By Ryan Kaczmarski
The girls high school basketball season has commenced, and WESTLAKE looks like it has not skipped a beat, as the Demons won convincingly over perennial West Shore Conference powerhouse Rocky River, 57-40, on Saturday night at Westlake High School, to make their record 2-0.
The Demons are playing this year without superstar Kalpana Beach, who is now starting for The Ohio State University as a freshman.
“It’s a different style of play this year,” said Westlake head coach Chip Weiss. “Our players realize that, and we’re more determined this year than ever to prove we can do without Kalpana.”
Demons senior guard Rachael Trujillo led all scoring with 22 points on the night, including six field goals, one 3-pointer and going seven for seven from the charity stripe.
“Coming in as underdogs (tonight), I wasn’t sure how we were going to do,” Trujillo said. “We practiced to play the best and everyone stepped up.”
Junior guard Maggie Zimmerman was “in the zone” all night as she scored 18 points on six 3- point shots.
“My teammates were just driving and pulling my (defender) away, leaving me wide open,” Zimmerman said. “Usually I can tell in my legs if I’m making them and I just keep shooting.”
The Pirates scored the first points of the night to go on top, 2-0, but Zimmerman sunk her first 3-pointer on the following possession and Westlake never trailed for the rest of the game, going up by as many as 22 points.
With 3:26 left in the third quarter, Demons senior forward Katie Carroll (5 points) collected her fourth personal foul and was relegated to the bench, leaving an opportunity for the Pirates to stage a comeback. Rocky River (0-2) closed the gap to 12 points, but never seriously put a scare into Westlake.
“There was a lot of pressure coming in to this season, but I knew my teammates would step up,” Carroll said. “I need to do better (on collecting fouls). There was no excuse.”
Rounding out Westlake’s starting lineup was senior guard Lauren Wichman (6-6 from the free throw line) and junior guard Liz Kobe (5-7 from the free throw line).
The reserves on the Demons squad are juniors Ally Labroo, Rachel Collins, Olivia Bronikowski and Ally Adornetto.
“The biggest thing is, we want to have a full-court game this year,” Weiss said. “We have to push the ball down the floor and press all the time. We need to keep it up-tempo and really do a great job defensively.”
Leading ROCKY RIVER in scoring was senior post player Ciara Kessler with 15 points. Kessler is part of a trio of six-footers on her team, including Hannah McCue and Katie McNally.
“Ciara is a dominant player with great moves in the paint,” said Pirates head coach Mike Sislowski. “Katie is a dynamic guard and forward who can dominate in the post as well as consistently make shots from the perimeter.”
McCue (eight points) is the reigning two-time WSC MVP and was third-team All-Ohio last season. McNally also scored eight points in the game.
Another key player for Rocky River this year is senior guard Allyson Helleis.
“Allyson is a tenacious leader at point guard whose signature is her ability to control a ballgame and her unbelievable leadership skills,” Sislowski said. “We are counting on her to become a big-time scorer this season.”
Senior guard Maggie Krajcer rounds out the Rocky River starting lineup. The reserves for the Pirates are senior guard Jane Dickey; juniors Katie Kocher, Annie Swartz, Lydia Bednarski, Meghan Ittu and Sarah Lesiecki; and sophomore Kara Johanson.
The Pirates have won the WSC title for the past five years in a row.
“We’re entering this season with high hopes,” Sislowski said. “After graduating only three seniors from last year’s team, expectations are higher than ever.
“Seniors McCue and Helleis will be expected to continue their growth as two of the best in the Greater Cleveland area,” he added. “With a great balance of post and perimeter players, anything is possible this season.”
MAGNIFICAT is looking for a repeat of last year’s success. The Blue Streaks, coming off a 2010-11 season where they had an overall record of 21-2 and were Division I district runners-up, have 10 returning players and expect to go deep into the playoffs.
The Blue Streaks have four key returning players who could determine the team’s outcome.
Senior point guard Megan Barilla (6.7 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game) is a four-year letter winner, three-year starter and three-year co-captain.
“She is a great floor leader with good size for a point guard,” said head coach Meghann Hubach. “She pushes the ball up the floor in transition, gets us into our offenses quickly and is able to score from the perimeter or attack the basket.”
Maddie Barry (10.2 points per game, 9.4 rebounds per game, 1.1 assists per game and 1.2 steals per game) is a three-year starter.
“She is somewhat undersized in the post, but constantly works hard to position (herself) on offense and defense,” Hubach said. “She rebounds the ball aggressively and has the ability to score from 15-18 feet as well as inside. Maddie was our team leader in field goal percentage and free throw percentage.”
Stephanie Haas (14.9 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, 1.9 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game) was the team’s leading scorer last season and has made a verbal agreement to play for Florida Gulf Coast University next year.
“Steph’s strength is her ability to get to the basket and create a shot for herself,” Hubach said. “She also led the team in three pointers made last season.”
Paige Wise (5.8 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, 1.8 assists per game and 2.1 steals per game) is also a three-year letter winner, but this will be her first year as a starter.
“She has played significant minutes the last two years, and has been a huge contributor as our ‘sixth-man,’” Hubach said. “She is our defensive specialist who can shut down our opponent’s best scorer. She also led the team in steals last year.
“We are really looking forward to this season,” she added. “We hope that our veterans’ experience will be an asset to us, but we will also be looking for our younger players to be contributors as well.”
Magnificat will be playing a tough independent schedule, as always, with games against many of the top teams in the area.
