By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
The Mogadore girls basketball team is tough and determined.
It is a good thing, too, because not a single moment of the season has been easy for the Wildcats.
Currently, of the team’s program-wide 14-player roster, only nine are physically able to play.
Between injuries and illnesses, head coach Jen Ritch moves from game to game a bit uncertain about who she will have available at game time.
The first challenge came in the third quarter of the team’s first game.
Senior leading scorer and team leader Brook McIntyre, who achieved the 1,000-point milestone as a junior, broke her fibula.
As it would for any team, it immediately forced the Cats to adjust to playing without their premier player.
“Full disclosure, our second game versus Canton Central Catholic was very eye opening and rough,” Ritch said. “We were not mentally or physically prepared for our new reality yet.”
The next day, another senior leader, Olivia Kidd, stepped forward to regroup the team.
“She pulled the team together, without me knowing, and said something along the lines of this is our team and this is who we have. We have to go out there and practice hard and give everything we have to find a way to win.”
Mogadore followed with promising efforts against Warren JFK and Buchtel that began to realign the team’s roles and build some chemistry.
Then, more disruption.
In the team’s fifth game of the season, and first league game, at Southeast, the two players that were slotted as McIntyre’s replacement in the lineup both were injured.
Kasey Bolyard broke her fibula in the game against the Pirates and Eden Cameron broke her thumb the day before the game.
Add into the mix that a cut on McKenna Clark’s thumb required stitches and the Wildcats’ roster has been constantly evolving.
For the team’s game at Lowellville, only eight players were available.
For the team’s matchup with Our Lady of the Elms, they had only seven.
Somehow, though, Ritch and her Cats are persevering.
They are 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the Portage Trail Conference.
“Every game, I never know who I am going to have or how many I will have,” Ritch said. “But thanks to the leadership of Amelia Morris, Olivia Kidd, Ari Tompkins and Julie Tompkins, we have been able to persevere and play at a very competitive level.”
Ritch also pointed to key contributions from Rylee Clark, Savannah Thomas, Ava Miller and Hayli Clester that have helped bring some sort of security to the shifting lineup.
“I have asked kids who have little to no JV experience to step in and play serious varsity minutes and they have done so without question and have produced at a high level.”
Morris and Ari Tompkins have emerged as the team’s offensive leaders, continuing their growth as players after huge production increases a season ago as sophomores.
Julie Tompkins, who had a season-ending ACL injury last year, has returned as an important component.
“I feel like she is just now starting to feel more comfortable and hitting her stride on the court,” Ritch said. “She is only going to get better and better every game.”
Kidd is the team’s emotional leader and Ritch described her as the team’s “calming force,” while also increasing her offensive production.
Rylee Clark, a sophomore, has “constantly gotten better every game and has given us some outside shooting that we definitely need,” according to Ritch.
Thomas and Miller have provided needed defensive contributions, while Clester, a freshman, continues to adjust from being a very good junior-high player to a varsity contributor.
“Once she figures it all out, she is going to be a force to be reckoned with on the court.”
All together, it forms a new Wildcats team that has aligned with heightened focus on defense, rebounding, attacking the basket and finding points at the free-throw line.
“These girls are wonderful human beings, students and athletes,” Ritch said. “They show up and work hard, they have accepted our new reality and have accepted that we are going to have to grind every game. Nothing is going to come easily for us. My absolute favorite qualities of this team are their toughness and their determination to never quit and always fight back.”