Senior-laden Toppers have lofty goals

Danni McCartney

With three returning starters and a roster that includes eight seniors, the Chardon Hilltoppers enter the 2018-2019 season with talent, experience and lofty goals.

The Hilltoppers, who finished 14-11 overall and 8-6 in the Western Reserve Conference, return nine players with varsity experience.

“I think we have a chance to do something special with this group of kids,” said fifth-year head coach Cullen Harris, who is 64-36 at the school. “We have eight seniors who have a lot of experience and close calls over the years. I believe they’ve learned from those past letdowns and will put us in a position for a chance to win the WRC and a district title.”

Harris plans to lean on his team’s experience to push through a rugged non-conference schedule and a brutal conference slate.

“We’re tall, fast, physical, experienced, and deep,” he said. “We return seven girls who played 10-plus minutes a night last season, returning the most experience in the WRC. We have eight seniors, two of which have been playing meaningful minutes since freshman year and another two who stepped into varsity roles as sophomores. We have four girls on the roster who will have a chance to make an impact who are 6-plus feet tall, making us one of the bigger teams in the WRC. Despite having size, we have depth that gives us the ability to play small and fast if we need to. We can dictate the tempo and pace to our liking with the majority of the matchups on our schedule.”

The downside to returning so much experience is the lack of minutes available for so many quality players.

That leaves each player responsible for accepting her own role on the team.

“While we have a lot of depth to fill a lot of roles, our success is going to come down to how quickly kids buy into and accept their role within the team,” Harris said. “It is difficult sometimes for kids who were scorers or primary ball handlers at a lower level to accept that as they’ve moved up their role changes based on the makeup of the team and the level of competition. If our kids buy in, accept their roles within the team, and work together toward our goals, the sky is the limit in terms of our team success.”

Returning starters include senior guards Lindsey Nichols and Sydney Feller senior forward Danni McCartney.

Nichols is a four-year starter who averaged 2.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and two steals per game last winter.

“Lindsey provides our team with a great sense of calm and composure,” Harris said. “We know exactly what we are going to get from her on a nightly basis. What she contributes doesn’t show up in box scores, but I know we’re a better team with her on the floor.”

Feller earned all-WRC and honorable mention all-district honors last season after averaging 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. She also knocked down 60 3-pointers.

“Sydney provides great spacing for us,” Harris said. “She is one of the best shooters in the area and can get hot in a hurry. She has worked on developing other parts of her game and has some added elements that will help us be a more well-rounded team.”

McCartney, an honorable mention All-WRC honoree, averaged 6.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game in 2017-2018.

“Danni started games as a freshman, missed her sophomore year with an injury, and came back and made an impact as a junior,” Harris said. “Danni will continue to grow and help fill a role for our team. She plays hard, is tough, and physically a matchup issue for a lot of posts we see.”

Rounding out the projected starting lineup are seasoned veterans Halle Landies and Tori Butala.

Landies, a junior guard, averaged 10.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.2 steals per game.

“Halle is an elite athlete who has worked hard in the offseason to grow in her areas of weaknesses,” Harris said. “I expect Halle to make a huge leap this season in a more prominent role on the team. Halle has a chance to be one of the best players in the WRC and in the area.”

Butala, a senior forward, dropped in 4.5 points per game with 3.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks and 30 made 3-pointers.

“Tori has gotten over some past injuries and is primed to have a breakout season,” Harris said. “She has great size and length and can help stretch the floor with her ability to shoot from beyond the arc.”

Seniors Anna Pastor, Grace Koppelman, Anna Thompson, Jessica Doyle, juniors Marisa Organiscak and Caitlyn Goodrich and sophomores Sam Liechty, Ashley Hoenigman, Lexi Paros-Gaser and Kayla Noerr will provide depth for the Hilltoppers.

“We have a chance to go 9-12 kids deep on a given night,” Harris said. “Depending on who is playing well and the matchup on a given evening, any of these kids can step up and play a huge part in our success.”