Chagrin Falls returns just one starter and is short on pure basketball players, but the Tigers are loaded with multi-sport athletes and a hunger to succeed.
Entering her 12th season as head coach of the Tigers, Brittany Laseak is eager to see what her squad can do once they get into basketball shape and come together as a team.
“We have a lot of momentum coming off of the fall season and it helps that so many of our student-athletes know what it takes to experience success,” said Laseak, who is 157-90 at the school. “They are incredibly motivated and have a great work ethic. Their sheer athleticism and positive outlook will help us out tremendously early in the season.”
Chagrin Falls enters the season with a lot of momentum after the girls’ soccer team won the Division II state title earlier this month.
Senior Peyton Gellin was a key player in Chagrin’s run to the state title. As the team’s goalkeeper, she came up with key saves in the state championship game and subsequent shootout, and Laseak is looking for a similar performance out of her on the basketball court.
Gellin, a 5-foot-6 guard who will play college lacrosse at Kent State, averaged five points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.1 steals per game last season on the way to earning second-team All-Chagrin Valley Conference honors.
“Peyton is the most gifted athlete that I have ever coached,” Laseak said. “Pick a sport and she will excel at it. She has great instincts that put her in a position to be successful on both offense and defense and her natural ability allows her to finish those plays. Peyton is an outstanding leader who knows how to motivate others and makes those around her better.”
Chagrin Falls’ projected starting lineup also includes seniors Lilly Wolf, Madalyn Couch, Aubree Daugherty, and junior Kate Bartlett, another key player in the Tigers’ run to the soccer state title.
Wolf is a 5-foot-10 guard/forward who previously focused on field hockey and rowing.
“Lilly attended Chagrin in elementary school and we are so happy to have her back,” Laseak said. “She took some time away from basketball to focus on field hockey and rowing and we are incredibly fortunate to have her playing again. Lilly is another talented athlete that can play anywhere on the floor. She can finish inside and shoot the outside shot. She will create matchup problems for opposing teams. Lilly is a great defender who uses her length and speed really well.”
Couch is a 5-foot-7 guard/forward. She averaged 1.4 points and 1.1 rebounds per game in spot duty last season.
“Madalyn is a coach’s player,” Laseak said. “She listens and is willing to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful, which means playing all five spots on the floor. She has come into her own as a leader, communicating with the coaching staff, helping younger players, and showing everyone what it means to have a good work ethic.”
Daugherty is a 5-foot-5 guard.
“Aubree has been with our program since the start of travel team in elementary school,” Laseak said. “She pays attention to detail and wants to do the little things right, a great example for our younger players. Aubree is another good leader who helps to facilitate our offense.”
Bartlett is a 5-foot-9 guard/forward. She averaged 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per contest last winter.
“Kate is another athlete who uses her length and speed really well,” Laseak said. “She runs the floor well and uses her quickness to get a first step on her defender. Kate is really effective at getting into passing lanes and uses that speed and instinct to get steals. She had the opportunity to get some minutes last season and we’re hoping to make her a bigger part of our offense and defense this season.”
Chagrin’s starting lineup isn’t short on talent but the Tigers will have to get creative to maximize their strengths.
“I can say that we are more guard-oriented than we have been in the past and we have a lot of speed,” Laseak said. “Our offense and defense are a bit more flexible, so players will be interchangeable at various spots. We will be able to push more and rotate more players throughout the game. We also have a couple of players that could present match-up problems for opposing teams and will change our starting lineups accordingly.”
Off the bench, the Tigers have one senior, two juniors, three sophomores, and two freshmen.
The senior is Louisa Manthe, a 5-foot-11 center who will protect the paint and grab key rebounds.
“Louisa is the lone post player in our lineup,” Laseak said. “She will help to direct the defense inside and help us rebound.”
Jenna Santamaria and Anna Coy are the juniors.
