Lakewood OH

Demons reload, look to stay on top of the SWC

Varsity girls basketball previews 2012-13

By Ryan Kaczmarski

The WESTLAKE girls basketball team has started the season 4-0 (1-0 in the Southwestern Conference), not missing a beat after last year’s 20-4 season, in which it went to the district finals.

After the district finals loss to Magnificat last March, Demons head coach Chip Weiss thought that this year might be a rebuilding season, since the team has lost four of the five starters to graduation.

“Last year’s seniors provided great leadership, and that is something that we will need to develop if we are to experience the success of the past few years,” Weiss said. “Katie Carroll is playing basketball at Quinipiac (University), Rachel Trujillo is playing at Walsh (University), Lauren Wichman is playing soccer at Case Western Reserve University and Laura Rankin is in the honors program at The Ohio State University.”

Westlake is looking to senior captains Rachel Collins, Liz Kobe and Maggie Zimmerman to take the leadership roles vacated by last year’s seniors. Zimmerman averaged 11.8 points per game last season, while Kobe averaged 2.0 steals, 3.5 assists and 4.5 points per game and Collins averaged 4.0 points and 1.5 steals per game.

Other player who will be key for a successful season are juniors Maddy Chernosky, Madison Dunlap, Corinne Furci, Kelly Laraway and Lauren Severa; and sophomores Allison Collins and Amanda Finucan.

Winning the conference will be a hard road to pass, as Brecksville brings back its starting five and reigning conference champ Midpark is always tough.

“Amherst will be strong with the return of injured players from last season,” Weiss stated. “Avon Lake will be a stronger team with playoff experience gained last year, and North Olmsted is greatly improved.”

According to Weiss, the Demons’ strengths are ball handling, quickness and depth, while the team lacks height and will need to develop team leaders.

The team goals are to perform at a high level each night and play hard, smart and together.

“Winning is important, but winning is not the most important thing,” Weiss said. “Doing the right thing is what is important, and if we do the right thing, we will win in time; but more importantly, by doing the right thing, we will change lives, be respected and make the players better people when they are grown.”

NORTH OLMSTED has started the season with a record of 1-2 (0-1 in the SWC) and is trying to rebound from a 2011-12 season in which the team went 11-10 and lost in the sectional finals.

The Eagles lost point guard Erika Kobak and center Megan Branchick – both All-SWC last season – to graduation, and will be looking to seniors Tara Kelley, Michelle Palange and Hailey Reines to take over the leadership roles on the team.

“Kelley was the second leading-scorer on the team last year with 10 points per game,” North Olmsted head coach Cheryl Bansek said. “Palange and (junior) Molley Dailey bring great size to the point, and they are a really good tandem who work well together. Reines has to be the best defender in the league.

“The three seniors bring a lot of experience to the game, as well as leadership,” she continued. “They want to win and make their last season their best season – as most seniors do. They are looked upon to provide a good example in work ethic to their teammates.”

The Eagles’ strengths this season are their speed and full court pressure, as well as the transition game. The team goals are to finish in the top three in the conference.

“This is a really nice group of girls to coach,” Bansek said. “We look to continually improve as the season progresses.”

OLMSTED FALLS has started 1-1 (0-1 in the SWC) and brings back a team with much experience, including senior guards Allison Gerycz and Jessica Koch.

“Allison can really hit the three,” Bulldogs head coach Matt Fulton said. “She has worked extremely hard the last two summers on her shot. She is a great leader and the kids respect her.

“Jessica works her tail off in practice and plays hard every minute she is on the floor,” he added. “She also puts forth a lot of effort in all aspects of being an athlete and student.”

The Bulldogs will also rely on sophomores Kerri Gasper and Savanajh Black on the wings to keep their conference hopes alive.

“Kerri has really nice hands and excellent footwork,” Fulton said. “She can shoot the ball from the three, take it to the basket and score from the post. She can rebound, alter shots and handle the ball.

“Savanajh has worked hard to improve her shot and can score in the post, from 15 feet and off the dribble,” he added. “She runs the floor better than anyone on our team and can catch the ball on the run as well as anyone I have ever coached. She can be a monster on the boards when challenged to do so. She is poised to have a big year for us.”

Fulton thinks the top teams in the SWC are most likely Midpark, Brecksville and Westlake.

“We bring back an experienced team, but one that has very little depth,” Fulton said. “This group is really starting to jell right now and they continue getting better every day, playing off each other and learning what each other is going to do on the floor. I really enjoy this group and look forward to coaching them this year.”

LAKEWOOD is playing in its first season in the West Shore Conference, and the team has started off right, with a record of 4-1 (1-0 in the WSC).

The Rangers’ returning letter winners are juniors Maggie Rowell and Megan Barrett, and sophomores Madison Clause and Mikayla Harper. Others to watch for are juniors Erin Hoffert and Tori Milicevic.

“I’m excited about the upcoming basketball season,” Rangers first-year head coach Mike Harper said. “Although we are young, I truly believe we have the talent to be competitive our first year in the West Shore Conference.

“We lost an 18-points-per-game scorer in Jess Garcia, a very gifted scorer,” he added. “We also lost our lone senior starter in Amanda Sacha, who accepted a track and field scholarship at Ohio University and decided to devote her winter to the indoor track season. We will miss her contribution on the glass and her relentless style of play. It’s going to be interesting to see how we make up for this loss of production.

“I think we have some really talented guards who lack some size, but more than make up for it in speed and skill,” Harper continued. “We will heavily depend on them to push an up-tempo style of play.”

