By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
The three area girls basketball teams who have survived and advanced to their respective district tournaments all have something in common. Geneva, Madison and Pymatuning Valley all played their opponents in the district semifinals earlier this season.
The Eagles opened the season with a win over Lakeview to open the season. The Lakers dropped Champion in overtime just as the page turned to start the new year. The Blue Streaks hung with Mentor for two and a half quarters before eventually falling to the Cardinals.
Given those results, don’t expect any of the three area teams to do anything much different this time around... .
For that matter, don’t expect the Lakers’, Eagles’ and Blue Streaks’ counterparts to change their respective plans of attack much either.
“We’ll do what we have to do to win,” Lakeview coach Adam Lewis said. “We’re not going to reinvent the wheel. We got where we are by playing our style and we’re comfortable playing that style against Geneva.”
“Jeff (Compan) does a fabulous job with his kids,” Champion coach Jeff Thompson said. “You’re not reinventing wheel. You go with what got you there. You try to play to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.”
Here’s a look at each of the three matchups:
(1) Geneva vs. (4) Lakeview
Barbo has been a thorn in Lewis’ side. The Eagles (21-2) have beaten Lakeview in all four of the teams’ previous battles, three of which have come at the gym in Andover Township.
“We’ve definitely made sure the girls are aware Lakeview will come in with a little more, I don’t want to say motivation, but with a fire in their eyes because of the past situations,” Barbo said. “We made sure our girls know they’ll be throwing everything they have at us just to prolong their season and put us behind them.”
Barbo was on to something with her assessment.
“This is my fourth year and Geneva ended our season the last three years,” Lewis said. “We’re 0-4 against Geneva right now because they beat us earlier in the season.
“(Our players) know about that. We talk a lot about Geneva. They’re well aware (Geneva’s) ended our season the last few years. We were glad to get them on our schedule at the beginning of the year so that they know what we’re getting into.”
That said, Lewis respects the Eagles.
“Geneva is a solid program,” he said. “They do a lot of things very well. They did those things well at the beginning of the season and they’re still doing them well now.”
The reward for winning Thursday would be a date in the district semifinal with the (2) winner between second-seeded Chagrin Falls and third-seeded Lake Catholic.
Geneva has put together quite a run and has been about as consistent as is possible.
“I talked to the girls about some of the past teams I’ve had and told them that the betters ones I’ve known what we were going to get game to game, not so much in scoring, but hustle plays and rebounding,” Barbo said. “This is one of those teams. I know what I’m going to get from them game to game and I hope that leads to some consistency.”
Lakeview (18-5) was pushed to the limit by Perry in its sectional championship, finally winning, 56-54, in overtime. The best slice of what kind of team the Bulldogs have been, though, might be their home-and-home series with Jefferson in All-American Conference play.
In the first matchup at Falcon Gymnasium, the Falcons dictated the tempo and had control of the contest until a late 11-0 run gave the Bulldogs the victory. In the second contest between the two, the Bulldogs asserted their pace and coasted to the win.
“For us, it’s a matter who shows up,” Lewis said. “We haven’t been the most consistent team this season. The girls have to show up and play four good quarters.”
The Eagles will present a unique problem for Lakeview, defensively. Any one of four starters — and maybe even two or three players off the bench — can get hot and carry the offense at any given time.
Guards Becky Depp and Lindsey Mayle have been dual threats all year. Both can hit the 3-pointer from just about anywhere. However, if a defender rushes out with the singled-minded approach to stop the jumper, they will both drive past that defender for a layup.
“Both of them have come a long way,” Barbo said. “At the beginning of the season, they were really just willing to settle for that outside shot. I think they both realized that the 3 is good, but when it’s taken away, they have to drive. Both of them are good free-throw shooters and hopefully that will get them to the line, too.”
When teams decide to spread out and defend the perimeter, Natalie Thomas will score in the post.
“Natalie never stops working,” Barbo said. “The other teams defense might take breaks, but Natalie never does. She’s open more than we see, but she knows in due time she will get that look.
“They’re such good friends, I’ve seen her, as they’re running down the court, communicate that they need to look for her. If they don’t, she’s content to just work off the boards and get those looks.”
In Geneva’s 62-38 victory over Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin in a sectional championship, Sarah Depp proved to be of the same mold as Becky Depp and Mayle and picked up the mantle for the Eagles when the other two struggled for opportunities.
“She’s always had that ability,” Barbo said. “We’ve been talking to her about being ready to go. Against NDCL, she took advantage of openings and it worked out. It was a nice time to recognize that.”
At times during the season, Emily Ball, Alyssa Scott and Annaliesa Fistek all have given the Eagles a shot in the arm when it was needed.
“The three of them have come along nicely this season,” Barbo said. “They’ve contributed highly in many games. It changes from game to game, but they’re very good at waiting for their time and making the most of their opportunities.”
