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Springfield girls basketball looks to take step in right direction

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

SPRINGFIELD TWP. With four starters and seven letterwinners back from last season, the Springfield girls basketball team is on a mission to turn a season of tough learning experiences into a bounce back campaign.

Springfield Spartans logo

After going 3-20 one season ago and seeing close games not go their way on more than a few occasions, the Spartans must find a way to combine the lessons learned in those defeats with the skills of their seven returning varsity players and craft a winning formula.

Sixth-year head coach Kevin Pletcher, a veteran of the local high school basketball scene, knows that can be a tall task.

"If we start learning how to win the close ones, that will give us confidence. The league games always seem to be an Achilles' heel for us for some reason," Pletcher said. "If we can get an early victory and figure out how to get those close wins, I think that will give us a boost."

Among the team's returnees are four starters, including two seniors and two juniors, all of whom figure to have roles as large or larger this season.

The seniors are forward Tia Gardinier and guard Alexis Martin, both of whom will be counted on to provide a veteran presence for the roster. Gardinier is the leading returning scorer from one year ago and her averages of seven points and four rebounds a contest will likely need to increase if Springfield is to improve on its 0-14 league record from last season.

Martin came off the bench at times last season, but emerged as a starter as the year wore on and is a guard who can play both on and off the ball. She figures to share the back court with junior Leah Kern, a two-year varsity player who will handle the point guard role for the Spartans. Having played every game as both a freshman and sophomore, Kern has more experience than most juniors.

The fourth returning starter, forward Victoria Fields, topped the team with five rebounds a game last season and she and Gardinier will combine to lead the front court for a team that has more overall experience than it's had in Pletcher's previous seasons.

"We've got a team that were sophomores and juniors last year and who got 23 games in, so we are more experienced than what we've had and should have a better understanding of what varsity basketball is about," Pletcher said. "It's all about doing the title things on the court, limiting turnovers and seeing the court better."

One area Pletcher hopes will see marked growth is scoring balance. In recent seasons, getting consistent contributions beyond their leading scorers has been tough. If the Spartans can have a bigger number of scorers chipping in on any given night, it will give the offense a boost, make it more well-rounded and prevent opposing defenses from keying in on one or two players.

Having more players sharing the offensive load would also leave more in the tank for the defensive end, which would also be a big help for a team expected to have an eight- or nine-player rotation.

"We're going to have more balanced scoring this year and having those four returning players with the three others we also have back and their unselfish play will help," Pletcher said. "In order to get wins in close games, we have to be able to take care of the ball, limit turnovers and do the little things like hitting free throws and those key shots that will put us over the top."

One other certain challenge ahead is outside the Spartans' control, but will undoubtedly impact their season all the same. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all sports in leagues across Ohio and even before their scheduled season opener this Friday against former Portage Trail Conference compatriot Mogadore, the Spartans have had their slate affected.

They've had scrimmages canceled and lost a game against Our Lady of the Elms. A game against neighborhood rival Ellet was scheduled for Nov. 30, but Akron Public Schools have decided not to allow their teams to play games before December, leaving Springfield to try to reschedule that contest. The Mogadore game is another against neighborhood rival, albeit one that was in the opposite division from Springfield when the Spartans were in the PTC. After last season, the eight schools in the conference's Metro Division left the PTC and reformed as the Metro Athletic Conference, leading Mogadore and the rest of the PTC County Division schools behind.

It's a new era and new challenge for Springfield, one that comes in the midst of a pandemic-affected year that is constantly rewriting plans, schedules and seasons. Accomplishing the goal of becoming a winning basketball team is never easy, so even if it becomes tougher than normal this time around, the Spartans are eager to tackle what's ahead.