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.”