Cuyahoga Falls girls basketball is ready for big things this winter.
Having a team with loads of experience is a good place to start.
"That’s definitely a continued strength of ours, especially with the seniors who we have," eighth-year head coach Joe Nowak said. "It’s a senior class that has experience but also is a group of girls that has really bought into what we’re doing and really represents the program very, very well."
The Black Tigers will try to withstand the losses to graduation of forward Alivia Hamric and guards Kelsey Mayes and Emma Seltzer from last year’s team that finished 13-11 overall and 6-8 in the Suburban League National Conference.
Leading the way for Cuyahoga Falls will be senior guard/forward Chelsea Huffman, who led the team last season with 18 points per game and has committed to play for Ursuline College in Pepper Pike next year.
"Chelsea is a player who understands the game tremendously. She has a tremendous basketball IQ," said Nowak. "Her versatility is something that she’s worked on and has made a strength of hers. She can score, she sees the floor well, so she can distribute the ball, she can rebound on both ends of the floor, she finishes well around the basket, she can handle the ball and she really can defend a lot of times an opposing team’s best player no matter where they are on the floor.
"Chelsea has put herself in position to be a career thousand-point scorer. She’s currently at 945, so she should get that relatively early in the season."
Also returning will be senior guard/forward Raygan Corrigall, was second on the team last year with 9.3 points per game.
"Raygan is another player who just understands the game really well," Nowak said. "She has the ability to do a lot of things well offensively. She can get to the basket, but she can knock down shots as well, so you can’t really key in on one component of her game offensively because she’s got a number of strengths on the offensive side. Defensively, she has an aggressiveness, a tenacity, that we’re trying to continue to preach to the girls if we’re going to be successful."
Sophomore guard Jenna Roberts will handle a lot of the point-guard responsibilities.
"Jenna just loves the game and has a tremendous dedication to it," said the coach. "She’s kind of that gym-rat type of kid who you love to have who’s just always playing, always trying to get better and also working individually and in team situations, too. She has made a great run of improvement at both ends of the floor. She understands what to do and when to do it."
Three senior forwards who look to be key contributors are Olivia Lemmon, Zoe King and Abby Englehart. Lemmon has committed to play at Heidelberg University in Tiffin next year.
"Olivia is good around the basket. She’s made tremendous strides in being able to finish," Nowak said. "She sees the floor really well. I think her ability to pass both near the basket and in transition are two things that have really stood out. She’s a great teammate, too. She really models the work ethic and character that you want your players to have. She’s a great leader for us on and off the floor.
"Zoe had some injuries last year, but she’s finally healthy. She’s had a great preseason. She’s been someone who, despite missing a lot of time last year, has really stepped in. She’s athletic and runs the floor well. She rebounds and finishes well around the basket. Defensively, she’s somebody who has a versatility to her as well. Getting her back healthy is going to be a really big thing for us.
"Abby has a tremendous work ethic. She’s a great leader by example but has improved a great deal offensively, too. She can knock down shots, she can finish around the basket, she’s a solid rebounder on both ends of the floor. It’s that type of energy and leadership that all of our seniors have that really have put us in a position to hopefully do some decent things this year."
Another key cog to Cuyahoga Falls’ success will be junior forward Emma Brustoski.
"Emma is our best athlete," said Nowak. "Her quickness, especially defensively, is her main strength. She will more than likely guard the other team’s best ball handler because she has the ability to defend as well as anybody we have.
"I think offensively Emma has gotten better. She uses her quickness to get to the basket. She makes good decisions with the ball and plays to her strengths. At the same time, she’s a lot more under control offensively. Coupled with her defensive ability, she’s definitely in our top group right now."
Also on the team are junior guard Audriana Bando, junior guard Kayla Brown, junior forward Natalie Parsons, sophomore forward Taylor Cain, sophomore guard Laila Smith and freshman forward Mackenzie Kramer.
Nowak hopes his team can finish in the top half of the National Conference.
"We’re talking about a conference that’s solid from top to bottom. It’s a grind every game," he said. "We’ll try to compete well against the Wadsworths and Stows and Nordonias of the world. If we can do that, it’s a reflection of the growth that we’ve made as a program over the last number of years.
"I think we expect to be successful. I think we realize that, with the experience we have coming back coupled with the talent and potential that the underclassmen have shown, there’s a definite expectation of being able to get off to a good start and hopefully establish some momentum early in the season and really use that first half of games to continue to find that success."
Nowak’s assistant coaches are Steve Kramer and Emily Morgan.
Cuyahoga Falls is scheduled to open the season at home against Barberton Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
The Black Tigers are set to host Akron Ellet Tuesday at 7 p.m. and conference rival North Royalton Nov. 30 at 2:30 p.m.