Manchester girls fighting through obstacles

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

NEW FRANKLIN  Change has been the order of the season for the Manchester girls basketball team, both before the season and during, both on the court and off of it.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, injuries and more have combined to make it a season of shifting sands for the Panthers, who began the week with a 4-12 record and 2-8 mark in Principals Athletic Conference play. Before the season even began, they lost two seniors to injuries. Since it started, they've undergone time in quarantine and had the district pause its athletic programs for more than two weeks.

It has been, to say the least, a lot to handle.

"Probably the biggest challenge has been getting them to understand our system and what we're trying to do ... we're playing up to 13 girls and probably all 13 of them are playing in roles they didn't expect to play in or play in roles they haven't played in previous seasons," Manchester head coach A.J. Hite said. "We were quarantined in November and then from Dec. 11 to Dec. 28 the district paused sports, so there were no practices during that time."

Missing significant chunks of time on more than one occasion has had some predictable effects. One has been the Panthers being behind where they'd normally be in their development at this point in a season.

Even without the pandemic and its myriad impacts, losing a pair of seniors just prior to the season would have slowed the growth process. Missing them and missing weeks of games and practices has been a significant uphill battle.

Still, Hite concedes that the December shutdown for Manchester athletics was needed for health and safety reasons.

"It's nobody's fault and I think our athletic department made the right decision to shut everybody down," he said. "Right now, it actually feels like we're where we'd normally be at during the Christmas break period (in a typical season). We've had a month straight of no games, six weeks of no practice or games and now we've had 11 games in about 27 days."

The results on the court have featured highs and lows, with league wins over Fairless and Orrville and a comeback win over an improved Springfield squad serving as standout moments. Then there are stretches like the one in which the Panthers played what Hite described as their three best offensive outings of the year, only to go 0-3 because those games also featured their three worst defensive games.

Still, it's been the defense that has been Manchester's strength for much of the season. Playing in a very strong PAC, being able to defend well is essential in order to compete. The offense has been a work in progress, with junior Emma Stamperd and freshman Mackenzie Moss leading the team in scoring at 6.8 points per game each.

Having the team's two leading scorers as non-seniors and able to return next season is encouraging, but according to Hite, the most encouraging part of the process hasn't been a tangible commodity such as points, rebounds or steals.

"The highlight is being able to work with these young ladies," Hite said. "They're great kids, great students and great citizens even though we don't have as many wins as people would like or that they would like to have."

If the remainder of Manchester's regular-season games are played, the final tally will be 19 contests completed heading into the tournament. Considering all the season has brought with it, it's a number that represents handling a lot of challenges, persevering and finding a way to chase progress amidst adversity.