For two very successful Trumbull County basketball coaches, circumstances are a lot different this winter.
For more than a decade, Howland’s John Diehl has always had a dynamic player to build his team around, from Angela Cape and Darcy Quinlan to Kelly Barzak and Alexa Williams.
Last season, Diehl’s Tigers featured four-year starters Taylor Williams (Princeton) and Erika Nites as Howland added to its list of league championships.
This season, Diehl has no returning starters for the first time in who knows how long.
A few miles south and west of Howland, Jeff Rasile has returned as McDonald’s boys varsity coach after a one-year sabbatical.
When Rasile stepped down in March 2011, the Blue Devils were on a roll, having won 63 straight regular-season games (that’s three perfect seasons and change).
After a 13-8 season, the Blue Devils resumed their winning ways, capturing their first eight games (some by lopsided scores).
The streak ended last Friday when Brookfield (6-1) defeated McDonald, 72-44.
After his first-regular-season loss since 2008, Rasile had no trouble smiling and talking about the sport he loves.
“Y-e-s-s” was the reply, the smile spreading across his face.
Rasile knows some feel he stepped down because he was losing five senior starters from the 2010-11 team (Matthias Tayala, Justin Rota, Nick Rota, Kenny Ross and Louis Ronghi).
“It had nothing to do with talent or no talent — I left because I was physically beaten down,” Rasile said. “I was exhausted.”
He said that if the program lacked talent, he might have continued being a full-time travel soccer dad.
“If I didn’t think there was any talent, I wouldn’t have come back, it wouldn’t matter to me,” Rasile said.
Once last season ended, Diehl knew change was coming.
“It’s been 15 years since I haven’t had a [strong anchor],” said Diehl after a recent 58-42 loss to Austintown Fitch. “Angela Cape started with us in ‘98 so it’s been a long time.”
Not only did Howland graduate five starters, but also Diehl’s top bench players.
“I had eight seniors last year and the [non-starting seniors] were the first off the bench,” said Diehl, who admitted this season is “way different. I’m trying not to get frustrated [over] rebounding.”
It’s not the first time Diehl has lost many key players.
“Back when Darcy Quinlan graduated in 2003, it was the same thing,” Diehl said. “I started five seniors that year and we finished 11-11. And the next year, we won 16 games.
“I think these guys, if we can get .500, then I think the following year we can win some ballgames and maybe contend for the title next year. [The Fitch defeat] gives us two losses in the league now so that kind of puts us out of that race.”
Rasile said his staff is working hard to convince his players they need to scrap like underdogs.
“We’ve got great kids, wonderful kids,” Rasile said. “What we’re trying to instill in them is the work ethic, the diving for loose balls.”
Losing to the Warriors — “a buzzsaw” according to Rasile — should provide a teaching moment.
“Sometimes I think you have to face adversity to get the message,” Rasile said.
Diehl says his Tigers are still getting used to the bigger stage.
“They are still a little nervous when we play,” Diehl said.
Tom Williams is a sportswriter with The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.