Fighting through off-court sorrow, Stow girls basketball routs North Royalton

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies

STOW — After losing a month of basketball due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Stow-Munroe Falls girls team wants to make up for lost time.

However, during that break, Stow coach Bob Podges lost much more than a couple of weeks of practice.

Josetta Podges, Bob Podges' wife of 46 years, passed away over the holidays due to complications from a non-COVID infection.

A self-confessed basketball junkie, Podges said the court has been a refuge for him the past few weeks.

"It's extremely therapeutic for me," Podges said. "If I didn't have basketball and the girls right now, I don't know what I'd be doing.

"It takes my mind off everything. Not only the games, but the planning, the film-watching and the practices. Those things are so important to me right now."

Bulldogs captain Lilee Carlson said the team is trying to rally around Podges.

"We're definitely hurting for him," Carlson said. "We're trying to be there for him as best we can. He takes basketball as a way to get through it. We want to help him as much as we can."

On the court, the Bulldogs are helping by playing as if they never took a day off.

Following a 64-36 win at Brecksville on Saturday and a 54-35 win at Canfield on Monday, Stow returned to James G. Tyree Gymnasium Wednesday and put on one of their most dominant defensive performances of the season.

Stow rolled to a 20-2 lead after one quarter and cruised to a 56-16 win over North Royalton.

Stow improved to 5-1 on the season while keeping the Bears winless. Podges said the Suburban League is only counting the first game against conference rivals this season, so this game did not count in the National Conference standings.

Podges said just about everything went right for the Bulldogs.

"We played well. We pushed the ball up the court well tonight," Podges said. "Our point guards had a great game in terms of their court vision. Ellie [McCoy] did a great job, Anna [Hurst] did a great job and even Alaina Ray came in and played well at the end of it."

Podges was able to get all of his varsity players into the game, along with several of his junior varsity players. He said he wanted to keep his players as fresh as he could, given that Stow is in the middle of a six-games-in-nine days stretch.

Carlson said she was happy to see what her younger teammates were doing.

"It's really great from them to get into a varsity game and play well," Carlson said. "They're able to execute just like they do in practice."

Carlson led the Bulldogs with 12 points and set the tone by making a 3-pointer to start the game.

The Bears had no answer for Stow's defense, whether playing its standard "Pack Line" defense or switching to a 1-2-2 trap.

It didn't help that North Royalton was without coach Lauren Stefancin, who was absent due to a COVID quarantine.

Stow forced 12 turnovers in the first half, and allowed the Bears only six points.

North Royalton forward Tiffanie Radwanski accounted for all the Bears' first-quarter points by going 2-of-4 from the free-throw line.

Thanks to frequent substitutions, Stow's offense slowed down in the second half. The defense, however, never rested. The Bears didn't score a field goal until Radwanski made a layup with 1:45 left in the half.

Ahead 29-6 at the half, Stow came out on an 8-0 run in the third quarter before North Royalton called time out.

The Bulldogs led 44-9 after three quarters. A 3-pointer from Tierney Malley were the Bears' lone points in the quarter.

Even with his second- and third-teamers in, Podges still watched his team clamp down on the Bears. The final 40-point margin equalled the largest of the game.

Stow finished the night 12-of-21 from the free-throw line, compared to 5-of-13 for the Bears.

Carlson was the lone player in double figures, but Stow received contributions from all over. Forward Kristin Chmieleski finished with eight points and five rebounds, and forward Emily Ervin added seven pints and five rebounds off the bench. Hurst and forward Bella Adams each had six points.

Forward Kate Bockelmen led the Bears with six points, all of which came in the fourth quarter.

Stow's busy week continues, as they will host Mentor on Friday before a visit from Nordonia on Monday.

"It definitely pushes us, but it's a lot of fun for us to play in all these games, rather than just practicing all the time," Carlson said.