Defending Geneva will be a problem for the Bulldogs.
“Geneva is a very balanced team,” Lewis said. “If you look at their scoring, they have three or four girls at or near double figured every night. It’s going to have to be a total team effort. We can’t have missed assignments or mental lapses.
“We have to play four quarters.”
The Bulldogs are not nearly as diverse. Junior guard Allie Pavlik scores nearly half of Lakeview’s points.
“It’s hard to say we’re not a one-dimensional team,” Lewis said. “I’d have to say we are one-dimensional. But we use that teams key on one player as motivation for the other girls. They have to step up.”
The Eagles will primarily use Emily O’Dell with Lyndsey Armstrong and Sarah Depp taking over at times to try and shut Pavlik down.
“They’ll have a little help from their teammates,” Barbo said. “One thing about (Pavlik) is she’s a great overall athlete. She doesn’t just score inside the offense. She scores by getting steals.
“On offense, we’ll have to work to take care of the ball to prevent steals and we’ll have to work to keep her from scoring in transition.”
Pavlik knows what’s in store against the Eagles.
“Allie knows Geneva’s MO is to shut down (their opponents best scorers),” Lewis said. “She’ll try and not give in to the hype and do what she can to get other people touches.”
(3) PV vs. (6) Champion
at Mineral Ridge
When the Golden Flashes and Lakers mix it up, it will be a contrast in styles.
Pymatuning Valley (21-2) likes to press and trap the length of the court. When the Lakers are successful in that, things go a lot better for them.
“I enjoy us playing at that pace and our girls enjoy it,” Compan said. “There’s a lot less rules that way. They’re not afraid to shoot the ball. There’s never the question of whether we made enough passes or all the rules aligned with us getting a good shot or not.”
“They’re long and lanky,” Thompson said. “That’s why they press and play halfcourt defense. That’s key for them. We have to limit turnovers because their defense feeds their offense.”
Champion is a much better team when it can slow the pace and play a halfcourt game.
Compan understands it’s to the Lakers’ benefit to play the kind of game they’ve played all season.
“(Champion) suffered a few injuries,” Compan said. “Jeff and I are good friends and he’ll admit they’re not as deep as they should be. The further we get into their bench, whether it be because of foul troubles or rest, is more advantageous for us.”
When the teams met the first time, it was Champion (15-9) that was able to control the tempo.
“Champion’s got two good scorers in Gabby Lamont and Mackenzie Kiser,” Compan said. “We need to contain them and be aggressive on offense.
“The first game we played with them was an overtime game and we only scored 41 or 42 points. The pace was theirs. We’ll be a little more aggressive on offense and the key is to keep those two under wraps will be Object 1 on defense.”
Kiser, who is the biggest part of the Golden Flashes’ offense, will touch the ball at least once and often multiple times in every possession. If she doesn’t look to score, she operates as a facilitator, allowing others to get opportunities.
It was that willingness to share that allowed Lamont to hurt the Lakers in the first matchup.
“When we played the first time, we tried to deny (Kiser) the ball,” Compan said. “Lamont hurt us with jumpers. You have to pick your poison if (Lamont) is making her shots. She’s getting three (points) at a time as opposed to Kiser getting two.”
Lamont will have to be just as lethal this time around as she was the last.
“That’s one of the things they a good job of the last time we played,” Thompson said. “Brown covered that pass down low and they doubled (Kiser). We have to have ball movement and hit the outside jump shots to open the inside. If we don’t do those things, they’ll pack everyone down in on Mackenzie.”
The Lakers’ athleticism has fueled its fullcourt press all season and could be a difference maker against the Golden Flashes.
“That’s our strength,” Compan said. “That’s how we’ve won a lot of close games. We took a lot of games from a two-point difference to 10 or 12 because of it.
“It makes a big difference. We’ll and exploit that when we can. For us, that’s what we do. They have a girl who made 50 3s and a 6-foot post. They’re going to try and walk it up and keep the score in the 40s.”
For Champion to slow the pace, it doesn’t necessarily take simply holding the ball. There are other, and maybe more efficient ways, to pull it off.
“One of the best ways to slow it down is for us to be patient on offense,” Thompson said. “They can’t score if they don’t have the ball. We don’t necessarily have to stand and hold it. We can run a patterned offense to get good looks and take 20, 30 or 40 seconds to get that good shot.”
Kiser and Champion may have the advantage in size in the post, but PV and the duo of Brown and Megan Stech are far more athletic and have a knack for finding the hoop, as well as the ball following errant shots.
“Megan has been a huge surprise for us this year,” Compan said. “In the offseason, we were expecting to play a little varsity and a little JV. She’s been starting for the varsity. She gets her hands on so many rebounds. She makes a huge difference.
