Lady Eagles set sites on West Shore championship
By Joe Ostrica
After going 14-10 last year, including an impressive 10-4 in the West Shore Conference, the Avon girls basketball team is hoping to show more improvement this winter and contend for a league championship.
“We have seven returning varsity players from last season,” Avon head coach Meghan Larrick said. “We have a strong post presence this season in our returning juniors Sierra Davidson and Brianna Conroy.”
Conroy received All-WSC and All-Lorain County first-team honors last year after averaging 7.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per contest. Davidson landed on the All-Lorain County first team and All-WSC second team last year after averaging 7.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals. Sophomore Catie Kelly (5.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.2 assists) and junior Jessica Yurkovich (6.2 points, 11 3-pointers, 3.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals) were All-WSC honorable mention selections.
“Defensively, we will be led by seniors Rachael Poling and Payton Mitchell, sophomore Allie Bjorn and junior Regan Betts,” Larrick said.
Junior Mackenzie Meckes and sophomores Alyssa Douzos, Alexandra Sauter and
Sarah Sprecher round out the roster.
“Sarah Sprecher and Alyssa Douzos worked hard in the offseason to improve their overall games and we look forward to their guard presence this season,” Larrick said. “We also have a new addition to our program with Mackenzie Meckesm who will be a strong guard presence for us as well.”
Seniors Poling and Mitchell will serve as Avon’s team captains. Larrick said her squad hopes their leadership can help lead the Lady Eagles to a WSC title.
“Our goal this year is to take each game one at a time,” she said. “We need to focus on winning the battle of the boards each game and we need to get great defensive stops in order to beat other teams. Offensively, we need to execute and finish our shots.”
Larrick expects Lakewood and Elyria Catholic to continue to be the top teams in the conference to beat.
“They both had young teams last year and will have a large amount of returners this season to make them contenders for the conference championship,” she said. “Both teams have strong quick guards which will be challenging to stop.”
In addition to focusing on one game at a time, Larrick said she wants the Lady Eagles to continue to grow as a program in order to make them contenders for the conference championship.
“We are striving for a conference championship this season but know that we are in control of our own fate,” Larrick said. “We have goals of taking care of the basketball and playing aggressive defense. If we can continue to grow in these two elements of our team game, I am excited to see what the future holds for us.
“This season we are looking to improve each day throughout the season so that we can be strong in the postseason play. We are looking for strong play from our returning experienced players and we are looking for a spark from our new additions to the team. If we can work together and play hard, I am excited about what these girls can accomplish.”
Shoregals hope chemistry, hard work equal wins
By Joe Ostrica
With just two senior starters on the roster this season, the Avon Lake girls basketball team will count on its younger players to help the Shoregals improve over last year’s 4-19 record (2-12 in Southwestern Conference action). Avon Lake will be led by senior starting captains Logan Leduc and Emily Nicholas.
“Logan Leduc has become a leader during the offseason, coming to workouts and preparing the girls and leading stretching and organizing,” Avon Lake head coach Dave Zvara said. “She is not afraid to correct someone if it is the wrong way. She was second on the team in assists.
“Emily Nicholas shows by example and is always working hard and playing hard. She is not afraid to be vocal in a positive way. She was second in rebounds last year for us and averaged 6.0 points per game.”
Zvara is expecting juniors Ali Balthaser and Kay Butrey to step up their play this season.
“Ali is a point guard in her second year,” Zvara said. “She averaged 7.0 points per game and led the team with assists with 4.0 a game. She plays hard at all times. Kay is another hard worker. She is a good offensive rebounder and averaged more than three per game.”
Juniors Michaella Frank and Gianna Guzzo, sophomores Sarah Winkel, Hannah Nicholas and Maggie Moore and freshman Sarah Lucas are young players Zvara expects to help the Shoregals this winter.
