BY YANEEK SMITH, BEACON CONTRIBUTOR
Head coach: Dick Heller, fourth season
Last year: 7-15 (6-10 SBC River)
Key returning players: Kayla Rodriguez, Jr., 5-8, P; Gabrielle Meringer, Jr., 5-5, PG
Forecast: Danbury went from having five seniors last year to having no seniors on this year’s club. The Lakers lost Sydnee Perram, Annie Tibbels, Grace Hollenbeck, Abi Frattaroli and Maddie Harris and are in the midst of a youth movement.
The top returning players are juniors Kayla Rodriguez, a 5-8 post, and Gabrielle Meringer, a 5-5 point guard.
“Kayla battles, she has a nose for the offensive end and will go to the bucket hard,” said Danbury coach Dick Heller. “And she’ll get after it on the defensive end.
“Gabby has been hassled by a foot injury the last two years. We’re hoping for her to be ready to go. She’s hungry.”
Danbury is going to have to bring intensity to the defensive end of the court, something that could keep them in games while the new players get acclimated to sharing the ball with one another on offense.
“I would say the last two seasons are examples of defense keeping us in games. We struggled offensively big time, and we only won seven games last year, but we were in almost every single game,” said Heller. “We’ve been trying to develop the offense and are hoping we are turning that corner. If the defense continues to grow the way it has, and if we can also get our offense to grow, we can be pretty competitive. But our pieces have to fit, too.
“I’d like to play man-to-man, but we might have to mix it up. We’re not very tall, so hopefully we can pressure people and not let them have good looks. We’ve got some good teams in the league. We’ve just got to play the best defense we can.”
Rodriguez will start in the post, and 5-9 sophomore Natalie Rose or 5-8 junior post Shana Richard could join her in the front court. Maringer is the point guard and 5-3 sophomore Kamil Stephens, 5-5 junior Eliza Brickner and 5-6 freshman Leah Brown could be the wings.
“We’re trying to figure out what our best mix is,” Heller said. “They should all get a lot of playing time.”
Heller said everyone on the roster could see playing time, including 5-1 junior wing Emma Holzaepfel, 5-2 sophomore guard Josie Skinner, 5-5 freshman guard Maria Maringer and 5-6 wing/post Kelly Uhinck.
“Some of the freshmen and sophomores will have to step up and provide us with some balance,” said Heller. “We’ve got a lot of inexperienced players, since we lost our five seniors from last year. We’ve got some freshman we’re looking at and sophomores. We have one girl coming back who was a starter in Kayla Rodriguez. We’re pretty much inexperienced at the varsity level.
“I think they’re pretty excited. Not having much of a summer, we couldn’t really get them experience. Our younger kids are a little nervous, learning as they go. There’s a lot of growth that needs to be made. They won’t realize it until they get into a game and see what it’s like.”
It will be a challenge, as it always is, for the Lakers in the Sandusky Bay Conference River Division.
“It’s tough. The River Division has some good coaches and good players,” said Heller. “Hopewell-Loudon will probably be one of the teams at the top. New Riegel, Old Fort and St. Mary are always good, St. Joe made a lot of improvements, Lakota is tough, Gibsonburg always gives us fits and Calvert is good.
“There is not one easy team in the league.”