Following elimination, Ragdolls already pumped for next hoops season

As a bas­ket­ball coach, part of Mike Mc­Cusk­er wishes life had a fast for­ward but­ton that he could push, ma­gic­ally mak­ing next sea­son ap­pear?

However, at the same time, the Arch­bish­op Ry­an girls bas­ket­ball coach un­der­stands that after a sea­son-end­ing play­off loss, ab­sence makes the heart grow fonder, something the first-year Rag­dolls boss hopes his young team uses as off­season mo­tiv­a­tion.

“Part of me wants to get right back in it,” Mc­Cusk­er said in the days fol­low­ing Ry­an’s Feb. 17, 53-35 Cath­ol­ic League quarterfi­nals loss to per­en­ni­al cham­pi­on­ship con­tender Arch­bish­op Wood. “But I think the girls have to miss it a little bit to love it, so we’ll give them a little time off be­fore we start in­di­vidu­ally work­ing with them to make them bet­ter for next sea­son. Not only are we young, but a lot of our league is, and it’s one of the best in the state. Just be­cause we had some suc­cess as un­der­class­men … we’ve got to keep work­ing and we’ve got to im­prove.”

In the first sea­son of the post-Jack­ie Hartzell era at Ry­an, Mc­Cusk­er’s in­aug­ur­al team went 14-10 over­all, fin­ish­ing 7th in the loaded Cath­ol­ic League. Armed with just three seni­ors, 2013-14 saw tal­en­ted play­ers like ju­ni­or Dani­elle Skedzielewski come in­to her own as a dom­in­ant scorer, while sopho­mores such as Shan­non Glenn and Ash­ley Smink were im­me­di­ate con­trib­ut­ors.

The Rag­dolls will bring that trio and more back next sea­son, one that Mc­Cusk­er hopes gets Ry­an to the Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship, something the pro­gram has not won since 1975.

“It was great for this group to be in the play­offs,” he said. “We won a game against Con­well-Egan where we played ex­cep­tion­ally well, and we got to play a great team like Wood that is one of the top pro­grams in the state. Get­ting ex­per­i­ence like that can’t be beat. In or­der to get to our goal, these are the pro­grams we’re go­ing to have to get through. The game didn’t turn out the way we had hoped, and our in­ex­per­i­ence showed pretty early, but to play in that game was great for our young­er kids.”

And like any team that ends a sea­son without a cham­pi­on­ship trophy, the sea­son’s fi­nal loss will likely linger for a bit longer. Mc­Cusk­er is fine with that, say­ing it’s just part of the en­tire pro­cess of build­ing a new found­a­tion for an already suc­cess­ful pro­gram.

“The play­ers have as much in­ves­ted in it as the coaches do, so you tend to take losses pretty hard,” he said. “We’re still not fully over the Wood loss, but the only thing that heals that is a bit of time. I thought we had a great sea­son in terms of our team jelling. We had good chem­istry and worked hard in prac­tice every day. There was nev­er a prob­lem on our team. The girls com­ing back want to get bet­ter, which is half the battle. If girls want to work out and get bet­ter in the off­season, then it’s up to us as coaches to help them get to where they want to go.”

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