“Michaella is 6-feet tall, improving every day and wants to be the best she can be,” Zvara said. “She is a smart player and is all about the team first. She should be a factor with her height. Gianna is still recovering from a broken ankle during volleyball.
“Sarah started to play some varsity last year towards the end of the season and will be a factor this year. Hannah Nicholas played JV last year and could be a starter this year. If she isn’t, she will be one of the first girls off the bench. She can play multiple positions, which is a great help. Maggie Moore is a post player and could be a possible starter.
“Sarah is a freshman who is a good defender and shooter. As of now, she has not been practicing due to some back problems.”
Zvara expects Berea-Midpark to be the team to beat in the SWC.
“They were both good last year and now that they are combined they will be a tough team to beat,” he said. “They have both solid outside and inside games.”
Rockets look to make noise with young team
By Ryan Kaczmarski
The Bay High School varsity girls basketball team has a new look this year, both on the court, and on the sideline.
The coaching staff is brand new top to bottom this year, with former assistant coach Brian Hill taking the head coaching position. He is assisted by Jeff Sittinger, a former varsity assistant at Elyria, and Claire Werblak, who was a varsity starter on last year’s Rockets squad.
The Rockets are looking to improve on last year’s overall record of 8-13, 6-9 in the West Shore Conference.
The key returning starters for the Rockets are seniors Rachel Jerome and Emma Grubaugh; and sophomore Nora Zeibarth. The seniors on this years squad are Jerome, Grubaugh and Ellen Hanna.
“This is Rachel and Emma’s fourth year on varsity, and Ellen has been working hard in her second year of varsity,” Hill said. “Rachel was the second leading scorer on our team last year, and Emma is a key defensive player for us in the last four years, so I expect them to continue to lead our team.”
The other key players this year are sophomores Zeibarth and Lauren Heldt.
“Nora is a second-year varsity starter,” Hill added. “She is a solid post player, with a good frame. I expect her to be a leader on the court offensively and defensively. She is young, but has matured quickly, starting most games last year for us.
“Lauren is a second-year varsity player – starting from time to time – who is a solid basketball player. She is athletic enough to start every game this season, and make a major impact for us this year.”
Hill knows the West Shore Conference title will be tough to wrangle from the grasp of Lakewood, which went 11-1 in the conference last year, but he expects his young squad to make great improvement.
“With all the change that has been brought about this season, we want to become more competitive in every game we play,” Hill said. “Our team goal, as always, is to compete for a conference title.
“I think we will turn some heads, as the girls have been working hard at learning the new offensive schemes that we plan to run this year.”
Brookside aims to improve on a daily basis this season
Sheffield Lake/Sheffield Village
By Joe Ostrica
The Brookside girls basketball team head coach Tom Moyer said the Lady Cardinals will take things one day at a time this season as they aim to improve over last year’s 8-15 record, which included a 7-9 Patriot Athletic Conference record.
“Our team goals this year is to get better every single day that we step into the gym, regardless if it’s practice or a game,” Moyer said. “If we improve every day, as a team, then great things will happen for us this season.”
Senior starters Erika Elias and Arianna Sanchez will serve as the team captains for Brookside. Elias, a guard who averaged 10.9 points per game, 4.0 assists and 3.0 steals last year, earned All-PAC first team and All-Districtd second-team honors. Sanchez, a forward who averaged 8.1 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game last season, was named to the All-PAC second team and All-District honorable mention.
“Erika Elias and Arianna Sanchez will be our team leaders and captains this season,” Moyer said. “Erika brings the vocal component to the team. She is always encouraging and holding everyone accountable for their actions. Arianna is the girl who may not be very vocal on the basketball court but will always lead by example by doing the right things all the time.”
Junior guard Vanessa Vanzant returns to the Lady Cardinals lineup. After averaging 4.0 steals and 2.0 points as a sophomore, she earned the team’s Co-Defensive MVP award.
Moyer also expects sophomore Miranda Verlato to be a key contributor this winter.
