Comets have all the pieces for another tournament run

Eric Miller | Sports Editor

The Mason Girls basketball program is caonsistently recognized as one of the elite programs in the state of Ohio as well as the entire country for good reason.

Since the start of the 2015-16 season, the Comets have won 52 games and lost just eight. Head coach Rob Matula’s team is looking to build off a 23-4 campaign in 2016-17 that ended with a 41-35 loss to eventual Division I State Champion Mt. Notre Dame in the Regional Final.   

Junior Sammie Puisis is back as the featured player for Matula’s Comets. After averaging 16.6 points per game, six rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the 3-point point line as a sophomore, Puisis earned Greater Miami Conference (GMC) player of the year and made a verbal commitment to Florida State. Seniors Ti Fulton and Anna Brinkmann bring the Comets experience in the paint as both return for their fourth and final campaign. Sophomore Megan Wagner will man the backcourt along with junior Sade Tucker, who averaged 4.9 points and 2.0 steals per game as a sophomore at Walnut Hills. With such an experienced lineup back from the Elite Eight run a year ago, Matula said establishing the Comets reserve players can be what takes them to the next level.

“I think that we are starting to develop that (depth),” Matula said. “I feel confident that we have enough kids that know how to play the game. I think what we are trying to look at now is are they ready for that intensity. That’s the part of trying to develop that bench is to get them ready for the intensity level of a varsity game. I really like what we have coming off the bench.”

After dropping their season opener to Columbus Africentric, Matula’s Comets have reeled off five straight victories in impressive fashion. The Comets forced 39 turnovers in a resounding 70-3 win over Colerain and outrebounded Middletown 45-12 in an 80-38 victory.

While Matula said that while it’s difficult to try to develop young players in these blowout environments, he and his staff have tried to challenge their players by bringing in an all-boys practice squad.

“Middletown pushed us a little bit at the beginning and competed,” Matula said. “We got some kids in some situations. We’ve been bringing in what we call ‘the dude squad,’ they come in Mondays and Fridays that help speed us up and put us in positions where we can see of the kids that would come off the bench, how are they going to react in those situations and how they react against our top five or six kids.”

Outside of conference play, Matula’s teams are known for playing some of the most grueling schedules around. In 2016-17 Mason’s four losses were to Homestead (Indiana 4A State Champion), Lakota West (OHSAA Regional Semi-Finalist), Kettering Alter (Division II State Champion) and Mt. Notre Dame (Division I State Champion).

The Comets face another demanding non-conference slate in addition to their two matchups with fellow GMC powerhouse Lakota West. The non-league lineup for the Comets includes 2016-17 Division III state semi-finalist Columbus Africentric, a trip to Florida for the prestigious Naples Holiday Shootout as well as a trip to the Classic in the Country in Berlin, Ohio to play Urbana (IL) and 2015-16 Division I state semi-finalist Solon. Matula said he does not shy away from high level competition because of the way it prepares his team for postseason play.

“Ultimately it puts you in positions of high quality opponents that are going to make it a lot like, hopefully if you get to, a district championship game or a regional game or a state game,” Matula said. “That way you’re not looking at it going, ‘We haven’t played this caliber team’ or ‘we haven’t done it as many times as We possibly can.’ So, whenever we’re asked to go to this place or that place, I always tell whoever is directing it, ‘Whoever the best is, we’ll play them.”

Matula believes his Mason Comets are good enough to win the program’s second state championship. But he is also aware that there is a lot that has to happen in order to be in that position in March.

“We’ve got enough talent,” Matula said. “We’re hopefully going to be able to develop depth, in the end you’ve got to hope that you’re lucky enough to win one or two that you had to skate through and that your injuries are minimal. There’s a lot that goes into it. I’m not saying that we are going to win it, I’m saying we should have a chance to put ourselves in a position to win it. We do have experience in big games, and we have some talented younger kids coming off the bench. So, I like our chances just as much as anybody else and know that it’s a difficult road.”