×

Poland girls pursue regional return

The experience. Poland’s girls basketball team cannot replace what happened last season, going 26-1 with its only loss coming in a Division II regional semifinal.

Gone is starter Sarah Bury with her 14.7 points, six rebounds and four steals per game averages, along with Kat Partika and Marlie McConnell. Those graduated seniors were the catalysts for the drive for perfection last season.

Projected starters are Jackie Grisdale, Brooke Bobbey, Kailyn Brown, Lizzy Herdman and Morgan Kluchar.

Those five, along with a host of others, are looked at to take the reigns this season.

“The experience we had is second to none,” Poland girls coach Nick Blanch said. “They’ve been through it. Now they go from being in the passenger’s seat to now they’re the ones driving. They’re the ones leading our train right now. They have to bring the younger kids along like the seniors did for them last year. That’s the big thing. Their roles have been dramatically changed.”

Grisdale averaged 11.7 points per game last season. She and Bury were a great combination for the Bulldogs last season.

“Jackie doesn’t have the Sarah Bury to go behind, take some pressure off of her,” Blanch said. “Everywhere we go, they’re going to key in on Jackie. It’s up to the rest of our kids to develop and help her offensively, especially, so not everybody can key on her.

“Last year if you keyed in on her you had Jackie. If you keyed in on Jackie, you had Sarah. There was that 1-2 punch. Now, we need that 1-2 punch to develop this year. If it doesn’t, that’ll be a long season for us. That’s the biggest adjustment to find that 2 in the 1-2 punch.”

Blanch wants to see growth from this team in the first couple of months.

“I’m looking forward to seeing that growth and physicality,” he said. “Right now, we’re not the most aggressive team, especially where we want to be at the end. We’re going to have to go through a lot of sound opponents to get there. I really want to see us grow and learn. What I’m telling them in practice, they’re going to see if firsthand when the games actually start and adjust to the level of play we need to be successful.”

He sees Struthers and South Range to be competitive in the Northeast-8, with the Raiders being the NE-8 favorite.

Blanch hopes to see team chemistry by the end of the season.

“I want them to be more excited for the person next to them than them individually,” he said. “I think that was part of our success last year. We had so much talent and the kids could’ve cared less who could’ve got that — the stats, the headlines. They were more concerned with winning. Some kids have a feeling that they have to get theirs. They have to make sure they got their shots, their points. I’m more concerned with them getting off the proper shot rather than their shot. If they’re getting closed up on defensively, I’d rather them look for the open person than some acrobatic way to get a shot.”