STEEL VALLEY CONFERENCE Postseason hopes rest on standout Davidson
With a Michigan State-bound player, Ursuline is favored to win the league.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
The Steel Valley Conference has become a three-team race, with a new coach, a Division I college signee and a familiar storyline.
Cardinal Mooney, Ursuline and Warren Harding will compete for the league title one season before Warren John F. Kennedy joins the mix.
But there should be plenty to watch this season.
At Mooney, Jack Bermann, a long-time assistant coach, takes over for the retired Roy Nard.
At Ursuline, senior Courtney Davidson is signed (Michigan State) and ready to deliver.
The Irish have won three straight Div. III district championships and will look to earn their fifth regional meeting in the last six seasons with South Euclid Regina, a three-time defending state champion.
Their annual duels have become the top storyline this season: Will the teams meet again and will Ursuline, which has lost four straight times, finally end years of frustration to earn a state berth?
Bermann was a junior varsity coach at Mooney for 17 years, but when Nard decided to step aside after last season, the opportunity was presented.
"It's the toughest 36-inch move I've ever made in my life," Bermann said. "Now, it's your butt that's on the line."
Bermann learned his share of basketball from Mooney coaches Tom Albrecht, Nick Bellino and Nard.
"That was the nice thing about being an assistant," Bermann said. "You're helping out with other coaches and watching other programs."
Under Bermann, the Cardinals will try to play up-tempo with a host of juniors, led by second-year starting guard, Gina Brunetti.
"We're not very big. We've got two kids over 6-foot, and that's it," Bermann said. "Depth-wise and speed-wise, we're pretty good."
Mooney hasn't beaten Ursuline since the 2000 district finals, and the Cardinals are hoping to get that third game against their rivals this season, having moved back to Div. III.
With her college future secured, the 5-foot, 5-inch Davidson, who averaged 20 points and eight assists per game as an All-Ohioan last season, will be able to focus on her senior season.
"She gets better every year," Ursuline coach Sean Durkin said of his point guard. "Now it seems as though we have a lot more talent around her, and that makes her better."
Bermann added of Davidson, "She can do so many things. She's strong, she can handle the ball, and she's tough to guard off the dribble and off the pass. She's gotten better defensively, and that's probably given her the chance to go Division I."
Ursuline sophomore Tyra Grant has the chance to become one of the area's best players, as well. She averaged 16 points and eight rebounds per game as a freshman.
"She's gotten bigger [5-11] and stronger, and she's a tireless worker," Durkin said. "We expect big things out of her. By the time she's done here, she's going to be someone people are going to talk about."
Davidson and Grant are supported by senior Rebecca Slattery, junior Cierra Bennett and sophomore Vannessa Dickson, but the Irish must develop a bench behind them.
"We need to find some depth," Durkin said. "We only have five kids with any real varsity experience."
Against Regina, the Irish have been "on the wrong end too many times," Durkin said.
"We're trying to get better at things that will allow us to beat very good teams," Durkin said. "And they're one of them."