With five returning starters and 10 others with varsity experience returning, the Mentor Cardinals are talented and deep and have set lofty goals for themselves this winter.
“The coaching staff is extremely optimistic about this season,” said seventh-year head coach James Hrusovsky. “Our girls have had a confidence and business-like attitude all offseason. They learned a lot from last year and know what it is going to take in order to win against the teams we see night in and night out. With girls returning from injury and last season it is going to take some time for the girls and coaches to jell and find our rotations.”
The return of seniors Maggie Hawley and Izzy Coode, who missed last season with injuries, has bolstered the Cardinals, who enter the 2023-2024 season confident and optimistic.
“Last year, we had so many injuries which allowed our sophomores and juniors opportunities to play a lot of minutes. Senior point guard Maggie Hawley and senior forward Izzy Coode did not play a single minute last year,” Hrusovsky said. “They are healthy and back this season which is only going to add to our depth. We will have 10 girls returning with varsity experience.”
That depth presents the Cardinals with some challenges as they find a way to get each player into the game.
“Our first challenge will be finding a way to get our girls on the court, so we are working on identifying roles and combinations with so much talent and experience,” Hrusovsky said. “Secondly, we need to embrace our individual roles for the betterment of the team. We have a group of girls that want to win so once we figure that out, we will be a fun team to watch.”
Hawley, a 5-foot-5 guard, tore her ACL during a preseason last scrimmage. She spent last season watching and learning and enters her final year of high school ball with a better understanding of the game.
“Maggie spent last season learning the game from a different lens because of her ACL injury,” Hrusovsky said. “She was able to watch, ask questions, and learn next to the coaching staff which is going to help her on the court this season. This girl has put a ton of work in over the last 11 months to get back on the court. We are so happy for her to be back on the court playing the game she loves with her teammates.”
Coode, a 5-foot-7 forward, suffered a shoulder injury that prevented her from competing last winter. She makes a difference on and off the court for the Cardinals.
“Izzy can play multiple positions and brings physicality to our team,” Hrusovsky said. “She has worked hard to come back from her shoulder injury and is making strides each day.”
Mentor’s projected starting lineup also includes seniors Mallory Chicone and Christine Katava, and sophomore Nina Rodriguez.
Chicone is a 5-foot-7 guard who averaged 9.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 2.7 steals per contest as a junior on her way to earning All-Greater Cleveland Conference honors.
“Mallory had to take on a lot of the responsibilities last season because of all the injuries,” Hrusovsky said. “She continues to improve her game from the outside and with our additions to the lineup it is going to free her up. Coming off of cross country, she is in great shape and thrives in the pace we want to play.”
Katava is a 5-foot-9 center. She dropped 6.6 points per game and will help the Cardinals control the paint.
“Christine finished the 2022-23 season on a positive note and will be a big part to our team when it comes to controlling the boards,” Hrusovsky.
Rodriguez is a 5-foot-6 guard who earned all-conference honors after scoring 8.1 points with 5.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 steals per game.
“Nina started all 23 games last season at the point guard position and handled it well,” Hrusovsky said. “She plays so hard and brings passion and energy to the team. Nina’s game has improved tremendously over the past 12 months with the work she has put in during the season and offseason. Looking forward to adding weapons around her this season.”
Mentor’s depth includes seniors Ella Cindric and Lexi Berwald, juniors Alex Ferritto, Hailey Watson, Sophia Stouffer, Kayleigh Bittinger, and Kylie Coleman, and sophomore Kayden McKinney.
Cindric is a 5-foot-4 guard while Berwald is a 5-foot-7 forward. Berwald scored 3.1 points with 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.
“Ella is a hard worker and will get opportunities this season. She is a great teammate and has done a great job accepting her role,” Hrusovsky said. “Lexi took the most charges last season. She is willing to give up her body and knows where to be on the floor. She is a threat from the outside and brings another scoring option that teams need to be aware of on the court.”
Ferritto, a 5-foot-5 guard, Watson, a 5-foot-7 forward, and Stouffer, a 5-foot-4 guard, saw varsity action last season.
Ferritto scored 4.3 points per game with 2.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. Watson scored 5.1 points with 3.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.0 steals per contest on the way to earning honorable mention All-GCC honors. Stouffer added 3.3 points per game with 2.3 rebounds.
“Alex can bring scoring to the roster with the ability to get to the rim and shoot from the outside. She has done a nice job of focusing on the defensive side of the ball as she heads into this season,” Hrusovsky said. “Hailey stepped up last year when Coode was out last season. The experience from last season is already paying off as we get started this year. She can play multiple positions and adds more depth to our lineup. Sophia is another example of a player that gained a lot of experience last season. She is going to be able to play in a role this season that is best for her game. A player that shows up, works hard, and is a great teammate.”
Bittinger, a 5-foot-5 forward, Coleman, a 5-foot-6 guard, and McKinney, a 5-foot-11 forward/center, all will see their first extensive varsity action this season. Bittinger played a few minutes of varsity basketball in 2022-2023, Coleman missed the season with an injury, and McKinney did not play last winter.
“Kayleigh continues to improve her shooting and brings hustle and energy to the team,” Hrusovsky said. “Kylie was in and out all season with a knee injury and concussion. She brings a lot of athleticism and depth to the roster. Kayden is coming off a great volleyball season and we are excited to have her in the program this season. She did not play last season but has already shown big improvements in a short period of time.”
Mentor’s confidence couldn’t be higher rolling into the new season.
The Cardinals have their sights set on competing for the GCC title and a deep postseason run.
“This year, the girls are setting their eyes on competing and winning the GCC. Our schedule is tough and we would like to be over .500 at the end of the season. At the end of the season our girls will be focused on getting to districts and cutting down the net,” Hrusovsky said. “With the depth that we have on this roster, we want to play at a fast pace. With our size, it is going to be important to rebound on both sides. We like the ball movement and that needs to continue as we start the season.”