The Cardinal Stritch girls’ basketball team took second place in the Toledo Area
Athletic Conference last year behind Ottawa Hills, but the Cardinals aren't waiting until official practice starts on Oct. 30 to try to reclaim the conference crown.
The Cardinals, who have won three TAAC titles in Coach Gary Lemle's six years as coach, have had a busy summer in an effort to build a new squad and jell as a team.
"We just wrapped up a busy June, when we did the Summer Slam out at the University of Toledo and at the UT women's team Shootout," Lemle said. "We do the UT Shootout every year, but the Summer Slam was new for us. We wanted to try that out because we didn't participate in Steve Mix (at UT). This year we're going to be pretty young, so we try to develop some of the younger players to gauge their ability."
The Summer Slam included four nights of play at UT, with teams playing two games each night. Stritch's conference rivals, Ottawa Hills and Toledo Christian, were also there.
"With our kids being pulled in different directions, we had 12 kids, which was good," Lemle said. "Steve Mix is played once a week for eight weeks, so we were able to get all that pulled into one week at the Summer Slam."
Stritch, which finished 12-8 and 10-2 in the TAAC last season, participated in open gyms in June and also ran a kids' camp for grades 5-8.
"We had 30 kids in a Saturday camp and it went well," Lemle said. "We tried it on a Saturday. A lot of times we'd go from 1-5 p.m. two or three days a week, so we tried something different this year."
The Cardinals also competed in the Adrian (Mich.) College camp on July 17.
"We do that every year so that we get to play some teams we typically don't see," Lemle said. "You play three or four games a day during the shootouts. We took a mixture of jayvee and varsity kids, led by Nicole Lamb. We've seen a lot of good incoming freshmen this summer."
Lamb was last year's conference player of the year, and Lemle is looking forward to having her for one more season.
"It's hard to believe she's going to be a senior this year," he said. "She is looking very, very good. It was a close vote last year, but I'm glad the coaches got it right. I'm biased, but in my opinion she was the best basketball player in the league. She's really grown and matured over her first three years. We're going to rely on her quite a bit."
Marissa Zaborski, an honorable mention All-TAAC pick last year as a sophomore, will return in 2009-10, but the Cardinals graduated all-conference performers Liz Speweik and Katie Gullett.
"We definitely have some players to replace," said Lemle, who added that getting next season's group playing together during the summer is sometimes easier said than done.
"At Stritch, like a lot of other small schools, our kids play multiple sports," the coach said. "We try to coordinate summer schedules so kids can do both, volleyball and basketball. If we coordinate our schedules, we get the turnout. They know they need to keep improving and make an appearance over the summer. Overall, I was pleased with our turnout. We're going to have six seniors this year and all of them have done something in the summer with us.
"We needed to integrate some new players, but there is going to be a focus on Nicole, as we've seen this summer. She's our point guard and she is drawing a lot of attention from teams. The coaching staff has to be creative and find ways for her to score. We'll go as she goes. Between her and Marissa and (senior) Elle McCloskey, we have a real solid nucleus. We'll potentially start four seniors this year, including Cheney Cassidy."
Cardinal Stritch opens the season Nov. 28 against Fremont St. Joe. The Cardinals' coaching staff will include Lemle, second-year freshman coach Dave Martis and fourth-year JV coach John Morrissey.