Gabriel, Lakers getting ready for new era

Geena Gabriel, in a black shirt, breaks the team huddle following a Pymatuning Valley girls basketball practice Wednesday at PV High School. Gabriel, a PV alumna, took over the program from her former head coach, Jeff Compan, this summer.

ANDOVER — The Pymatuning Valley girls basketball team finished its Wednesday practice with some 3-point shooting. The girls gathered to put up some shots with the goal of hitting 125 before time ran out.

At a couple points, the girls lost count, which got a chuckle out of first year-head coach Geena Gabriel. But the Lakers new coach hasn’t lost count of the number of days until the season opens.

The Lakers open the season with Jefferson on Friday. Then they travel to Edgewood on Nov. 23 before getting nearly a week off.

It hasn’t been the smoothest preseason for Gabriel the PV. The Lakers saw success in volleyball and girls soccer, so a number of players on this year’s roster were unable to get into the gym.

By the team the fall season was over, Gabriel had to wait a bit to get into a set practice schedule. The gym floor was getting replaced. So the Lakers finally got a shot at a regular practice on Nov. 8.

“Now we’re trying to get into basketball shape instead of soccer and volleyball shape,” Gabriel said. “It’s really nice only losing one senior last year and bringing a lot of girls back.”

The approach to the preseason is different from years past, according to forward Ellie Struna. She said the team is focusing on conditioning in the early stages of camp.

“We’re getting into shape more than we did last year,” Struna said.  “We’re doing the same amount of shooting. We’re focusing more on the defensive side than the offensive side.”

Struna also said the Lakers are focusing on become a more balanced offense. In previous seasons, PV focused on shooting. This year, the Lakers have also mixed in some post work and driving to the rim.

Jeff Compan was the longtime coach of the Lakers girls team. When Gabriel took over, she added Kelsea Cross as her assistant coach. The female staff has provided a different communication channel that’s difficult for female athletes to create with a male coach.

“We’ve had that connection with her, and now that she’s the head coach ... it’s just there,” guard Cassie Clute said. “It’s not brand new.”

Gabriel was a coach at PV the past few years, but becoming the head coach is a different venture. She was friendly coach, but now she has to be more stern when handling the team.

The Lakers field a younger roster in 2021. Struna, Clute and Kali Siembor are the only seniors on the roster. Mix in a couple juniors, several sophomores and seven freshmen, and PV has a full squad.

The younger roster also plays to Gabriel’s advantage, in a way. Gabriel runs a similar system offensively as years past, but she is changing the defense. With a large group of underclassmen, it’s about teaching them the systems and development.

“I think setting the tone and base for the freshmen to carry out for their four years, I think that gonna be easier,” Gabriel said. “And [the freshmen]  aren’t stuck in their old ways. This is what I want, this is how you go about it and this is how I want you to carry yourselves from here on out.”

Gabriel said the team still has some strides to make before the season begins. And she hopes the success from PV’s fall sports carries over into the basketball season.

“This is a learning process for me as well as the girls, too,” Gabriel said. “I’m looking forward to the first game and having the girls finally come together and give us their all.”

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