By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
Garfield girls basketball head coach Aaron Gilbert describes tournament time as a time when anything can happen.
And while he is absolutely right, the only thing that has been happening over the last decade for the G-Men is winning.
It proved true again on Saturday, with the G-Men winning the Division III district championship for the third consecutive year.
A tremendous feat and one that has been accomplished with different teams and rosters.
Pushing the program’s success across a wider spectrum, the G-Men have won a sectional title in nine of the last 10 years.
This was not the program that Gilbert took over when he was hired 16 years ago. Gilbert inherited a program that needed rebuilt and infused with consistency and vision.
Gilbert got them there quickly and the Garfield girls basketball program has become one of the pinnacle teams in Portage County.
“It is amazing, it really is,” Gilbert said of his team’s ongoing tournament success. “Obviously, to win like this, you need good players, but the truth of it is that once tournaments start, anything can happen. I have to give the credit to our kids for always being ready to play.”
Gilbert was also quick to offer praise to his coaching staffs, which include Taylor Smith, Andy Cardinal and Madison Hartung this season, for their ability to constantly work together to adjust gameplans and philosophies year to year.
“Not every team is going to be the same,” Gilbert said. “We change and adapt to our players. We have core values and philosophies of who want to be offensively and defensively, and we have some beliefs and rules that we are firm on, but we also adjust to what we need to do to put that year’s team in the best position for success.”
It is a process that begins during the summer league and early season practices and scrimmages, according to Gilbert, but has touchpoints throughout the season that can lead to adjustments.
For the 2022-23 G-Men, the preseason scrimmages that pushed the team to the edge of their competitive threshold — and maybe past it — set the tone for what the season would eventually become.
Those included tough matchups with district champion Chippewa, along with Walsh Jesuit.
“If I am being honest, those were tough for us and it would have been easy to overreact in the moment because we felt defeated at the time,” Gilbert said. “But those scrimmages are the types of things that prepare you for tournament time in late February and into March. Our kids bought into our ideas and just kept working hard.”
The result has been a 23-win season led by a unselfish team effort that includes three players with at least 90 assists (Laura McCoy, Madeline Shirkey and Mandy Cardinal).
Next up for the second-seeded G-Men is a Division III regional semifinal matchup with Shaker Heights Laurel, which is scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday at Cuyahoga Falls.
Laurel enters as the No. 1 seed and feature Princeton commit Mari Bickley, but like Gilbert said, it is tournament time and anything can happen.