“Our strengths include our quickness and athleticism, our ability to score in transition and get to the basket,” Hubach said. We take a good deal of pride in our defense and try to make it as tough as possible on our opponent.”
FAIRVIEW will be playing in the Stripes division of the Patriot Athletic Conference for the first time this season. They are coming off an 8-14 record last season. Head coach Bill Harvey took over the team just one week before the season started, but the team still found a way to get eight victories and beat Clearview in overtime to go to the sectional finals.
The Warriors have five returning letter winners from last year’s squad, including sophomore Katie Smith, sophomore Megan Coyne, sophomore Bri Kovacevich, junior Rosie Morrison and senior Morgan King, who might miss this season with a torn ACL.
“Katie had a strong summer and she can play the guard or forward position,” Harvey said. “Megan is having a great preseason distributing the basketball as our floor leader, and her defense helps start our fast-break.
“We hope to have Morgan back from injury as early as the end of December to as late as mid-January,” he added.
This is a team in which 18 of the 23 players are freshmen or sophomores.
“We will play a ton of ‘small-ball’ and we are looking to run and press as much as possible,” Harvey said. “I see improvements on a daily basis, and we are looking forward to the challenge of the new conference.”
LUTHERAN WEST is fielding a young team this season after graduating many seniors from last year’s team, which had a record of 15-7 (10-3 in the Stripes division of the PAC). The Longhorns also have to deal with losing Stephanie Zanotti due to an ACL injury.
The returning letter winners are juniors Lindsey Tomola, Lindsey Thomas, Amanda Stephens, Ari Tomasula, Marissa Spelich and Breanna Linder, and senior Katherine Konstan. The only other senior on the team is Sam Castro.
“Katherine leads by example with her relationship with Christ and her work ethic,” said head coach Josh Campbell. “Sam is fundamentally sound and consistent.
“Any one of these athletes can step up on any given night and hurt our opponents on either end of the floor,” Campbell added. “We have improved both the team and individual defenses this year.”
BAY took some lumps with a very young team last year and finished with a record of 12-11 (8-6 in the WSC). The team returns all of its starters and bench players and hopes the experience of varsity play last year will translate to the win column.
Junior forward Taylor Seton saw an increase in her averages from her freshman to her sophomore year. She increased from 5 points per game to 11 points per game and 4 rebounds per game to 10 rebounds per game, finishing last season averaging a double-double.
“She is a shot-blocking machine, racking up 105 blocks last season (school record),” said head coach Chris Brewer. “She will be one of our main go-to players in the paint this season and is definitely one of the key players in the area to watch.”
Senior guard Claire Wilson (8.6 points per game, 4.4 rebounds per game and 3.3 steals per game) has blossomed into a leader and star player for the Rockets.
“Her (Wilson’s) numbers don’t indicate how she single-handedly can effect a game with her speed, quickness and defensive presence,” Brewer said. “She is an absolute beast and one of the most underrated players I have ever coached.”
Senior guard Kaleigh Sima (7.7 points per game and 3.5 assists per game) has played out of position as point guard her whole career with no complaints.
“She is one of our best shooters, hitting 38 3-point shots last season,” Brewer said.
Junior guard Claire Werblak (8.6 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game) is another solid outside shooter on the team, hitting 36 3-point shots last year.
“We have the potential to be very good as we could have as many as four players average double digits in points,” Brewer said. “We continued to jell as a strong team over the summer and we have high hopes of having a very successful season this year and hope to be one of the stronger teams in the area.”
NORTH OLMSTED is another school that had a very young team last year, only winning three SWC games (3-11, 4-16 overall). There are eight returning players on this year’s squad, the most in the conference.
The key players are captains senior forward Megan Branchick and senior point guard Erica Kobak, junior guard Tara Kelley, junior guard Haley Reines and senior forward Mackenzie Lynes.
Branchick holds the school rebound record with 24, grabbing them last year against Olmsted Falls, and was first-team All-SWC as a junior.
“The team strengths include our high level of fitness, our ability to pressure teams and make them play at a fast speed to force turnovers, our depth, size and ability to transition,” said head coach Cheryl Bansek. “Defensively, we expect to be one of the best.
“Our goal is to do all the little things defensively that many girls teams don’t do, dive on the floor for loose balls, draw charges and bring a level of intensity into the gym each and every night,” Bansek added. “We can’t wait to get the season rolling.”
OLMSTED FALLS will be trying to turn around a program that has only eight victories over the last two seasons.
The Bulldogs have fielded a team that features four seniors, including guard-forward Amanda Abraham, guard Bridget Mental, guard Katie Parfejewiec and forward Amber Black. The other girls filling out the roster are three juniors, including guard Jamie Fossen, guard Allison Gerycz and guard Jessica Koch; three sophomores, including forward Marie Jacobs, guard-forward Hannah Hammeren and guard Heather Mueller; and two freshmen, guard-forward Kerri Gasper and forward Savanajh Black.
“At this point it looks like almost everyone will get minutes and everyone will need to play their role for this team to be successful,” said head coach Matt Fulton. “We are not sure who our big scorers will be, but we know that as a team, we are going to play as hard as we can and hope we are able to score more points than the other team does.
“I love this team,” Fulton added. “They are a great group of girls and they really enjoy being around each other. They have worked extremely hard so far this season and I know they will continue to do that as well.”
Coach Fulton sees Westlake and Midpark as the teams to beat this year in the SWC.
“Because of what Midpark has, they should probably go 14-0 in the conference again,” he said. “I think the second tier is up for grabs. Overall, the conference should be pretty good.”