BY YANEEK SMITH
A few years ago, Oak Harbor’s Jac Alexander led the Rocket football program back to its winning ways. Now he’s helping the Marietta Pioneers make history.
Alexander was part of a team that advanced to the Final Four of the Division III NCAA Tournament. He played in all 32 games, helping Marietta notch 27 consecutive games while winning the Ohio Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles. Alexander averaged 4.3 points and shot 44.1% from the field. (He averaged 7.9 points last season.)
The Pios finished 29-3 and were perfect in the OAC at 17-0.
There was no shortage of drama in the postseason. Marietta defeated Medaille College, 91-79 in the first round of the tournament before taking down the Univ. of Rochester, 88-83, in overtime. Marietta followed that up with an 89-81 victory against Oswego State and edged Christopher Newport University, 81-79, to advance to the Final Four. (All four games were played in Marietta at Ban Johnson Arena before some raucous crowds.)
Unfortunately, the Pios’ season came to a close in the national semifinals when Randolph-Macon College beat them, 81-63, in Fort Wayne. The Yellow Jackets won their next game to become national champions.
“It’s been an incredible experience. When I came down here on my visit with the coaches, Coach Jon Vanderwal said, ‘You’re not going to get an experience like this elsewhere in Division III.’ The last home games, it was sold out if not close to being sold out. You don’t get that anywhere else at a small college,” said Alexander. “It’s not a big city, so basketball is what these people do. You get this family-like feeling meeting all these people, and there are foster-family programs. Marietta is a long ways from where people come to play sometimes, so every kid gets a family that has been part of the program.
“They come to all of the home games, they take you out to dinner. There are a lot of things that go into it. It was an incredible experience. Very few kids get to play college sports, even fewer get to play in a community and an atmosphere like we do. It was an incredible season, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
The top four scorers on the team are all graduating, meaning Alexander has a shot at becoming a starter next season. Those players are Jason Ellis (17.1 ppg), Lukas Isaly (16.3 ppg), Tim Kreeger (11.6 ppg) and Mason Lydic (10.3 ppg).
“Out of our top four scorers, two of them were fifth-year seniors, and Ryan Reidy came off the bench and played decent minutes,” said Alexander. “They have the experience of playing in the OAC and they played in the Elite Eight before. Our senior leadership and experience is what took us so far. We had guys that were able to play roles throughout the year. It was a full-team effort, but those seniors were the main reason.
“There’s five seniors graduating, and every single one of them played, and four had a crazy impact. We’re going to lose a lot of scoring and leadership. We have the guys who can make those plays, we’re going to have to have guys who are going to step up. Nothing gets easier, we can’t take any steps backwards.”