The 2018-19 girls basketball season was a special one for Hillsboro. The Lady Toppers finished 29-7, taking home a fourth place trophy from the IHSA Class 2A State Tournament and earning the program’s first conference title since 2010 with an undefeated 9-0 mark.
The question going into the 2019-20 season was, how will Hillsboro replace the 1,700-plus points that the class of 2019 scored the season before?
The obvious answer is that you can’t. When you lose five players who made the impact Jade Scroggins, Sheridan Lyerla, Kylie Meier, Aubry Rupert and Sammi Matoush did, change is inevitable. Success, however, isn’t.
Despite losing more than 80 percent of their scoring from the year before, this year’s Lady Toppers bucked the rebuilding trend and won 18 games and a share of the South Central Conference for the second straight year. Hillsboro hadn’t done that in girls basketball since winning three straight between 2004 and 2007, when the conference was still split into east and west divisions.
Points were down slightly for the Lady Hiltoppers, from 59.3 in 2018-19 to 46.7 this past season, but they also allowed fewer points per game, from 45.2 to 42.9. That number is the lowest it had been since the 2015-16 season, when Hillsboro allowed 42.23 points per contest.
After the “shoot first, ask questions later” days of last season, the Toppers did their best work in the paint this year. Sixty-seven percent of their total points came on two-pointers, with the other 33 percent split almost equally between threes (16 percent) and free throws (17 percent). Last year, half of their points came from inside the arc, with 32 percent coming from three-point land.
The Lady Hiltoppers also increased their rebounds per game slightly, from 27.8 to 28.0 per contest, and had more blocks in 2019-20 (61) than they did in 2018-19 (59) despite playing five fewer games.
A big part of that inside presence came from the only two players to come back this season after scoring over 100 points on last year’s state team. Nikya Harston and Claire Tester broke out in a big way this year after averaging 6.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game combined last year.
Harston led the team in scoring this season, upping her points per game to 13.7 from 3.2 last year. She also averaged a team-best 10.3 rebounds per contest and had 17 double-doubles on the season.
A force on both ends of the court with her hustle and stamina, Harston also led the team in steals (74) and blocks (23).
Tester was second in scoring with 9.4 points per game and in rebounding with 6.7 boards per contest. A 46.2 percent shooter from inside the arc (just five tenths behind Harston for the team lead), the junior forward also had 43 assists and 51 steals in her junior year.
If they can continue to progress, both Harston and Tester could approach 1,000 points next year, while also going over 500 rebounds for their careers. Harston is 465 points from 1,000, while Tester is 544. Oddly enough, both players have exactly 450 rebounds after three seasons.
The two juniors made up two-thirds of the returning players with starting experience, with senior Emily Reynolds also entering the season as a veteran Lady Hiltopper.
The versatile forward has done a little bit of everything in 100 career games for Coach Bret Tuetken, from guard to wing to forward. This year, Reynolds posted 136 points and 82 rebounds in 31 games, fifth and third best respectively, while also finishing third in assists with 44.
Hillsboro’s only other senior, Shelby Houchlei was a welcome addition back after missing last year. Houchlei was a defensive presence at guard with 48 steals (third most) and was as sure-handed as they come with just 39 turnovers in 29 games, despite taking on a good portion of the ball handling responsibilities.
In addition to Tester and Harston, four other members of the junior class were also on the Hillsboro roster. Haley Major was one of Hillsboro’s top three-point threats with a team-best 30 on the year. Major scored 140 more points than she did last year, despite missing some time due to injury.
Vanessa Compton and Maddy Rupert also saw increased floor time in 2019-20, after combining for 19 points as sophomores. Compton averaged 1.8 points per game and had a big three in the regional opener against North Mac, while Rupert added 1.4 points per game and had a team-best 36.8 field goal percentage from three-point land (7-of-19). Emma Miller also saw minutes as a junior, playing in 18 games, with 15 points and 23 rebounds.
Freshman Layne Rupert also proved valuable during the season, even earning some starts when Houchlei and Major were out with injuries. Deadly from three with 26 treys in 73 attempts, the younger Rupert averaged 6.3 points and a team-best 1.7 assists per game in her debut.
Rupert’s 196 points made her just the third Hillsboro freshman to score more than 150 points in a season, joining 1,000 point club members Carly Cameron (169 in 2012-13) and Sammi Matoush (538 in 2015-16).
Freshman Alex Frailey (1.5 points, 1.5 rebounds) and sophomore Ally Schnarre both made their varsity debuts, but played a bigger role on the JV squad, who finished 13-1 on the year.
While Reynolds and Houchlei will be missed, the experience gained by this year’s group should make the learning curve less steep when Hillsboro takes the floor in November of 2020.
Will they be able to score a tenth straight winning season, a third straight conference title or a fourth regional crown in six years? Only time will tell.
Hillsboro Girls Basketball Class of 2020 Career Stats
Emily Reynolds: 100 games; 432 total points; 4.3 points per game; two-point field goals 167-of-384 (43.5%); three-point field goals 2-of-23 (8.7%); Free Throws: 92-of-165 (55.8%); 273 rebounds; 106 assists; 76 steals; 6 blocks.
Shelby Houchlei: 56 games; 149 total points; 2.7 points per game; two-point field goals 36-of-120 (30.0%); three-point field goals 14-of-67 (20.9%); Free Throws: 35-of-89 (39.3%); 76 rebounds; 79 assists; 82 steals; 5 blocks.