“Miranda will be a great addition to our starting lineup at point guard this year,” he said. “She has a pass-first mentality. which will allow us to get the ball to our main scorers, Erika and Arianna. This will be a great upgrade for us from last year.”
Moyer said he expects Firelands, Clearview and Fairview to be the teams to beat in the PAC this season.
“These teams are aggressive by nature and are all fundamentally sound,” he said.
Warriors plan to continue last year’s success
By Ryan Kaczmarski
The Fairview High School girls varsity basketball team is coming off the most successful year in the program’s history, finishing with an overall record of 20-5 and a Patriot Athletic Conference record of 12-4.
“Last year was one for the record books,” head coach Bill Harvey said. “We broke records for everything, from most wins in a season in school history to most points scored in a season – earning the school’s first-ever No. 1 seed in the postseason – and everything in between. We hope to build off that success this year, but we understand we have to get better each time we step on the floor.”
The Warriors have four returning starters from last year’s squad, including seniors Katie Smith, Megan Coyne and Bri Kovacevich; and junior Kelsey Bilak.
Smith was 2012-2013 first team All-PAC and All-District, as well as an All-Ohio honorable mention. She averages 15.8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals per game.
“Smith – a three year starter – is our ‘do it all’ player, who plays all five positions,” Harvey said. “She has improved each year and added something new to her game each year.
Megan runs the show for us,” he added. “She sets the table on defense with her ball pressure and all out play. Bri has inside toughness, although she didn’t light up the scoreboard last year, she was able to shut down to top post player from opposing teams. She has worked on her offensive skills in the offseason.”
Some early injuries in the preseason have pushed underclassmen into prominent roles on the varsity team.
“Both sophomore Jenny Mylett and freshman Cate Schmiedl have seen some early action on the varsity floor and have proven they can both hold their own,” Harvey explained.
Harvey expects both sides of the PAC to go through Firelands and Clearview, but his Warriors nearly knocked off Clearview for the Stripes division championship last year.
“We were able to put ourselves in position last year to play for a share of the conference championship and would hope we can repeat that same success this year,” Harvey said. “This would be the first-ever conference title of any kind for girls basketball at Fairview.
“We have strengthened our nonconference schedule in hopes of better preparing us for the postseason run. We were able to secure the No. 1 seed in the Elyria district last year, and we hope to build off that success ans possibly put ourselves in a similar position this year.”
Lakewood poised to repeat as WSC champs
By Ryan Kaczmarski
The Lakewood Lady Rangers are coming off a season in which they went 20-4 and were the West Shore Conference champions (13-1), but had a disappointing showing in the postseason, losing in the sectional championship.
They have five returning letter winners in seniors Maggie Rowell, Megan Barrett, Erin Hoffert and Tori Milicevic; and junior Madison Clause.
“I’m excited about the upcoming basketball season,” head coach Mike Harper said. “Although we lost our leading scorer in Mikayla Harper (to ACL reconstruction), we still have the balance and depth to be competitive in the West Shore Conference. We will miss her on-the-floor leadership and her relentless style of play. I truly believe she is one of the best point guards in the area. It’s going to be interesting to see how we make up for this loss of production but we were built last season on a balanced attack.
“Also, we have a more seasoned and experienced squad with only losing one senior,” he added. “Our senior core of Rowell, Barrett, Hoffert and Milicevic have improved their games and bring about a new level of poise and leadership for our team. I saw some really good things from this squad in our pre-season that confirms to me that we can score the ball in multiple ways. I believe that Madison Clause has taken another step toward becoming one of the best post players in our conference.
Key newcomers to watch for are junior Taylor Shaw, sophomore Mallory Shaw and freshman Ryann Greenfield.
“Newcomer, Ryann Greenfield will be thrown into the fire early and it will take her a moment to get the speed of the game but she is one of the most talented freshmen in the area and we look for big things from her,” Harper said. “We committed to a tougher schedule this year with thoughts of building toward a more successful post-season so a repeat of a 20-win season will be a tall order, but I like our team and I won’t slight us. I’m eager to get the season underway.”
