HomeNewsMcCusker back at Ryan to lead the Ragdolls

McCusker back at Ryan to lead the Ragdolls

Meghan Matthews broke out as a solid frontcourt player for St. Hubert as a freshman. TIMES FILE PHOTO

As tends to be the case this time of year, excitement is abound amongst the area high school girls parochial basketball programs.

St. Hubert and Little Flower return senior-laden, experienced cores that they hope will carry them deep into the Catholic League playoffs; Archbishop Ryan, which advanced to the league semifinals a year ago, welcomes in first-year head coach Mike McCusker, while an eager Nazareth Academy squad is hoping for a turnaround season.

Here’s a closer look:

Catholic League

Archbishop Ryan

Last season: 12–11

Mike McCusker has been around the Catholic League his entire life. Now that he’s in charge of the Ragdolls’ basketball program, he wants to deliver Ryan something the program hasn’t won since 1975: a Catholic League title.

McCusker, a former assistant to Ryan boys hoops coach Bernie Rogers from 2000–08, takes the reins from former coach Jackie Hartzell, who got the head coaching job at the University of the Sciences. A former player at Father Judge (Class of 1988), coming back to Ryan, he said, just made sense.

“It’s definitely a job I wanted to take on,” McCusker said. “Jackie did a great job, and the girls have gotten better coming through the program. I’ve been around the school, and it has kids willing to work hard and give their best effort every time they step on the floor.”

McCusker inherits a roster that returns three senior leaders in Alison Szyszko, Taylor Adair and Megan Miller, as well as junior Danielle Skedzielewski, the team’s second-leading scorer last year. McCusker also said a trio of sophomores could see significant time, most notably Shannon Glenn, one of the team’s tallest players. The team “has a good nucleus, and they all like each other.”

“I coached with Bernie for eight years, so I know how supportive this community is toward athletics,” McCusker said. “I want them to have the mentality that we can win a championship, and we’ll do our best to put our best foot forward in every game. If we play the way we’ve been practicing, I’ll be happy.”

Little Flower

Last season: 2–15

Adam Buchter is entering his 21st season as Little Flower’s basketball coach … mark the 2013–14 season as the most excited he’s been in some time.

Following a tough 2012–13 campaign, Buchter returns seven seniors this season. The Sentinels are balanced, too: Meghan Petroski, Morgan Power, Caitlin Wartman and Colleen McDevitt all bring experience and varied skill sets to the backcourt, while the frontcourt boasts a senior trio of Alaina Zaroff, Rosemary Hannah and Michaela Dawson, whom Buchter called “very good rebounders.”

“Not only do we have seven seniors, but we have seven seniors who are all willing to put in the work to improve. They’re making it happen,” Buchter said. “We still understand that we play some very good teams, but we’re better than we’ve been in the past.”

And while Little Flower may not be favorites to win the Catholic League, they should be a lock to improve exponentially in the win column this season.

“Even if we don’t, these seniors can all go play in college because coaches appreciate hard work in this league,” Buchter said. “It’s the most seniors I’ve had in a long time, and I think we’ll win some games people don’t expect us to.”

St. Hubert

Last season: 11–11

High school athletics are cyclical in nature; sometimes a coach loses a ton of players to graduation, while others are lucky enough to bring back nearly everyone from a team that made the playoffs the year before.

Brian Kuzmick falls into the latter camp.

While senior forward Charlotte Kucowski graduated, Kuzmick, in his eighth year at the helm of the Bambies’ program, brings back pretty much everyone else on a squad that fell to Archbishop Wood in the quarterfinals. Among the returnees are senior point guard Caroline Price and senior Elizabeth “Biff” Jones, whom Kuzmick called “the most talented player on our team.” Meghan Matthews, often a force down low as a freshman, is back for her sophomore campaign, while holdovers Gina Cocci, Kelly Riley, Maria DeRentz and Megan Riley are back as well.

“We have high expectations,” Kuzmick said. “They’re excited, and we have experience. We have a tough December schedule to help prepare us for the Catholic League, and we’ll use this month to kind of find ourselves, see what works and what doesn’t. We have a group we know we can win games with, so it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it.”

After getting to the quarterfinals, Kuzmick is hoping for more this year.

“Our hope and goal is to get to the semifinals,” he said. “You never know until you get into it, but we always know it will be challenging and exciting.”

Catholic Academies League

Nazareth Academy

Last season: 5–18

Nazareth Academy is not very tall, and while classified as “a work in progress,” the effort and energy has been through the roof for the Pandas.

“We are moving in the right direction,” head coach John Turner said. “On Friday, we played a game at Ryan where we got down 16–3 right away, and we rallied to take the lead at halftime. We lost the game, but what I liked and appreciate is there’s no quit in them. We’ve been down in the past where we haven’t responded like that. I’m proud of our effort and energy, and our heads are focused. As long as that holds strong, we’ll win some games.”

Nazareth lost senior leading scorer and rebounder Nicole Dombrowski, but the Pandas do bring back junior point guard Marissa Sylvester, already in her third year of major varsity minutes. Other notable names to look out for are returners Karli Visconto and Alex Edger, while sophomore Jacki Dollard is one of the team’s best defenders. Katie Fagan, Alexis Vega, Kristen Foley and Morgan Woltemate round out the rotation.

“I’m always excited this time of year,” Turner said. “The girls really want to improve. We have a lot of young kids that we’re putting in big varsity roles for the first time, and our tallest player is probably 5-foot-8. But we’re a year older and wiser, and we have speed. I always tell them that basketball is fun when you’re winning and not when you’re losing. We’re ready to turn the page and get over the ‘not fun’ part. They’re dedicated to getting better, and we’ll be much more competitive.” ••

Now in charge: Mike McCusker (left) is the new coach of the Ryan Ragdolls. He’s a former assistant to Ryan boys hoops coach Bernie Rogers. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

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