Luca Verello knows this year is going to be a challenge.
And she couldn’t be more excited about it.
Verello is a senior on the Archbishop Ryan High School girls basketball team, and this year, the Ragdolls will have a new look.
First, Chris Zambito takes over for Mike McCusker as the coach of the team. And there will be new faces up and down the bench.
The only players who saw significant time last year are Verello and junior forward Mackenzie Reed.
Implementing a new system with new players can be trying, but it’s even harder considering the team wasn’t able to have many workouts over the summer or fall because of coronavirus.
And the Ragdolls are behind the eight ball more than most teams. Ryan had to shut down sports until last week because of COVID-19 cases in the school.
The team hasn’t had any cases, but the Ragdolls have had to do the bulk of their preparation remotely.
And Verello is doing her part to make sure the team is using the time wisely.
“I’m really excited about everything because there’s just such a positive environment, even though we can’t do everything we want to do, we’re staying positive,” said Verello, who also plays soccer and lacrosse at Ryan. “It’s been hard, I don’t even know all the girls on the team, we haven’t been able to work out, but (Zambito) holds Zoom meetings every day so we can stay together as a team.”
Verello isn’t sure which position she’ll be playing, she can play just about every position on the floor, but she does know what her role is.
“I know it’s up to us to show the younger girls what it means to play Ryan basketball,” Verello said. “I want to help them. I’ll help them with basketball or I’ll help them in their life away from basketball. I don’t want to say I’m their big sister, but I do want them to know I’ll be there for them.
“I’m not sure where I’ll be playing. I’ll do whatever they want. Wherever I can be most useful to the team, I’ll play. I just want to do whatever helps the team win.”
Ryan should find a way to be competitive, but it might take some time for the Ragdolls to find their footing after so many long layoffs.
The good news is that they moved to the Blue Division after playing in the Red Division last year. Last year Ryan was in rebuilding mode and it had to face the top teams in the area, including Archbishop Wood, Neumann-Goretti, O’Hara and West Catholic.
The Ragdolls finished last year’s regular season 0-12, but rebounded to win a first-round playoff game.
“Last year was hard, but I was happy with how we played,” Verello said. “I think we worked hard. We played well as a team. It was a really hard schedule.”
Verello is all about having success as a team. She enjoyed a championship run in soccer, where the midfielder helped win a Catholic League championship when she was a junior.
This year, just as in basketball, coronavirus messed everything up, and the Ragdolls didn’t get an opportunity to defend their title. But Verello was happy just to have another chance to represent Ryan.
“I was just happy to play, same as now, I’ll take anything we get and make the best out of it,” said Verello, who helped Ryan make the state playoffs before falling in the first round to Northwestern Lehigh in penalty kicks after a scoreless tie. “It was a hard way to lose, but we had fun just getting a chance to play. We just wanted a chance to get together again and have a season.
“I really didn’t think we were going to have a season. We were having one, then we weren’t, then we got a chance to play. We were all so happy to play.”
Unlike in soccer, where the Ragdolls returned a lot of experience from a championship team, basketball is the exact opposite. But Verello is looking forward to the season all the same.
Especially because she believes this team could be very good in the future.
“I’m the only senior on the team, so I know we’re going to have to get better as we play,” Verello said. “I just want to make sure everyone gets better. We have a chance to be good. We have worked out together, virtually, but we haven’t had any time to scrimmage, so we really need to see how everything will go together.
“It’s hard with a new coach, too, but he’s helping us a lot. Whenever he needs the team to know something or to work on something, he can tell me and I’ll pass it on in our group text. I want to be a good leader and help this team. I want to win this year, but I want them to be ready to win later, too.”
Verello is excited for her future, too.
Next year, she will continue her soccer career at Lock Haven University, where she wants to major in biology and minor in business.
“I’m not sure where I’ll play, wherever they put me,” said Verello, who is ranked in the top 10 percent of her senior class. “I want to do pharmaceutical sales or something like that. I knew I had to pick a sport, I love basketball and soccer, but I decided to stick with soccer. I knew I’d have to give up one.”
That makes this basketball season even more important.
“I just want to play,” Verello said. “Whatever we get in will be good. You have to be positive. It’s hard, this isn’t the season we wanted, but everyone is trying. We are going to play, so we have to look at that as a positive.”