Behind the scoring of Ciara Albright and Haley Pickard, the defensive leadership of Katie Jensen and a well-rounded unit that plays hard and possesses great chemistry, the Genoa girls’ basketball team is off to a 5-0 start.
Coach Mike DeStazio says the primary reason for the Comets' success has been their defense. The team employs a 1-3-1 zone that is predicated upon trapping, speeding up the game and forcing the opponents into turning the ball over.
The catalyst for the defense, and the unsung hero, according DeStazio, is 5-foot-8 junior Katie Jensen.
“My job,” Jensen said, “is to make the other team go to one side and my other players will trap them and make them throw the ball away and get turnovers.”
DeStazio credits Jensen for her hard work this season in helping to lead a defense that is forcing 33 turnovers per contest.
“Katie Jensen is the catalyst for our defense,” he said. “She plays a lot of minutes. We become very active and she works very hard an makes people throw the ball a little higher in the high and makes them get rid of (the ball) a little quicker than they'd like. We want (the other team) to rush a shot and maybe throw a bad pass. Defensively, we mostly play half-court defense and play with a lot of energy. We play hard and trap a lot.”
The starting unit consists of 5-4 point guard Pickard, 5-6 shooting guard Albright, 5-8 small forward Jensen, 5-8 power forward Haley Plantz, and 5-8 center Brynn Skilliter. Five-foot-10 center Karlie Borowicz and 5-6 shooting guards Selina Peer and Chelsea Lavelle round out the eight-man rotation.
While Albright and Pickard, who average 18 and 11.2 points, respectively, receive the accolades, DeStazio says all the others are vital.
Plantz, along with Albright, is one of two returning starters, and Skilliter leads the team with nine rebounds per game. Peer, meanwhile, is an athletic guard who complements the defense while Lavelle chips in offensively, twice scoring 12 points. DeStazio especially credits Borowicz with having made great strides over the past few seasons to become a contributing member off the bench.
Thus far, Genoa notched two victories in the Northern Buckeye Conference, both coming on the road against Lake (50-35), the league's top preseason pick, and Eastwood (45-38). Those are combined with easy victories over Danbury (43-26), Northwood (67-29) and Old Fort (70-18), but Genoa still has to get into the heart of its conference slate.
According to DeStazio, who has a 35-16 record at Genoa, it's the team chemistry that stands out.
“Everybody accepts their role,” he said. “They're a great bunch of kids. Practices, for the most part, are a lot of fun. They come in and they kid around, they laugh, they joke.”
“Everyone on the team is my best friend,” said Jensen, who is third on the team in scoring, averaging seven points. “We've been playing together since we were little kids. We're so close, we're all team players. It's not one person's job to lead the team, we all do it (together). We have really great team chemistry.”
One of the team's motivating factors comes from being picked to finish sixth in the league coaches’ preseason poll.
“When we heard that we got picked sixth, we were disappointed,” said Albright, who is averaging 6.2 rebounds, second on the team. “We set a goal to win the NBC title and that gave us motivation after we beat Lake (in the season opener).”
For DeStazio, it's still a work in progress.
“Nobody expects them to win,” he said. “They were picked towards the bottom of the league. This particular group of sophomores, juniors and seniors are not used to winning. We're not a good club (yet), but we're getting better.”
And this coming after the Comets lost three key players from last season — 5-10 center Taylor Beck, 5-4 shooting guard Hunter Giles and 5-5 point guard Nicole Kraemer — three starters that averaged a combined 28 points last season.
With Genoa, their offense is created off their defense. Much of the Comet offense is generated off turnovers created by its defense.
Albright, who was second in the NBC with 12.5 points per game last season, scores the bulk of her points in transition. She can shoot the ball as well, having made five 3-pointers on the season. Pickard, who is only a freshman, has consistently complemented the scoring. Needless to say, Pickard has been impressive this season, not just because she was playing at the eighth grade level just one year ago, but because she is running the point after playing in the post in junior high.
“We're basically in it to get steals because it helps our transition offense,” said Albright. “It helps us to keep moving so we don't get lazy on defense. It works best for our team because we don't have any big people and we're all moving.
“I like (the transition game) a lot,” said Albright, a first-team NBC selection last season. “We're all pretty short, so we have to (speed up the game). I get most of my points off transition.
Needless to say, DeStazio is pleased with his team’s performance thus far.
“I might say I'm surprised we're playing this well early,” he said. “The schedule's been in our favor to get out to 5-0. The kids have bought into the idea that, if you play hard, you can win."