Central girls get their bounce back

Basketball team makes adjustments, develops resilience after coaching turmoil


Last updated 1/18/2024 at 11:33am | View PDF

Jim Slonoff

Hinsdale Central interim head varsity girls basketball coach Ryan Sasis leads practice Monday morning. Sasis took over last month after the former coach resigned. (Jim Slonoff photos)

Rebounding is second nature for basketball players. But getting a grip on the sudden mid-season departure of the entire Hinsdale Central varsity girls basketball coaching staff was a challenge - and, team members say, an opportunity.

The setback was delivered when Central head girls varsity basketball coach Erin Navolio and two other members of the girls basketball team coaching staff resigned on Dec. 4. No reason was articulated, so, of course, speculation ran rampant.

More importantly, however, a group of girls who had committed to representing Red Devil Nation on the hard court were now without a sideline conductor. For senior Greta Dani, in her final high school season and harboring hope to play in college, the path forward was murky.

"We were all confused about what the next steps were going to be," Dani remarked following practice on Monday.

Athletic director Mike Jezioro stepped in initially but soon was able to enlist the interim services of Ryan Sasis, a former coach at Marian Catholic

and other schools.

"Great kids, great AD, awesome school," Sasis said after running the girls through offensive sets in preparation for a game later that day. "It's a very good opportunity. Just one day at a time, basically."

He admitted this was his first time stepping in mid-season with a team, though in his younger days his job was to come to the rescue of struggling McDonald's locations.

"Just jumping into stuff and trying to make the best out of the situation has always been something I've prided myself on," Sasis related.

Central equipment manager Brad Warble was brought in as interim varsity assistant coach. Warble played college ball at Eastern Illinois University and has coaching experience. Interim junior varsity head coach Gia Pellizzari also assists with the varsity squad. The Central alum, former Red Devil and North Central College basketball player and a professional personal trainer, said she was excited to be offered the position.

"I wanted to come back and really get this program up to speed (in) strength training, speed and agility," said Pellizzari, who also coaches Central girls lacrosse. "It's been the most rewarding. A lot of the girls already knew me, so that was an easy transition."

She acknowledged that the mood was low at first, but the energy injected by Sasis and some strong play recently has flipped the script.

"It has been such a positive, moving-on experience," she said. "It's almost like they felt a weight had been lifted off their shoulders. They got over a hump and you could see them come alive."

Senior Luella Sheehan said she and her cohorts have seized the chance to unite in the face of the adversity rather than break apart.

"We've done a really good job to use it as motivation, and I think you can definitely see that on the court. That's something that I'm really proud of us for doing," Sheehan said.

Sasis said having a group of dedicated, smart players makes his job a lot easier.

"They're a joy to coach. Everyone wants to get better," he said. "When I have kids who have a good understanding of the game and know how to think the game, it's really nice to be able to give them a little more freedom to make decisions out there. Because that translates to things that happen outside of basketball."

Dani said Sasis' confidence has rubbed off on them.

"I feel like we are more of a team and we can perform well as a unit," Dani said. "You can tell he really believes in us."

Luella agreed.

"He has a really positive attitude and it makes us want to work even harder," Luella said.

Pellizzari has been impressed with how quickly the girls have scaled the steep learning curve.

"They've just been taking everything on. Everything's just going in the right direction," she said.

Sasis said his young charges are the priority.

"I'm here for the kids and just want to make the best situation for them. As long we compete and get better, that's all I can ask," he said.

Sheehan said the team's fresh mentality is evident.

"Each practice, each day, we're excited to show up, we're excited to play," she said. "I think as a team we've all chosen to take this and use it as something to bring us closer together."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean


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