By BRUCE HEFFLINGER
Sports Writer
Paulding has always been special to Cory and Stephanie Giesige. After all, both are graduates of Paulding High School, Cory graduating in 1990 and Stephanie in 1993.
It is now becoming special to Chelsi Giesige.
“October of my junior year my dad’s job transferred to Fort Wayne,” reflected the Paulding senior, who had been living and attending school in Columbus, Ind. “I decided to come back to school here.
“At first it was different with the size. It took awhile to get a grip of it all. But now that I’ve been here for a year-and-a-half, it feels like home. Having all my family able to watch me play is special.”
The play of the 5-8 standout has reached the level of spectacular at times during the current season.
“She’s improved greatly,” pointed out Paulding first-year head coach Matt Arellano, a 1994 Paulding grad who was in school with both of Giesige’s parents. “Her basketball IQ has always been there, but now she’s executing things she’s seen in her head. The game has slowed down and she’s trusting her teammates.”
The results have been outstanding, with Giesige topping the team in scoring (16.8), rebounding (5.7), assists (63) and steals (58) while hitting 44 percent from the field, 31 percent on 3-pointers and 68 percent at the foul line..
“I really did expect her to play at this level,” Arellano admitted. “She’s an elite high school player. She started slow scoring, but once she settled in and began to understand her teammates, everything started to flow.”
Never more than of late, with Giesige pouring in 30 points versus Ada before following it up with a 23-point outburst against Continental in her most recent two outings.
“Moving in, I just wanted to play basketball,” noted Giesige, a Northwest Conference honorable mention selection after averaging 12.0 a year ago during a 10-14 campaign by the Panthers. “But coming into this season with Matt, and what we have here, I expected us to be something special and change the community’s outlook on us. Now we’re having people come to games that never showed up before.”
What the fans are witnessing is the road to perhaps the best season in Paulding girls basketball history.
“Early in the summer we talked about trust,” Arellano said in reference to the camaraderie that has formed on the Panthers this year. “Get the ball moving and create harmony. I think we have that.
“We’ve got the right coaches, the right players and the right focus. It’s created a good team chemistry.”
It has the Panthers on the brink of school history. Paulding is currently 17-3 this year, one win away from the all-time mark of 18 wins in a season set by the 1980-81 team. The Panthers have also tied the all-time record with 10 consecutive victories (held by 1979-80 team) heading into Tuesday’s game at Defiance.
“Everyone is going to remember the team that breaks the record,” pointed out Giesige, one of three seniors on the Panthers along with Syd McCullough and Katie Strayer. “But for me, what I want is for the younger kids to come to the game and see us working hard. That means the most to me. I want the record, but I want that record to be broken. I want this to be a program and that people expect us to be good.”
Giesige credits the coaching staff with playing a huge part of a season that has been highlighted - in her eyes - by wins over Wayne Trace and Bluffton.
“Our coaches want us to have high expectations and high standards,” Giesige explained. “They force us to bring an intensity to the table. They’ve prepared us for every game and taught us how to handle it.”
A come-from-behind victory over an undefeated Bluffton squad has helped the Panthers stand second in the Northwest Conference while a win over county rival Wayne Trace is perhaps the most memorable according to Giesige.
“Even before I was in the area, my parents would talk about the Wayne Trace rivalry,” Giesige noted.
At the current rate, future talk when it comes to Paulding girls basketball could center around the 2019-20 squad with Giesige leading the charge. McCullough, Jalynn Parrett, Janae Pease, Leigha Egnor, Sadie Estle, Strayer and the younger Giesige are others in the usual rotation for the Panthers.
“My main role is that I’ve had to be a leader,” Giesige said. “I’m not afraid to tell the others where to go or that they’re not working hard. I can score, but a more important role is leadership.”
Having parents on hand to witness the success, including that of younger sister Audrey who leads the team in 3-point shots made with 21 and is third in scoring at 6.9 points per game, makes the season even more memorable.
“It’s pretty special that both went to Paulding,” Giesige admitted. “I never understood the culture until I got here. To see my dad up in the stands with headphones on listening to the game is special. He’s always known what I could do and holds me to high standards. He always has something to say to me after every game. It’s kept me grounded that there’s always something for me to do to be better.”
As for the future, Giesige plans to attend Trine University to play basketball and major in finance.
“There’s still a lot more to accomplish,” Giesige said in looking at the end of her high school career. “We’re just getting started now.”
Arellano points to team intelligence as a big part of the success this year.
“This is a very smart team,” noted Arellano of a program featuring 16 of 18 girls on the honor roll, with Giesige coming in with a 4.0 in the most recent grading period to push her accumulative GPA to 3.9. “It shows they’re focused and they know what we need to accomplish. They’re smart on the court and in the classroom, you can’t ask for too much more.”
It has the former assistant coach relishing his first season at the helm of the program.
“I just try to enjoy every day,” Arellano concluded. “The best part is I’ve wanted to do this and I’ve been around them for the past five years. To see them smile after games and to genuinely care about each other, and how the bench reacts, is just enjoyable to see.”