Fairview Park/North Ridgeville/Rocky River
By Ryan Kaczmarski
There is no lack of girls basketball talent coming from local high schools to move on to play at the collegiate level. To see this phenomenon in action, one only has to take the short drive to Berea, where the Baldwin Wallace University women’s basketball team features a trio of starters who hail from Fairview, Rocky River and Lake Ridge Academy high schools.
Senior Allyson Helleis (Rocky River), junior Sydney Clark (Lake Ridge) and sophomore Katie Smith (Fairview) are all starters on the Yellow Jackets varsity team, and all have played in every game so far this season. Baldwin Wallace sits at 13-6 on the season, and each of the three local players are averaging above 30 percent shooting from beyond the 3-point line, while Clark averages 10.2 ppg and more than 80 percent from the free throw line, Helleis has a 42.6 field goal percentage and Smith is averaging 40.2 percent from the floor and 40.0 percent from the charity stripe.
Even though the Yellow Jackets have a 4-3 record on their court, it has been on the road, where they are 9-1 on opponents’ courts, where the team is making its mark.
“The biggest thing is that we put our identity in playing defense and rebounding, and when you do that, it gives you a better chance to win on the road,” Baldwin Wallace head coach Cheri Harrer said. “Another thing has been our schedule so far, so we know that we will be tested on the road. Teams shoot better at home, but we like to take the opponent out of their comfort zone with our defense.”
According to Harrer, the abundance of great high school coaching and programs in the state make it easy to recruit in the area.
“Ohio is a really good state for girls basketball, in particular Northeast Ohio,” she said. “We just try to take care of our back yard first during the recruiting process and put together the best team we can.
“Obviously, for some folks there’s a benefit to stay close to home, and for others, they like to get away,” Harrer continued. “Some who don’t want to stay in the area get away from us, but we are fortunate to have some great athletes who want to stay here.”
Smith not only had an amazing career at Fairview High School, where she owns the single season and career scoring titles, she also had a great AAU career playing in the summers with The National Basketball Academy (TNBA), which helped her prepare for playing at the Division III collegiate level.
“Coach (Kevin MacNamara, from TNBA) really stressed the increase in talent with college basketball,” Smith explained. “When we practiced with him, everything was really fast paced, trying to emulate the college level.
“Coach (Bill) Harvey at Fairview worked with me more individually on my shot, trying to get me to perfect it, and try to raise my basketball IQ,” she added.
In high school, Smith let shots rain down from the perimeter at will, but things surely changed at the college level.
“When I got to college, I learned more of what a good shot to take is, and what taking a good shot means,” she said. “Not that I took a lot of bad shots in high school, but I’m smarter about taking shots and more particular about my shot selection.”
Helleis is in her final year of college eligibility, and she’s seen a big transformation in her game since her Rocky River High School days.
“I think in high school, playing with Hannah (McCue), we were the base of the entire offense,” Helleis said. “Now I’ve learned how to play within myself and I don’t have to create as many scoring opportunities. I’m surrounded by people who are just as capable of scoring as I am.
“Especially as a senior, I just want to win games. At the end of the day, you just want to do anything you can to help your team win.”
Clark is a Parma native, who traveled all the way to North Ridgeville every week day to attend Lake Ridge Academy, and she thinks that all that sacrifice in her high school days has payed big dividends in her collegiate career.
“The transition from Lake Ridge Academy to Baldwin Wallace was surprisingly easy for me,” she said. “I was already used to the small class sizes when I got here – yeah there are many more people at the school overall – but it’s still close to home for me, and the education I got in high school was phenomenal, which prepared me for the course load I have in college.
“The way LRA is structured, almost follows a college semester pattern, with free time, which made you learn how to manage that time before you went to college,” Clark added.
The three ladies have now had the chance to become very close on and off the floor.
“I think we’ve picked up on each others’ tendencies, and we know what the others like to do on the floor,” Smith said. “I get super-excited when all three of us are on the floor at the same time.”
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