Santamaria is a 5-foot-4 guard who saw limited varsity action last season. Coy is a 5-foot-7 guard.
“Jenna played JV for us last year and saw some action in a handful of varsity contests. She has a nice outside shot and power on her drive,” Laseak said. “Anna is a coachable player that is willing to play anywhere on the floor. She honed her leadership skills on JV last season and will look to help out on offense this year.”
Sophomores Amelia Bencko, Elena Goodwin, and Norah Pope have impressed thus far and should continue to develop throughout this season.
Bencko, a 5-foot-7 guard, will see time at point guard.
“She’s grown since last season and gives us a little more height at the guard spot,” Laseak said. “She’s actually been an effective shot-blocker this preseason. Amelia has worked hard on her ball-handling and outside shooting and should be a contributor for us this season.”
Goodwin, a 5-foot-7 guard/forward, and Pope, a 5-foot-8 guard/forward, add another dimension to the Tiger lineup.
“I’ve been impressed with Elena’s strength in the preseason and I think she’s playing more physical than last year. We’ll likely see her in both JV and varsity contests this year so she can continue to develop as a player and contribute in various ways,” Laseak said. “We missed Norah last season because of COVID, so she is a welcome addition back to the program. She’s grown over the last year and is playing with tenacity. She’s been a pleasant surprise this preseason. Norah will see minutes in JV and varsity games as we get her acclimated to our system again.”
The freshmen—Lilly Stukus and Abby Coy—have shown great potential in the first few weeks of their high school careers.
Stukus is a 5-foot-6 guard/forward while Coy is a guard.
“Lilly is yet another gifted athlete who adds speed and endurance to our roster. Her conditioning in soccer and running translates well and is reflected in her hustle and intensity on the floor. She makes good reads on defense and has a great release on her shot,” Laseak said. “Abby has a ton of potential. She will play with both JV and varsity this season, as she can help out on the varsity level in specific situations. Abby is tough, fearless, and will play physical. She has really good instincts on offense and is capable of seeing the whole floor in transition.”
The Tigers aren’t short on talent but they do have a size disadvantage and will have to compensate with extra effort and a focus on the basics.
“Preparation is key,” Laseak said. “Everyone needs to be ready to go on any given night. We could end up with a different starting lineup each game. Each player needs to be prepared for her role against each opponent. We also need to play strong team defense this year. The last two seasons, we have lost a lot of scoring. Until someone steps up into that role, we need to work together to play shutdown defense. If you did not stop the ball, then you did not do your job. As our scorers start to emerge over the first few games, that will take some pressure off, but out of the gate we need to be a tough defensive team.”
Adding to the challenges the Tigers will face is the lost practice time due to the soccer team’s postseason run.
That left the Tigers without several key members of the squad and could affect the team’s performance until everyone is on the same page.
“Instead of having a four-week preseason, we basically have a four-practice preseason,” Laseak said. “We have to pack a lot of information into each practice early on and learn from our mistakes quicker than some other teams.”
After the ups and downs of the 2020-2021 “COVID season,” the Tigers are eager to compete this winter.
Last season taught the Tigers several valuable lessons and they embark upon this new season with their core values in check.
“We learned a lot about ourselves and our core values with all the adversity faced during last year’s COVID season,” Laseak said. “It is really easy to say that winning a conference title or advancing in the postseason is the end goal, but it’s more than that. Every single one of our student-athletes is a multi-sport athlete. For most of them, basketball is their second or third sport. They play because they enjoy the sport, not because they are looking to earn a scholarship. The approach to the season and definition of success changes because of that. Instead of wins and losses, you focus primarily on the goals of interscholastic athletics: learn something new, train to compete, be a good teammate, be sportsmanlike, and enjoy the experience. The wins will come if we can do each of those things. Our seniors want to go out on top and have an enjoyable season and their leadership could very well get us there.”
Click here to watch the Chagrin Falls CVC Media Day interview.