While many girls basketball fans will head to North Royalton tonight in anticipation of watching New Hampshire commit Peyton Booth headline a Wadsworth win or seeing Jodi Johnson fill the hoop, Grizzlies coach Andrew Booth knows where to look for his team’s success.
While the ninth-year coach won’t say Madison Gilger’s play in the post is the key for Wadsworth (25-1) to advance past Berea-Midpark (23-2) in a Division I regional semifinal, he didn’t shy away from the importance of his 5-foot-11 senior.
“I can tell you this: Without Maddie, we don’t go undefeated in the Suburban League,” he said, “and we don’t reel off 25 of 26 games.”
That’s a view shared by Gilger’s teammates, many of whom are making their fourth straight regional appearance. Hannah Centea is ticketed for Mercyhurst in the fall for her grittiness on the defensive side and has seen Johnson score 14.7 points per game and Booth contribute 8.4.
It’s the 5.5 points and 5.6 rebounds Gilger adds that set Wadsworth apart from the rest, according to the point guard.
“She is the most important player for us,” Centea said. “She gets our rebounds, she finds our outlets. No, she doesn’t score a lot, but she keeps us together.
“She doesn’t complain. She wants to do well. It’s not about her, it’s about the name on the front of our jerseys. Her role is to get the rebounds and to hold us together.”
Gilger has done that this season and done it quite well. A lunch-pail kid for the Grizzlies, she gives up size — Andrew Booth says Gilger is 5-10 on a good day — and strength down low, but is heady enough to know how to use her frame to her advantage.
While most post players lumber up and down the court, the senior is almost in an all-out sprint to get down on offense. She is there waiting in the half-court set for the player she’s guarding to get down into the blocks. Her athleticism is off the charts, as she can jump and grab the rim.
Gilger, who scored 14 points Friday in a district final win over Lakewood, never complains and is ready to embrace her role every time she hits the court.
“We’ve had a lot of kids over the years that have bought into what their role is,” Andrew Booth said. “That’s what happens on the successful teams. Not every kid is going to get equal shots. Not every kid will get a lot of sets run for them. That’s what Maddie is.
“We don’t run a ton of sets to her. Her job is to chase loose balls on offense, rebounding-wise. She doesn’t complain. She comes to work every day and puts her hard hat on. A lot of the teams we’ve faced have played an inside-oriented game. She comes to work and does what we ask her to do. She’s that kid that is willing to bang around, get bruised up in practice and in the games and come back for more.”
Tonight, Gilger’s role will be magnified, as Pittsburgh recruit Stasha Carey will be her primary concern when the Grizzlies go man-to-man.
Medina County knows Carey well, as the 6-3 senior scored 19 points and blocked the final shot in a 57-56 Valley Forge District semifinal against Cloverleaf.
Gilger wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“I’m not going to go out and take the shots I know I can’t make,” she said. “When I get a shot inside, it’s, ‘Put it in. Make the important ones.’ That’s the big thing for me.
“I’ve never been the biggest girl on the court. I focus on that one girl and say, ‘Maybe I’m not going to get the rebound against Stasha Carey, but I’m going to make sure someone else gets it and not her.’ I might not get it, but she won’t, either.”
Contact Brad Bournival at email@example.com.