Cardinals riding high

Canfield off to best record since 2017-2018; earns No. 1 seed heading into tournament

Staff file photo / Neel Madhavan Canfield senior Kate Sahli (14) goes up for a shot in the paint during a game against Austintown Fitch on Jan. 21.

CANFIELD — The Canfield girls basketball program is used to having a winning pedigree.

The Cardinals have boasted a winning record in each of the past 15 seasons, and after a 16-7 campaign a year ago, Canfield fully expected to field a strong, competitive squad yet again this season.

But, there was a moment during preseason scrimmages back in the fall when the Cardinals realized that this could end up being a special group.

“I thought we had a really great summer,” said head coach Matt Reel. “Then we really challenged ourselves with our scrimmage schedule in the fall. We started to have an idea that we had a chance to be pretty successful. We went up to Solon and played them, then Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and held our own just fine there and I think that opened (the team’s) eyes. We went down to Massillon Jackson and played really well in the scrimmages there. So we really loaded up the scrimmage schedule and I think that gave us some confidence.”

That confidence bled into the start of the regular season and the Cardinals started winning — a lot.

Canfield has beaten some formidable foes along the way, including West Branch, Ursuline, Stow-Munroe Falls, Struthers, Marlington, Fitch, Boardman and Poland, enroute to a 18-1 record so far this season, the Cardinals’ best mark since the 2017-2018 season.

“This year, we’ve had a really great bond,” said senior Abby Muckleroy, who is second on the team in scoring at 8.8 points per game. “We have good chemistry and we work really well together.”

Reel credits that team chemistry to having a group of players with complementary skill sets.

“Every group I think is different,” Reel said. “This group has really meshed together and their skill set really fits together. …This group has really skilled players out (on the floor) the entire time and for some reason, it fits together. Sometimes teams do that and you’re not really sure why. We’ve really come together quicker than I thought we would this year.”

Versatility has been one of Canfield’s strengths this year. The Cardinals are a multidimensional group and have shown that they can beat teams in a variety of different ways with a multitude of different players.

They pass the ball well and can have the ability to drive and score in the lane, while also at times having the ability to put four and even five players on the floor that can consistently hit shots from beyond the three-point arc.

“It’s a rare group in that they really don’t care who leads us in scoring,” Reel said. “I think we’ve had five different leading scorers throughout the year and our top scorer is only averaging nine points per game. So we have many girls that can really hurt you. I think that diversity makes it really tough (to defend).”

But perhaps what Canfield has most hung its hat on during its run this season is its defense. The Cardinals are holding opponents to 34.6 points per game, while also limiting them to just 30.5 percent shooting.

“Our defense has carried us in our games,” said senior Kate Sahli, who leads the team in scoring with 9.2 points per game . “(It) has helped us be more consistent as we move forward.”

“Even if our shooting isn’t on, we have other factors like our rebounding and defense,” Muckleroy added. “I think our defense has really been a strong suit this year.”

With the Cardinals having just one game left in the regular season before the playoffs begin, Canfield has parlayed its season into the No. 1 seed in its district in Division II.

The top-seeded Cardinals open the tournament against No. 26 seed Conneaut on Feb. 15 in the sectional semifinal, with the winner advancing to face 27th-seeded Niles in the sectional final.

“It’s a great honor to be No. 1 out of all the teams,” Muckleroy said. “It’s definitely not going to be an easy road, but I definitely think we can make it far if we just keep doing what we’ve been doing.”


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