By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Many people outside the Geneva basketball program were overlooking the Eagles coming into the 2013-14 season. Coach Nancy Barbo’s flock, however, grew and matured into as formidable a squad as Barbo has ever coached.
Now, the Eagles have the opportunity to write their own page in the Geneva record book.
“It’s been quite a ride,” Barbo said. “It’s pretty safe to say people might have thought we were going to have a rebuilding year because we lost so many key people. We knew who we were getting back. We knew they’d grow and build chemistry as the season went on.
“We knew if we built on our potential we could make some noise. The seniors wanted to prove this was something they were able to do, too.”
The Eagles (17-6) will continue the ride with a Division II regional semifinal contest against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary at Barberton at 8 p.m. today.
“Honestly, we’ll just do what we’ve always done,” Barbo said. “We just try and focus on the next game. I just keep asking, ‘Are you willing to take the next step? You’ve come this far, are you willing to take the next step?’ Four years ago, we were there. We didn’t get to the next level. I’d love for them to make history and be the first Geneva team to make the final.”
Should the Eagles emerge with a victory, they will play the winner of Parma Heights Holy Name between Beloit West Branch with a berth in the Final Four on the line.
Geneva has won 11 straight games, including a 52-34 victory over Premier Athletic Conference champion North to close the regular season.
“I hope that plays in,” Barbo said. “I want them to be confident in knowing they’ve finished strong and have learned how to finish games.
“I haven’t counted at all. I’m being dead serious. I really don’t know (how many we’ve won in a row). It’s about getting to the next level and just trying to improve and get better.”
Barbo has received some scouting info on SVSM and has a pretty good idea what kind a team it is.
“We’ve got more (information) than I thought,” she said. “It’s a bit overwhelming, but it’s nice. They’re a more senior-laden team. They start 5 seniors who have been together since they were freshmen. They’re very experienced. They sort of put all of their eggs into this team’s basket.
“Of the 5 senior starters, 4 are going to go play somewhere in college. One of them is going to play Division I at Kent. They have a strong inside presence, which we have not had to contend with this year. It will be a challenge for us.”
There was more.
“One girl has scored 1,000 points in her career and I think another guard is pretty close,” Barbo continued. “They’re talented all the way around. That being said, we’ve got to be able to rise to the challenge. I think this group can.”
The Eagles play a strong man-to-man defense, so they have a good idea how to defend a team such as SVSM.
“There are a few things we’ve had to address just going up against their size,” Barbo said. “We certainly didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. It was reviewing, more or less, and putting a certain emphasis in different areas.”
Offensively, it will take a group effort to be successful.
“They’re mainly a halfcourt man team,” Barbo said. “They pressure you in the halfcourt and let their 6-foot-2 girl clean up in the paint. They don’t show much help. They leave the big girl in the paint to swat anything that comes in. They’re able to put a lot of pressure on the ball.
“What we emphasized (Monday) is setting good screens and using them. If we don’t we’ll have a hard time getting free. We have to do the little things to free people able to get touches.”
Starting for the Eagles will be Lindsey Mayle, Alyssa Scott, Annaliesa Fistek, Emily Ball and Sarah Juncker. Mayle is the leading scorer at about 21 points per game. She also averages about 4.5 assists. Sarah Juncker is next at 8.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game and Ball and Scott are scoring 7.7 points per game. Fistek is right behind them at 7 points per game.
Mayle can hurt a team in a number of ways. She’ll drive to the hoop and score on a layup or she can draw the defense in with a drive and kick to an open teammate. If a team sags off in order to prevent the drive, she’ll knock down an open jumper.
“I completely trust her to make those calls,” Barbo said. “She’s only a sophomore but she’s played an inordinate amount of basketball. I’ll leave the judgment up to her. She has the green light to penetrate and create when she wants because she’s certainly capable of it and she makes good decisions.”
Scoring from the outside will be a key.
“It sounds really simple, but we have to knock down shots from the outside,” Barbo said. “I think we can get them, we just have to shoot with confidence.”
Four of the 5 starters have proved all year long they can make the 3-pointer. Barbo would love for all 4 of them to do it consistently in the same game.
“I’d like to get all 4 of them going, but we certainly need somebody to do it,” she said. “I would think 1 of the 4 will get going. We will be really good if we can get 2 or 3 of them going.”
Coming off the bench for the Eagles will be Rachael Harrington, Angeline Seames, Shayla Cross, Emily Corlew and Dareion Marrison.
“To put it bluntly, everybody needs to be ready to go at any given time,” Barbo said.
Barbo will try and help her starters remain as fresh as possible while keeping them on the floor.
“I will have to use my timeouts wisely,” she said. “There will times they need to recognize when they can take a little break on the floor. With the way St. Vincent-St. Mary plays defense up in your face, there will not be many of those opportunities. Adrenaline will have to help push them through.”
As Barbo was winding down from talking of her own team, she talked about Ashtabula County’s other girls basketball that reached a regional, Division III Pymatuning Valley. The teams had scrimmaged early in the year and Barbo saw the possibilities.
“You could tell, even then, there was something special with that group,” she said. “I’ve been rooting for PV all year. They’ve had an unbelievable season. Jeff (Compan) has done a great job. It’s hard to stay undefeated after so many games. That’s a testament to their ability to keep moving forward.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.