The Poland girls basketball team's first season in the All American Red Tier was a difficult one.
The Bulldogs only won two games against league competition and finished just 8-12 overall.
This season will be a transitional one for the ladies because they welcome a new head coach to the team in Nick Blanch. It will be Blanch’s first varsity head coaching gig, but he has oodles of experience coaching JVs in both basketball and softball and he has coached eighth-grade hoops. According to Blanch, there is no difference in the age of athlete you coach as long as the players do one thing well.
“They need to play hard,” said Blanch over the phone. “No matter the skill level, all kids must play hard every game.”
That credo should be carried out well in Poland because Blanch believes he has a core group who are committed to being the best they can be.
“I think our biggest strength is that these girls have a desire to win,” said the coach. “They want to have a great season. You can’t coach that.”
Blanch will be coaching a group that has four returning letter winners including three seniors. The two biggest letter winners are Lauren Tadla and Leanna Yeager. Not only is that duo big in height (both stand near six feet), but they are huge on the offensive and defensive side of the court.
“They are our post presence,” said Blanch. “We will need them to provide an inside/outside threat each game. Everything will go through them.”
Getting the ball to the two frontcourt mates will be sophomore point guard Abby Brenoel. Abby showed she was very able as a freshman when she earned a varsity letter in her first year. She will be counted on to get even better as she becomes older.
“We expect big things from her,” said her coach.
The other returning letter winner is Alyssa Shields who will be in the mix in both the frontcourt and backcourt.
“Alyssa is a solid all around player for us,” Blanch said.
Those fabulous four should form the nucleus of Blanch’s bunch, but he also has a fine group of girls to call on to provide breaks for his definite starters. That group is led by senior Laura Marciella who will be needed to spell Brenoel at point guard. Guards Maura Bobby and Emily Rollo will add to the Bulldogs’ shooting guard position. Adrian Sikora will be strong at power forward. Leigh Kelley, Abbie Frank and Kelsey Malenic will also get into games this season. Blanch may not have a roster full of twelfth grade superstars, but at least he does have girls who are willing to learn on the job.
“All of these girls are working hard,” he announced. “They need to get some varsity experience. We are very young.”
Perhaps those young legs will help Poland as it gets deeper into the 2009-2010 season. The Bulldogs’ schedule is a difficult one, so Blanch will need as many bodies as possible to put up with the rigors of that slate. The season starts Nov. 30 when Poland plays at home against another rebuilding squad, Austintown Fitch. Poland will get into the crux of the Red Tier schedule after the first of the year. Once the Bulldogs get there, coach Blanch knows what his team must do.
“We will have to play well against Howland,” he admitted. “Howland is the top dog. They are loaded. Everything goes through them.”
Indeed the Tigers were undefeated in the conference a year ago and finished 22-1. Salem and Canfield both finished 5-3 in the league last year and had 19 and 16 wins overall respectively. Still, Blanch is not bothered by his competition.
“We can compete,” Blanch bragged. “It matters how well we adjust throughout each game. We also need to focus on getting better every day.”
Talking to Blanch makes one realize that he has already adjusted to being the Poland girls basketball coach and he can’t wait for Nov. 30 to finally get here.
“I’m ready to go,” he insisted, “and the girls are excited too.”