By DAVID HARPSTER
Independent sports writer
PERRY TWP. With just three seniors on the roster last season, the Perry Panthers weren’t exactly loaded with experience.
While it may be hard to believe, the Panthers may actually be younger this season.
Dave Waseity has spent most of his second preseason as Perry coach sifting through an assortment of players who, with one exception, are all underclassmen.
“We’re very young, which is a little unusual to say because we played a lot of younger kids last year,” Waseity said. “We have three freshmen moved up to varsity right now. Two of them are in our top six and the other one could slide down to JV sometimes.”
Those freshmen are Karlee Pireu, a 5-foot-10 forward, 5-11 Tori St. Jean and 5-7 guard Kimmie Borck. Pireu and St. Jean will team with returning sophmore Taylor Howard, a 6-1 post, and 5-11 transfer Airelle Sibley to give the Panthers plenty of size on the interior. Sibley is the Panthers’ lone senior.
One issue for Waseity thus far has been convincing his team that it doesn’t have to play a half-court, slug-it-out style just based on having ample depth in the frontcourt.
“We’re still kind of searching for an identity,” Waseity said. “Because we have some size, we have a tendency to walk it down the floor and try to run half-court stuff. I think we’re actually a much better running team because all our big girls run the floor well.
“Airelle, Karlee and Tori can all run well, as can Taylor (Howard). When we get the ball in transition and go with it, we can be pretty good.”
Juniors Brittany Miner and Kelsey Cobb are back after seeing plenty of time as sophomores, with Miner returning as the team’s point guard. Sophomore Jessie Morosko started on the freshman team last year and slowly worked her way up to varsity by season’s end. Marie Hall and Randi Armstrong are two more sophomores vying for playing time in Waseity’s rotation.
Four juniors could also factor into the equation in time. Mikayla Kopriver is recovering from a knee injury suffered late last season, while Emily Ruschak sustained an ankle injury during soccer season that has slowed her during the preseason. Ayah Alayamini missed most of the summer after offseason surgery. At 5-9, Taylor Wilson gives the Panthers even more size.
Waseity has used the preseason to experiment with different lineup combinations. Through all the shuffling, he’s been pleased with the Panthers’ ability to adapt and play well together.
“Because we have so many young girls up this year, none of the kids from last year played with them, so we’re going through that process right now,” Waseity said. “We’re looking for that chemistry right now, but he good thing is that they play very well together.
“They’re very unselfish players, so I don’t think we’re going to have problems where a senior doesn’t think they’re getting the ball enough. Once we get our rotation set, I feel like team chemistry will be a strength for us.”
Perry finished 6-17 overall and 0-12 in Federal League play in Waseity’s first season. While that leaves plenty of room for improvement, Waseity said having a full offseason under his belt has aided his preparation this year.
“Just getting a summer under our belts has helped,” Waseity said. “I was there last summer, but I was hired at a point where I just ran what they ran under (former coach) Abbey (Allerding). This summer, we got a chance to work on our stuff, our defensive philosophy and what we expect out of them.”
Due to their youth, Waseity expects the Panthers to be a work in progress early in the season. He’s seen signs this preseason that the Panthers could take a good leap forward once they gain some valuable experience.
“Every day we’re getting a little bit better,” Waseity said. “We’ve performed well in our scrimmages and won more quarters than we’ve lost, so that’s a good sign. The Federal League is tough, though, and our schedule outside of it is pretty challenging.
“To be honest, we’ll probably struggle early because we’re still going to be trying to find ourselves. As the year goes on, though, I think we’re going to be pretty competitive. The big thing is seeing who plays best where and who plays best together.”
Reach David at 330-775-1129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @dharpsterINDE