CONNEAUT — Ashtabula County girls basketball players received a new game plan this summer.
County teams have joined forces to create a summer league. They play twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and rotate host schools. Referees oversee the games and score is not kept.
Conneaut held the third session on Thursday night and the Spartans were joined by Lakeside, Jefferson, St. John and Geneva.
“It’s basically just playing basketball,” St. John coach Nick Iarocci said. “The first night we had the girls call their own calls, that was kind of a different approach, a different vibe. But again, it’s just the idea of getting the girls to play basketball in the summer and so far we’ve had probably 50-60 girls every single time.”
A phone call between Edgewood coach Randy Vencill and Conneaut coach Tony Pasanen sparked the idea a few months back.
“Coach Vencill, from Edgewood, he called me — it was probably like late February, early March — and he said ‘Are there any shootouts around here that are closer than an hour?' and I said ‘Not really,’” Pasanen said. “So, with eight county schools, I said maybe we can get something started where we set dates and then whoever wants to show up can show up. So I sent out an email to all the coaches and the response was outstanding. We’ve been thrilled with the first three days.”
The option to play with teammates and against other county teams was not readily available to players in the past. Geneva rising senior Jordan Vencill said that her team used to play in leagues that were nearly an hour away.
Last year, when the Eagles transitioned from former coach Nancy Barbo to Mike Hassett, the girls went to Koval Court in Geneva to play pick-up games against players from the boys team.
Vencill said she is enjoying the opportunity to play against familiar faces near home, especially knowing that some — Edgewood, Lakeside and Grand Valley — will be joining Geneva in the Chagrin Valley Conference next season.
“It’s been great,” she said. “I actually like it better with the county, because I know most of these girls and I know their potential. All these girls are great. They know how to play great and I just like staying local.”
The league offers more to players than just having the opportunity to take the court. It allows some of the more green players to learn their team’s scheme and experience the speed of varsity talent. It also gives them a chance to grow more comfortable with some of the more seasoned players, like St. John’s Sydney Carpenter.
“It’s fun,” she said. “The upcoming freshman, getting to know them and how they play, and they can get experience before we go right into the season, it helps the whole team.”
It also benefits the coaches. Iarocci said he has been able to sit back and let his players play, but he has also taken advantage of the teachable moments when they present themselves.
“It’s kind of the best of both worlds,” he said.
Teams like Conneaut, which is returning most of its core from last year, have the chance to grow together on the court without having to worry about too many of the little details. They also get to experiment with multiple styles of basketball.
“This is the first year in a while that we came in the offseason really not putting in anything new,” Pasanen said. “There will be little things here and there, so it’s been a lot more relaxed so far. … I like it. You’re playing multiple teams in one night, different styles, so I think it’s good for the girls.”
And the competition is only going to strengthen.
“The first two, they’ve been really competitive and this is getting competitive too,” Vencill said.