ROCKY RIVER has started 2-3 (2-0 in the WSC) with its completely new starting five. The Pirates are coming off a season in which they went 17-7 and won their sixth consecutive conference championship.

“The key returning player is guard Katie Kocher,” Pirates head coach Michael Sislowski said. “This will be her opportunity to prove that she can be a positive leader. The success of the Pirates may be determined by her ability to do so.”

The newcomers to the team are seniors Annie Swartz, Lydia Bednarski and Meghan Ittu; junior Kara Johanson; sophomore Carolyn Farling; and freshmen Lucy Grierson, Andrea Chiviles and Nichole Popovich.

“It is time for players to step up and earn the opportunity to be clutch players in a championship program,” Sislowski said. “Rocky River strives to win the WSC championship and defend our district title.”

BAY has started off slowly, with a 0-4 (0-2 in the WSC) record, after its 14-9 (10-2 in the WSC) record of the 2011-12 sectional championship season.

The only returning starter from last year is senior guard Claire Werblak.

“She will be a three-year starter and counted on to lead a very young team,” Rockets head coach Chris Brewer said. “She has been in the shadow of some talented players the last two years, so we are hoping for a breakout season.”

Other returning letter winners are juniors Emma Grubaugh and Rachel Jerome, and sophomore Rachael Williams.

“All three came off the bench last season and will now be thrust into starting roles,” Brewer said.

The key newcomers to the team are freshmen Nora Ziebarth, Megan Williams and Lauren Heldt.

“Not only did the Rockets lose three senior starters to graduation, but we also lost our best returning player in 6-1 senior Taylor Seton, who moved to St. Louis unexpectedly over the summer,” Brewer said. “She would have been a three-year starter, who averaged a double-double in points and rebounds per game, and also has three school records for blocked shots. Tough losses, as we only return one starter in senior Claire Werblak and our top three scorers and rebounders from last year are gone.

“We only have three other players (Grubaugh, Jerome, Rachael Williams) who have any significant varsity experience,” he added. “With that said, we do have some young talent that can really play. Our weakness will be depth and experience. However, if we can get through the lumps of playing young kids early, we are hoping and excited to see a lot of progress this season. These freshmen are tough, basketball-first players, and they will have a huge impact in how our season goes. We have some speed and ball handlers in the Williams sisters, so we are as interested as anyone to see how this all turns out.”

MAGNIFICAT has started the season 3-1, even after graduating all five starters from last year’s district championship team.

“Having graduated eight seniors and all five starters, we have only four players returning from last season, and each has very limited varsity experience,” Blue Streaks head coach Meghann Hubach said. “They are seniors Madeline Comer and Madison Dennis and juniors Bridget Pryatel and Maddie Nickels. Bridget was in our rotation last year as a sophomore and averaged 3.4 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, 1.1 assists per game, 1.7 steals per game and 1.9 blocked shots per game (leads the team).”

In addition to the four returning players, Magnificat will look for contributions from several younger players.

“Sharing responsibility at the point guard position will be freshman Phoebe Sterba and juniors Claire Martin and Colleen McGervey,” Hubach said. “They do a nice job of pushing the tempo and starting our transition game; they can also  score the ball from the perimeter and attack the basket. At the two/three guard will be freshman Annie Ubbing; sophomore Mackenzie Meckes; juniors Sarah Scelza and Colleen McGervey; and seniors Madison Comer and Madison Dennis. In the post will be juniors Bridget Pryatel and freshmen Elise Keshock and Lily Schwind.

“We are all really looking forward to this season,” she added. “Coming off of a 19-5 season and a district championship, our expectations are high, but we also know that we will need to work hard and compete at a higher level to be successful again this season. We lack varsity playing experience, so there will be a learning curve, but our young players compete hard and have the talent necessary to win games. We will just try to get better every day and every game. Once again, we will be playing a tough independent schedule including many of the top teams in the area.”

FAIRVIEW has also had a fast start with its record of 3-1 (1-1 in the Patriot Athletic Conference).

The Warriors have a full complement of returning letter winners in seniors Rosie Morrison and Shannon Gullette; juniors Megan Coyne, Bri Kovacevich and Katie Smith; and sophomore Kelsey Bilak.

The key newcomers to the team are sophomores Rachel Malloy and sisters Kaprina and Nikki Hawkinson.

“With only two seniors on the team, it still makes us a very young team, with eight underclassmen on the varsity roster,” Warriors head coach Bill Harvey said. “We return all five starters from last year’s 12-9 team, with four of the returners on their third year of varsity basketball. We showed some really bright spots last year, but had a hard time getting over the hump versus those top-level teams.

“We have a ton of work to do, but the one thing I love about this group is they are all hard workers.”

LUTHERAN WEST has started the season 1-3 (1-1 in the PAC). The Longhorns are coming off a 2011-12 season in which they went 10-5 after the Christmas break.

The returning letter winners are Bre Coreno, Marissa Nuti, Lindsey Tomola, Ari Tomasula, Lindsay Thomas, Marissa Spelich and Amanda Stephens. The key newcomers are Katelyn Thornton, Carey Smith, Maddie Jakabcic and Olivia Vasiloff.

“We have 11 leaders on the team and thus have no need for captains,” Longhorns head coach Josh Campbell said. “Everyone needs to hold each other accountable. We’re intrinsically motivated.”

The team strengths are its depth, with a very competitive and competent second string, and balanced scoring.




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