The 2008-2009 basketball season was supposed to be a rebuilding one for the Canfield Lady Cardinals.
Canfield’s girls probably played slightly above where anyone expected, however, finishing with a nice 16-9 record that included a 5-3 mark in the All American Red Tier. A few wins in the state tournament sent the surprising Lady Cardinals to the Regionals where they were finally upended by Canton South, 52-44.
With only three seniors set on the opening night roster, this year may be another one where the Lady Cardinals will have to try and sneak up on people. Head coach Pat Pavlansky admits he will need those seniors to set the tone in the locker room and on the court.
“As always our leadership will come from our seniors,” said the coach via email. “They have done a good job so far and will need to continue that for us to be successful.”
Two seniors who saw a significant amount of court time in '08-'09 were Sara Shoemaker and Kendal Malsch. Shoemaker is five-feet, seven inches and Malsch is five-feet, nine inches so both will be counted on to fill the void in the frontcourt left by the graduation of Anokha Padubidri and Kalie Luklan.
Both Sara and Kendal should create a bigger opportunity for themselves this year, but whenever anyone speaks of the Lady Cardinals they usually say the name Jillian Halfhill in the first few breaths. The five-foot, six-inch senior is the heart and soul of the Canfield lineup. Not only does she provide leadership on the court, but her scoring, rebounding and assist abilities threaten a triple-double every night. Halfhill has already committed to continuing her playing career at Bowling Green, but right now she is committed to dominating the Red Tier.
It is certain that Halfhill will be in the starting lineup each game and she will probably be joined by one or both of the other two seniors. As far as the rest of the starting five goes, it is anyone’s guess.
“Our lineup is not set yet and it will depend on some of the growth of our players,” Pavlansky said about ten days before the start of the season. “Each day they are feeling more and more comfortable at playing at a high level.”
Pavlansky has a quartet of juniors who jumped into the fray as sophomores and will be expected to make a bigger leap as upperclassmen. Those juniors are five-foot, seven-inch Cally Wollet, five-foot, six-inch Kaitlin Kaleel, five-foot, six-inch Toni Topoleski and five-foot, four-inch Kellie Kesner.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this year’s girls squad will be the learning curve afforded to a bevy of underclassmen who are very talented. This group will be needed down the stretch to spell some of the “older” kids and show that their future is now. Heading that group will be sophomores Sara Vrabel, Abby Malsch, Maggie Bresnahan and Brielle Burton and freshmen Sabrina Mangapora, Abby Baker and Allison Pavlansky.
“The development of the younger girls will be important,” Pavlansky insisted.
The Cardinals will need all the help they can get if they want to advance up the ladder in the Red Tier. Howland was the undefeated conference champ last season, finished 22-1 overall and beat Canfield in both battles. Salem went 19-5 (5-3) and, like the Lady Tigers, return their best players. Unlike Howland, the Lady Quakers were beaten two out of three games by the Cardinals a year ago and coach Pavlansky would love to have the edge on both schools this season.
“The conference will be good again and we expect to be battling Howland and Salem for a league title,” he announced.
Pavlansky’s ladies should be ready to rumble once the league games begin because they will be challenged by one of the most brutal non league slates in recent memory. State powers Canton McKinley, Hathaway Brown, North Canton Hoover, Marion Harding, West Branch and two games versus Boardman litter the Canfield schedule. That is why Canfield’s coach was exhausted after going down the list.
“Wow,” shouted Pavlansky, “(That schedule is) challenging. It is the most difficult since I have been here.”
Difficult or not, the Cardinals still have to play that schedule out, which just might aid them when the state tournament rolls along. At least, Pavlansky is planning on that.
“We expect to be playing our best basketball in late February and hopefully March,” he said.