Few programs have the expectations that Manchester have. Few teams have the talent Manchester has year in and year out. Even fewer push themselves as hard as Manchester teams do. These ladies flat out expect to win, and this year it may have been as hard to do that than it has been in a while. The old adage, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, could be Manchester’s motto.
In late November the Panthers met an eventual D1 top ranked Wadsworth team and took them to the brink of defeat. At the point they were flying high! “We knew we could play with Wadsworth,” explained Head Coach Tucker Pappas, “We knew coming into the season we were going to be good.” The Panthers returned their top seven players from the district runner-up team of last year that went 22-4.
That excitement quickly turned sour, losing senior Karley Daugherty the very next game for what ended up being the season. The 1st team PAC player is described by Pappas as the teams best all around player and certainly a big time leader. In my talks with the ladies they all spoke very highly of Docs leadership, not only in basketball but soccer and track as well. Daugherty tried to make a return late in the season and reinjured her knee. She got one last opportunity on senior night on one possession but never got a shot.
Though she isn’t on the court Karley is undoubtedly still a very important part of the team, she is looked at as another coach and sometimes the Panthers use “Win it for Karley” as motivation. Finding things like that were key for the Panthers late in the season as the PAC championship was no longer in reach. “It was the biggest drag. It was the toughest thing to overcome.” Pappas explains the mood after Timken ended their 9 year run of PAC titles, “It’s been a struggle, sometimes it was hard to get them up, after losing the league championship its like what are you playing for now? So that’s what we’ve been working for everyday, getting ready for the tournament.”
The fact that I got the same response from Alex Klein, who said the losses were ‘a lack of hustle and desire to be out there’, is encouraging. It’s no secret that the small stretches of carelessness and complacency hurt the Panthers and with the senior leadership and coaching I don’t see that as a problem moving forward. The passion and desire to continue the winning tradition is there! I seen in it first hand after a less than impressive win in the first round over Loudonville.
With the tournament here it is important for these ladies to keep motivated because I believe they are built to take down Chippewa and move on to Cuyahoga Falls. They have the inside presence to bang with Richardson. Brittni Porter and Alex Klein average 18 rebounds between the two. They have athleticism that the Chipps don’t have with Kayci Krzynowek (16 pts, 8 asts pg). Defensively they just flat out get it done, with more than a few players getting more than one steal a game. They also have the experience advantage in big tourney games.
The biggest concern for Tucker through the season was the need to have someone step up and be the 3rd scorer on a consistent basis after losing Daugherty. “I’ve been here for 10 years and we’ve had some pretty darn good teams and she’s probably the smartest kid I’ve coaches, top 3 best players I’ve coaches.” Coach Pappas explains how tough it is to replace Doc and her production. “Daugherty is just one of those kids, you can’t replace the heart, the effort, the energy, the intelligence.”
Brittni Porter, who was described to me as the hardest worker on the team, and Emma Kreakbaum, who was pinpointed as the most improved, are both primed and ready to fill that third scorer role. Brittni, who denies the assessment made by here teammates, and says they all work extremely hard, scores 7 a night to go with her 9 boards. Emma scores over 7 a night and has come up big with some big stretches of scoring at times through the season. The Panthers also feature some size and production off the bench with Allie Richmond and freshman Sammi VanScoy. Perhaps the biggest help was the emergence of Grier Cowles, who actually replaced Karley in the lineup.
Grier is everything you could want in a 5′ 0″ 95 pound guard. What she lacks in size she more than makes up for in heart and intensity! She’s not afraid to mix it up and she’s starting to follow the lead of Kayci and drive to the basket more. She adds almost 6 points a game and over 2 assists and steals a game to the lineup. However the undeniable thorn in opposing coaches sides is the one-two punch of Kayci Krzynowek and Alex Klein.
This duo, both 1,000 point scorers, average around 36 points a game together while shooting in an impressive high 40’s from the field. It’s not common to have more than one big scorer on a team but with Kayci’s ability to distribute it works great! “Those two it’s been fine with, Kayci creates for everybody.” Explains Tucker about the dynamic duo’s chemistry, “She’s such a good ball handler she makes Alex’s life easy, she gets her the ball where she needs the ball.” They both claim to be very close and only want the best for the other.
Manchester’s biggest enemy may be its inconsistency, if they find a way to play for 32 minutes they will be tough to beat. Wherever the tournament my take them they will carry with them a certain swag that comes with being successful year in and year out. They must also understand the perception that they are weaker than in years past. That will bring with it a target and a higher intensity from the opposition, and should also motivate the Panthers. Not being the hunted and doing the hunting has to be a different feeling, but it’s something they have the heart and drive to do.
These two seniors have meant enough to this program to account for six seniors, and still do. Kayci is willingly giving up basketball after this season and will find other things to succeed in. Karley has possibly already seen the court for the last time. Though she will do her best to get back on a floor in college somewhere, the future can’t be seen. The intensity to succeed has to be high, do it for the Seniors!
“I’m really happy to have these people with me, they’re all my best friends, they’re not just teammates.“
~ Kayci Krzynowek