If the Amherst Comets had a team motto going into this season, it might have been: New year, new attitude.
After ending the 2011-12 season with a disappointing first-round loss against North Olmsted, the Comets yearned to get back to work to ensure this season would not end the same way.
“As soon as we got back on the court in Norwalk (summer league) and the whistle was blown again we knew everything was different and it was going to be a good year,” senior Sydney Failing said.
And what a difference a year has made. The Comets are the No. 2 seed in the Division I district tournament at Elyria Catholic and go into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Clearview with a 16-5 record.
According to coach John Rositano, most of the credit for the turnaround belongs to the six seniors — Hannah Brosky, Morgan Dziak, Brianna Shagovac, Taylor Gibson, Megan Salisbury and Failing.
“Seniors always come out with an added sense of urgency because they know something that they have put their heart and soul into is coming to a close,” Rositano said. “Not only is this a talented group of athletes, but they are also good students and good people. They care about each other and that shows when they are together on the basketball court.”
Shagovac, the point guard, agreed that the tight bond among the players has helped to forge a stronger team.
“(The seniors) are all so close, we’ve been playing together since seventh or eighth grade,” Shagovac said. “We realize this is something special. A couple of us might go on to play basketball in college, but this is the last time we will all be together, the last time you get to play with your friends.
“We’re all good friends outside of basketball, which makes this season and hopefully ending it on a big note even more special.”
Everybody who has ever played on, or against a John Rositano-coached team, knows the importance he places on defense, and it appears the current crop of Comets have totally bought in to the philosophy.
“The key to everything we do is playing hard defense,” Dziak said. “It’s tough sometimes, but we know that’s what we have to do to win.”
The Comets have seen that defense pay dividends as they have held eight opponents under 40 points.
“Defense is everything. You don’t get rewarded on offense if you don’t play defense,” Failing said. “Early in my career it was hard for me to believe that because, honestly, me and defense don’t get along too well. All of these seniors play together so well and push each other and we are so well-organized on the court that it makes it a lot easier to give that effort on the defensive end.”
Of course, it’s not just defense that has fueled the Comets’ success. With Shagovac leading from the point guard position, Dziak’s accurate eye from behind the 3-point line, Failing’s ability to drive to the basket and 6-foot-3 sophomore Brooke Wallace in the paint, Amherst has one of the area’s most multifaceted offenses.
Shagovac missed the second half of the 2011-12 season after tearing her ACL. She said watching her team struggle down the stretch made her work harder to rehab and be ready for her senior season, and taught her how important her role is.
“By no means was I the most important player on the team, but when I went down it forced other players to play out of position,” Shagovac said. “This year everyone is able to play the role they are best suited for and they have the confidence to play it well.
“It ate me up sitting on the sidelines watching my teammates in practice and in games last year. When I got back on the basketball court after soccer season I knew there was a new energy on this team.”
Rositano also knows how critical it is to have his veteran point guard come tournament time.
“Points guards are unbelievably important in the high school game,” he said. “We were 5-2 when she went down last year and we lost our next eight games. Shagovac is a great leader on the court and she knows how to make good decisions in pressure situations.”
Amherst flew under the radar early in the season and didn’t capture the attention of casual fans until winning nine games in a row after losing in the first round of its holiday tournament. Now the Comets are hoping to make their name on the biggest stage — the district tournament.
“You can see on the bracket that no one wants to face Magnificat,” Shagovac said. “After the tournament I want people to look back and think, ‘I am sorry we didn’t stay away from Amherst.’
“It would mean everything to win a district championship. Coach tells us about the team in ’06 that went to regionals. To be able to do that would be a great way for all of the seniors to end their high school career.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.