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St. John boasts youthful experience

• Kapral begins 20th season with one senior, but returns three starters from 15-7 team

November 22, 2013
By SETH STASKEY - Times Leader Sports Editor ( , Times Leader

There is certainly such a thing as experienced youth.

St. John Central's girls' basketball team defines it.

Head coach Bubba Kapral, who is set to embark on his 20th season as the head coach at his alma mater, returns four lettermen and three starters from a 15-7 combine. However, he has only two players in the upper two grades, neither of whom earned a letter a season ago.

Article Photos

PICTURED IS the 2013 St. John Central girls basketball team. Front row, from left, are manager Brooke Palmer, Trine Steinbakk-Olsen, Gabby Santinoceto and manager Brooke Selmon. Middle row, from left, are Jamie Zifzal, Alyson Gocklan, Hannah Boyer, Taylor Lowe, Mackenzie Manukin, Gillie Johnson, Chloe Roberts and Rachel Russell. Back row, from left, are assistant coach Erin Nicola, head coach Bubba Kapral, Marissa Rose, Rachel Porter, Lindsey Froehlich, Emily LeMasters, Jessica Alvey, assistant coach Jerry Liberatore and assistant coach Tammy Selmon.

"We're about as young as you can get with a basketball team," Kapral said. "Having said that, a lot of our youth is experienced, so that's certainly a positive."

The Lady Irish's cupboard is well-stocked, but they must figure out a way to replace one of the top players in the area. Kristen Russell and her 16 points a game graduated. She was an all-district and all-OVAC performer and took part in both the District 12 and OVAC All-Star Games.

On top of Russell's departure, steady guard Kaydie Coppa, who was a two-year starter, also graduated.

Unfortunately, the Lady Irish will also be without the services of Morgan DeLuca. A starter from a season ago, she will not be playing after battling a series of knee injuries.

"If Morgan had been able to play, that would have given us a really nice starting five," Kapral said. "Kristen was one of the best players around and Kaydie was a very solid player for us."

Those departures result in forming the biggest key to the Lady Irish season.

"We have to develop numbers five, six and seven," Kapral said. "We have four really solid starters, but foul issues or injuries could be debilitating. Obviously, if you're searching for a fifth starter, that means your bench is shaky, too."

Don't expect much to change in terms of St. John's approach to the game.

"We're going to do what we do and that's a baseline-to-baseline team," Kapral said. "We have some very good athletes who we feel will allow us to play up tempo and get after people defensively. I think we'll rebound well and we've got kids who can knock down shots."

A trio of sophomores are set to lead the way after strong rookie campaigns.

Marissa Rose leads the way. The 5-7 guard will move to a more conventional two-guard role this winter. She averaged 14 points a game en route to all District 12 and all Times Leader honors.

"Marissa had a great freshman year," Kapral said. "We think she'll continue to improve and have another strong season."

Quick-footed Jessica Alvey (5-7) will take over the point guard duties. One of the area's premier track sprinters, Alvey can be a menace on the defensive end of the floor. She's improved her offensive skills and should be able to take on a larger role in the scoring department.

A season ago, she netted nine points and turned in six steals an outing.

"Jess came in with very raw skills and is really developing into a nice player," Kapral explained. "She's developed into the point guard and has done it very well. She's probably as good an athlete as there is in the Ohio Valley."

In the paint, sophomore Lindsey Froehlich will hold down the fort. The 6-2 center averaged nine points, nine rebounds, three blocks and she altered countless shots.

"Lindsey's a legitimate 6-2," Kapral said. "She needs to continue to become a little more aggressive. She can really become the 'X' factor for us because of her size. She's got skills, handles the ball well and can shoot."

Sophomore Emily LeMasters (5-9), who served as the Lady Irish's sixth player last season, will move into a starting position this season. She was the "best story of the (SJC) summer" according to her head coach.

"Emily really blossomed and had the best summer of any kid we have," Kapral said. "She's a really good rebounder. She's grown into a really solid player for us."

Battling for the final starting spot, which could change on a game-to-game basis based on matchups, have been junior guard Gabby Santinoceto (5-5), sophomore post Rachel Porter (6-1) and freshman guard Taylor Lowe (5-5).

"Those three will be five, six or seven in some capacity and each brings something different to the table," Kapral said. "You can run and press with Gabby, Rachel is obviously 6-1 and Taylor probably has the best offensive skill set of the three. Right now, I couldn't tell you who will be starting (on Tuesday)."

The lone senior in the Lady Irish program is a foreign exchange student. Trine Steinbakk-Olsen (5-10) is from Norway and is still learning the game. However, she possesses some intangibles that could prove to be highly beneficial as the season moves along.

"She's played soccer, so she has good feet, good size and she's very coachable," Kapral said. "I think a few weeks into the season she could be a nice post for us off the bench."

Sophomore Chloe Roberts (5-8) is battling for action on the varsity level. Five other frosh in the program appear ticketed for jayvee duty.

"Overall, I think our sophomore class is as good as we've ever had," Kapral said. "It compares to that '97 team."

That group of ninth graders includes: Hannah Boyer (5-5), Gillie Johnson (5-6), Jamie Zifal (5-7), Rachel Russell (5-7), Allison Goclan (5-6) and McKenzie Manukin (5-7).

Despite the question marks on the fifth starting job and depth, Kapral still doesn't see any reason why his team won't hit the ground running next week when it opens at Beallsville.

"We've got three kids who started every game, so there's no reason we shouldn't," Kapral said. "There's no reason why we shouldn't have a really nice year."

The Lady Irish advanced to the championship game of the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Basketball Championship before falling to Conotton Valley.

"We think we should be in the hunt again," Kapral said. "I think we're the only team that lost anyone from last year, so I think it should be the same four teams."

The Lady Irish did a make a couple of schedule changes. East Richland Christian is no longer on the slate. The Lady Irish have added a home-and-home against Martins Ferry. Linsly is also no longer apart of the schedule. A home encounter with Hundred was added in its place.

"We play a schedule that could possibly be some big-time points for us (in the OVAC standings)," Kapral said.

St. John makes its home debut on a week from today against cross-street rival Bellaire.

Kapral's coaching staff returns in tact from a season ago. His chief aide will be Dr. Jerry Liberatore. Erin Nicola and Tammy Selmon are also working with the varsity staff.



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