"We always played at our level and never down with the other teams." Tori Butala
The girls’ basketball season was perfect, winning 13 regular season games and three tournament games, capturing the Lake-Geauga League championship.
And yet it was a traveling violation the night of the championship — another double-digit blowout with a fast-paced offense and pressure defense — the players won’t forget.
During the celebration on the bus, the team, jumping with joy, broke off the little guy at the trophy’s top. It was perhaps the one blemish in a perfect season for the Chardon seventh-grade team.
“You may not want to write about that,” said coach Ed Mulally, smiling at the team’s awards banquet for parents. “But we’re looking to get a new one for the trophy case.”
This group of basketball players has played together for a long time, beginning with a traveling league under coaches Jeff Fisher and Ed Nichols in fourth through sixth grades. They played AAU basketball, as well.
Eleven of the team’s 12 players have come through that program.
That makes bus rides fun — as we’ve heard.
“They are good on and off the court,” their coach said. “Good in the classroom, at school, in public, you name it.”
Mulally is a second-grade teacher at Maple Elementary. His daughter, Megan, is also in seventh grade but elected to follow her mother’s guidance and focus on soccer, Mulally said, laughing.
“I?played with her in the driveway, but she’s following her mother’s footsteps,” he said.
“We are very confident playing with each other,” said Sydney Feller, a guard who had Mulally in second grade. “We have a good friendship. I was happy when I found out he was coach because I knew him, and he was a really nice guy.”
“And we like to hit each other in practice,” said Danielle McCartney, laughing then explaining what she meant. “We do a lot of scrimmaging and we get rough with each other and have fun. We foul a lot.”
It’s true that Chardon was its own best competition in practice. With 12 interchangeable parts, Mulally used different starting lineups throughout the season.
“They work very hard in practice,” he said. “And there’s a real camaraderie amongst all of them. Because they are all so evenly matched, we alternated our lineups. I felt that was the way to do it.”
“We were always the best competition we had,” said Anna Thompson. “During practice I tried to foul a lot, like teams did to us in a game. And not get caught — so we can get stronger.”
Coach and the girls both described their style of play in different ways but agreed that the team liked an up-tempo game that pushed the basketball up the floor. Rebounding and pressure man-to-man full-court defense were team strengths.
“It was really fun,” said shooting guard Jessica Doyle.
Added Taylor Kimpton: “Going undefeated and blowing every team out — yeah, that was really fun.”
Sofie Zampino was a scrappy wing player who had never gone undefeated in a season before.
“Besides it being fun, it was a lot of work so it felt good to do it,” she said. She used the word “passy” to describe the offense’s penchant for extra passes that led to open shots.
Tori Butala was the team’s tall, athletic post. She was happy the team won all its games.
“We always played at our level and never down with the other teams,” Butala said.
“It was just really fun, and to be able to do it was just, like, so cool,” said PG?Annika Corcoran. “We’re all really close together and stuff and get along really well. We were very aggressive and we never gave up.”
Autumn Betarie, a post, suspected the girls would have a good season “’cause we had a pretty good team from travel,” Betarie said. “But once we started winning the games, we started getting more confident. And we were motivated to win.”
“I thought we did a good job, and I?thought it was fun,” said Lindsey Nichols.
Grace Koppelman said teammates also knew each other’s weaknesses, which was a big advantage during games.
Can the team dominate in the players’ eighth grade year, as well?
Everyone thinks so.
Mulally is still looking for his first loss as a head coach.
“Hopefully it’s not next year,” he said.
“Not to be cocky,” said Jessica Doyle, “but it seems like if we work as hard as we did then, yeah, we won’t lose any.”
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