“Kelsea is steady. She scores 17 or 18 points and gets 10 rebounds each night. For someone who is only 5-foot-7, those are great numbers.”
Brown, Stech and Heather Brant have found a nice connection.
“The girls are very unselfish,” Compan said. “Kelsea, Megan and Heather have settled in. They’ve discovered where each one will be when one of them gets stuck and where each one of them likes to have the ball to shoot.
“They do a nice job created assists. I don’t think I’ve ever had posts who have as many assists as those three have this year.”
With point guard Geena Gabriel slicing, dicing and dishing, the outside shooting of Michealia Skleres and the post play, the Lakers have five legitimate scoring threats.
“We have four girls, almost five, who score in double digits,” Compan said. They’re an unselfish team. They make it tough for teams to prepare for us.
“They’re all capable of scoring and they can all put in 15 to 18 points.”
“We definitely have to pick our poison,” Thompson said. “You can’t guard everything. One of the things you have to be concerned with regarding PV. They drive well and get offensive rebounds. We need to stop the penetration and keep them off the boards.”
Gabriel, Brant and Skleres will key the pace for the Lakers.
“The guards do a great job of pressuring the ball,” Compan said. “When they get the ball on a steal or a rebound, they don’t hesitate. When we walk the ball up, that’s when something is wrong.”
When the Lakers need a play, Brant is the one most likely to deliver.
“She has a knack, when we’re struggling, for doing her own thing,” Compan said. “She’ll sag off and get a steal or tip that leads to a steal. She has a feel for the game. She knows she can run here, jump and get a tip or a steal.
“Most times, she’s dead on.”
Gabriel, always a good distributor of the ball, is starting to become a dangerous threat from the outside, as well.
“With the Brown girl inside and Gabriel outside, they have a nice inside-out game,” Thompson said.
Also seeing a lot of time, and potentially bringing some points off the bench for the Lakers will be Abby Hamilton and Rebecca Dillon.
(6) Madison vs. (1) Mentor
at Perry (7)
As part of the Northeast Ohio Conference, Mentor plays some of the top teams in the state. The Cardinals (16-8) have beaten up on teams from Madison’s, the Premier Athletic Conference.
That is with two exceptions — the Blue Streaks (16-7) and Chardon.
“There are two PAC teams we struggle with,” Mentor coach Steve Thompson said. “One is Madison. The other is Chardon.
“(Madison coach) Mike (Smith) always plays Mentor tough. His kids always play Mentor tough.”
The Cardinals philosophy is, and always has been, simple. And it won’t be any different tonight.
“We shoot 3s and get putbacks,” Thompson said. “We have four kids who shoot 3s. Our guards are 5-10, 5-9 and 5-9. We’re pretty athletic. We go eight deep. We want to run, just like the boys.
“The last time we played, we pressed the whole game. We want to get up and down the floor.”
The Blue Streaks understand what makes the Cardinals dangerous.
“It’s their length (that makes their defense work),” Smith said. “It’s nit just that they have a couple of 6-1 kids. All of them are long. With the pressure and their arms extended, they cover a lot of ground. They’re a pressing team. With our guards getting trapped by they’re bigger guards, the biggest key for them is all the ground they cover.”
There is a way for Madison to beat that press.
“We have to play confident,” Smith said. “If we let their length get in our heads, we’ll make soft passes. We have to aggressive and attack their length, use our speed and quickness.”
That aggression has to come right from the tip.
“We have to get a hold of them early and hang in there as long as we can and make them beat us later in the game,” Smith said. “We have to limit their possessions, take care of the basketball and really play ball control.
“As soon as we make a mistake, they’ll go on a 10-0 run.”
The Blue Streaks can also use the Cardinals’ own aggression against them.
“We can back dribble to relieve the pressure, ball fake and make them shift or get off their feet and use a lot of ball movement,” Smith said. “We can get the ball to the cutters to relieve pressure.”
Madison has a number of options who can hurt Mentor once they get into an offense.
Abbie Trivisonno, Taylor Bland, Dana Appelfeller, Melanie Primer and Danielle Johnson have all had big nights for the Blue Streaks.
“We’re balanced,” Smith said. “We have different people lead the scoring for us all the time. We don’t have one person you can key on to take us out of a game.”
The Cardinals are much the same way with starters Kaitlin Zdanowicz, Lauren Stefancin, Courtney Schutz, Kayla Gabor and Christine Dawson.
“Stefancin, I’d say is their best shooter,” Smith said. “They’re the biggest school in the state. They have a lot of girls to pick from. They have a lot of depth. When we’re taking out our starters, they’re putting in another 6-1 player. They’re depth and length cause a lot of teams problems.”
Julie Gavorski should be a key for the Madison defense with Tayler Gustin and Julie Bruening and all finding ways to make contributions.