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Tolzda takes over talented Union Local squad

BMORRISTOWN — When thinking about the Union Local girls basketball team for the 2021-22 season, most immediately jump to the returning talent.

When you consider the Jets return four starters from a team that advanced to the Division III district final and won the OVAC Class 4A title, that’s a good place to start.

However, don’t think that this Jets team isn’t without question marks, too.

Veteran basketball coach Lou “Scooter” Tolzda has been the guy chosen to answer those questions and help get the Jets to the next level. He was hired in the spring to replace Rob Barr, who opted not to return after four seasons on the bench.

“I’ve really enjoyed (coaching the girls) so far,” Tolzda said. “I enjoy Union Local. I enjoy the girls and their parents. There’s been a really good connection formed there.”

This is Tolzda’s first time coaching girls basketball, but he’s no stranger to the game, obviously. He’s had head coaching jobs at Beallsville, River, Monroe Central and most recently Meadowbrook where he guided the Colts for five, highly successful seasons.

“The girls have been very receptive,” Tolzda said. “It’s still fun and it’s still coaching.”

While Tolzda’s resume and record speaks for itself, he inherits a team that didn’t have the best summer of work and only has a roster of nine players, so no jayvee season will be staged.

According to Tolzda, the summer was affected because he never seemed to have his full roster.

“We had kids in so many different places it was tough,” Tolzda said. “When we did have everyone together, we played so many kids that it was watered down and it was tough to get a true indication of what we had.”

The numbers, however, are much more concerning. And it’s one that Tolzda simply can’t seem to figure out.

“It’s a challenge,” Tolzda said. “My assistant coaches and my manager are going to be in really good shape before this (season) is finished. We had about six or so kids, who were JV players last year, decided they weren’t playing for reasons unbeknownst to me.”

Like so many teams, Tolzda realizes that his club is one injury or a game that involves heavy foul trouble from being in a very tough spot.

On the bright side of things, however, the Jets boast a roster that’s littered with size, skill and talent.

There are many facets of the game of basketball that the Union Local girls feel like they can do pretty well.

Tolzda would rather see the Jets become very proficient in three key areas and then go from there.

“I told the girls instead of being good at 19 things, let’s be really good on defense, rebounding and executing our half-court offense,” Tolzda said.

Seems pretty simple, actually.

“We can beat bad teams by taking bad shots, but beating the good teams that we want and need to beat to get where we want to be, we have to do the things that we do best,” Tolzda said. “I would like to play fast when we can, but I would also like to take advantage of our ability to rebound, so if we can’t play fast, let’s be methodical and get a high percentage shot. That formula can win.”

One area of concern for Tolzda is handling the ball. The Jets lack a true point guard, so it’ll be by committee.

“There’s really no such thing as a true point guard anymore,” Tolzda explained. “Everyone will have to handle the ball and be able to take care of it a little bit and I will say all of our girls need to continue to get better at taking care of the ball, too.”

The Jets are led by an impressive one-two punch provided by junior standouts Reagan Vinskovish and Torre Kildow.

Vinskovich, who averaged better than 21 points and 10 rebounds a season en route to second-team All-Ohio acclaim last winter, eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in the early portion of this season.

“Reagan’s track record speaks for itself,” Tolzda said. “We’re trying to develop her to do some things she’s not done in the past. We’re asking her to handle the ball some, face up more than she has and she’s doing a good job. When things are working for her, she’s looked pretty good.”

Kildow, meanwhile, put forth an impressive sophomore campaign, pouring in 17.1 points a game. She finds herself on track to eclipse the 1,000-point mark this season, too. Along with her scoring, Kildow at 6-1, will take on some more of the ball-handling responsibilities to fill the void left by her sister, Casey, who is now at Mount Union.

“Torre has skills, size and length,” Tolzda said. “She has the ability to do a lot of things. She has guard skills and with her size she’s a tough matchup.”

Senior Hannah Merritt is back to full strength after battling an ankle injury last season, which limited her at times. She was still solid, averaging just under 10 points a game. She is an adept 3-point shooter.

“Hannah has all-around ability,” Tolzda said. “She shoots the ball well, she’s a pretty good defender and athlete. We need her to continue to step up because if she and Torre can make (outside) shots, it creates a lot of problems for people with our inside players.”

Senior Keira Gregor is back in search of her fourth letter and is a three-year starter. She averaged almost seven points a game and Tolzda believes she’s ready to take a step forward.

“Keira has been one of our most consistent players throughout the preseason,” Tolzda said. “She’s worked hard on all areas of her game and I think she’s going to surprise some people. She’s a tough kid with a good skill set.”

The fifth starting spot has been a battle between junior Emily Kellaway and sophomore Lauren Miller.

“Both Emily and Lauren are good athletes, but they’re still learning the game,” Tolzda said. “Both show really good potential and are buying into their roles and understanding what we need them to do to help us be successful. Both can get better and better as the season goes on.”

Senior Sierra Scott will provide depth in the frontcourt. Freshmen Ella Pietranton and Cori King round out the roster.

Senior Alleigh Cheatham and junior Carrie Pittman are listed on the roster, but unable to play due to injury.

The Jets, who opened against Worthington Christian, are facing a challenging schedule once again. Along with the Buckeye 8 South, they’ll take on the likes of Wheeling Park, Fort Frye and Linsly.

“It’s a solid schedule of teams we should be playing,” Tolzda said.

Working with Tolzda at the varsity level are Nick Nardo, Nicole Smolenak and Alli DeLaney.

Bryan Butler and Jamie Vinskovich are coaching at the junior high level.

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