To say that the North Royalton girls’ varsity basketball team is young is truly an understatement.
Of the 15 players on this year’s team, there are only two seniors on the roster. There are four juniors, seven sophomores and two freshmen on new Coach Chris Esterak’s varsity squad. On the JV team, there are six freshmen, four sophomores and one junior.
Maybe young isn’t the word.
It would be easy to be discouraged, but Coach Esterak isn’t. “We’re really changing the culture here. We’re bringing in a whole new offense and defense. We’re asking the players to do things that they are not used to doing. It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. The kids are working hard to adjust to it.”
If Chris Esterak’s name is familiar to Bears fans, it should be. “I teach in Brunswick and I’ve coached other sports through the years. When North Royalton played in the Pioneer Conference with Brunswick, they were always competitive, had great kids, a great community and their players always had a great work ethic. When the job opened up, I knew it was going to be a great challenge because of the turnover of players due to graduation. We’ll get there. It’s a process, but we’ll get there.”
What makes the job even tougher this year is that senior Taiyier Parks cannot play this season because of an injury. “Taiyier is a double-double player (points and rebounds). She’s a difference maker. But, that’s part of the challenge. I like challenges. We have young kids. I keep telling them we’re playing for today. We’re trying to get better today. But a bright future is ahead of us.”
From the start of practice through Christmas, Coach Esterak said he has seen progress among his players. “A lot of the players were used to just being role players. Now, we’re asking them to be big-time scorers, leaders with the ball, leaders on defense and rebounders. I’ve seen that. For example, Jaya Harris was a wing player. Now I’m asking her to play a 4 or 5 with her back to the basket. That’s not always easy. She’s leading us in rebounding this year. Our ball-handlers are getting better as well. I’m also asking a lot from sophomores, Tiffanie Radwanski and Kaitlyn Bockelman, to score and play defense. I’m proud of the effort and we’ll continue to get better.”
The culture change that Coach Esterak has discussed extends to the Middle School and even to the sixth grade. “I’ve been helping the Middle School team, along with my assistants. We’ve been to a few practices. We’ve been to a couple of games and we bring the Varsity and JV team with us to show our support. I’ve seen the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade teams as well. And when we have a camp this summer, we’ll begin installing more things. We’ll have an AAU team for those who want to play travel basketball.”
Coach Esterak has a simple goal for his players the remainder of the 2018-2019 season: We win and we learn.