Gielczyk: Manistee CC Showing Early Signs of Promise
This could be the season Manistee Catholic’s girls basketball team has a breakout year. The ingredients are there, with four players coming back as juniors who have the experience to help them take the next step.
It’s just a matter of how quickly the younger players come along.
Although three girls graduated off last year’s team, and one transferred to another school, the Manistee Catholic girls basketball team entered Thursday night’s home game with Lake Leelanau St. Mary with a 2-0 record.
Yes, it’s still early in the season and the old saying goes that it’s not so important how you start, but how you finish, the Sabers are markedly better than they were last year. What that means right now, of course, is uncertain since it’s such a small sample size.
But head coach Todd Erickson, in his third season since returning after a brief hiatus coaching at Manistee, says there’s a noticeable difference in the locker room these days. There’s a more positive mood as the players kid and joke around more.
Winning does that. It gives the team an emotional lift.
Some big hurdles still remain as the Western Michigan D League schedule heats up with contests against league newcomers Mesick and Marion, as well as defending champion Bear Lake and perennial power Pentwater.
But the Sabers are in a better place then they have been in the past, and expectations are beginning to grow that this could be the year that they rise above the .500 level, and perhaps make a run at a district title.
“It seems like right now the younger kids are transitioning pretty well compared to the junior group when they were all freshmen,” Sabers’ coach Todd Erickson said. “That part looks pretty enticing. I’ve gotten good comments from the people that are watching them.
“We’ll falter, I’m sure, because everybody has had nights. But, hopefully not as a team. Maybe just one individual, and the rest of the team can pick it up for her and help her out.”
Erickson is still tweaking with combinations out on the court, and admitted he’d probably change things up a bit for Thursday night’s game just to see which players feel the most comfortable in starting roles.
Some players would rather come off the bench in a supporting role. Rachel Calleson was an example of that in the Sabers’ 42-19 victory over Big Rapids Crossroads Academy on Tuesday night.
Calleson, who was brought up late last year and played in a couple games, might get a chance to start again two or three games down the road, but for right now she has told Erickson she is more comfortable not starting.
“We’ll find that combination of who comes off the bench the best,” Erickson said. “You want that person that comes off the bench, when they come in they give the kids on the floor a boost. We want them to maintain.
“Each game and each practice we add a little something. We don’t have everything in, by far. We keep looking forward.”
The Sabers are hoping eight grader Kaylyn Johnson, the second tallest player on the team, can shoot from outside the 3-point arc but is learning the inside game so she can form a tandem with junior Rylee Feliczak.
Feliczak got inside for 21 points to lead the Sabers against the Cougars in the last game, but is capable of knocking down shots from 3-point range.
“She has the green light to shoot the three,” Erickson said. “She works on it. She works from the free throw line extended all the way around, if you call that a mini-arc. She works on that quite well.
“But as we try to tell the kids, ‘Take what the defense is giving you.’ Right she’s had good success inside, even with the double teams. She’s got to be patient, and when it’s not there you’ve got to learn how to kick it out to that wing or that guard that got it to you and let them put that three up.”
Jenna Bialik and Nicole Kaminski, a pair of returning juniors, are both stronger this year and are more comfortable shooting from the outside. Bialik works the most on her shot.
The Sabers continue to grow and mature. Erickson says the coaching staff will have a better handle on what this team is capable of around the Christmas break.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for story ideas.