Lutheran West reloads with new starting five
By Ryan Kaczmarski
Despite going 14-11 last season, the Lutheran West girls basketball team were OHSAA Division III sectional champions, and took the No. 1 seeded Gilmour Academy to the brink in the district semis, losing 48-40.
That team was full of senior leadership, graduating all five starters, but head coach Josh Campbell likes how his roster is filling out.
“We bring back high quality character kids,” he said. “Senior Carey Smith is projected to average a double-double in points and rebounds.
“Senior Katelyn Thornton and sophomore Abby DeSimpelare are long guards, who can shoot and cause havoc on opposing guards by getting in the lanes,” he added. “Seniors Olivia Vasiloff and Maddie Jakjabcic, along with junior Johanna Ragland, are an athletic three-headed monster, who cause teams to take notice. Junior Gabby Schultz is a true, back to the basket, post player for us.”
Campbell is looking to take down Fairview for the Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes division title this year, and knows Firelands will be strong in the Stars division.
“Both teams are well coached, and bring back key players from last season,” he stated. “We are looking to compete for the conference title, and cause teams to feel uncomfortable come the fourth quarter.
“We plan on showing up and surprising teams.”
Blue Streaks return stronger than ever
By Ryan Kaczmarski
Coming off a season in which the Magnificat varsity basketball team went 18-8, and repeated as district champions, one could think there might be a let down this year.
Don’t count on it, as the Blue Streaks have 10 returning letter winners this year, including all five starters.
“Our starting lineup changed throughout last season, but at the end of the year we were starting sophomore Phoebe Sterba at point guard, Sarah Scelza, Claire Martin, Bridget Pryatel and Elise Keshock,” head coach Meghann Hubach said. “During any game though, multiple players would step up and produce.
“Colleen McGervey is returning from an ACL injury she suffered in February.”
Their roster is deep, and full of experienced varsity players.
“Being that we have so many returning players, anyone can step up and be a leader,” Hubach said. “I’m expecting our seniors to lead the way most days. They have plenty of game experience, they work hard, have good attitudes and want to make sure this year is a success.”
The Blue Streaks will play one freshman on varsity this year in Abby Adler, who will play some point guard.
As always, Magnificat plays a tough independent schedule, and looks forward to tough games against Hathaway Brown, North Canton Hoover, Walsh Jesuit, St. Joseph Academy, SVSM, Solon, Lake Catholic, Lakewood and Holy Name.
“Obviously we want to compete to the best of our ability each and every day,” Hubach explained. “Our schedule is tough and does a great job in preparing us for the tournament. We would like to go beyond the regional semi-final this season.
“Our depth is certainly one of our strengths and we hope to use that to our advantage to wear teams down a bit. We like to play an uptempo style on both ends of the floor.”
Coach says Pecchia has potential to be special player
By Joe Ostrica
North Ridgeville girls basketball head coach Amy Esser is expecting a lot out of senior Isabella Pecchia this season. Last year the forward led the Lady Rangers with 9.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Pecchia was awarded with honorable mentions from the West Shore Conference and Lorain County coaches for her efforts.
“Isabella is one of the strongest and quickest post players in the area,” Esser said. “If she plays to her potential she could be one of the leading scorers and rebounders in the area. She can play both inside and outside, along with bringing very quick and intense defense.”
Junior guard Alyssa Riley (9.0 points, 4.0 steals) landed on the All-WSC and All-Lorain County second teams last year for her play.
“Alyssa established herself last year as a premier 3-point threat,” Esser said. “This year she has become more versatile and has the ability to put up big numbers.”
Senior guards Leah Lindak and Kelly Wisniewski will also be counted on for their leadership. Esser also expects junior post player Sam Graham to be a great addition to North Ridgeville’s varsity squad.
