Manchester girls trending in right direction

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

NEW FRANKLIN The concept is simple, even if the execution isn't easy.

Getting better every game over the course of a high school basketball season, in theory, means a team should be far ahead at the end of its season compared to where it was at the outset. Through four games, the Manchester girls basketball team is looking to stick to that philosophy and after an unusual offseason, the results seem to be trending in a good direction.

Manchester sophomore Corrine Hite brings the ball upcourt during a game against Springfield.

New head coach A.J. Hite, a longtime teacher in the district and its former high school athletic director, took over the program later in the year than most new coaches would prefer, leaving he and his team with less time to get up to speed with one another.

"We've definitely improved from game one to game three. We're getting better day by day and that's important .. it's even more important because we didn't have normal spring and summer," Hite said. "I was hired in April, so we're continuing to put things together."

Four games into the season, the result has been a 2-2 record with losses to Norwayne and CVCA and wins over Orrville and Springfield. The Springfield game is the latest example of a team adjusting its schedule on the fly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the contest came about when Manchester's scheduled Dec. 7 game was called off and Hite reached out to Springfield coach Kevin Pletcher, whose team was also in need of an opponent.

The two sides put the game together and in a way, what transpired on the court was a microcosm of the season so far for the Panthers. They struggled early, but battled to stay in the game. Contending with turnovers and missed shots, they trailed by two points at the end of the first quarter and four at halftime.

But after some small defensive adjustments, they were able to lock Springfield up in the second half, including holding the hosts to just one point in the third quarter. That effort helped the Panthers take a two-point lead into the final quarter and that's where their offense took over, nearly doubling the Panthers' scoring output to that point as they posted 18 points en route to a 39-28 win.

Not to be lost in the comeback win was progress in one of the areas Hite highlighted leading into the game: turnovers.

"We're working on limiting turnovers and that stems from a lot of things, but it's also a tip of the hat to the teams we've played," Hite said. "Especially CVCA and Norwayne being two teams I think will be at the top of their leagues by the end of the season, they really pressed us, but we have to make better decisions and do a better job handling the ball."

The turnover tally against Springfield was closer to what the Panthers would like to see than the CVCA and Norwayne games, with just 11 turnovers committed in the win. Senior guard Chloe Perry and junior guard Abby White served as the primary ball handlers for the Panthers and both seemed to settle in and get more comfortable as the game wore on.

Senior forward Ashley Fraley led the team in scoring with 10 points. The balanced attack included seven points from junior guard Olivia Paljich and six from freshman forward Mackenzie Ross as eight different players scored in the win.

"We've been pretty balanced and that's where we want to be," Hite said. "If someone scores 15 points one night and has four the next, but another player leads us in scoring in that next game, it makes us harder to guard."

Hite admitted that without a full summer and preseason scrimmage slate, the Panthers are still working on adding different elements of his system. He termed it "a work in progress" in terms of implementing all of the sets he wants to run and ultimately, he hopes the system will be a blend of transition offense and half-court sets, allowing Manchester to find points on fast breaks and also execute if the break isn't there.

He believes a combination of quick, athletic guards and solid post players will play into that quest for balance as well, providing options and versatility depending on the opponent for a given game. Versatility and adaptability will also play a role in the schedule itself as games are canceled, postponed or rescheduled.

A January game against East has already been canceled as all Akron Public Schools teams are in a district-imposed COVID-19-related hiatus. Manchester has been affected within its roster by the pandemic, as a player was sent home from school the day of the Springfield game for virus-related issues.

"We've preached from day one back in June that every day we get is a blessing because who knows when it could be taken away," Hite said. "One of our starting guards has to quarantine now because somebody she sat beside in school tested positive, so you just never know."

Uncertainty has become the norm in this weird year, but through four games, the Panthers are aiming to find a dose of consistency and progress amidst all of the craziness.