McCusker back at Ryan to lead the Ragdolls

  • Meghan Matthews broke out as a solid frontcourt player for St. Hubert as a freshman. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • Now in charge: Mike McCusker (left) is the new coach of the Ryan Ragdolls. He’s a former assistant to Ryan boys hoops coach Bernie Rogers. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

As tends to be the case this time of year, ex­cite­ment is abound amongst the area high school girls pa­ro­chi­al bas­ket­ball pro­grams. 

St. Hubert and Little Flower re­turn seni­or-laden, ex­per­i­enced cores that they hope will carry them deep in­to the Cath­ol­ic League play­offs; Arch­bish­op Ry­an, which ad­vanced to the league semi­finals a year ago, wel­comes in first-year head coach Mike Mc­Cusk­er, while an eager Naz­areth Academy squad is hop­ing for a turn­around sea­son. 

Here’s a closer look:

Cath­ol­ic League

Arch­bish­op Ry­an

Last sea­son: 12-11

Mike Mc­Cusk­er has been around the Cath­ol­ic League his en­tire life. Now that he’s in charge of the Rag­dolls’ bas­ket­ball pro­gram, he wants to de­liv­er Ry­an something the pro­gram hasn’t won since 1975: a Cath­ol­ic League title.

Mc­Cusk­er, a former as­sist­ant to Ry­an boys hoops coach Bernie Ro­gers from 2000-08, takes the reins from former coach Jack­ie Hartzell, who got the head coach­ing job at the Uni­versity of the Sci­ences. A former play­er at Fath­er Judge (Class of 1988), com­ing back to Ry­an, he said, just made sense.

“It’s def­in­itely a job I wanted to take on,” Mc­Cusk­er said. “Jack­ie did a great job, and the girls have got­ten bet­ter com­ing through the pro­gram. I’ve been around the school, and it has kids will­ing to work hard and give their best ef­fort every time they step on the floor.”

Mc­Cusk­er in­her­its a roster that re­turns three seni­or lead­ers in Al­is­on Szyszko, Taylor Adair and Megan Miller, as well as ju­ni­or Dani­elle Skedzielewski, the team’s second-lead­ing scorer last year. Mc­Cusk­er also said a trio of sopho­mores could see sig­ni­fic­ant time, most not­ably Shan­non Glenn, one of the team’s tallest play­ers. The team “has a good nuc­le­us, and they all like each oth­er.”

“I coached with Bernie for eight years, so I know how sup­port­ive this com­munity is to­ward ath­let­ics,” Mc­Cusk­er said. “I want them to have the men­tal­ity that we can win a cham­pi­on­ship, and we’ll do our best to put our best foot for­ward in every game. If we play the way we’ve been prac­ti­cing, I’ll be happy.”

Little Flower

Last sea­son: 2-15

Adam Buchter is en­ter­ing his 21st sea­son as Little Flower’s bas­ket­ball coach … mark the 2013-14 sea­son as the most ex­cited he’s been in some time.

Fol­low­ing a tough 2012-13 cam­paign, Buchter re­turns sev­en seni­ors this sea­son. The Sen­tinels are bal­anced, too: Meghan Pet­roski, Mor­gan Power, Caitlin Wart­man and Colleen McDe­vitt all bring ex­per­i­ence and var­ied skill sets to the back­court, while the front­court boasts a seni­or trio of Alaina Za­roff, Rose­mary Han­nah and Mi­chaela Dawson, whom Buchter called “very good re­bounders.” 

“Not only do we have sev­en seni­ors, but we have sev­en seni­ors who are all will­ing to put in the work to im­prove. They’re mak­ing it hap­pen,” Buchter said. “We still un­der­stand that we play some very good teams, but we’re bet­ter than we’ve been in the past.”

And while Little Flower may not be fa­vor­ites to win the Cath­ol­ic League, they should be a lock to im­prove ex­po­nen­tially in the win column this sea­son.

“Even if we don’t, these seni­ors can all go play in col­lege be­cause coaches ap­pre­ci­ate hard work in this league,” Buchter said. “It’s the most seni­ors I’ve had in a long time, and I think we’ll win some games people don’t ex­pect us to.”

St. Hubert

Last sea­son: 11-11

High school ath­let­ics are cyc­lic­al in nature; some­times a coach loses a ton of play­ers to gradu­ation, while oth­ers are lucky enough to bring back nearly every­one from a team that made the play­offs the year be­fore.

Bri­an Kuzmick falls in­to the lat­ter camp.

While seni­or for­ward Char­lotte Ku­cowski gradu­ated, Kuzmick, in his eighth year at the helm of the Bam­bies’ pro­gram, brings back pretty much every­one else on a squad that fell to Arch­bish­op Wood in the quarterfi­nals. Among the re­turnees are seni­or point guard Car­oline Price and seni­or Eliza­beth “Biff” Jones, whom Kuzmick called “the most tal­en­ted play­er on our team.” Meghan Mat­thews, of­ten a force down low as a fresh­man, is back for her sopho­more cam­paign, while hol­d­overs Gina Cocci, Kelly Ri­ley, Maria DeR­entz and Megan Ri­ley are back as well.

“We have high ex­pect­a­tions,” Kuzmick said. “They’re ex­cited, and we have ex­per­i­ence. We have a tough Decem­ber sched­ule to help pre­pare us for the Cath­ol­ic League, and we’ll use this month to kind of find ourselves, see what works and what doesn’t. We have a group we know we can win games with, so it’s just a mat­ter of fig­ur­ing out how to do it.”

After get­ting to the quarterfi­nals, Kuzmick is hop­ing for more this year.

“Our hope and goal is to get to the semi­finals,” he said. “You nev­er know un­til you get in­to it, but we al­ways know it will be chal­len­ging and ex­cit­ing.”

Cath­ol­ic Academies League

Naz­areth Academy

Last sea­son: 5-18

Naz­areth Academy is not very tall, and while clas­si­fied as “a work in pro­gress,” the ef­fort and en­ergy has been through the roof for the Pan­das.

“We are mov­ing in the right dir­ec­tion,” head coach John Turn­er said. “On Fri­day, we played a game at Ry­an where we got down 16-3 right away, and we ral­lied to take the lead at half­time. We lost the game, but what I liked and ap­pre­ci­ate is there’s no quit in them. We’ve been down in the past where we haven’t re­spon­ded like that. I’m proud of our ef­fort and en­ergy, and our heads are fo­cused. As long as that holds strong, we’ll win some games.”

Naz­areth lost seni­or lead­ing scorer and re­bounder Nicole Dom­browski, but the Pan­das do bring back ju­ni­or point guard Marissa Sylvester, already in her third year of ma­jor varsity minutes. Oth­er not­able names to look out for are re­turn­ers Karli Vis­con­to and Alex Edger, while sopho­more Jacki Dol­lard is one of the team’s best de­fend­ers. Katie Fagan, Alex­is Vega, Kristen Fo­ley and Mor­gan Woltem­ate round out the ro­ta­tion.

“I’m al­ways ex­cited this time of year,” Turn­er said. “The girls really want to im­prove. We have a lot of young kids that we’re put­ting in big varsity roles for the first time, and our tallest play­er is prob­ably 5-foot-8. But we’re a year older and wiser, and we have speed. I al­ways tell them that bas­ket­ball is fun when you’re win­ning and not when you’re los­ing. We’re ready to turn the page and get over the ‘not fun’ part. They’re ded­ic­ated to get­ting bet­ter, and we’ll be much more com­pet­it­ive.” ••

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