“She is a monster on the boards and really does a lot of work that doesn’t show up all the time on the stat sheet,” Esser said.
After going 6-17 overall and 3-9 in the WSC last year, Esser hopes these key players can help the Lady Rangers improve this season. She also expects Lakewood to be the main challenger in the league.
“Lakewood brings so much speed and talent back this year,” she said. “They have talented players from No. 1 to No. 10 on that roster.
“Our teams goals include being consistent with our offense and defense. We want to maintain defensive pressure and really work the ball inside this year. We have a lot of young talent, so if they can step up and complement our veterans, we could do very well.”
Senior leadership to propel Eagles into contention
By Ryan Kaczmarski
North Olmsted is looking to improve on last year’s 11-13 overall record.
To do so, the Eagles are looking to its group of seniors to lead the underclassmen on and off the floor. The seniors are led by center Molly Dailey, who is the only returning starter.
“(Dailey) is one of the best inside post players in the conference,” head coach Cheryl Bansek said. “She has a long inside presence, and is an outside shot treat, also. She defends well, allows us to compete with the other teams and is our leader on the floor.”
The other seniors on this year’s roster are Hannah Grablovic, Erica English, Hayley Bukala and Alexis Marino.
“Hannah is a strong, aggressive inside player,” Bansek said. “She will be asked to rebound and score, as well as be a leader on the floor.
“Erica has a great transition game, and is a great shooter,” she added. “She will have the ball in her hands a lot this year. She is savvy, moves the ball well and does a great job of finding open players.
Last season, Bukala came off a surgery which kept her off the floor until the end of the season, but finished with some key varsity minutes.
“She’s an inside player, who also shoots the ball well,” Bansek said.
Some key younger players to watch are juniors Mina Diamantis and Sarah Lyons; and sophomores Hayley Hicks, Searra Bason and Stephanie Kemp.
“We are looking to win 14-15 games this season, as well as being competitive in all games,” Bansek explained. “We expect to be a solid half-court team, defensively. Our athleticism should allow us to pressure teams and wear them down over the course of games.
“We are hopeful that we can make a postseason run,” she added. “Although we have five seniors on the squad, our team is still very young. We expect our seniors to provide the necessary leadership to help our younger players grow. We expect to be one of the more competitive teams come tourney time.”
The varsity roster is rounded out by junior Rebekah Groden, sophomore Alexis Shomon and freshman Julia Kemp.
Gasper to lead the way for Bulldogs dominance
By Ryan Kaczmarski
Even though the Olmsted Falls girls varsity basketball team finished last season with a 10-13 record, eighth-year head coach Matt Fulton has to be resting easy knowing that junior Kerri Gasper, senior Heather Mueller and junior Savanajh Black are back on the court this season.
“Kerri is the best player on our team and has the potential to be the best player in the conference this year,” Fulton said. “Kerri has really nice hands and excellent footwork. She can shoot the ball from the 3-point line, take it to the basket and can score in the post.
“She can rebound, alter shots and handle the ball,” he added. “She understands the game extremely well and sees plays develop before they actually do. I have told our players that if they are on the floor with Kerri they better have their hands up and ready because Kerri will find them. Kerri can and wants to play ball in college; as of right now she has not committed anywhere. She earned first team All-Southwestern Conference, and averaged a double-double for the team as well last year.”
Mueller is coming back from a knee injury, which made her lose one third of the season last year.
“She works extremely hard in practice and plays hard every minute she is on the floor,” Fulton said of Mueller. “She puts forth a lot of effort in all aspects of being an athlete and student. She is a great leader and the kids really respect her.
“Basketball-wise, she handles the ball for us and gets us organized into what we are doing. She has a decent 15-foot jumper and attacks the basket as well.”
Black will be working the post position for the Bulldogs this season.
