessions later, but Tom Mooney (sorry, but in the stands, I’m still calling him Tommy) again stepped to the foul line and again put the Dawgs ahead, 12–10, at the 5:12 mark.  A pickoff by Roddy led to a drive up and in by Bond, giving the Dawgs a 4-point, 14–10, lead with 4:39 left in the half. The Hawks answered with a basket to briefly cut the lead to 2, however, sophomore Sam Narducci pushed the lead back to 4. Although two straight 2’s by Haddon Township evened things at 16 with 2:30 on the clock, Haddonfield would get the last 5 points of the game off a 3 and a 2 by Mooney, and as the teams headed to the locker rooms, the Dawgs had stretched the lead to 5, 21–15.

The third quarter scoring dipped a bit again on both sides. The Dawgs only scored three baskets, a bucket in the paint by senior Matt Guveiyian, a 2 and a 3 by Mooney, and a pair of foul shots by Leming. The Hawks matched the Dawgs with a pair of 2’s and a 3 but didn’t get any points from the foul line, so when the period ended, Haddonfield had added 2 points to their halftime lead and were up by 7, 30–23.

In the 4th, the Dawgs would again put up 9 points in the exact same way: a pair of 2’s, this time by senior Carson Wolff and Mooney, a 3 by Leming, and 2 from the line by Mooney. The Hawks would only muster two baskets, coming back to back within a 10-second span. When the buzzer sounded, the Dawgs had won 39­–27. Mooney led all scorers with 18.

The second game was the next day, 12/18, at Cherokee and was part of the Jimmy V (North Carolina State head coach and later ESPN commentator Jim Valvano, who founded the V Foundation for Cancer Research just before his death in 1993 from adenocarcinoma) Classic. The Dawgs played Timber Creek. I was unable to attend, but Vic Wiedeman, my fellow 1980 HMHS grad and bro to the head coach, texted me the halftime (27–10, Haddonfield) and the final (52–30) scores.

On Tuesday night, 12/27, I was back in the Haddonfield gym in “my” spot—about 4 rows up across from the Haddonfield bench—for the first time since March of 2020. While I had been one of the lucky fans (as a member of the press) to attend home games in the 2020–21 season, I had been assigned the corner section by the gym entrance, across from the visiting bench, out of COVID protocol. It was great to be back at center court again!

The Dawgs were hosting the Eagles of West Deptford, and the game was in essence over within the first 8 minutes, if not sooner. The Dawgs started their scoring with a 3 from Tom Mooney and built up a 13–0 lead before the Eagles landed a basket in the net with less than 3 minutes to go in the quarter. When the first quarter was over the Dawgs were up by 14, 17–3; Matt Guveiyian provided 8 of those 17 points, and the other Matt, Leming, knocked in the other 9 on a pair of 3’s, a 2, and a foul shot.

If the Eagles had looked shaky in the first quarter, the Dawgs really clipped their wings in the second. Mooney got hot and hit a trio of treys plus a pair of foul shots. Leming got two more 3’s, and Sam Narducci hit one from outside the arc as well. Senior Jon Bucci added 4 points, and  Teddy Bond also got a basket. When the halftime buzzer went off, the Dawgs were in total command of the game, up 35 points, 45–10.

Even in the second quarter, Coach Wiedeman had started bringing in players off the bench, but he also let his starters and first subs get a decent amount of playing time. The Matts combined for 13 of the Dawgs 22 3rd quarter points: Matt G. had 3 buckets in the paint, and Matt L. had a 2, a 3, and a pair from the line. Daire Roddy got 2 baskets, and Mooney got his 4th from the field. At the end of 3, the Dawgs had put 22 on the board and were cruising, 67–17.

Even though none of the starters scored in the final 8 minutes, the Dawgs still added 15 points to their totals on 2’s by seniors Evan Rohlfing and Bucci and sophomores Sam Narducci and Jack Walters. Seniors Sean Beane and Dante Del Duca each made a basket from the foul line.

When all was said and done, the Dawgs had sent the Eagles limping back to their nest, or at least their bus, with a very lopsided 82–24 victory. Matt Leming was high scorer with 22 points. Matt Guveiyian finished with 14 points, and Tom Mooney had 13.

Now let’s take a look at the week ahead. On Tuesday, 12/28 and Thursday, 12/30, Haddonfield will be hosting two events: the Haddonfield Invitational and the Haddons Showcase, respectively. The boys and girls will be playing both days. On Tuesday, the girls take to the court first at 1 p.m., going up against Moorestown High School. At 2:30, the boys match up against Clearview Regional High School. On Thursday, the boys play Egg Harbor Township at 1 and are followed by the girls taking on Moorestown Friends at 2:30.

Anyone planning to attend any Haddonfield boys or girls games this season needs to know that each host school will decide how many fans can be admitted into the host’s gymnasium. Right now, Haddonfield is not putting a cap on attendance (more on that below), but that may not be the case at all other schools. So, before you head off to any away games, you should make sure you will have access to the gym. For example, Haddon Township, which has a small gym, limited attendance; each player on both teams was allowed to have four people attend the game. I checked ahead of time and found out I would not have been able to gain access through my press pass, but that may vary with each school as well. I got into the gym because Gary Vermaat, grandfather of Matt Guveiyian, graciously gave me his ticket, as going to the first game of the season was supposed to be part of my birthday celebration with his wife Debbie, Matt’s “Nanny.”

During the Haddon Township game, the student doing the play-by-play announced multiple times that masks were to be worn by everyone in the gym. (Players not on the court are required to wear masks as well.) I was not pleased to see that several students behind the Haddonfield bench were flagrantly ignoring this safety measure, and instead of having their masks covering their nose and mouth, had them around their neck.

Haddonfield AD Lefty Banos addressed the mask mandate before the start of the West Deptford game. He went on the court, mic in hand, and told the crowd that in order for Haddonfield to allow open attendance at home games throughout the season, fans had to keep their masks on at all times. Anyone who did not do so would be removed from the gym. Some students either didn’t hear this announcement or didn’t take it seriously and were not properly wearing the masks. Fairly quickly, they were approached and told to mask up or leave. They masked up. I hope Haddonfield keeps close watch on adult and student fans for the safety of all who are at the games, both on the court and in the stands, and that fans respect and comply with the mask mandate when they are at other gyms to cheer on the Dawgs. As COVID has shown, it is still capable of upending NBA, NFL, and NHL contest even with the majority of players vaccinated. Last year, Haddonfield’s normal schedule was cut to 15 games. For the sake of the team and its coaches and all who support them, I sincerely hope all will wear their masks to ensure that this season can continue all the way into March and the NJSIAA tournament.