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Green girls basketball searching for consistency

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

GREEN  Consistency and reliability are two of the most valued, yet also most underrated components for success in sports.

Through the first half of their season, the Green Bulldogs haven't had much of either thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has turned sports – and life – upside down in many ways and in the world of high school girls basketball, the Bulldogs have felt that impact in a very direct way.

They've spent two weeks in quarantine as a team in mid-December, had individual players forced to sit after they or their family members had COVID and had games rescheduled on multiple occasions.

"We started strong and then got shut down for two weeks, so it took a while to get back in shape and the Federal League is not very forgiving," Green head coach Alicia Manning said. "That break just killed us and then we were met with GlenOak, McKinley and Hoover and went on a bit of a losing streak."

All three of the programs Manning mentioned have both won league titles and made runs to the state tournament in recent years and remain among the area's top teams. Facing them with a full, healthy roster is challenging; doing so with a roster that has 10 players, has featured a different starting lineup nearly every game and is relatively young magnifies that challenge.

At 6-5 overall, Green is coming off its first win in league play against a Lake team that has faced some of those same challenges. The two neighborhood rivals were actually slated to play twice this week due to an earlier contest behind rescheduled, but getting the first league win of the year was a nice boost for the Bulldogs.

Junior forward Alyssa Ziehler has been the leading scorer and rebounder through 11 games, averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game, including 3.6 offensive rebounds per contest. Her all-around efforts also include 3.2 steals and 1.9 assists per game, both impressive totals for a forward.

She's gotten plenty of help from senior Olivia Payne, whose 13.8 points, 2.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game have been important as the lineup has shifted with players out of action due to COVID issues. The back court duo of juniors Elizabeth Piercy and Brianna Hunt may not have the scoring averages of Ziehler and Payne, but their contributions have helped drive the offense as the level of competition has elevated with the start of league play.

With the rise in the level of competition comes lower-scoring games when it comes to the Federal League, where defensive-minded head coaches such as Jackson's Anthony Butch have crafted schemes that can put points at a premium.

"If you can play defense in the Federal League, particularly defending 3-pointers, and you have three consistent scorers, you're going to fare pretty well," Manning said.

Having played college basketball for legendary University of Tennessee head coach Pat Summit, Manning noted, she may have over-complicated some aspects of the game when it came to initially implementing her system at Green. She's focused of late on simplifying the game and had her players hone in on defensive rebounding and forcing turnovers.

That approach led to 15 forced turnovers in the win against Lake on Monday, a game in which Green claimed a 44-38 win and allowed its fewest points since a 77-32 victory over Massillon on Nov. 30. It was the type of defensive effort they will need to deliver more often as they make their second pass through league play and head toward the postseason.

The pandemic and all of its effects may or may not allow them to enjoy the kind of consistent, reliable schedule and roster composition they'd like to see through the remainder of the year, but strong defense and solid play on the glass would go a long way toward a successful second half of the season.