Berkshire earned a share of the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division title last winter, but the Badgers return just one starter and four others with varsity experience.
But don’t be fooled by Berkshire’s relative inexperience. The Badgers have plenty of talent and remain optimistic about their chances to repeat.
“Losing a strong core group of seniors has left a lot of questions for us as a team, but they also left a lasting mark on the girls who are back this season,” said sixth-year head coach James Bosley. “So far this year, they have been showing up every day with a great team mindset and working hard every day. Not to sound too corny, but with this group, the sky is the limit for them. I think their attitudes and efforts are going to make them a competitive team every single night.”
The Badgers finished 13-11 overall and 7-1 in league play last season.
Senior Hayley Stoddard, a CVC honorable mention selection, is the team’s lone returning starter and most experienced player.
Berkshire did add four other players from Berkshire’s conference-title-winning volleyball and girls soccer teams, which should help maintain a competitive environment in practice and games. Two of those players—Maddie Smetana and Evania McCandless–claimed MVP honors in volleyball and soccer, respectively.
“Our biggest team strength is going to be our belief in each other,” Bosley said. “This group has shown to enjoy seeing their teammates have success. This group is going to be one of the deeper teams I’ve had in a few years. With that comes the ability for multiple girls to step up at different times. It’s going to be up to the coaching staff to find lineups that are working and find our mismatches to maximize our successes.”
Despite their relative youth, the Badgers have enjoyed plenty of success over the past two seasons with a sectional title and conference championship to their credit. Adding several new players who also have experienced the thrill of winning a conference title should help the Badgers to overcome their youthfulness.
“The biggest challenge we are going to face is going to be our youth,” Bosley said. “Being fairly young across the board can also work to our advantage because of the successes we have had over the last two years. These girls only know they have to work hard and strive to be competitive in every game. We have a pretty tough schedule as usual, so it should help our younger girls grow up pretty quickly.”
Stoddard, a 5-foot-11 forward, averaged 5.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 48 percent from the floor as a junior. In addition to her all-conference award, she also was named honorable mention all-district.
“Hayley has a very well-rounded skill set and is going to be a tough matchup every night,” Bosley said. “She unfortunately has had some injuries in past seasons so most are going to be surprised at the level she plays at. She has a high motor and rises to any challenge put in front of her. It’s going to be a fun senior year for her, she was coming into her role last year before her injury and I know she is ready to step up now.”
With Stoddard out last winter, junior Olivia Masink, a 5-foot-10 forward, stepped up and gained valuable experience. She’s earned a starting role this season and should solidify Berkshire’s defense.
“She is a very strong defender and a great rebounder,” Bosley said. “Liv is also becoming a great leader for her teammates. She brings an energy every day coming into the gym and works extremely hard.”
Junior Meredith Bors, a 5-foot-6 guard, waited patiently the last two seasons behind Berkshire’s talented frontcourt and Bosley is confident this is her year to shine.
“Meredith is a player I’m excited about this season,” Bosley said. “She has such an upside she has shown throughout past seasons and the summer. She’s had to compete with a lot of talented girls the last two years and now she is going to get a chance to show what she is capable of.”
Junior Jenna Hornak, a 5-foot-8 guard, and freshman Ivy Martin, a 5-foot-9 guard/forward, round out Berkshire’s projected starting lineup.
“Jenna is the kind of player that every coach wants on their team. She does whatever you ask of her and most times with a smile on her face. She will be one of our best defenders this season and is going to set the defensive tone for the team,” Bosley said. “Ivy has shown so far to be one of our most versatile players. She takes on any challenge that I’ve given her so far. It’s going to be exciting to see her grow as the season goes on. She doesn’t play like a freshman at all and reminds me a lot of how Hayley was as a freshman. Ivy has been one of the hardest workers in the gym every day and it makes everyone step up their game.”
Berkshire could put together another starting lineup with the players who will provide the Badgers with depth this season.
Three seniors, four sophomores, and a freshman will push the starters for playing time.
Senior Anna Brown, a 5-foot-5 guard, has been a consistent shooter for the Badgers and has shown improvement throughout the preseason and Smetana joins the team after a dominant four-year career on the volleyball court that included a Co-Valley Division MVP award this fall. Smetana, a 6-foot senior forward also provides the Badgers with a tough matchup under the basket.
“Anna had a good off-season and looks to be more than just a shooter this season. She is going to step it up this season and I’m excited to see it,” Bosley said. “Maddie is joining the team for the first year with some others that just came off a great volleyball season. She has picked up very quickly like she hasn’t taken any time off. She’s long and athletic, which is going to fit into our style of play.”
McCandless, a 5-foot-6 guard, was one of the most feared soccer players in the conference and Bosley hopes that carries over to the basketball court.
“Evania is joining the program for her senior year,” he said. “Limited with some injuries to start from soccer season, she has shown some things she is going to bring to the court. One of the most decorated soccer players in school history, she brings a level of competitiveness that Coach (Ian) Patterson instills in his players.”
Berkshire’s sophomores include Julia Young, a 5-foot-6 guard, Kate Miller, a 5-foot-7 guard, Marissa Rish, a 5-foot-9 guard, and Mallory Durosko, a 5-foot-9, forward.
Miller and Rish are playing basketball for the first time but played key roles in the Badgers earning a share of the conference title in volleyball.
“Julia has shown a lot of growth this offseason and it is putting her in a position where she can become a contributor for us. She is one of the few girls to complete our 10,000-make summer program. She is becoming a really good point guard for us that has great court vision,” Bosley said. “We are so happy as a program to welcome Kate. Her first year in the program and she is fitting right in. She is probably one of the two most positive girls we have. She has pushed herself every day and is just great to have in the program. Like Kate, (Rish) is joining the program this year. Both have been excellent on the volleyball court with Coach (Joni) Prots. They are both going to show they are well-rounded multi-sport athletes this year. Marissa has been a joy to coach so far this season. She has a nice jump shot, but her speed and quickness are going to fit into our defensive principles. Mallory is a high IQ player and uses it to her advantage. She can stretch the floor by knocking down outside shots and is deceiving when she needs to be to get open looks inside.”
Freshman Blythe Bors, a 5-foot-8 guard, also factors into Bosley’s plans this winter.
“Blythe has been a great surprise to start the season,” he said. “Watching her through the summer, she is a lot like her sister Meredith when it comes to driving to keep improving, which fits right into our team mentality. She is one of the better shooters in the program right now, but she is capable of much more than that. I can’t wait to see her progress through the year.”
Bosley also expects contributions from junior guard Kylie Gleason, junior forward Bre Dysert, sophomore forward Jilly Smetana, and junior forward Elise Tiber.
Berkshire’s goals always start with competing for a conference title and this winter the Badgers are even more focused on securing back-to-back titles.
“Our first team goal is to win the CVC Valley Division. If we can do that it’s going to set ourselves up to be competitive in the tournament. We have a tough schedule put together to help us get ready for the step into Division II again,” Bosley said. “Our main focus game-to-game will always be defense first. This year’s team I think is going to be one of the best defensive teams I’ve had here. They communicate together and trust each other, which helps take the thinking out of the game and lets us play faster.”