The Villa Angela-St. Joseph boys basketball team had high expectations, goals and standards for the 2014-2015 season.
Despite a brutal schedule and outside chatter, everything the Vikings did this winter was directed at winning a state championship.
VASJ defeated Lima Central Catholic, 63-50, to win the Division III state championship at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus on March 28.
It was the second state title in three years for the Vikings (23-4) and the sixth in program history.
The Vikings joined Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (six) and Middletown (seven) as the only teams in Ohio history to win six or more titles, while becoming the first team to win a crown in all four divisions.
The win was also the 100th career victory for Coach Babe Kwasniak at his alma mater.
“To do it with these guys, what are the words? Perfect? Serendipitous?” Kwasniak said.
"Lima Central Catholic is one of the toughest teams we played this year and we played an unbelievable schedule and some incredible basketball teams. I think they play as hard as any team we faced. Congratulations to them on a great season, too. They are everything that is right about high school basketball. They came right at us.”
Senior Dererk Pardon barely missed a triple-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and nine blocks. The 6-foot-8 Northwestern recruit was brilliant in his final game as a Viking, and also became the VASJ single-season record holder, surpassing Eric Riley’s mark of 95.
“He’s going to the Big Ten. He’s going to be a great player,” Kwasniak said of Pardon. “He’s a better young man, and I’m going to miss coaching him. It seemed like at one point it was just — we even said in the scouting report, ‘If they come at you, Dererk, just start beating stuff.’ Especially with Carlton (Bragg) out — it’s not like we have a lot to complain about with our size and length — but man, some of those blocks I thought were kind of game changing. They knew they had to kick the ball out because they weren’t getting layups. They got some layups early.
“He knows, for us, that when he gets those blocks, those balls, and keeps them in play, it’s like getting a big dunk. It helps us run the break, and it did several times.”
The Vikings played large stretches of the game without McDonald’s All-American Carlton Bragg due to foul trouble, but were able to secure a 27-22 halftime lead against the team that beat them in the 2014 state championship game. VASJ got its revenge, using a third-quarter surge to open up a 42-31 lead after three quarters and extended the lead prior to the starters leaving late in the final frame.
VASJ finished with four players in double-figures: Pardon, Brian Parker — the game’s leading scorer with 17 — Simon Texidor and Bragg, both of whom finished with 12.
“I know we just won, but what is going through my mind right now is the fact that I won’t play with these seniors anymore,” Parker said. “I’m glad to go to state three years in a row. It’s a great feeling.
“When I came in as a freshman, I didn’t honestly expect to make it this far until my sophomore year (2013 Division IV state championship), I realized how good we’d be.”
Pardon was the star of the afternoon on the home floor of Ohio State – where he will see time as an opponent playing for Northwestern in college. But rather than talk about his stat line, which Kwasniak compared to former Viking great Clark Kellogg, he said he’d remember the team and school for another reason.
“These people, they’re my family,” Pardon said. “No one can ever take that away from me. It’s a great feeling.”
Bragg, a Kansas recruit and the Division III AP Ohio player of the year, put an exclamation mark on his high school career with 12 points, five assists, three rebounds and zero turnovers.
“We accomplished our goals and nobody can take that from us,” Bragg said.
Senior point guard Mo Johnson had four points, two assists, two rebounds and played a solid floor game before leaving the floor in the fourth quarter to a long embrace by his head coach.
VASJ used the motivation of losing in the 2014 state title game to Lima Central Catholic in the run to this year’s championship. Kwasniak said it was the perfect ending to the career of the eight senior captains.
“When you read a book, you don’t read it to get to the middle, you read it to get to the end,” Kwasniak said. “Last year as hard as it was to realize and as hard as it was to deal with, it wasn’t the end. These guys up here with me right now just would not let us lose, and that is a great ending to the story.
“We knew we could be pretty good and the great thing was to see the growth in leadership. That’s what is so special.”