By ALBERT GRINDLE
GRANGER TWP. â€” Matt Sheets is coming home.
Pending approval from the Highland School Board, the 26-year-old will be named the ninth girls basketball coach in school history, giving the 2000 graduate a chance to lead a sports program at his alma mater.
â€œI always envisioned coming back and winning league titles at Highland,â€ an elated Sheets said. â€œThat was always going to be my goal, so I havenâ€™t slept much in the last few days because my brainâ€™s going 100 mph.
â€œMy goal is to win league titles and district titles. I donâ€™t know why you would come to a place like Highland with such beautiful facilities and expect anything less. They say if you build it they will come. Theyâ€™ve built it and I know I have to make it come.â€
Sheets comes back to Highland after leading Normandyâ€™s junior varsity boys basketball team.
The University of Akron graduate began his career, which until now was exclusively coaching boys, as an eighth-grade assistant for the Hornets in 2000-01.
Sheets then moved on to Green, where after two years as the freshman coach he piloted the JV team to a pair of Suburban League titles.
All told, Sheets compiled a 57-23 JV record at the Summit County school with three 15-win seasons in four years.
It was there that Sheets worked under veteran coach Mark Kinsley, whose varsity squad garnered a strong reputation for being one of the scrappiest around.
Last season Sheets worked under Normandy coach Jim Madison, whose high-flying offense made defenses shutter.
â€œKinsley is an underrated coach and one of the best defensive-minded coaches in the area,â€ Sheets said. â€œWe held (two-time Gazette MVP) Ben Falkenberg, an NAIA All-American, to 16 points his senior year, including one game of six. My defensive fundamentals and work ethic come from Coach Kinsley.
â€œEverything I lacked offensively I picked up from Madison,â€ Sheets continued. â€œHe comes from (former Villanova coach) Rollie Massimino and heâ€™s an offensive guy. My year at Normandy was good because I picked up a lot of knowledge of the zone offense.â€
When it comes to Highlandâ€™s girls program, which was 5-16 last season and has one winning season since 2002, Sheets said he plans to unearth everything from the ground up.
Just one day into the job, Sheets quickly took steps to coordinate youth camps, leagues and travel teams for this summer, as well as stress to his players that defense will be the focal point.
â€œComing from a mold of Mark Kinsley, weâ€™re going to preach defense,â€ said Sheets, whose Hornets gave up a school-record 60.7 points last season. â€œWeâ€™re going to set up man-to-man and have zone in our back pocket.â€
While Sheets admits his master plan might take some time to implement, he stressed itâ€™s a long-term process that heâ€™s 100 percent committed to.
Of course, with a squad that loses only one player from a season ago (All-Gazette honorable mention choice Stacy Wilson) and returns talented youngsters Kristie Chabra, Alisa Webel, Grace Delehanty, Danielle Petek and Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit transfer Sara Gilbert, Sheets will haveÂ plenty to work with.
â€œI would like to see us, by the end of the year, be good enough to win a few tournament games,â€ Sheets said. â€œWeâ€™re not going to be a finished product early in the year. I donâ€™t expect miracles right away.
â€œWeâ€™re going to bust our tails on the defensive end, stress teamwork and putÂ the team before individuals. If we do that, things will fall into place.â€
Grindle may be reached at email@example.com or 330-721-4043.