Twinsburg girls basketball coaching staff gets creative amid COVID-19 pause

Steve Batko
Correspondent

Twinsburg’s girls basketball program and first-year head coach Heath Savage won’t be left behind this winter.

Throughout the COVID-19 crises and all of adversity that comes with it, high school athletics have been steadfast in having different ways to accomplish things when social distancing and safety protocols prevail.

This innovation has not escaped the Lady Tiger program, even with a pause in activities in the school district.

.

Savage, his staff and Twinsburg has been getting its share of work in to prepare for this season.

The Tigers are working hard for whatever season that may come in 2021 – even if it’s a two-game season.

As of now, the season opener is set for a home test against league rival Nordonia Jan. 9.

“We have had an alternate practice plan that we have utilized since the season paused,” stressed Savage. “We will resume in-person practice Saturday [Dec. 19].”

“The girls have a renewed appreciation for the opportunity to play this season,” added Savage.

Twinsburg’s new-look staff also features varsity assistant coach Nikki Chuppa and the junior varsity coach is Mark Willis.

Using technology to instruct and complete workouts and drills, Twinsburg uses a variety of platforms to deliver information and instruction to both the varsity and junior varsity teams.

Some of the platforms that Twinsburg is using include Google Classroom, Remind, Google Meets, Jamboards, Flipgrid, Google Slides and YouTube, just to name a few.

“We have created a varsity and JV Google classroom that players and parents were sent an invite to join,” said Savage.

“There is a virtual practice schedule (Monday-Friday) in the form of a Google Meet virtual practice, which we can use for team meetings, check ins, season updates, and use to discuss plays,” explained Savage.

Player attendance is taken at the beginning of each practice.

“Team building activities are conducted during the meeting, utilizing breakout rooms and feedback is collected using jamboards that are shared,” pointed out Savage.

A virtual playbook is uploaded for athletes to look at and study.

“Jamboards are shared during the playbook review and players complete simulated play progressions using the frames of a jamboard to sequence player rotations and changes that occur as the ball or defenders move,” explained Savage.

Athletes have uploaded YouTube videos for specific training and workouts to be done at home.

Using actual basketball footage from the 2019-20 season through Hudl, Twinsburg can use the film study for a variety of reasons.

“This is a film study that would occur just as it would throughout our in-person practice structure,” said Savage.

“Coach Willis and coach Chuppa lead breakout rooms when necessary in order to deliver small group practice instruction to generate greater interaction and discussion,” add Savage.

Savage noted that through Google Slides and Jamboards, athletes can discuss plays on their own to check for understanding, plus they can also share videos of a basketball drill or of a workout.

Some of these tools will surely be used in the future by coaches during “normal” times.

“Players are expected to participate in drills at home as well as be able to discuss offensive, sideline, baseline, and press breaker plays as well as defensive sets, including full court sets, three-quarters sets, and half court sets, and zone defense (a 2-3 zone),” said Savage.

Early on in the pre-season and from the start, the Tigers have emphasized defense along with valuing each offensive possession.

Some of these team tasks can also enhance a players’ confidence in communicating and also promote leadership skills.

Twinsburg’s staff reveals practice expectations to the athletes and have regular sessions that include free throw golf, ball handling drills, guard shooting, post shooting, and the always critical cardio work.

The Tigers play free throw golf with 20 attempted free throws, featuring a made basket is worth minus one point while a missed shot adds one point.

“We feel that maintaining our daily connection to the players is critical in order to check in on each other on a regular basis for social and emotional well-being as well as making sure school work is getting done,” stressed Savage.

According to Savage, returning players from a 7-15 unit include seniors Jada Austin and Nighyah Carthen, juniors Logan Pride, Makayla Busicnki, and Elliotte Schneeman, plus sophomore Genesis Carthen.

“The senior leadership demonstrated by Jada (Austin) and Nighyah (Carthen) was very productive in our early practices in the fall,” he said. “Jada and Nighyah were chosen as team captains.”

Savage noted first-year varsity players as sophomore Sophie Adick, junior Gabi Bonnizzio, sophomore Alexis Cellura, sophomore Lauren Glessman, junior Maria Pontius, and senior Christine Jiang.

Austin, a four-year guard and returning scoring leader, has stood out for the Tigers.

“The senior leadership of Jada has been a constant bright spot and has been highlighted by her ability to motivate teammates to maintain focus throughout the season’s pause,” said Savage.

“Jada has a very high basketball IQ and has been a valuable asset during our virtual practice sessions and team film studies.”

Most importantly, Twinsburg’s ingenuity has helped the club to stay connected and to possibly play as many games as they can safely.

The idea is to have that positive outlook and remain active – especially for the senior student athletes.

These activities can help athletes on and off the hardwoods, mentally and physically, and maybe perhaps, gain a perspective that has value even later in life.