St. Al girls endure a rough offseason|[11/06/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It’s been a tumultuous offseason for the girls basketball program at St. Aloysius.

First, they graduated two talented seniors in Sarah Kerut and Bonney Neill. Kerut was a three-time all-county, do everything small forward for the Lady Flashes. She led last year’s run to the Division 7-1A tournament title with 18 points per game. Neill didn’t score much, but her six-foot frame gave St. Al size on the block.

Second, they couldn’t find a coach. Kyt Bonner, who was on a one-year waiver as a para-professional, guided the club to an outstanding 21-9 record and the team’s first postseason tournament win in nearly 30 years. She left coaching to return to her full-time job.

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Next, the administration at St. Al hired Carla Koestler to take over the program. She is the mother of one the team’s three expected senior starters in Katie Koestler, a 5-8 forward. Katie, however, became seriously ill with a brain tumor early in the fall semester.

Her condition improved dramatically and she was able to resume school four weeks ago. Then, two weeks later, she relapsed. Carla Koestler had to spend time with her ailing daughter and took a step back from basketball.

With Koestler out, three others have stepped in during the past 10 days to run practice. One of those was former Delta State coach and Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Lloyd Clark. He ran practice for two days, then left after only five players showed up for a Sunday workout. Former Porters Chapel star Brady Willis is currently running the squad and her older brother Mitchell, a former PCA coach, has also run a few practices.

Returning two-year starter Elizabeth Mazzanti said the team has tried to make do with the trying situation.

“It’s been difficult. We have the upmost sympathy for Katie and her mom,” Mazzanti said. “I think it’s pulled our team together.”

Mazzanti is one of only five out of eight players who could’ve returned to this year’s team. Three others decided not to play — Kayla Childress, Natalie Waring and Sarah Franco.

That leaves St. Al very young and pretty small. Eighth grader Brittany Turner is the biggest at 5-foot-8. The team’s only other forward is 5-6 freshman Brianna Beesley.

There are five sophomores, with four having seen some time last year. Carlye Smith played the most as one of the first reserves off the bench at guard. Johnna Coccaro, Rachel Thomas and Tori Hines, all saw limited minutes.