The answer to one of the most popular questions on the girls’ basketball scene is off to an OK start.
In the single-elimination of the 10-team Norwalk summer league tournament recently, Bellevue slipped past Western Reserve (27-22) in the semifinals and host Norwalk (20-14) in the title game to finish with the best record and tournament title.
Ten teams met every Monday night for six weeks in June and July, which concluded with the tournament format on Monday.
For the Lady Red, it’s an OK start to life without Leslie Raifsnider, the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. The four-year starter graduated and is off to Malone University to continue her career.
Meanwhile, Bellevue, district runners-up the past two seasons, moves on while building around sophomore guard Carly Santoro, already garnering the attention of Division I college coaches.
“The biggest question I’ve gotten all off-season is, how is life post-Raifsnider,” Bellevue coach Ryan Orshoski said. “And I’ll say it’s been frustrating at times, but we’re cautiously optimistic right now.”
Meanwhile, Western Reserve is coming off a second trip to the Division III regionals in three seasons and spent the summer playing big-time competition at Findlay Liberty-Benton, Riverdale, the Norwalk league and a trip to the University of North Carolina for a tournament.
It’s also no secret that despite the dominance for the past eight years by Brenda Friend’s teams, the 2012-13 edition will have the biggest expectations and hype of them all.
“When you have seven seniors, four of which are three-year starters, with all five starters back from a Sweet 16 team in a program that has put out some pretty good teams recently, yeah, we understand,” Friend said. “These seniors, this is their last go at it. The bar is always to get better, and we’ve raised that bar high.
“We’ve talked since this group was in the fifth grade to get better, and everyone here knows what that means. Am I expecting that pressure notch to go up even more next season? That’s my job to control that gas pedal, both on themselves and me, because it’s going to be there. How are we going to be with all that one the plate? We’ll see, but it’s something this group has wanted and been ready for.”
Friend said her team more than stood their ground against the competition in June and July.
“Most of our games have been good battles, even when we were short some people,” she said. “It gives us a chance to show where we are still weak and what we need to work on. Like (Monday night), several of my players were in the gym all morning doing volleyball, so before they can focus on another sport, they have to finish up here.
“Let’s not focus on the scoreboard, let’s focus on, something I asked you to get better at this summer. We are taking that attitude in here, to where at least we leave happy. Hopefully we’ll get out there and rebound, defend and take care of the ball. As a coach, if you expect your team to compete, those are three things you can’t get lazy about.”
Meanwhile, host Norwalk coach Brock Manlet enters his second season with high expectations after winning eight games last season. Norwalk has just three winning seasons in 38 years as a program.
“I think we’ve gotten a lot better as the summer went on,” Manlet said. “We went 10-6 here and nothing replaces game experience. The more you play, the better it is. We’ve played about 40 games total in the summer and won 60 percent of them. We are heading in the right direction and are way ahead of where we were a year ago at this time.”
Manlet talked about the strength of the summer league, which has been on and off in recent years due to coaching changes.
Four of the 10 teams at the weekly event won 16 or more games last season.
“It’s been good for every team involved,” Manlet said. “Nobody has to travel far to play, and we have good local competition to go against. One thing we wanted to make sure when we started this up again was to have a lot of the better teams in the area come in.
“And obviously we play a lot of them in the regular season anyway. You can’t necessarily scout, but you get an idea what you are up against when the season comes.”