By SCOTT COTTOS
Brianna Gillig, like most players, began her high school basketball career in a complementary role.
She contributed to New Riegel’s run to the Division IV regional semifinals, but the go-to Blue Jackets were senior standouts Kara Scherger and Taylor Arbogast.
Gillig received help from the upperclassmen in developing her game, and she went into her sophomore year knowing more would be required of her for three more years.
And you could say she’s answered the call quite well.
The 5-foot-9 Gillig reached the 1,000-point mark as a junior, and her total of 1,286 points through six games this season has her third on New Riegel’s girls career scoring list and within striking distance of Rachel Faeth’s mark of 1,413.
Gillig last year was named the Sandusky Bay Conference River Division’s player of the year, all-Northwest District and third team all-Ohio after averaging 22.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. The previous season brought her first-team all-Sandusky River League recognition and all-district honorable mention.
And with averages of 26.8 points and 8.7 rebounds so far this year for the 3-3 Blue Jackets, she shows no signs of slowing down.
“She’s someone anyone would like to have on their team,” Hopewell-Loudon coach Bob Gase said last Tuesday night after his team’s 59-35 win over the Blue Jackets. “I think she’s the best player in their league and in Seneca County. There are some girls we’re going to have to play in the BVC who might be a little bit better, but she’s tough.”
Gillig, who needs 33 points to pass Leanne Lucius for the No. 2 spot on New Riegel’s career scoring list, was surprised when she reached the 1,000-point mark last season.
“As a freshman, I didn’t ever think I was going to get to 1,000 points,” she said. “Last year, when I got my 1,000th point, I had no idea I was even close to it. Freshman year was more like getting the ball to Kara and Taylor, and I really didn’t think I shot that much. I didn’t think I was going to get it.
“Then, all of the other accomplishments have been amazing. I really didn’t think I was going to get there.”
As with any special player, Gillig has maximized the talent she possesses by dedicating herself to improvement. She acknowledges that her defense and tendency to commit ill-advised fouls can use work, but she can score inside and from the perimeter and gather a good number of rebounds.
“Lots of practice,” she said. “Staying after (practice). And with my sister (Brooklyn, a sophomore point guard for the Jackets), we always practice at our house or go over to our grandparents’ house. We’re always working on stuff. And after the season, we play AAU together.”
Cindy Walerius coached a freshman Gillig in volleyball and has since led New Riegel’s girls basketball program.
Walerius appreciates Gillig’s contributions while at the same time encouraging improvement. She enjoys her standout’s ability to take coaching as well as the good-natured barbs that Walerius directs at her.
“She’s a lot of fun in practice and she is probably my biggest target to make fun of in practice because she takes it so well,” Walerius said. “They always count how many times I roast her, but I’ve really been very nice this year — so far. I’ve really watched that.
“But, you know, you can say anything to her and she’s going to take it the way you mean for her to take it. That’s so important. When I tell her the good things, I want her to know how proud I am and that she’s doing a great job. I think she accepts that, and then when I get on her — ‘Hey, you need to do this or that’ — she takes criticism very well. She goes out and works even harder.
“It’s just very unbelievable for, as good of an athlete as she is in every sport, just the way she handles herself. It’s a coach’s dream to have someone like her. You have really good players sometimes who know they’re really good and they’re a little cocky and they have a little bit of an attitude. She has no attitude whatsoever. I mean, she’s just like, ‘OK.’ She’s very coachable and a pleasure to coach.”
Gillig’s other sports have brought her success as well. Since helping the Blue Jackets softball team reach the state semifinals in her freshman year, she received second team all-SRL kudos as a sophomore and then was named the SBC River Division Player of the Year as a junior.
She headed into the current basketball season after gaining River Division Player of the Year and first-team all-Ohio recognition in volleyball. She’s been a first-team all-conference pick for the last three years, and she received third-team all-Ohio honors in her junior year.
Basketball, however, is Gillig’s favorite sport and the one she hopes to pursue in college. She’s been recruited to play at the small-school level.
“It’s an always-moving game,” Gillig said of her preference for basketball. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Just as Gillig received advice from older players, she’s now passing things along to younger sister Brooklyn.
Brianna isn’t a vocal leader on her team — she cedes that role to classmate Lindsay Bouillon — except when it comes to her sister.
“If my sister’s messing up, I’ll get in her face about it because I know she won’t really take it too personally. She can be mad at me all she wants, but I still have to go home with her,” Gillig said with a smile.
Brooklyn Gillig said she’s always looked up to her sister.
“When she was in seventh and eighth grade, I managed for them,” Brooklyn said. “I’d just watch her in practice, and she’d make a move and I’d be on the sideline and I’d try to make it.
“It didn’t always work out,” Brooklyn added, smiling.
Brooklyn, however, has improved enough to start as a sophomore, and Brianna said she’ll miss the sisterly companionship after she graduates.
Likewise, Walerius and her other coaches — Jamie Lininger in softball and Drew Cardwell, who is Walerius’ son, in volleyball — will miss Brianna.
“She’s just a great kid, a great athlete,” Walerius said. “She’s just, like, a natural in every sport. I did get a chance to coach her in volleyball, and she’s just an all-around athlete who can do anything.
“And no matter, with all these awards she wins and all these records she’s going to hold, I think the most important thing people are going to remember is what type of person she is. She’s just a great kid and I’d be so proud to have her as my daughter. She’s every coach’s dream.”
By SCOTT COTTOS