Poland's girls basketball team far exceeded expectations last season.
The Lady Bulldogs, who were picked by many to finish at or below .500 ended the regular season 12-9 overall. Still, the Bulldogs needed a big game to cement their campaign. It was in the sectionals when the Bulldogs earned that most monumental thirteenth win. Poland upset 19-2 Struthers, 40-30 in the sectionals to end the season of one of its toughest rivals in the All American Red Tier. That win last March will be used to help catapult the Bulldogs in 2012-2013.
"Winning the sectional was huge," said Poland head coach Nick Blanch during a recent conversation. "Nobody was expecting much of us (in the tournament) and nobody will be expecting much of us (this season). Because of that sectional win, we know that anything is possible."
If Poland is to win any games in the state playoffs this spring it will have to do it without some key contributors from last year's overachieving outfit. Five seniors graduated from that group so this year's version of the Lady Dogs will be more like puppies.
"We have a bunch of girls who bring different things to the table," announced Blanch when talking about his roster. "Right now we are trying to figure out who will be coming off the bench so depth could be a problem."
Coach Blanch doesn't have much of a problem, however, penciling in his starting lineup. Seniors Rachael Robertson, Kasie Serich, Liz Suess and sophomore Aleah Hughes are the quartet that Blanch will be betting on this winter. Adding to the starting five will be junior point guard Korinna Sherman who should be a strong leader despite her underclassmen status. While these inexperienced Bulldogs lack a lot of varsity floor time, they make up for it in other ways.
"I like the athleticism of this group," said Blanch excitedly. "We are a really a quick team."
The coach was quick himself to point out that all of the starters are determined to make up any shortcomings they may have in ability with the desire to play hard each game.
"The biggest thing these girls have is a great work ethic," said Blanch. "They come to practice every day ready to work hard. I think the open competition helps that."
Speaking of competition, Poland should expect a lot of it from their sisters inside the conference. Canfield and Struthers are the two schools who should have the easiest time ascending to the top of the All American standings. Both teams bring back a ton of talent and will be the games the Bulldogs circle on the schedule. Struthers will be looking for a measure of revenge for last season's upset when the two schools square off and Canfield is always circled on Poland's schedule no matter what sport it is.
"It'll be fun playing Canfield," Blanch insisted. "You can learn a lot against a team like Canfield."
Poland learned a lot about itself when it was able to subdue Struthers in the sectionals last year, too. Although the learning curve this season may a be a little wider for the upstart Bulldogs, coach Blanch will make it a priority that nobody ever accuses his team of tanking it on the court.
"I expect everyone to give their best each night," Blanch barked. "There will be peaks and valleys all season, but I'll be upset if any of us do not give 100 percent."
Blanch's bunch will get its first chance to showcase that incredible effort when they travel to Girard on Nov. 29.