NEW FRANKLIN Manchester girls basketball had a challenging first season under new head coach Shawn Zavodney a year ago, but the Panthers enter the new campaign hoping to turn things around.
The 2018-19 season was marked by a litany of injuries and after taking several hits to key players in the early going, the Panthers could never fully recover, finishing 9-15 overall and 2-10 in Principals Athletic Conference play, good for a sixth-place finish in the league.
It continued a recent trend, as after winning or placing near the top of their conference for most of the past decade, the Panthers have struggled the last three seasons. In totaling 10, five and nine victories, respectively, in those seasons, Manchester had found itself a long way from its past success.
Zavodney believes that trend is an aberration and that better days are around the corner. He expects his squad to rebound and make a legitimate run at the top of the standings this winter.
"I expect our girls to compete well this year with everyone," Zavodney said. "We have a very young team with a lot of potential."
If things are to fall in place this season, it will start with sophomore standout Karli Anker, a 5–foot-6 guard who put together an impressive resume a year ago, averaging 17.1 points per game, 3.1 assists, and, 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 steals. If the team’s season opener is any indication, she’s ready to continue the efforts that made her a first team All-PAC and Tri-County, second-team All-District and honorable mention All-Ohio selection, as well as Tri-County Player of the Year.
In a 50-49 win against Copley in the Chippewa Thanksgiving Clasic, Anker finished with 27 points, seven rebounds, six assists, six steals and five 3-pointers, including a game-winning 3-pointer in the final second to stun the Indians.
Zavodney knows his team’s success will hinge heavily on Anker being a difference-maker at both ends of the floor.
"Karli (Anker) will be a key part of our team's success this year," Zavodney said. "She returns better then ever. Our point and off guard positions that includes Karli and her supporting cast are among the best I have seen."
Other returnees for the black and red include seniors Maddy McFadden (guard), Liz Seidel (center), Jessalyn Webb (guard) and Chole Perry (guard), and sophomores Haley Webb (guard) and Brionna Brown (forward).
While those returnees didn’t do a lot of scoring last season, Zavodney has seen good progress from many of them including Seidel and Webb, both of whom made good impressions in the team’s preseason scrimmages.
Seidel averaged 4.8 points, while McFadden tallied 4 markers per outing.
There are some new faces expected to contribute as well, with freshman Becca Stahl, Abby White and Emma Stamperd trying to continue the winning ways they developed at the middle school level now that they’re stepping up to varsity basketball.
"The freshman trio will see some time at the varsity level this year," Zavodney said. "They are strong defensively, and quick."
Those new faces will be among the players filling the void left by graduated senior Jordan Campbell, who is playing at Mount Vernon College. Campbell averaged 15 points and nearly three assists per game and her presence will be missed, according to Zavodney, who likes what he saw from his team over the offseason as some of them competed in various camps and tournaments against top competition.
"We have had a very good off-season with three of my players Jessalyn (Webb), Karli (Anker), and Liz (Seidel) competing with Ohio's best," Zavodney said. "It has shown in our preseason as well."
Looking at the upcoming ledger and conference race, Zavodney didn’t shy away from setting lofty goals for his team, including winning the league and making a deep tournament run. He believes a key to that potential success will be the Panthers’ overall athleticism. While pointing to Orrville as the presumptive league favorite, the second-year head coach is confident that his squad has what it takes to compete with the Red Riders.
He and assistant coaches Jay Anker (varsity assistant), John Stahl (junior varsity) and Jeff Henderson (junior varsity assistant) are looking to turn the potential they see into a winning season and get a program that dominated the PAC in recent years back to where it has gotten used to being.