SALEM - This season hasn't been the smoothest of rides for the Salem Lady Quakers basketball team.
Just when it seemed the group had begun to gel and were getting comfortable with their roles, injuries began to mount, thrusting new, young faces into the spotlight.
Head coach Renee Farina hasn't had it easy, but she's not making excuses. She took over the team last season and had the daunting task of trying to replace a Division I recruit in Amy Scullion, as well as teaching a young team how to play without her for the first time in a long time.
But despite the team's record, there have been plenty of positives along the way. The team has shown it is capable of hanging with much more experience squads, coming out strong against nearly all of its opponents including league foes West Branch and Marlington. They hope despite still being short-handed, they can give Struthers all it can handle in their opening-round tournament game Monday.
"We've played a lot better towards the end of the season," Farina said. "Whether we win quarters against teams, or put up more points, the girls are still learning but are starting to get comfortable with one another on the floor."
A big reason the girls are still learning to coexist is because the Lady Quakers have had a new line-up practically every game due to injuries or sickness.
Senior Cassie Davidson went down early in the year, and just when her replacement, freshman Tori Jones began to hit her stride, she went down with a season-ending injury as well.
Every varsity player with the exception of junior Lindsey Foster and senior Sierra Day have missed games this season.
"It was tough because Tori's game was just starting to come along before she went down, and she was taking over Cassie's role," Farina said. "But you've got to keep going. I'm playing with a lot of younger girls in the line-up, but they play so hard. Megan Lehwald has really come along and become a leader in her own way. Our record doesn't reflect it, but we have improved so much from last year. We've lost a few games because we just don't know how to win yet. But they're getting that experience now, and they will be able to turn the corner."
The biggest problem for the Lady Quakers has been what Farina calls "the second quarter curse." Salem has started off strong in most of its contests but has taken such a hit in the game's second frame it's been tough to recover.
"We're going to try a few new things against Struthers," Farina said. "We're lucky because we've had 12 days off to prepare for them. They still had four games left in that time. That helps us to get healthy, and it's given us some time to rest."
Another plus is all the team's injuries have given many more players quality varsity time, which will undoubtedly bode well for the team in the future.
"I'm confident we're going to figure it out and it's all going to mold," Farina said. "I've really tried to emphasize the positives. They've made huge strides."
We've just got to keep getting better."
Salem will look to take another solid step forward and to score an upset against the state-ranked (No. 13) Lady Wildcats 6 p.m. Monday at Austintown-Fitch High School.