Stacie Cepin will be entering her fourth season as head coach of the Fitch girls basketball team this November.
Over the previous three campaigns, Cepin has cemented herself in the Fitch program and has watched as her club has improved steadily each season. The Lady Falcons have had back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in a while and are poised to finish above .500 for the third straight time. Despite losing in the opening round of the Division I tournament last season to Walsh Jesuit, everyone in attendance that day, including Walsh's own head coach, acknowledged that the Falcons will be ready to take a major leap past mediocrity and into contention in 2012-2013.
"We are pretty excited," said Cepin moments after a midweek preseason practice. "We've had a good offseason, good practices and some good scrimmages. These girls know my philosophies so well now they can basically run practice by themselves."
One reason for the optimism is the return of do-it-all 5-foot, 10-inch junior Megan Sefcik. It seems as if Sefcik has been leading the Lady Falcons in scoring ever since she stepped foot on the court a couple seasons ago as a freshman. There were nights last winter when Megan singlehandedly kept Fitch in ballgames and that incredible ability has inspired the girls around her.
"She has taken ownership of helping her teammates succeed," Cepin said about Sefcik. "She is such a special player. She is so unselfish both on and off the court. She could score 30 points every night, but we can't win games that way. I am blessed to coach her."
Coach Cepin is truly blessed because she has a special core of girls who will join Sefcik in the lineup this season. Rounding out Cepin's rotation will be two seniors, five juniors and a sophomore who have all contributed in the past.
"We have a nice group of girls," Cepin said sounding satisfied. "We have a strong junior class with experience and we can easily go nine or 10 deep."
The two twelfth-graders who will be starters are point guard Brenda Thompson and 5-11 center Briana Edwards who has improved mightily since first lacing up her sneakers three seasons ago.
"Briana has come a long way and earned being named captain (she is co-captain with Sefcik)," said Cepin proudly.
Juniors Cassie Custer, Maura Bianco, Sarah Melfi, Paige McClendon and Carlie Chepke and sophomore Aaliyah Sadler will all get plenty of time on the court as well. With the six-foot McClendon joining near six-footers Sefcik, Edwards, Custer and Sadler, Fitch has the height to combat some of the fine low post players in the conference. That's not the only weapon the Falcons possess either.
"We have good speed," said Cepin. "Edwards is one of our fastest players up and down the court and she is our center."
Although the above mentioned ladies will be the center of attention on the Falcons this winter, there will be two other players, senior Selina Colon and junior Alexandria Coe, who will dress varsity and possibly provide some punch off the pines. With Cepin's style of play, it never hurts to have as many bodies as possible.
"We have worked to get a team that goes up and down the court," the coach explained. "We want to defend with a lot of pressure too. That is why having so many kids will help."
The Lady Falcons will need some help navigating through the rugged Red Tier. Canfield and Struthers are the two top teams in the conference then Fitch should fall right behind that pair in the pecking order. Poland and Howland are rebuilding, but both schools are traditionally tough rivals. Niles, Hubbard and Beaver Local aren't expected to make much noise, but one never knows in such a formidable league.
Fitch will begin the season hosting Cardinal Mooney on Nov. 26 when coach Cepin gets the chance to showcase her rising squad.
"We've put in a lot of hard work with the scrimmages so we are excited to start the season," Cepin exclaimed.
If Sefcik continues to shine and makes her already talented teammates even better, then that excitement level may last late into March.