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    Girls Basketball Preview: North Rangers

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    New faces in the lineup have the North Rangers working hard to quickly jell as a team as the 2023-2024 season approaches.

    North returns just two starters in senior Cami Welty and sophomore Kaitlin Dobida and one other returning player in the starting lineup, but 16th-year head coach Paul Force remains confident the Rangers will be competitive in the Western Reserve Conference.

    “We have a lot to get done this first month as we have a lot of girls who are new to the varsity level competing for significant playing time and roles,” Force said. “We should be able to play multiple styles on offense and defense and we will look to take care of the ball and rebound regardless of who is in the game or what style we are playing.”

    The Rangers finished 15-8 overall last season and 7-5 in the rugged WRC.

    To remain competitive, Force will lean on his most experienced players to set the tone.

    “I think Cami and Kaitlin provide a solid one-two punch as far as being able to score inside and rebound the ball,” he said. “Hopefully, that is something we are able to feature and take advantage of. I also think we have four or five girls who can contribute on the perimeter, which should give us a balanced attack this season.”

    North’s lack of experience will be one of the biggest hurdles the Rangers have to clear this winter.

    “We do not have a lot of varsity experience as we graduated three starters and several girls who played a lot of varsity minutes for us last year,” Force said. “We expect Katie (Bucy) and Cami (Welty) to provide some stability and upperclassmen leadership to our younger girls. We are seven or eight deep, so staying healthy and available for one another will be critical as well. Basketball is a long season and we have always reinforced the importance of players taking care of their minds and bodies throughout the season.”

    Bucy, a 5-foot-5 guard who averaged 2.0 points in 13 minutes per game last season, might be in the best shape of her career after a solid soccer season, and she’ll be expected to run the offense and remain stingy on defense.

    “Katie is coming into her senior year in great shape as she played soccer this year,” Force said. “She is very motivated to lead on and off the court this season and we are excited to see what she can do on both ends. She’s tough and competitive and I think every coach wants a player like her to help lead their team into on-court battles.”

    Dobida, a 5-foot-10 sophomore wing/post, returns as North’s leading scorer after dropping in eight points per game last season. She also pulled down 5.3 rebounds per contest on the way to earning all-conference and honorable mention all-district honors.

    “Kaitlin is quickly working to make herself one of the strongest and most talented offensive players in our conference,” Force said. “She has inside and outside skills and a very high basketball IQ. She needs to continue to work and improve, but we expect major minutes from her as a sophomore and feel she has an extremely high ceiling as to what she can bring to the program for the next three seasons. Her skill set along with her size and athleticism make her a challenging matchup for most of the teams we play.”

    Welty, a 5-foot-10 senior post, provides the Rangers with a dynamic duo with double-double potential in the paint.

    Welty is the team’s leading returning rebound after pulling down 6.8 boards per game last season and she also scored 5.4 points per game. Welty earned honorable mention all-conference and all-district honors last winter.

    “Cami had a nice junior season on the court and we believe is poised to make a big jump this year as she has improved her overall game and athleticism,” Force said. “She is an extremely active rebounder and can score around the basket with both hands as well as hit the mid-range and outside shot. Her leadership on and off the court will be just as important, if not more so, than what she brings us on the court.”

    Cantrell, a 5-foot-5 guard, returns to the program after skipping her junior season. She played for the Rangers as a freshman and sophomore.

    “It was exciting news for us to hear that Samantha was returning to the court this season,” Force said. “She brings leadership and toughness along with solid ball handling and scoring ability to the team. We have high expectations for her this season and expect her to play significant minutes.”

    The Rangers have quite a competition to fill out the fifth spot in the projected starting lineup.

    Two seniors, three juniors, and a sophomore are vying to fill that fifth spot and will provide the Rangers with depth.

    The seniors are Emerson Wren, a 5-foot-8 wing/post, and Lily Namestnik, a 5-foot-6 guard who started a couple of games last season but enters this year banged up.

    “Emerson has always been a strong leader for us and has worked hard on her game. I know she is looking forward to contributing at the varsity level this season,” Force said. “Lily is like a Swiss army knife type of player for us. She can do a little bit of everything and seems to do all those things well. She should be available sometime in December or January to return to action and would for sure be in the starting rotation if she were coming into this season healthy. She has been putting in the work to return to play and we are excited to see her when she’s ready to get back onto the court this year.”

    Juniors Ella Powalie, a 5-foot-8 wing, Alex Hamilton, a 5-foot-8 wing, and Raegan Perkins-Hirz, also figure into the mix.

    “Ella is a multi-sport athlete who brings good length and shooting ability to our lineup. We expect her to make quite a jump this season as far as her varsity contribution. She has great leadership skills and brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to our practices and games,” Force said. “Alex is a versatile player who can defend multiple positions, help with ball handling responsibilities, and score the ball from the inside and outside. She’s put a lot of work into her body and her game this offseason and we expect her to make a significant contribution this season and beyond. Raegan has put a lot of time into her game this offseason and she should see minutes at the varsity level for us this year. She brings size, rebounding, and shot-blocking ability to the court as well as the ability to score around the rim.”

    Angelie Cisternino is a 5-foot-6 sophomore guard.

    “Ang brings ball handling and scoring to the court and has played a lot of ball over the past few years,” Force said. “She is eager to contribute at the varsity level this year and we feel her ceiling is very high as a player and significant contributor in our program at North.”

    Despite the roster turnover and fresh faces in the lineup, the Rangers will follow a tried and true formula for success.

    “We don’t take a lot of time or waste a lot of breath talking about season goals. We want to show up every day, listen, and work hard,” Force said. “If we can stay available for one another, play hard, and love each other, we know we will end up in a good place. To me, focusing on the bigger picture and treating every game as if it were the most important one has become the culture here and the way we do things at North. Wins and losses don’t equate to success for us, obviously, the wins are more fun than the losses, but we try to embrace the adversity that is bound to come with any journey that takes place within a sports season.”

    Continued success at North always comes down to the fundamentals, and with a younger, inexperienced squad, that focus becomes even more important.

    “We have to find ways to score consistently as well as make sure we rebound hard on both ends,” Force said. “All coaches stress the importance of rebounding and defending, so the challenge is always to find ways to put players in the best positions to do these things at the highest level that they can. As a staff, we believe in the character and work ethic of the young ladies in our program and we are excited to help them get going this year.”

     

     

     

    Steve Hare
    Steve Harehttps://www.ohiovarsity.com
    The creator and publisher of OhioVarsity.com, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Scout.com network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. OhioVarsity.com was created in 2004 and was a member of the Rivals.com network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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