Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
(Ed. Note: This story is the latest in CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2021-22 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed can be found here.)
There must be something in the water.
It's a phrase, or some variation of it, that Souderton girls' basketball coach Lynn Carroll keeps hearing when people get a look at her team. With a cadre of tall, long-armed players, there's a good reason why someone may want to know just where they're all coming from.
All Carroll knows is that she's very, very excited to get this team on the floor.
"I can't wait for the season to start, we're seeing so many good things from our players," Carroll said. "They are exciting to watch, fun to watch. Just our length, so many coaches are coming up to me after games asking 'where are you finding these girls?' It's up and down the lineup, we play unselfishly and try to get the best shot available. I could not be more excited."
Adding to the optimism is the amount of experience coming back into the gym this winter and the fact it isn't leaving at the end of the season with no seniors on the roster.
Souderton loses three players in Jordan Zimmerman (Lebanon Valley College), a solid ball-handler and shooter, and Olivia Schneider and Hayley Fenchel, two good defensive wings that played in a lot of games in their four years.
Headlining the returners are Casey Harter, Erin Bohmueller and Teya McConnaha. Harter, an All-SOL point guard, is the foundation of the team but cautioned not to overlook her teammates either.
"Since everybody is either tall or long or both, it's hard to guard us," Harter said. "We can have guards post up, at some point all five players on the floor might be able to post up. I think it's hard to play offense against us, we all have long arms and are used to playing with each other and it's hard to play defense against us, because you can't really guard against that."
Souderton's had plenty of open gyms and team workouts this offseason and at nearly every one, there's been at least one coach from a Division I program in to see Harter. The 5-foot-10 point guard, who is also an outstanding student, already has an offer from Manhattan and more seem inevitable if she continues her upward growth.
Asked to sum up where Harter has made the most strides, Carroll only had one question in response: "How much time do you have?"
"When we have the end of season meeting and tell her what we're looking for her to focus on in the offseason, as she's saying 'yes,' you 100 percent believe she's going to go out and do it," Carroll said. "That's the difference maker that's going to get her to the level she's going to play at. She's blessed with the athleticism and ability, but she also just works."
Junior guard Casey Harter (above) already has one Division I offer as she enters her junior year. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)
Entering her third year as a starter, Harter has already established herself as a superb defender. One of the few knocks on her game is her perimeter shooting, and the junior knows she has to be more willing to put the ball up on offense.
"My 3-point shot, last season I didn't shoot as much as I could have or should have, so I'm definitely looking to be more aggressive offensively," Harter said.
The attention she's getting from the next level is still something new for Harter, who plays AAU with the Comets program, but it's also not changing her approach.
"I try not to let it get to me or affect me," Harter said. "If I let it affect me, then I'm letting it affect how I play, so I forget about it. But, it's also good to know they're there too."
Carroll pointed out that McConnaha, the team's center, is also their shortest starter which is yet another sign of what this crew will look like on the floor. The junior, who also plays volleyball, is also a third year varsity player and a tough, physical rebounder who also increased her scoring last year.
Bohmueller, another third-year varsity player, is looking to expand her game beyond a perimeter shooter. Unsurprisingly, she also has a wide wingspan and is improving as a defender.
"It may take a little bit of time, we may have to be a little more creative defensively but at least right now, we're playing excellent man-to-man defense but time will tell what we're going to look like," Carroll said. "Offensively, we have a pretty good idea. These girls started in SHYBA travel when they were eight years old, so they know each other."
Carroll has also seen promising signs from varsity newcomers Brooke Fenchel and McKayla McGillian and said they're fitting in "seamlessly" with the returning veterans.
Souderton will open its season with the annual Jim Church Classic in its home gym and will again navigate a difficult SOL schedule. On top of home-and-away splits with SOL Colonial rivals CB West, CB East, CB South, North Penn and Pennridge, the slate includes a crossover with the SOL Patriot.
In terms of on-court benefits, the crossover games - which count toward SOL standings this year - Carroll sees plenty for her team having to compete with Pennsbury, Neshaminy, Bensalem and the rest of the Patriot.
"It feels like it's been that way the 17, 18 years I've been coaching where every conference game has the feel of a playoff game and it absolutely is so good for us," Carroll said. "It can hurt you in terms of seeding, because you're probably going to lose a few but there's so much more value for us. You can't take a night off, we have great coaches in our conference."
In the 2016-17 season, Souderton had a team built around a strong junior core make a surprise run to the state semifinals. A year later, that group won a District 1 title and went back to the PIAA final four.
Harter was quick to note this team hasn't done any of that yet, but the fact this group has two years together has the guard very optimistic. It's a belief shared by her head coach, even if that 17-18 group is a high benchmark to live up to.
"We all realize we have the next two years together," Harter said. "It's a building point and we all feel like we're just going to keep getting better."