By Mike Meiler firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — It's hard enough for any high school program to remain consistent with most students playing only a few years before graduating. It's even harder for a school the size of Niagara Catholic.
It's almost unfair to throw injuries into the mix.
That's what the 2013-13 NC girls basketball program faces following the loss of last year's leading scorer (Danielle Devole) to graduation and three other expected returning starters (Marissa Campbell, Marissa Ruffalo and Jessica Chandler) to season-ending knee injuries.
The new-look Patriots have shown well so far, boasting a 3-0 record and a championship in the Park Tournament despite the roster turnover. Head coach Larry Puzan said his players have bought into playing a defense-first style that helps make up for their lack of elite offensive talent.
"The kids are buying into that if we play good 'D,' we can be competitive in any game," he said. "We've improved with every game, but we're very young as far as offensive talent. Our points have to come in transition."
The Patriots held host Park scoreless in the first quarter of the tournament's finale before letting up a bit in the second. Puzan spoke with the girls at halftime, and they responded by only allowing 9 points in the second half.
Sophomore guard Marina Campbell, Marissa's twin, was named tournament MVP, while Melissa Whisker was named to the all-tournament team.
Joining the duo in the starting lineup are senior guard Christina Schulte and freshman forward Precious Adamson. Forwards Sam Martineau and Catja Brusino have split starts at the other forward spot.
Campbell, Schulte and bench guard Jerastaysia Briggs are the only returning players, and Schulte is the only player on the roster whose spent more than a year in the NC program. Briggs, a junior, transferred in last season, while Brusino, a sophomore, is in her first season with the school since transferring from Niagara-Wheatfield. Martineau is a senior, but she took the past two seasons off after playing as a freshman.
Even bench player Jeana Franjoine and Naomi Cain have limited experience. Franjoine, a junior, has only one year of junior varsity on her resume, while Cain, a sophomore, lost all of last season to a knee injury.
"We're very inexperienced, other than (Schulte)," Puzan said. "We're young, but the work ethic as been great so far. It's really been a hard-working, enjoyable team to coach."
Last year's Patriots finished 10-14 despite going just 2-12 in Monsignor Martin Athletic Association games. This year, NC doesn't start league play until Jan. 3, when they play at St. Mary's of Lancaster. Puzan said he could see a situation in league play this year.
"We're going to struggle with large schools in the league and some of the large schools we have to play, but these kids play hard," he said. "They get it, they're willing to work at it, and it's been fun.
NC is off until next Tuesday, when it plays again at Park. The Patriots open their home schedule on Dec. 19 against Buffalo Seminary.
Follow Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.