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GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Bridgeport Girls Wholly Fulfill Expectations

Zitzelsberger happy, confident with team

January 8, 2013
By RICK THORP, Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

LANSING - When Rob Zitzelsberger assumed the reins of the Bridgeport girls' basketball team two years ago he didn't intend for it to be a long-term proposition.

Already the school's principal, he said at the time ''I'm going to get the program on solid footing and step away.''

Two years later, he's still there.

''It's quite enjoyable,'' Zitzelsberger said.

The Bulldogs have been one of the feel-good stories of the area basketball scene this winter. Standing at 11-0, Bridgeport is ranked eighth in Ohio Division IV and sits atop a talented OVAC Class AA with once-beaten Wheeling Central, unbeaten Clay-Battelle and Shadyside lurking just behind.

It's been a while since Bridgeport has packed this much of a punch. And while things looked promising on paper this preseason, seeing his team actually fulfill those expectations is a point of pride for its coach.

''I think the team's meshed very well,'' Zitzelsberger said. ''We brought Maclaine (Murad) in and Caitlyn (Kroll), who's a freshman.

''Everyone is playing well.''

The stars appear to have aligned at just the right time for the Bulldogs. The team already had a core of talented veterans. Then, with the addition of Murad, who transferred from St. John, and Kroll, the Bulldogs were strengthened.

Kroll is the team's leading scorer at about 17 points per game. The 5-foot-8 rookie entered the varsity program with plenty of expectations and so far has exceeded them, according to her coach.

''She's very talented,'' Zitzelsberger said.

As for Murad, she'd already established herself as a good player at St. John.

''She is probably the hardest worker on the team,'' Zitzelsberger said of the team's second-leading scorer. ''She just goes really hard in practice and is a good foul shooter.''

The rest of the Bulldogs starting lineup is filled with three familiar faces led by senior captains Brittany Higgenbotham and Kaitlyn Benda.

''She's our big rebounder and our force in the middle,'' Zitzelsberger said of Higgenbotham. ''We play a lot of man and she's adapted to that very well.''

In Benda, Zitzelsberger said he has a player who optimizes the term hustle.

''When there's a loose ball she usually ends up getting it,'' he said.

Junior captain Nicole Smolenak rounds out the starting five.

''She directs the team and she's like another coach on the floor,'' Zitzelsberger said of his point guard. ''And for 5-foot-4 she gets a lot of rebounds. She also leads us in assists and steals.''

Adding talent off the bench are sophomore Briana Massey sophomore Keri Renzler, junior Amber Millard and junior Ali Baker.

Zitzelsberger said the team is the most unselfish he's ever been associated with.

''They want to win and they don't care who scores,'' he said.

That commitment to excellence hasn't been lost on the school's student body of the community. Zitzelsberger said a case of ''Bulldogs Fever'' has struck.

''We have what we call the 'Dog Pound' and it's full every home game with students,'' Zitzelsberger pointed out. ''They have white outs, black outs. It's exciting because of the buzz surrounding the school and the community.''

Zitzelsberger also noted the support of the team's parents group has been tremendous.

Bridgeport has had many ''signature wins,''one of which took place last month in Hannibal against a talented River squad.

''We were down seven and we just never gave up,'' Zitzelsberger recalled. ''We were looking for that team unity and in that game it just seemed like everyone stepped up.

''All the players cheer each other on and they get a long really well.

''It's fun to coach this team.''

 
 

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