By Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of 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 2023-24 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
Katie Purpura wants the mere notion of playing her team to inspire dread this winter.
The Council Rock South senior guard is just one piece of a deep, versatile and eager group of Golden Hawks that have crossed the threshold from up-and-comer to experienced. The last two seasons have seen CR South reach the brink of a breakthrough only to fall short, so there’s no lack of motivation either.
It’s go time for the Hawks and if it goes the way they hope, they’ll enjoy it and everyone else will dread it.
“We’re going to be the team where everybody goes, ‘Oh, we have to play them next,’” Purpura said. “We’re going to run them and run them and run them and keep running and just not stop.”
Council Rock South guard Kathryn O’Kane is part of a deep group hoping to take the next step this season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)
Last year, like the season prior, ended with a first round exit in the District 1 playoffs after a regular season that improved on the previous campaign. It also marked the end of Blair Klumpp’s tenure as head coach after he announced in early April he would be stepping down after six seasons leading the program.
Klumpp not only rebuilt the program, he helped several players move on to the college level and left an extremely stable foundation in place.
It’s a foundation Jesse Krasna is glad to have as he returns to coaching in unfamiliar ground. Krasna, who last coached the boys’ team at Council Rock North, stepped away last year after the tragic and unexpected passing of his wife Jenn in November 2022.
“It’s an awesome group of kids, they work so hard and they’re either constantly trying to get into the gym or sneaking into the gym, asking for extra workouts,” Krasna said. “It’s a lot of fun when you can coach kids who want to be great, so their work ethic and attitude has been a great place to start.”
Krasna knew there was talent on the girls’ side of the game locally but even in his short time leading the Golden Hawks, he’s been even more impressed by the depth and amount of talented players in the area.
CR South hasn’t quite played with a full roster this fall, with several of the Hawks’ key players also playing prominent roles on their fall teams, but they’ve been there in full force for workouts or open gyms.
“He’s really emphasized communicating, that’s been one of our big points,” junior guard Lil Metrick said. “We’ve been really focusing on defense, they’ve been really pushing that on us and telling us that late in the season, when everyone is tired, your defense is what wins.”
Not that the players lack motivation, but they’ve also felt the push from the new coaching staff to keep seeking out extra work.
“He brings a lot of positivity,” Purpura said. “Even if you do something wrong, he gives it to you in a positive way so you say, ‘I want to go improve on this.’”
The Hawks’ greatest strength entering the 23-24 run should be numbers. There are enough talented players in the program that CR South could easily go 10 deep, if not more, without much of a drop-off.
That lends perfectly to the high-pace, stamina-testing style Purpura hopes creates a sense of foreboding when teams see the Hawks next up on their schedules. With strength in numbers, there’s also a strength in versatility, with CR South’s guards and wings sharing some similar skills.
“Everybody is really versatile,” senior wing Cam Gregory said. “It’s not like one person can only do one thing, it’s hard to shut us down because everybody can do a little bit of everything.
“If you stop one person, there’s four others you have to worry about.”
While Kathryn O’Kane is the team’s nominal point guard, it won’t be surprising if forward Fiona Reckner leads the team in assists some nights. Metrick might have the program’s single-game record for made threes, but Gregory is just as prolific of a long-range shooter and the same is true for Miranda Cantor or any of several others down the line.
“If you’re able to play more girls, everyone feels like they’re a part of it and that’s a fun way to have success too, when you’re able to do it with everybody,” Krasna said. “It’s something we’re going to take advantage of. We’ve got a good blend of upperclassmen who have experience and underclassmen who have been working hard and are hoping to make an impact.”
Alongside Purpura, Cantor and Gregory, Lily Bross returns from the Hawks' senior class. Their large junior class, which includes Metrick, Reckner and O’Kane, also features Sarah and Maria Freeman and sophomores Emerson Gunther and Bella Hettler will be vying for roles as well.
The Hawks’ roster is also loaded with some excellent students and they’re well-aware what their roster doesn’t have a lot of. After losing forwards Jess Mangoni (Chestnut Hill College), Karissa Smedley (Georgian Court) and Darcy Leight to graduation, CR South does not have much size, at least among the returning rotation players.
Smedley was also one of the strongest defensive players the program’s had in recent years, so it’s going to be more of a collective effort this season. A team that knows what it doesn’t have can counter by leaning on what it does, something the Golden Hawks aim to do in 2023-24.
“We’re small, but we like to get out and run,” Purpura said. “We’re deep, so I think that’s an advantage for us. We’ll be able to speed up the game and get up the floor before the other team can get back.”
This fall has been good for the Hawks too. Aside from the fall athletes not yet playing, Krasna noted it’s been an eye-opener for the younger players that there’s always more they can give when they thought they were already playing hard.
“We have a strong team,” Gregory said. “I think this is the year we get into the playoffs and go far, I have a really good feeling.”
The Golden Hawks finished third in the SOL Patriot last season, behind Neshaminy and Pennsbury, and enter the new season aiming to be a factor and not just a presence in the division title race. They were a basket away from knocking off eventual champion Plymouth Whitemarsh in the first round of the SOL tournament before dropping their District 1 playoff opener against Upper Dublin.
Krasna wasn’t there for last season’s postseason exit, or the year prior, but it didn’t take him long to see what that feeling did for his players all summer.
“Oh yeah, I was (upset) after that playoff game,” Purpura said. “I told myself, ‘I gotta be better for next season,’ so I wanted to use the summertime to be the best I could be for my team. It’s our last chance to get as far as we can.”