GREEN  There aren’t many things as unforgiving in life as Federal League girls basketball.

A league with just seven teams yet which somehow manages to churn out some of the best players in the state - including the top two finishers in last season’s Ohio Ms. Basketball race - and currently boasts the top-ranked team in the state doesn’t much care if one of its squads is injury riddled, inexperienced or simply having a down year.

Green is squarely in the middle of a season that is both marked by injury and features a roster with several underclassmen in central roles, so a 7-6 record just past the halfway mark suggests that the Bulldogs are fighting a good, but ongoing battle against the mountain in front of them.

“Playing our schedule in the Federal League is brutal if you’re one of the middle teams or teams toward bottom,” veteran head coach Tracy Miller said. “We are a very young team that graduated six seniors from last year, so we lost about 80 percent of our scoring and about 80 percent of our rebounding.”

Miller noted that the biggest challenge for the Bulldogs right now is scoring. While they’ve been better on the defensive end, not being able to put up enough points on the offensive end has put them in a hole in many games and increased the pressure on the defense.

The return of junior forward Marissa Berlin after she suffered a major knee injury last season offers some hope for the Bulldogs with an infusion of rebounding and interior scoring, but after missing the first few weeks of the season, Berlin is working to both get back in game condition and knock the rust off in terms of her skills on the court.

“Our main priority is trying to get her in best shape she can for these last 11 games,” Miller said. “Having her in the paint and helping us rebound, that will definitely help us the rest of the season.”

Even with Berlin back, the Federal League is a meat grinder in terms of its schedule, as a 62-39 loss to Hoover last week attests. The Vikings appear to be, along with Jackson, the leading edge of a five-team group chasing league leader and the top-ranked Division I team in Ohio, Canton McKinley, and GlenOak, which has emerged as the biggest threat to McKinley this season.

A Green team starting two sophomores and two freshmen is in a pitched battle every night out, trying to both compete and gain valuable varsity experience.

Senior Kelsie Glass has led the team in scoring in most of its games, with sophomore Olivia Payne and freshman Alyssa Ziehler also showing scoring ability in their chances to shine. The struggle to be consistent on offense has led to some difficult games, including a recent one against Jackson that underscored both the promise and difficulties facing the Bulldogs.

A low-scoring contest saw Jackson capture a 34-32 win with a last-second layup by senior guard Kerianne Diese, but being in a close game with a team that started the year 9-3 showed Green’s ability to compete with better teams.

“It can be a bit of both positive and negative … it’s encouraging to battle a good Jackson team that is a well-coached team and one that has more experience than us right now,” Miller said. “The discouraging part is that we didn’t stay focused and play hard until fourth quarter and you can’t slack the first three quarters and expect to win games against good teams.”

What has helped Green is its non-league schedule, which has brought multiple wins and given confidence to a young team still finding its way. The coaching staff continues to preach the message of everyone getting better in some way every day, but that doesn’t mean they’re ignoring any bigger goals. Among them, according to Miller is winning two games in the tournament and reaching the district semifinals at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.

Playing in what Miller believes is the toughest league in the state makes that postseason journey tougher as well, since the Ohio High School Athletic Association slots virtually the entire Federal League in the same district. Miller pointed to other parts of the state where teams from one league are less grouped together in the tournament because they are in so-called “super districts,” where teams from two districts are combined into one group, allowing for more room in the bracket to spread out and possibly avoid facing as many league rivals in the tournament.

Those super districts ultimately funnel into one district semifinal and final bracket, but getting to avoid a tournament path that could contain two or three Federal League rivals is one that would have great appeal in Green’s perspective. Barring that change, the Bulldogs will simply have to continue walking the same tough path they’ve walked since joining the league in 2015 and find their own way forward.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936

Or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com

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