Lady Panthers aim for return to districts
Photo by Bob Ford Panther Valley girls basketball members include, front row, from left, manager Emiline Markovich, manager Rachel Knoblauch, Megan Marouchoc, Jessica Jacobs, Sam Jones, manager Christina Dacey, assistant coach Chris McLaughlin. Middle row, assistant coach Jim Barron, Chloe Markovich, Taylor Vance, Amy Corby, Brianna Picht, head coach Brad Hurley. Back row, Johnna Weaver, Madison Blasko, Jamey Mikovich, Kailee Smith, Macey Markovich.
The Panther Valley girls basketball team ended a decade-long District 11 playoff dryspell last season.
Rookie coach Brad Hurley sees that accomplishment as a starting point for the Panther program, not an arrival point.
"The girls we have returning laid a foundation," said Hurley. "But they aren't satisfied and I'm certainly not satisfied.
"I talked to all the players after I was named coach and the one constant that I took away from the meetings was that these girls want to get back to districts. They want to keep building the program."
It was exactly what Hurley wanted to hear.
"Some people might think it's a stretch for us to improve on last year's record when we lost our top two scorers, but I'm excited about what I've seen from this group," said Hurley. "We have some talented players and we have a group that has worked extremely hard. I think we're going to surprise some people."
But Hurley isn't just talking about winning this year. He wants to make sure postseason droughts, like the one that ended last year, are a thing of the past.
"What I've learned from coaching the junior high program in the fall and being around the high school girls since the summer, is that I have kids with great character and a great work ethic," he explained. "They care about their teammates, they care about the program and they care about the school.
"That's the type of foundation you need to build a successful program and that's what our goal is. We don't want to just make districts once in a while. We want to get to the point where it's expected."
One reason why Hurley expects his team to outperform most people's expectations is the return of several key members of last year's team. First and foremost among them is senior Madison Blasko, a four-year starter.
"From day one, Madison has been our leader," said Hurley. "She is legitimately a coach on the floor. When you combine her leadership skills with her physical talent, it's a first-year coach's dream.
"She's the perfect point guard. She can handle the ball, distribute the ball, and also score."
Four underclassmen juniors Kailee Smith, Taylor Vance and Macey Markovich, and sophomore Jamey Mikovich will join Blasko in the starting lineup.
"Macey will give us some scoring from the outside while Jamey will be a threat from the perimeter and in the paint," said Hurley. "Taylor and Kailee will give us a post presence and help us on the boards."
Amy Corby and Jess Jacobs will be the top subs off the bench. Megan Marouchoc, Sam Jones and Chloe Markovich should also see meaningful varsity minutes with Brianna Picht and Johnna Weaver rounding out the varsity roster.
"A lot of these girls were role players last year," said Hurley about his varsity roster. "Now they are going to have an opportunity to showcase their talents and I believe they will do that."
Hurley is counting on it.
"We have the ingredients to be successful," he said. "We have some skilled players and some scrappy players and that's a nice combination.
"I want us to play with confidence and have the attitude that we aren't going to back down from anyone. If we do that, I think we can have a really nice season."