Stow girls basketball ready to meet sky high expectations
After reaching the Division I district final each of last five seasons, there's no doubt Stow-Munroe Falls girls basketball ranks among the elite in Northeast Ohio.
Bulldogs coach Bob Podges knows everyone will be gunning for his team this winter.
"It’s one of the things we’ve talked a lot about," Podges said. "Last year, we snuck up on some people. This year, the target is firmly planted right on your chest."
The Bulldog are ready for that pressure.
Podges enters his 22nd year in charge of Stow by returning four starters and six seniors from a team that went 23-3 last year.
Stow went undefeated in the Suburban League National Conference at 14-0 and won the Ravenna district title before bowing out to Canton GlenOak in the Division I regional semifinals at Canton.
Podges notes the Class of 2021 ranks among the finest he's had at Stow.
"This group have won league championships in seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th grade," Podges said. "It’s one that has a lot of heart. They’re very well doctored in the concepts of Pack Line defense. Actually, they’re really good at it. Practices have been amazing at times."
Does that mean the Bulldogs have their eyes on their first trip to the state final four since 2007?
"I think getting to [states], you have to be lucky and you have to be healthy," Podges said. "I think that mark has been there since the end of last year. We were able to practice together in June and July two to three days a week. We’re spending less time learning and more time fine tuning things now."
Podges called COVID-19 "the anvil that’s hanging over our basketball season," but notes his team is trying to take things day-by-day.
Regarding the National Conference, Podges said Nordonia and Wadsoworth as likely to be the toughest challenges as Stow strives for a fifth-straight league title.
Podges' coaching staff remains intact with Jeff Camp Sr. and Jeff Camp Jr. serving as varsity assistants, Jim Gottschall serving as head junior varsity coach and former Bulldogs Chrissy Vaughan as JV assistant.
The Bulldogs' offense will continue to be a transition-based offense with motion sets in the half-court.
Stow's trademark Pack Line defense — an aggressive hybrid of man and zone — shut out opponents in seven quarters last season.
"It’s a defense that allows you to be extremely aggressive on the ball," Podges said. "I think what you see there is girls being aggressive because their teammates have their backs. All really good programs have a culture; ours is Pack Lne."
Stow lost only Kira Philpot and Ellie Petit to graduation. The big question for Stow is how compensate for the loss of Philpot, a forward now playing at Baldwin Wallace University who Podges called the best post player in program history.
"There’s several ways we can accomplish that," Podges said. "I know there were times last year where we started running because we knew Kira was going to get the rebound. Now, we're more focused on rebounding as a team.
"Also, you mitigate rebounds by cutting down on the numbers of turnovers. Last year, we averaged about nine turnovers per game. If we can get that down to seven, will be good."
Stow's talented senior class is anchored by returning National Conference MVP Lilee Carlson.
A 5-foot-8 guard who led the Bulldogs with 13.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and three assists per game last year, Podges looking for Carlson to be a bit more selfish this season.
"She needs to shoot the ball more," Podges said. "She’s demonstrating that she’s becoming comfortable with being a two guard in our system. She's our leader on offense and defense."
Pugnacious senior power forward Bella Adams (5-9) is back to do the dirty work for Stow. Adams averaged 7.5 points and six rebounds a game, despite oftern being Stow's fourth or fifth option on offense.
"She's certainly a dominant physical player," Podges said. "She’s not the biggest girl out there, but her strength and hustle are unmatched."
Fresh off another season as conference golfer of the year, senior Ellie McCoy (5-3) returns as Stow's starting point guard. She averaged 5.5 point and 4.5 assistys per game last year.
"She's the consumant point guard for Stow girls basketball," Podges said. "She transitions the ball well and makes good decisions. She's really a pest on the defense."
Senior guard Krista McDowell (5-9) should see a bigger role this year, as should fellow senior guard Faith Kyer (5-7). Both provide excellent defensive depth.
Podges calls senior Alexis Schultz (5-6) "an outstanding teammate" who will provide depth for Stow.
Stow's fourth returning starter is 6-foot junior Kristen Chmielewski, who Podges notes can play every position save point guard. "Chewy" averaged 12 points and seven rebounds per game last year and could be in for an even bigger winter.
"She can score, she can rebound, she’s very valuable to us in the middle of the press," Podges said. "She actually came to me asking how to be a better rebounder. She’s really turned herself into a great shooter."
Stow picked up a solid addition with the arrival of junior Emily Ervin, who transferred in after being Ravenna's leading scorer and rebounder a season ago.
"She's very strong inside player," Podges said. "Like everyone new to the program, she's struggled with Pack Line concepts, but she’s getting there. She wants to get better."
Junior Hannah Peeler gets the call up from JV, but junior Emily Yaceczko has been lost for the season due to injury.
Sophomore forward Katey Croyle (6 feet) might have chance to fill Philpot's role.
"She runs the floor very well in transition," Podges said. "Defensively, she’s getting better every day. We've told her we need her to defend, rebound, and make a layup. If does that, she'll see playing time."
After playing point guard at junior varsity last year, sophomore Paige Klingensmith (5-8) could see time at shooting guard.
Sophomore guard Addie McCoy (5-4) — Ellie's sister — is "the typical Bulldog defensive player," according to Podge.
Two freshme3n will get the chance to back up Ellie McCoy at point guard. Alaina Ray (5-6) brings quickness and good decision-making skills.
"She's got a very bright future with us," Podges said.
However, Podges noted freshman Anna Hurst (5-8) might have the skills to start this winter if Stow choses to run a two-point offense.
"She's very, very strong for her age," Podges said. "She's a has really great basketball IQ Our fifth starter is undetermined at this point because so many girls our playing well."
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Stow season opener vs. Chardon has been moved to Nov. 28 at 2:30 p.m. The Bulldogs also will face Canton McKinley Nov. 30 at 6 p.m.