“Savanajh has worked hard to improve her shot and can score both in the post – from 15 feet – and off the dribble,” Fulton explained. “She runs the floor better than any big 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, and could play in college as well, although academics are extremely important to her. Savanajh missed about half of the season last year with a knee injury, and worked extremely hard to get back into shape so she could get back on the floor. If she can stay healthy, we will have a solid inside presence with her.”
The other players to watch for are seniors Marie Jacobs, Hannah Hammeren and Melissa Holcomb; and sophomore Kara Marshall.
“Marie has a great shot from the outside and can really defend around the basket with her long arms,” Fulton said. “Hannah is our most athletic player and also is the kid on the team who can jump the highest. She excels at taking the ball to the basket and can really score in the open floor.
“Melissa is a feisty defender and really loves to hound ball handlers,” he continued. “Kara is learning to harness her aggressiveness and speed to work in our favor. She is an improved ball-handler, and has worked on her shot as well. She is an aggressive defender and also likes to get out and run the floor. Her energy seems boundless and she brings great intensity to our practices.”
The Bulldogs roster is rounded out by seniors Erica Corley, Samantha Buck and Salina Salamah; junior Kristina Mancini; sophomores Emily Gerycz, Francesca Klypchak and Mady Craft; and freshman Chloe Akins.
“We bring back an experienced team – with seven seniors – but we have some underclassmen that play more minutes than some of our seniors” Fulton said. “We have two juniors and a sophomore who will all play major roles with the team this year.
“I really enjoy coaching this group and they all seem to get along well with each other. Heather and Savanajh (our captains) have really stepped up as major leaders for the team and Kerri is learning how to take on that role as well. The team has high expectations for themselves yet they see the conference with the merger of Midpark and Berea, Westlake and Brecksville, and know that we will be in a battle on most nights. We are going to try to get out and run as often as possible and hope that we can use that transition offense as a major component of our offense. We also plan on using out athleticism and quickness on the defensive end as well.”
New faces on Pirates sideline look to improve young program
By Ryan Kaczmarski
After a sectional semifinal win, and finishing last season 8-14, the Rocky River High School girls basketball program has looked for a new voice to lead the Pirates back into contention in the West Shore Conference.
The new voice is first-year head coach Dave Murphy, who takes on a team filled with youth and great potential.
The team will be led by senior Kara Johanson, who plays both guard and post positions, and is complemented by junior forward Carolyn Farling and sophomore guards Andrea Chiviles, Nicole Popovich and Lucy Grierson. Others coming off the bench to keep an eye on are senior Keeley Williams and junior Mallory Scott.
“Kara is our only returning starter from last year,” Murphy said. “Carolyn saw some varsity playing time as well, but all the others had very limited varsity minutes.”
Johanson and Chiviles will be serving as team captains this year.
“We are a very young and inexperienced team,” Murphy explained. “They are a hard working group that plays well together, but must learn to trust each other on the court.
“This year’s emphasis will be team defense.”
Rebuilding Demons have fresh legs on the run
By Ryan Kaczmarski
Even with only two returning starters from last season, the Westlake High School girls varsity basketball team looks to keep the same personality.
“We are doing the same game plan this year – run, press and run,” 12th-year head coach Chip Weiss said. “We are quick, with good shooters and ball handlers, and play very aggressive man-to-man defense. We will press full court.”
The Demons lost three starters from last year’s team, which finished with an overall record of 15-9.
The returning starters are seniors Corinne Furci and Kelly Laraway. The other returning letter winners are senior Maddy Chernosky, junior Alli Collins and sophomores Rebecca Essig, Taylor Hood and Monica Fury.
The sophomore trio of Essig, Hood and Fury are all being looked at by Division III colleges.
The key newcomers to the team are senior Lauren Severa and juniors Paige Rimko, Erin O’Neill, Lauren Kriaris and Mallory Garofolo.
“Our team’s weakness is that we are only eight girls deep,” Weiss explained.
Weiss thinks that Berea-Midpark, Amherst and Olmsted Falls will be the teams to beat in the Southwestern Conference this season.