Opportunity knocks for Heritage Hills

Photo by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Heritage Hills junior Olivia Susnjara (left), senior Grace Mangan (center) and senior Madison Begle (right) all spoke to The Herald after practice Wednesday about having increased roles and increased minutes this season. The Patriots came away with a 50-47 win in Thursday’s season opener at Crawford County.


Editor’s Note
: This story was originally supposed to run on Thursday, but due to logistics, it was pushed back to Friday’s issue.

When Heritage Hills took the floor in Thursday’s 50-47 win at Crawford County, things were certainly different.

The Patriots (1-0) were without the presence of Rebekah Gordon, Avery Neff and Nevah Barnett — three graduated players who helped the team win a sectional game last year — their first postseason victory since 2017. They didn’t have the size of somebody like Gordon, who’s continuing her career at the University of Central Michigan, but what they did have is opportunity — opportunity to showcase themselves as some players who have played through the program can finally have more of a chance to shine in the rotation.

Such players who have their chance to shine include seniors Madison Begle and Grace Mangan, who got some, but not a lot of varsity minutes last year, and junior Olivia Susnjara, who was part of the rotation as an underclassman, but now has a starting role.

“Livvie’s the only junior of those five, and age doesn’t matter to Livvie,” Pats coach Kim Brown said. “She’s almost unconscious — even when she plays, she plays hard no matter what.”

“I think I’m pretty ready (to transition into a starter),” Susnjara said. “My coaches have really helped me to be developed into a starting player. My freshman year, I didn’t play as much, I got in towards the end of the games, and that gave me a look to what it’s like to play in a varsity game. And then last year, I played a little bit more, and so I got more skills developed.”

The Pats may have a smaller team this year, but somebody’s got to get the rebounds, and they’re entrusting Mangan and Begle, both of whom stand at five feet, 11 inches tall, to carry the load in the rebounding department.

“Being such a small team, my role is just to be the big and always to be there to back up the little guards and block the ball,” Mangan said. “So, I need to use my size to my advantage.”

“I’m excited this season because I’m usually playing the forward position, but this year, I’m going to be helping Grace out down in the post and getting all the rebounds since we have such a shorter team,” Begle said. “And I think we can do really good things this year.”

Brown noted Mangan and Begle have waited a long time to be senior leaders, and they’re doing a good job, with the effort being there every day. She later added that those two are vocal, know the system, that they’ve been around long enough and know what is being asked to finally earn their opportunities.

“They worked on their weaknesses, and it’s showing,” she said. “They still have a little way to go, but they’re working so hard, I can’t be more proud of them. They waited a long time...and hopefully, it pays off.”

But even though Mangan and Begle are new to the varsity rotation and Susnjara is seeing more minutes this year, they also have a pair of teammates they’ve been learning from in seniors Hadley Lytton and Ella Schnieders — both of whom had plenty of varsity minutes going into the season.

“I think the biggest thing you can learn from Hadley and Ella is just the sheer effort and the time that they put into their game and just their relentlessness,” Brown said. “Nothing ever gets them down, the score doesn’t matter, they’re going to hard all the time.”

“They’re always aggressive to the ball, always getting after it,” Mangan said of Lytton and Schnieders. “So, I think it’s important to try your best.”

The Pats were originally supposed to play the Wolfpack Friday for the season opener, but that got moved ahead to Thursday in the wake of the football team playing in Friday’s sectional championship game.

Heritage Hills is hoping to have its sixth consecutive winning season this year, but despite all the winning the Pats have done, championships still elude them. The program hasn’t won a sectional championship since 1994, nor a Pocket Athletic Conference Championship since 1996.

Now’s the time for Susnjara, Mangan and Begle to show the rest of Southern Indiana not only what they’re made of, but what the Pats can do with the three of them.

“I think we have a lot more speed this year, though, with all of us being a shorter team,” Begle said.

“I think if we work as a team, we’re pretty much unstoppable,” Mangan said. “I know we’ve got it in us — so just working together, we should be good.”

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