Determined Ragdolls start planning ahead

  • Super sophomores: Shannon Glenn headlines a young group of talented returners for Archbishop Ryan in 2014-15. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Super sophomores: Ashley Smink headlines a young group of talented returners for Archbishop Ryan in 2014-15. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

On the sur­face, Ash­ley Smink and Shan­non Glenn act like your typ­ic­al high school sopho­mores when ob­li­ging a vis­it­ing re­port­er an in­ter­view.

The sight of a voice re­cord­er makes them fid­gety, and they ex­change un­cer­tain glances with each ques­tion in an at­tempt to fig­ure out whose turn it is to speak up. When it was over, they both joked they had sweaty palms.

But when listen­ing to these sopho­mores talk about what it’s like to play ma­jor varsity minutes for Arch­bish­op Ry­an in the rugged Cath­ol­ic League, a semb­lance of ma­tur­ity and keen sense of un­der­stand­ing be­gins to emerge. Des­pite this be­ing their first year as varsity play­ers, both Smink and Glenn are aware of the pro­gram’s his­tory, as well as where they hope to take it in the next two years.

“Next year, we’ve already said our goal is to get to the Palestra,” Smink said, re­fer­ring to the ven­ue on Penn’s cam­pus that hosts the Cath­ol­ic League semi­finals and cham­pi­on­ship. “I think if we get there, it would change a lot of people’s minds about us. I think the stand­ard would change, not just see­ing the same teams all the time play in those games. But that’s on us. We have to want it.”

When asked about what it would mean to bring a Cath­ol­ic League title back to the North­east, Smink and Glenn both shot long­ing glimpses at the ban­ner hanging across the girls gym, the one that com­mem­or­ates the past Rag­doll league champs. Des­pite be­ing a per­en­ni­al play­off con­tender, Ry­an has not cap­tured a cham­pi­on­ship since 1975. That, the sopho­more duo said, needs to change.

This sea­son, the Rag­dolls won 14 games over­all, in­clud­ing six league con­tests. They were young, with just three seni­ors on the roster, mean­ing Smink, Glenn and ju­ni­or lead­ing scorer Dani­elle Skedzielewski were charged with be­ing dif­fer­ence-makers. Ry­an lost close heart­break­ers at the end of the sea­son to Arch­bish­op Car­roll and St. Hubert (in over­time), drop­ping the Rag­dolls to the sev­enth seed in the post­season.

They pummeled Con­well-Egan in the open­ing round be­fore suc­cumb­ing to an­nu­al league power­house Arch­bish­op Wood in the quarterfi­nals. But at times, Ry­an looked like con­tenders, even if the un­der­class­men had to find out the hard way just what it takes to win in this league. In the over­time thrill­er against St. Hubert in a sold-out road game, Smink shook off the hos­tile crowd and con­fid­ently bur­ied three three-point­ers, while Glenn led all scorers with 14 points. To suc­ceed in this league, there can be no fear on any giv­en night. 

They know that now.

“At first, it’s kind of scary,” Glenn ac­know­ledged. “It’s a little nerve-wrack­ing to come out against the best teams, but we know we can’t play scared. Work­ing with some of the older girls, I think, gave me a bet­ter ap­proach. When they were push­ing me around in prac­tice, I know why now. I be­came a bet­ter play­er be­cause of it.”

Ad­ded Smink: “I think some­times, we just came out scared. I went from be­ing a fresh­man on JV to a sopho­more on varsity, and it just … changes. As the sea­son went on, I star­ted say­ing to my­self, ‘I’m go­ing to take this shot, and I’m go­ing to make it.’ I want to get bet­ter. We all do. In the off­season, that’s huge, even if it’s just shoot­ing the ball around for 15 minutes. Every­one says prac­tice makes per­fect, right?”

The Rag­dolls sure hope so. While their neigh­bor­hood ar­chrival, the Bam­bies, will gradu­ate six seni­ors, Ry­an should come back loaded. 

Of course, that of­fers no guar­an­tees, as Smink put it, “There are months un­til next sea­son, but we need to pick up a ball every day. We know we’re not guar­an­teed any­thing just be­cause we had a good sea­son. The only way we’re get­ting a Cath­ol­ic League title is to work to­geth­er.”

The best thing about be­ing a sopho­more play­ing ma­jor minutes in one of the best top-to-bot­tom leagues in the state (in any sport) is that it causes one to grow up quickly, wheth­er they like it or not.

“Dani­elle, for ex­ample, she takes a lot of time in prac­tice teach­ing us not to mess around,” Smink said. “Al­ways take it ser­i­ous. If you don’t, then you shouldn’t be on the court. If you’re a bas­ket­ball play­er and want to win games, you should ex­pect two things: to win, and to learn, so that you’re al­ways com­ing back and tak­ing that men­tal­ity in­to the next game.”

As they got set to leave the gym fol­low­ing head coach Mike Mc­Cusk­er’s fi­nal team meet­ing of the sea­son, there was a sense of op­tim­ism in think­ing ahead to the 2014-15 sea­son. It re­mains to be seen if the Rag­dolls can get down to the Palestra, join­ing pro­grams like Wood, Car­roll and Car­din­al O’Hara, the ones who seem to punch their tick­et every year.

If there is to be a chan­ging of the guard, it will have to start some­where.

Smink and Glenn hope that some­where has already be­gun with them.

“We know a lot of the people on the oth­er teams just by grow­ing up with them,” Glenn said. “Ash­ley and I were both look­ing at Ry­an and St. Hubert in eighth grade, so com­ing here to­geth­er, I really en­joyed that. I can’t wait to have these next two years with her. It’s ex­cit­ing to think that we have the po­ten­tial to get ourselves down to the Palestra.”

Smink agreed.

“The work you’re will­ing to put in, that gives you the chance to prove people wrong, and prove to your­self that you’re a bet­ter play­er than you thought,” she said. “We want to win. We love com­ing to school, walk­ing the halls and have people com­ing up to us say­ing, ‘Oh, you have Hubert’s to­night, go get them.’ That makes you want to carry this to the next level. We know in the end, we’re still just play­ing against girls our own age. We just have to show we learned from this ex­per­i­ence, show what we’re made of and carry ourselves that way. No one’s per­fect, so we just have to keep work­ing on it.” ••

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