STRYKER - Every basketball team sets goals before each season, and this year the Stryker girls basketball team was no exception. But there are goals, and there are goals.
The Panthers wanted to do more than have a winning season: They wanted to go undefeated. They wanted to do more than just win the Buckeye Border Conference: They wanted to go undefeated in league play.
And they wanted to do more than just advance deep into the tournament: They want to get to Columbus.
Of course, when you consider last year's team went 22-3, won the BBC with a 10-0 mark, and reached a Division IV regional final, well, you can see why the bar is set so high.
"This year we want to go one step further," junior Brooke Hancock said. "It took us a while to get over that loss in the regional final last year, and it's still lingering in the back of our heads. It still motivates us."
Stryker is 20-0 and once again won the BBC with a 10-0 mark. And as the Panthers enter their sectional final contest tomorrow, they will bring knowledge gained from last year's tournament run.
"What we learned most about last year was about filling your roles," senior Molly Boetz said. "When everyone fills their role, a team can get places and accomplish things. We each realized we had one piece of the puzzle, and we know if we put them together we will have success.
"Our mind-set is that people are going to remember the 2007-08 Stryker Panthers, not one individual on the team. We'll look back at our trophies and realize that we all came together to have success."
And while the roster includes all but three players from last year's team, coach Steve Brown said there are differences between the two.
"Last year was very special, and we had a very good basketball team," he said. "But this is a totally different group. This is a totally different basketball team with a totally different make-up. We scored more points last year, and this year this team has bought into the fact that defensively we can be good every night."
That defense is a full-court, full-pressure style that has limited opponents to 29.5 points per game, in large part because the Panthers caused other teams to turn the ball over 16.5 times per game. Stryker keeps the pressure turned full-blast by using 10 players, with no one averaging more than 24 minutes a game and eight players seeing double-digit minutes.
"We played 10 kids last year, and we saw we still had a lot of kids who can play," Brown said. "We wanted to do whatever we could to give kids minutes. We thought we needed to play a full-court game, getting up and down the court on both offense and defense."
"When you get people tired, they get flustered and they don't think as well," senior Mandy Boetz said. "It affects their shots and everything they do. So being aggressive and up in people's faces is our bread and butter."
The team's scoring is spread evenly as well. Molly Boetz leads the team with 14.4 points per game, while senior Kasey Hageman adds 9.1 and six other players contribute at least three.
"If one person is having a bad game, we have other players who can step it up," senior Haley Meyers said. "Our scoring is pretty spread out. And our bench comes out and plays really hard for us. It's hard to defend us because we have so many players doing good things."
Much of the team's success has been spurred by this year's seven-member senior class.
"Our senior class is very competitive, and we push each other," Molly Boetz said. "We don't do it in a mean way, we do it to make one another better. Practices for the underclassmen probably aren't a lot of fun."
"The seniors showed me they would take me in," sophomore Nicole Brown said. "They didn't care if I made a bad pass. Instead they encouraged me to play hard, and now I'm playing harder than I have before."
With a roster that includes triplet sisters - Molly, Mandy and Megan Boetz - as well as a father-daughter combination - coach Steve Brown and daughter Nicole - chemistry hasn't been an issue.
"We're close off the court and on the court," Megan Boetz said. "If anyone needs us, all it takes is a phone call and we'll be there as fast as we can. We have good team chemistry."
And complacency hasn't been an issue, either.
"We know we have to keep working hard," senior Jackie Goebel said. "We know that, no matter how much success we have, we have to work hard for ourselves, coach Brown and our teammates. It doesn't matter what our record is, we're always going to work hard."
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