For the first time in eight seasons, the Poland girls basketball team advanced to the District round of the Division II tournament in 2010.
That Poland team finished the season 11-11 overall and made it out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in a while due in large part to the large size of its senior class. Poland had two plus-six foot post players in Lauren Tadla and Leanna Yeager who averaged more than 20 points per game combined. Losing that dynamic duo to graduation was a hard hit on the program. Making up for that bulk may be the biggest challenge facing Nick Blanch as he enters his second season as bench boss for the Lady Bulldogs.
“We graduated height and points,” said Blanch after conducting a preseason practice. “Losing them means we are back to trying to find post players. We have lots of inexperience and now everyone is small.”
The Lady Bulldogs may lack experience, but they do return eight girls who earned a letter last year. One of those letterwinners actually got that patch as a member of Cardinal Mooney. Senior Kelly Martino transferred from the parochial school this year and should see tons of minutes off the bench. Making up Blanch’s starting five should be returnees Emily Rollo, Alyssa Shields, Maura Bobby, Abby Brenoel and Abbie Frank. Rollo and Shields are seniors who will see time in both the backcourt and the frontcourt while Bobby, Brenoel and Frank are all 11th-graders. Junior Brenoel has the most varsity time of this bunch as she has started three seasons already at point guard. Bobby will try to provide a presence in the post for Poland. All of these ladies will have to find different ways to put the ball in the basket because none of them can be considered true offensive forces.
“None of these girls are scorers,” admitted Blanch. “They will all have new roles this year.”
Kelsey Malenic and senior Leigh Kelly worked hard in their defined roles last year and will once again be counted on to fill out Blanch’s rotation.
Whoever is on the court for the Bulldogs will be expected to be in great condition because coach Blanch will want to push the ball up and down the floor each game. Although Poland may lack size, Blanch will make up for that shortcoming with plenty of pace.
“Speed and athleticism is our strength,” he announced happily. “We are very athletic. We have kids who are not just basketball players. We hope to make up for our lack of size with lots of good quick looks.”
That frenetic strategy will also apply on the other end of the court as well.
“We want to push it on defense,” Blanch insisted. “This will be a whole new up tempo look for us.”
If that new found energy will translate into more wins is still up in the air. One thing that is certain though is that if Poland is to climb to the top of the All American Red Tier it will need to bump off two very formidable foes.
“Howland and Canfield are the two top dogs,” said the top dog of the Lady Bulldogs himself. “At least we want to finish third. It won’t get easier next year either with Fitch (joining the conference).”
Coaching in year two may be one thing that is easier for Blanch however. The coach has made some adjustments this offseason using the lessons he learned in year one at the helm.
“I learned a lot,” Blanch said candidly. “The biggest thing is that you have to treat each girl individually. Some girls respond when you get on them, some don’t. You have to learn how to motivate.”
Blanch motivated his team a season ago well enough to succeed more than they have in recent memory. Now, coach Blanch wants to build off of that momentum to potentially advance past the District tournament.
“What happened last year, the success we had was helpful,” he explained. “The girls are working hard. They are hungry for more.”