Mentor spent the offseason focused on becoming a more complete team, with an emphasis on hitting shots in key situations.
Fourth-year head coach James Hrusovsky hopes that translates into more wins and an inside track to the Greater Cleveland Conference title.
“I am proud of the commitment our girls made to getting in the gym this past spring, summer, and fall,” Hrusovsky said. “Our focus was on shooting and we are seeing it translate in practice, which is great to see. The next test will be hitting shots in games. We are continuing to see improvement from scrimmage to scrimmage which is encouraging to see as well. We have a fun group of girls that support each other and are working hard.”
Mentor returns three starters from last year’s team that finished 5-11 overall and 3-7 in the GCC.
With eight others on the lineup with varsity experience, Hrusovsky is confident the Cardinal will be a vastly improved team this winter.
“We are an athletic team with length and size,” he said. “We would like to be aggressive on the defensive side of the floor. We play with more confidence and comfort when playing fast and aggressive. Our challenge in the past and this offseason is converting when we create turnovers and get stops. It will continue to be a focus each day in practice and games. We sometimes just play too fast on offense because that’s how we play on defense, instead of slowing things down and getting a great look.”
Mentor’s starting lineup includes four seniors and a sophomore.
Leading the way is senior Bella Carcioppolo, a 5-foot-7 guard who averaged 11 points, three rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 2.9 steals per game while shooting 34.8-percent from the floor. She was named first-team All-GCC.
“Bella plays hard and is a competitor,” Hrusovsky said. “She is always around the ball making something happen. This is Bella’s third full season at the varsity level and she will be a big piece in our team’s success. She is in the process of visiting and talking with schools on where she might play basketball next season.”
Senior Sofia Kraska, a 5-foot-8 forward, and senior Breanna Berwald, a 5-foot-5 guard, also are returning starters.
Kraska averaged 7.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. She earned honorable mention All-GCC honors.
“Sofia does a little of everything on both sides of the ball,” Hrusovsky said. “She has improved her 3-point shooting this offseason. She is always looking to get her teammates involved and is willing to put her body on the line. Sofia averaged just over a charge per game last season.”
Berwald also earned honorable mention all-conference honors after dropping in 3.8 points with 3.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.4 steals per contest.
“Bre is our most consistent 3-point shooter but has been working on bringing the ball up for us this offseason,” Hrusovsky said. “She is a hard worker and has a lot of varsity experience going into the season.”
Senior Ella Biondi and sophomore Izzy Coode round out the projected starting lineup.
Biondi is a 6-foot-1 center who averaged 2.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game as a junior.
“Ella spent last year working on her game and waiting for her chance,” Hrusovsky said. “This offseason she spent a lot of time in the gym working on her game. She has been a great leader for us since the end of last season. She is still visiting and talking to a few schools when it comes to playing basketball next year.”
Coode, a 5-foot-7 forward, will make her varsity debut.
“Izzy is a strong athlete that is still working on her all-around game,” Hrusovsky said. “She has a good touch around the basket and in the mid-range. Plays hard and is physical. Izzy knows she still has a lot to learn but is just focused on helping out the team in any way possible.”
Seniors Morgan Holmes, Jordan Alesci, and Sophia Ockuly, and junior Kylie Maxwell will provide the Cardinals with quality depth.
Maxell is a 6-foot-2 forward, Holmes is a 5-foot-10 center, and Alesci is a 5-foot-5 guard. Holmes averaged 4.6 points and 2.1 rebounds per game last season while Alesci scored 1.8 points with 1.6 rebounds per contest.
“When Morgan plays physical and attacks, good things happen. She has a nice mid-range jump shot and is a good free-throw shooter. Morgan adds depth and experience to the roster,” Hrusovsky said. “Jordan is a player that will come off the bench for us. She brings a lot of speed and energy. She has had a nice preseason and continues to improve on her all-around game. Jordan brings a smile to practice every day. Sophia will be a role player for us this season. She put in a lot of time with her shot this offseason and we are seeing the benefits of that work. Sophia is excited for the season and looking forward to helping out the team in any way possible.”
Maxwell transferred from Steubenville over the summer but suffered an injury on the first day of volleyball practice and has been sidelined since. She will provide the Cardinals with another dimension when she hits the court.
“Kylie has a lot of length and a good basketball IQ,” Hrusovsky said. “She is getting healthy and we are excited to see what she can add to our team.”
Sophomores Maggie Hawley, Mallory Chicone, and Alexis Berwald will cut their teeth at the JV level but will be ready to step in for the varsity if needed.
“They are the future of the program after this season,” Hrusovsky said. “We hope to get them some experience when possible but most of it will be during practice.”
Mentor features a balanced roster with quality depth and potential.
The Cardinals are focused on winning the GCC title and then putting together a deep postseason run. To do that, they’ll have to focus on the fundamentals. Rebounding, protecting the basketball, and finishing at the hoop is paramount to Mentor’s success.
“We have a lot of size and we want to use that to our advantage,” Hrusovsky said. “We need to be disciplined and take care of the ball, especially when we create turnovers.”