By Tom Williams
On March 3, Sabrina Mangapora’s jump shot with two seconds remaining gave the Canfield High girls basketball team a 42-40 victory over West Branch in the Division II district final.
Because most of the key players from that game are returning, few observers would be surprised if Canfield and West Branch meet again in the championship game.
Don’t count out Struthers from joining join the party, especially after Poland bounced the Wildcats in last year’s sectional final.
“Canfield, West Branch and Struthers are three of the elite girls teams in the area,” Cardinal Mooney head coach Bill Ritter said.
Austintown Fitch head coach Stacie Cepin expects the All-American Conference American Division race to be interesting.
“Canfield and Struthers are very good and we have a bunch of scrappy teams like Poland and Howland — great programs that they don’t go away,” Cepin said. “We’re not taking anyone lightly.”
Last season, the 6-foot-1 Mangapora, who has a Ball State scholarship for volleyball, averaged 20 points and nine rebounds for the Cardinals (17-8). The Canfield point guard is sophomore Rachel Tinkey while the other guards are Abby Baker, Paige Baker and Allison Pavlansky.
Canfield has six letter-winners back while West Branch (21-3) returns seven.
“We are experienced,” said Pat Pavlanksy who is in his 18th season for Canfield.
Pavlansky said his main goal is to get new players to blend in with his veterans.
Point guard Melinda Trimmer (11 points) and forward Pavin Heath (10 points) are the returning starters for the Northeastern Buckeye Conference’s Warriors.
The main threats to Canfield in league play should be Fitch (11-10) and Struthers (19-3).
The Falcons are powered by junior guard Megan Sefcik who averaged 16 points last season and is being recruited by Division I college programs.
“It’s a constant thing with the letters and the emails, but I’m just taking it one day at a time,” Sefcik said. “It’s a fun process.”
Cepin said stronger outside shooting from senior Brenda Thompson and sophomore Aaliyah Sadler should help take the focus off Sefcik.
“Having a couple of others who can make plays from the outside, that helps,” said Cepin who is beginning her fourth season at Fitch. “We have such a sense of unity — we’re not about just one player. Megan takes pride in that.”
Struthers also is a team that expects to use a balanced offensive attack. The Wildcats return four juniors who were starters a year ago.
Sometimes it’s good to be the underdog, which we are because of our [Poland] loss last year.” Struthers junior McKenna Shives said. “That really motivates us.
“We lost to Poland by 10 in the sectional final,” Shives said. “We see it as unfinished business. This year, we’re going to build off that energy that we had last year — we never want to feel that way again.”
In the Wildcats’ opener, a 63-44 romp over South Range, no one thought the Wildcats were at their best.
“We didn’t play good defense — we’ve got some work to do,” Wildcats head coach John Grandy said.
Ashleigh Ryan led the Wildcats with 15 points against the Raiders. Shives and senior Ashley Hefferon each scored 12.
“It can’t just be one person — it has to be the whole team,” Ryan said of the Wildcats’ offense.
Now that Taylor Williams’ marvelous four-year career for Howland is over, John Diehl’s Tigers are rebuilding for the first time in almost a decade.
Also hoping for a rebound is Boardman with Jeff Hammerton in his first full season as head coach. Last fall, Hammerton replaced long-time head coach Ron Moschella who stepped down when he was diagnosed with cancer.
The Spartans (4-17) return all five starters (Emily Gibbs, Kelly Tomcsanyi, Megan Volosin, Jenna Kuczek and Brianna Fonderlin).
“Turnovers killed us last year and we still make too many,” Hammerton said. “We need our young kids to grow up quickly.”
Hammerton expects North Canton Hoover and Uniontown Lake to battle for the Federal League crown.
Moschella, meanwhile, has recovered and moved on to Division IV Columbiana where he takes over a program that went 6-15 last season. Among his returning starters are senior Khylea Fullum (15 points) and Megan Cutlip (seven points).
Moschella expects Lowellville to remain the queen of the Inter Tri-County League Tier Two despite losing three 1,000-point scores to graduation (Taylor Hvisdak, Emily Carlson and Ashley Moore).
Tony Matisi’s Rockets have won four straight league titles, going 55-1. Senior Kaye Solak was the Rockets’ leading scorer in their Division IV regional semifinal loss to Berlin Hiland.
Lisbon head coach Jason Thompson, who only has three Blue Devils returning, expects United and Crestview to lead the ITCL Tier One.
Girad head coach Andy Saxon, whose team was 13-7, sees Lakeview, Champion and Newton Falls as the teams to beat in the AAC National Division.
The Bulldogs (18-5), who swept their AAC National competition, will be led by junior guard Alli Pavlik (14 points).