Even with three returning starters and eight letter winners back from last season, Mentor’s girls’ basketball team is going to face plenty of challenges this winter.
That struggle starts with getting back on the court.
“COVID is going to be a challenge for everyone this year and we have talked about controlling the controllables,” fourth-year head coach James Hrusovsky said. “We have not practiced with all 11 varsity players on the court at one time. It has allowed girls to get more reps, which is a positive for them and us as a team. We are currently on a pause so the girls have a conditioning program to do at home on their own. The girls have done a great job getting in basketball shape this fall and the first 13 days of practice. Playing in the Greater Cleveland Conference is always a challenge every night and we enjoy playing against the best teams in the area.”
When the Cardinals do hit the court, they’ll be ready to tackle the other challenges they face.
Mentor finished 16-9 last season and 10-4 in the rugged Greater Cleveland Conference. This season begins with a talented and deep roster.
“Our coaching staff feels really confident and excited about the upcoming season,” Hrusovsky said. “We have a good amount of girls returning and understand how we want to play. Like every year, each player’s role is different than last year and the girls are working on being their best when the moment comes.”
The Cardinals are as talented off the court as they are on it.
Mentor recorded a team GPA of 4.08 in the first quarter, which bodes well for the Cardinals digesting anything the coaching staff throws at it, and eight of 11 varsity players are multi-sport athletes.
“This might be the most athletic team that I have had since taking over,” Hrusovsky said. “We are extremely smart as well. We want to use that athleticism and basketball IQ to our advantage.”
Among Mentor’s returning starters are Brooke Hickman, Bella Carcioppolo and Sofia Kraska.
Hickman, a 6-foot-1 senior center, averaged 12.2 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 42.4-percent from the floor. She was a first-team All-GCC selection. She is approaching the 1,000-points scored milestone.
“We cannot be happier for Brooke as she signed with Edinboro University to continue her basketball and academic career,” Hrusovsky said. “She has put a lot of hours in the gym to get this opportunity. Brooke brings a lot of experience to our team and will get a lot of attention from opposing teams.”
Carcioppolo, a 5-foot-6 junior guard, averaged 7.1 points, three rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.7 steals per game last season on the way to earning honorable mention all-conference honors.
“Bella plays extremely hard and attacks the basket really well,” Hrusovsky said. “She is becoming more of the floor leader and provides a spark on the defensive side of the ball.”
Kraska, a 5-foot-8 junior forward, dropped in 4.3 points per game last season to go along with 2.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.4 steals per contest.
“Sofia is a tough player and was always matched up with the opponent’s best player,” Hrusovsky said. “She can do a little of everything. She put a lot of work into her game this offseason and has had a great start to the preseason.”
Completing the projected starting lineup are junior Morgan Holmes, a 5-foot-10 forward/center, and junior Breanna Berwald, a 5-foot-5 junior guard. Holmes averaged 2.5 points and 2.7 rebounds and shot 67.7-percent from the free throw line. Berwald added 3.3 points to go along with 2.8 rebounds and one assist. She shot 73.3-percent from the line.
“Morgan finished the 2019-20 season strong and was our top summer workout player in the program. Her strength is getting to the free throw line and the mid-range jumper,” Hrusovsky said. “Bre came off the bench last year and was able to get some good experience her sophomore year. She is a threat from outside and is a player that leads by example.”
Seniors McKenna LaGanke and Grace Kroeger, juniors Kiley Kolschetzky, Jordan Alesci, Ella Biondi, and Sophia Ockuly will provide depth for the Cardinals.
LaGanke, a 5-foot-3 guard, averaged 0.8 points and 1.1 rebounds per game last season while Kroeger, a 5-foot-9 forward, scored 1.5 points with 1.2 rebounds per contest.
“McKenna has a high basketball IQ and brings a positive attitude. She is going to add some depth to our guard position this year. She is always around the ball trying to make something happen,” Hrusovsky said. “Grace suffered a severe ankle and foot injury before the 2019-20 season. Grace was able to practice the last couple weeks of the season but unable to get much game experience. Grace has done a great job this summer and fall taking on a leadership role to our younger players in the program.”
Kolschetzky is a 5-foot-9 forward, Alesci is a 5-foot-5 guard, Biondi is a 6-foot-1 center and Ockuly is a 5-foot-5 forward.
“(Kolschetzky) played limited minutes for us at the beginning of the year, but at the end of the season she was playing important minutes in the postseason. Kiley is coming off a great soccer season so she is still getting back into basketball mode. Kiley will have a big impact on how we do this year,” Hrusovsky said. “Jordan plays hard and will add depth to our guards, which will allow us to play the way we want to play. She has taken advantage of the opportunities early in the season. Ella continues to keep improving year in and year out on her game. We are excited to see the growth she has made. Ella is a team-first player and enjoys the game of basketball. Sophia is athletic and pushes her teammates at practice. She has the respect of her teammates.”
Mentor has its sights set on winning the GCC title and making a deep run in the postseason, but the Cardinals will have to work hard night in and night out to achieve their goals.
“We play one of the toughest schedules, so that will help us get ready for conference play,” Hrusovsky said. “Our girls talked about taking the next step in the tournament. They want to make it to the district championship and have a shot to be one of 16 teams in the state.”