BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER | MIRROR SPORTS — There were moments during Rafael Soler’s second season as Maumee’s girls basketball coach when the Panthers looked like a team on the rise.
There were other moments, though, where they stumbled and took some steps backward.
For the second straight year, Soler has put together a summer schedule of open gyms and weight lifting along with a spot in the Rossford summer league on Wednesday nights.
The hope is to see more of those positives when the games begin to matter in November.
“We’re just trying to get them to play as much basketball as possible,” Soler said. “We’re getting a decent turnout so far this summer to the open gyms. We’re trying to run through sets and keep them active.”
Maumee finished 3-20 last year, but those wins came during a 17-day span in December that saw the Panthers go 3-2.
While Maumee returns star guard Lucy Porter, the vast majority of last year’s varsity squad graduated. It leaves some question marks and new roles for players this season, such as seniors Beverly O’Neill and Evelynn Schneider.
“This is going to be a fun year because I think we’re going to see a lot of improvement during the season from the beginning to the end, but it is going to be a little frustrating at times,” Soler said.
“We had a lot of veteran senior leadership. This year, we’re going to need it from more people that haven’t had all that experience.
“I’m looking for certain girls. Obviously, Lucy is going to have to step up as a leader this year. Some of our seniors, Evelynn and Bev – Evelynn is very vocal, Bev doesn’t say as much, she leads by example, but those players are going to have to step into those roles.”
This summer should be the perfect time for all of the players to feel their ways into new roles, both on and off the court. Soler is encouraging them to try something new during the summer that they wouldn’t normally try during the pressure of the regular season.
“This is a huge time,” Soler said. “Work on the skills you want to be great at or things you’ve never tried during the season. This is the time to try things out.
“So much about sports is being confident and doing things over and over again. This is low stakes, we’re just playing to have fun and get better. This gives them the opportunity to play and have fun and try things out instead of the pressures of playing varsity basketball.”
The summer isn’t important only for players like Porter, O’Neill and Schneider, who have high school experience.
Soler said there have been some incoming freshmen who’ve attended open gyms and were on the court during the first week of summer league play.
Getting them time on the court against high school athletes can help get the newcomers literally up to speed with the jump from junior high.
“We’ve had a lot of our freshmen come out and play at the JV level,” Soler said. “This gives them an idea of the speed of how high school will be. It gives them that first taste of basketball at the next level.
“We’ve even had a couple of girls play at the varsity level, and they’re doing great so far. We hope to keep seeing them come out.
“It’s a big jump, so for them to even be able to play and excel at that speed, that’s a big deal for us.”
The girls basketball program also conducted a camp for youth players in the district last week. According to Soler, approximately 45 campers attended and 10 high school players volunteered to help run things.
While his focus during the season is dominated by the high school level, Soler understands any success starts with the younger grades.
“There’s a lot of girls in the younger group that really love the game of basketball,” Soler said. “We have some girls (like that) in the high school, but most of them love volleyball, love softball, love those other sports.
“I think we have some true love for basketball coming up, which is really cool for a basketball coach.”
The high school players also benefited from the youth camp experience. Soler mentioned how Schneider was running a drill on rebounding and putback shots during the camp. That same night during the Rossford league, she converted a handful of rebounds into points, mentioning to her coach how the drill helped her, too.
“There’s a saying, if you’re able to coach something, if you’re able to teach it, then it makes it so much easier to actually do it,” Soler said. “Just seeing those kinds of things, break it down and telling people why we’re doing these things, I think is a big deal.”