By Ryan Kaczmarski
The North Olmsted girls basketball team doubled-up James Ford Rhodes High School 66-33 last Wednesday night at home over the holiday break.
The victory gives the Eagles a 3-0 record in nonconference games this year. Unfortunately, the team’s Southwestern Conference record is 0-4, and the schedule will not get any easier down the line.
“We have an aggressive schedule,” said second-year Eagles head coach Cheryl Bansek. “We play in the SWC, which is a privilege to be a part of. It is a very challenging conference – our nonconference opponents are challenging also – but we’re looking ahead, over the next eight weeks, to climb upward.
“We’re looking to improve every day and with each and every game,” she added. “We look like we are trending in that direction.”
Bansek took over the program late in the summer of 2010, and the team had no summer workout programs in place.
“This past summer, the girls bought into everything that we did,” Bansek said. “We played in numerous shoot-outs and we went to camp at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind. We played in some (summer) leagues, and the girls got a lot of basketball experience.
“We need to continue to play a lot, because we have a very young group with just three seniors on it.”
The program is still down in numbers, from the pay-to-play scenario that plagued North Olmsted in 2010, with only nine girls listed on the varsity roster.
“The kids that traditionally participate (in basketball) as their second or third sport, weren’t necessarily coming out to play,” Bansek said. “We’re still recovering.”
Bansek is not using the lack of numbers in her program as a crutch.
“We need to just continue to work hard and build ourselves offensively as well as defensively,” she said. “I believe we can get better defensively quickly if we continue to work on it.
“Our offensive rebuilding has been a little bit of a challenge. We don’t have too many born shooters, but we’re working on it.”
Senior forward Megan Branchick is averaging a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) for the Eagles.
“She (Branchick) is one of our best overall athletes,” Bansek said. “Right behind her is Tara Kelley, who is putting up numbers on the board for us. She is our best all-around free-throw shooter.”
Kelley led all scoring in the game against Rhodes with 19 points. She dropped three 3-point shots and was six for six from the free-throw line.
The top defender for the Eagles is junior guard Haley Reines, who has been a regional qualifier in cross country the last three years.
“We put her on the best player for the other team,” Bansek said. “She does a nice job for us.”
Bansek, along with all of North Olmsted’s coaches, is stressing to the girls that they need as much offseason practice and play as they can handle.
“The one thing we lack here is girls who play AAU basketball,” she said. “We’re encouraging all of our girls to play travel basketball, because we need experience.”
Kelley is the only member of this year’s squad to play AAU basketball last summer. She played for Eagles assistant coach Kevin MacNamara’s TNBA team.
“The main goal of our program is to get more kids out there and to grow,” Bansek said. “We’re really excited. We’re working with our girls all the way down to the second grade. We recently put a fifth-grade travel team together, which is a first for North Olmsted.
“We have a program called Little Lady Eagles Basketball, and we work with the girls for an hour and a half every Thursday in the evening,” she added. “We average between anywhere from 20 to 150 girls, depending on what is going on that night of the week in North Olmsted.”
The Little Lady Eagles will get a chance to show their skills during halftime on senior night for the varsity girls team. Check with North Olmsted City Schools for more information on Little Lady Eagles basketball.