By DAVID HARPSTER
Independent sports writer
PERRY TWP. Entering his eighth season as coach of the Central Catholic girls basketball team, Gary Isler believes the Crusaders have a nice little thing going.
That much was evident last year when the Crusaders used a challenging regular season schedule as a springboard for a run to a Division III district championship game.
While four seniors, including key contributors Aaliyah Dotson and Katie Nixdorf, graduated from the team that was 16-7 after losing to Orrville in that district title game, Isler has seen plenty of positives this preseason. Foremost among those is a sense of team and the Crusaders’ ability to check their egos before stepping on the floor.
“We think we’ve established a little bit of a tradition here,” Isler said earlier this week. “Our scrimmages have gone pretty well so far. Our kids are just very unselfish. Not that we were selfish last year because Aaliyah certainly distributed the ball, but everyone on this team is so willing to make the extra pass if someone has a better shot.
“If we can do that all year long, then we’re going to close the gap on where I thought we might be sooner than I thought.”
Perhaps that unselfishness might stem from the fact the Crusaders are sometimes a literal basketball family on the floor.
Isler expects senior twins Katie and Hannah Miller to start at point guard and the wing, with their cousin, Sarah Miller, in post. Add in sophomore Holly Miller, younger sister of the senior twins, and sophomore Laura Krupar, a cousin to all the Millers, and the Crusaders could keep it in the family at times this season when it comes to stuffing the stat sheet.
“At one time or another, and I’m sure it will happen sometime this year, we could have five girls on the floor related to one another,” Isler said.
Isler is excited about having Katie Miller back this season after injuries derailed her junior season. She and Hannah will be looked to for leadership.
“Katie got hurt in our first game and ended up coming back and playing a little in our last game,” Isler said. “Hannah shot the ball very well for us on the wing last year.
“Her and Katie are just solid defensively and they’re both very good leaders for us. They’re our only two seniors and they’re both captains for us.”
Isler said Sarah Miller appears ready to build off a solid freshman campaign last winter.
“She had a real nice year as a freshman and she’s playing very well right now,” Isler said.
Junior guard Jordan Fleenor figures to provide an outside shooting dimension to the Crusaders’ lineup, while Isler can call on sophomores Hanna Risaliti, Emily Flynn and Lexi DeMatteis for depth. Freshman Katie Farey also should see varsity time this season.
Isler likes the Crusaders’ ability to mix-and-match with various lineups an opponent may throw their way this season. While Central Catholic doesn’t boast a 6-footer on its roster, Isler has plenty of height to contend with taller teams.
“Sarah Miller is our tallest girl at about 5-foot-9, but we still have about seven girls all in that 5-8, 5-9 range. Overall we’re kind of big this year, but we still don’t have that one big girl in the post. We still feel like we can mix and match with group we have.
“We’re thinking we’re about nine or 10 deep this season, so everyone is going to play some minutes for us at one time or another.”
The Crusaders will be tested again during the regular season, as not only do they play four games in eight days to start, but they will face such teams as Massillon, Jackson, Manchester, Orrville, Lake Ridge Academy and St. Vincent-St. Mary. The challenging slate may result in more regular season losses, but Isler knows it’s the best way to get his team ready for the postseason.
“We feel like playing a tough schedule pays off when we get to March. We want to be prepared for that time of year,” Isler said. “Being such an unselfish team this year, that’s going to go so far for us this year. When you have people with their own agenda, you just don’t go very far.”
Reach David at 330-775-1129 or email@example.com.
On Twitter: @dharpsterINDE