Bridgeport is coming off a superb 21-3 season last year. It's a season that ranks up there with some of the best in school history.
Fourth-year head coach Rob Zitzelsberger and his coaching staff are looking for bigger and better things this season as the top three scorers return, along with another letterwinner who saw action in every game.
"We really excelled last year," Zitzelsberger said. "The girls really came together and played well, but we came up empty on some of the goals we set for ourselves."
PICTURED IS the 2013-14 Bridgeport girls basketball team. Front row, from left, are Vivica Foster, Katelynn Grimmett, Brianna Massey, Maclaine Murad, Amber Millard, Nicole Smolenak and Keri Renzler. Middle row, from left, are Starbrea Butler, Dorothy Johnson, Randi Barker, Justine Schell, Caitlyn Kroll, Courtney Trouten and Chelsea Burch. Third row, from left, are Sydney Kloss, Samantha Ivan, Hannah Patroski, Josie Bugaj, Sofia Korreborg, Makenna Beal, Deanna Spoon and Deja Massey. Back row, from left, are assistant coach Kayla Amedro, head coach Rob Zitzelsberger and assistant coach Jason Hanson.
Like he said, there was something missing in those 21 victories, such as OVAC and sectional tournament triumphs. The Black-and-Blue was knocked out of the OVAC Class 2A semifinals by eventual champion Shadyside on its home floor, and then got bounced from the Division IV sectional by River, which also handed them a loss inside the John J. Havlicek Gymnasium.
"Our expectations are higher this year, and to reach those goals we will need to play to our potential and take every game as if it were a championship game.
"We lost two quality seniors from that team," he said in reference to Brittany Higgenbotham and Kaitlyn Benda. "They didn't score a whole lot, but they didn't have to. Higgenbotham cleaned up the boards and Benda was that scrappy player that got all the loose balls.
"We'll have a different look this year because of those two losses," he added. "We'll be a little smaller, but we will be much quicker this season."
Because of all the talent returning to the court, Zitzelsberger knows his squad won't sneak up on anybody.
"We're not going to surprise anyone this season," he said. "I think everyone will be looking forward to playing us. We've definitely got as bulls eye on us."
Leading the returnees is 5-4 senior Nicole Smolenak, who is a 4-year starter and 1,000-point scorer.
"She is the one that makes us go," Zitzelsberger allowed. "She leads us in just about every category. She runs our team with a good complement of players.
"Nicole has really adapted to being a point guard," her coach added. "Her first two years she was counted upon to score a lot of points and do a lot of things, but last year she had to be more of a distributor of the ball, and she handled it very well. That's what a good point guard does."
She was first team all-OVAC, as well as first team all-District 12. She also earned Division IV all-state honorable mention while scoring 14.8 points.
For her career, she has scored 1,046 points for an average of 15.4. She has also charted 445 rebounds (166 offensive), handed out 243 assists and recorded 260 steals. She also shoots 46.7 percent from the floor; 31.7 from behind the 3-point arc; and 70 percent from the free-throw stripe.
Also returning for their senior seasons will be 5-6 Maclaine Murad and 5-7 Amber Millard, who will fill the forward slots.
Murad, who transferred in last season from St. John Central, will be a 4-year regular. She has 706 career points with both the Irish and Bulldogs and will be counted upon to increase that scoring this winter.
"We're expecting really big things out of Maclaine this season," Zitzelsberger allowed. "She fit into our system really well last year."
She averaged 14.9 points a game last season while shooting 36.7 percent from the floor and 72.8 percent from the foul line. She can also step back and knock down a trey as her 34.4 norm reveals. She also pulled down 156 rebounds and recorded 55 steals.
Millard, who saw spot duty last year, will be counted upon for a lot of minutes and inside play, especially on the boards. She is a 3-year letterwinner.
"Amber really worked hard all summer," Zitzelsberger noted. "She needs to step up her game."
A pair of 3-year letterwinners highlight the 4-member junior class, those being 5-8 Briana Massey and 5-6 Keri Renzler.
"Briana will move into the center slot for us and that will give us a different look in the post than last year," Zitzelsberger said. "She's very aggressive on the boards and is a track star, so she'll be able to get out and run the floor for us."
She averaged just less than three points and grabbed 234 rebounds last season.
Zitzelsberger said Renzler will be the first player off the bench.
"She's a very good shooter and will give us valuable minutes off the bench," he said.
Renzler averaged a little more than three points a game.
Other juniors include 5-6 Katelynn Grimmett and 5-4 Vivica Foster. According to Zitzelsberger, Grimmett is fighting for varsity playing time, while Foster will play on the JV squad.
The sophomore class is lead by high-scoring Caitlyn Kroll who is coming off a fantastic freshman campaign where she scored 416 points for an average of 17.3, which was a team-best.
"Caitlyn is going to be asked to do a lot more this season," the coach noted. "As a freshman, she kind of hid from the ball at times and she can't do that this season. She really needs to step up and take charge at times."
Zitzelsberger said his prized sophomore has gotten much quicker.
She also grabbed 170 rebounds, charted 84 assists and 87 steals, while also blocking a team-high 17 shots. She shoots nearly 50 percent from the field and 71.5 from the free-throw stripe. She also hits at a 28.1 clip from beyond the 3-point line.
According to the coach, another pair of sophomores could see varsity time, those being 5-6 Courtney Trouten and 5-7 Dorothy Johnson.
"Courtney is a promising guard that is coming up from the reserve team, while Dorothy is a rugged forward who will battle inside. She's a strong rebounder."
Zitzelsberger is also very high on 5-10 freshman Deja Massey, the younger sister of Briana.
"Deja will start out on the JV team and with improvement she may see some varsity time," he said. "She has very good skills and a lot of potential, but she needs to learn the system."
Rounding out the sophomores are 5-5 Starbrea Butler; 5-4 Randi Barker; 5-6 Justine Schell; 5-5 Chelsea Burch; and 5-7 forward exchange student Sophia Korreberg.
"We played very well over the summer," he allowed. "We finished second in the Wheeling Recreation Shootout. We just ran out of bodies."
Zitzelsberger said it won't take long to find out how good his team is because the first two games should be a good measuring stick.
"We'll find out real early," he said when asked how good his team can be. "We play Steubenville Central and Bellaire right off the bat, and both of them should be pretty good this year. River will also be a formidable foe."
There is some change in the Bulldogs' schedule as Cameron and Bishop Donahue are no longer in the fold. They have been replaced by two games with Buckeye Local and a pair of contests in Columbus against Delaware Hayes and Columbus Westland.
"Everyone on our schedule should be improved," he said. "We must come ready to play every night and stay focused all season."
The two games in Columbus come on back-to-back nights.
The freshman team has six members. They are 5-3 guard Josie Bugaj; 5-6 forward Makenna Beal; 5-7 forward Hannah Patroski; 5-4 guard Deanna Spoon; 5-8 forward Sydney Kloss; and 5-9 center Samantha Ivan.