By DAVE HANNEMAN
Jim Rucki has spent 29 years as a teacher and coach.
But he readily admits there’s still a lot of student in him.
“I think you do change some over the years because you’re learning all the time,” Rucki said.
“I sometimes look back to that 1990-91 season at Rocky River. We had a really good team that year, but we lost to Wayne Trace in the (Division III) regional and they went on to win state.
“Sometimes you wonder, ‘If I only knew then what I know now.’ That was my second year in coaching. I thought I knew what I was doing but Al Welch (Wayne Trace’s coach at the time), he knew what he was doing.”
Rucki has plied his trade, especially on the basketball court, well enough to amass over 400 career wins — 272-139 at Findlay; 160-71 at Rocky River. In the ever-changing world of high school athletics, where entire rosters can change from one graduation ceremony to the next, adaption has often been the key.
“I’m better than I was because I’m always trying to learn something every year,” Rucki said. “You always want to be trying to improve, and it’s the same thing with our individual guys and our team. You want to try to get better every time out, and when you do it opens things up for you to start doing different things.”
Off to a 1-2 start, Findlay enters its first back-to-back weekend of the season when the Trojans host Oregon Clay in a Three Rivers Athletic Conference game Friday, then travel to Lima Bath on Saturday for a nonleague matchup.
Both teams own 2-2 records, but have come by them from opposite directions. Clay opened the season with nonleague wins over Tiffin Columbian (56-38) and Maumee (79-60), but has fallen to TRAC opponents Lima Senior (75-53) and Toledo Whitmer (76-41) in its last two outings. Lima Bath started out 0-2 with losses to Lima Central Catholic (65-56) and Lima Shawnee (61-35), but rebounded last week with wins over Bluffton (60-46) and Columbus Grove (67-66).
Clay will not be one of the taller teams Findlay faces this season. But Rucki expects the Eagles, under first-year coach Dave Rodriguez, to display the aggressive scrappiness they have shown in the past.
“They play hard,” Rucki said. “They’re scrappy, they go after the ball on defense and they make a lot of 3’s. They’ve been pressing a lot, getting the ball out and running because of their quickness.”
Reese Wamer, a 5-foot-10 junior guard, and 6-foot senior Dustin Aiton are returning starters for Clay. Dakota Calkins (5-9, sr.), Walker Bliss (6-2, sr.) and Trey Reddick (6-0, jr.) are returning lettermen, and the Eagles have some size coming up in the form of Frank Waganfeald, a 6-6 freshman who has been seeing varsity time lately.
“He’s a skilled big kid,” Rucki said. “He’s been playing more and more and will probably be starting (varsity) at some point.”
Lima Bath will provide a more sizable front with seniors Harrison Gough (6-8) and Will Clark (6-4) returning for Sean Allen and the Wildcats. Bath’s top offensive threat, though has been Chad Frey. The 6-1 senior is coming off a 58-point weekend after scoring 22 points in a 60-46 win over Bluffton last Friday, and following that up with a 36-point night in Saturday’s 67-66 win over Columbus Grove.
Rucki’s game preparation is not all about Oregon Clay and Lima Bath, however. Findlay is making 41.7 percent of its shots overall, just 28.6 percent (14-49) of its 3-point attempts and averaging 15.3 turnovers a game. The Trojans have also attempted just 28 free throws in three games.
“We’re not trying to worry and focus too much on our opponents because we have enough things of our own that we have to get fixed,” Rucki said.
“We’ve been having decent practices. It will be good to go out and play two games to see if we can make progress in a couple of areas.”
In related news, Findlay High School, Athletics Director Nate Weihrauch has announced that starting times for the Dec. 29 home game with Toledo St. Francis have been moved up. The freshman game will start at 3 p.m. that day, the junior varsity game at 4:30 p.m. and the varsity game at approximately 6 p.m.
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By DAVE HANNEMAN