West Geauga's Wolverines have dealt with inexperience, players quitting and a limited junior varsity schedule. But the Wolverines remain positive at the end of 2013.
For these young Wolverines and their veteran coach, it seems a few steps in the right direction can come only after a step or two back.
It is the shuffle of inexperience, the difficulty of shuffling lineups and, ultimately, a shuffling roster.
“We’re just very inconsistent right now,” said head coach Cheryl Rye after a 47-28 loss at Hawken. “That’s a sign of our youth, I understand that. But it’s just disappointing when we’re not executing at least at one end of the floor. When it’s both ends, it’s a little bit hard to watch.”
The Wolverines start two sophomores and three juniors — respectively Jenna Kijauskas and Hanna Zuzek and Christina Rakich, Marissa Dalessandro and Joelle Baliker, two of whom have had meaningful varsity experience.
The roster is down to just 12 girls after a senior captain quit last week.
And freshman point guard Lindsey Stanforth, normally a starter, has been hobbled by a sprained ankle, burdening Zuzek, the team’s go-to guard in the backcourt.
“I think we’re off because with one of our captains quitting, I think we’ve been just, like, hard picking ourselves up after our losses,” said Kijauskas, the team’s most active offensive player. “We’ve been working hard in practice, but we just somehow can’t transfer that to a game.”
The team’s lone remaining senior, center Meghan Dayringer, didn’t play last season, making it a transition season for her, as well.
“It’s a little different, but I try the best I can to be a leader,” Dayringer said. “We all get along. It’s been a good season. We’re just having a hard time picking it up.”
In the first quarter against Hawken, the Hawks were better spaced, committed fewer turn-overs and were able to make shots.
Starters Meredith Cohen, Emily Oliver, Hannah O’Day, Alyssa Hunt and Lindsay Kutash led Hawken to an 8-2 first quarter lead.
West Geauga played too fast, and freshman Kara Zebrowski scored the Wolverines’ first basket with 49 seconds left in the quarter.
Coming out in a full-court press gave the Wolverines the first basket of the quarter when Kijauskas, who proves difficult to box out, scored.
Kijauskas, pronounced key-OW-skis — although the PA announcer pronounced it differently each time, and each time slightly more incorrectly — enjoys being a go-to player.
“Of course I love it,” she said. “I like to make a difference on the team, make an impact on the team. I think we need to start coming together and all doing our share.”
By halftime, the Wolverines had committed more turnovers than shot attempts. Hawken led 16-5.
It was much the same in the second half. Rakich’s jump shot was the first score of the third quarter, and Kijauskas converted an and-one.
But Cohen hit back-to-back 3-pointers for Hawken, and the Hawks’ lead swelled to 34-15. At that point, it wasn’t the Wolverines’ night.
“Every time we made a little bit of a run we couldn’t make a stop,” Rye said. “We made big steps after our last two games, but it seems like we’re back to square one after this game.”
“Every team has their off-games,” said Zuzek. “We began to make progress throughout the season. Today we backtracked. We’re looking to go forward the next games.”
West Geauga scored 66 points in a losing effort to Richmond Hts., and held close to Perry, a CVC Chagrin foe. Both were games Rye thought the team could build on.
“We moved the ball, ran and scored in transition and still kept our composure,” Rye said of the 75-66 Richmond Hts. loss.
“We very easily could have won that one,” she said of the loss to Perry. “It’s a game I’d like to have back.”
The team has relied on its effort and strong relationships off the court to make things easier during losses.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about hand work and hustle, and I think that is what we do have,” said Rakich, a captain. “We just have to put it together and play as a team.”
Zuzek picked up her thoughts: “We’ve had some inconvenient things happen. But we’re not falling apart like people may think we are.”
“We can work hard,” said Baliker. “We just have to keep communicating. We’re there; we just have to keep working hard for it.”
Rye said the team will work on fundamentals during the holiday break.
“Playing good defense doesn’t take a lot of skill,” she wrote in an email. “What you need is total commitment and trust — heart and hustle. We’ll get there. It’s just taking longer to get there than any of us would like.”
West Geauga graduate and former player Marley Praprost was at the game watching former teammates. Praprost is playing soccer and studying mechanical engineering at Case Western Reserve.
For more photos of the Hawken game, visit bit.ly/leaf.
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