New coach set to lead Twinsburg girls basketball

Steve Batkon
Twinsburg guard Jada Austin puts up a shot against Nordonia last season.
Twinsburg guard Logan Pride drives to the basket during a game last season

Positive energy surrounds a new-look Twinsburg girls basketball team, but the brakes will have to be pumped for the time being.

Despite a pause on all athletic and extracurricular activities in the Twinsburg school district due to COVID-19, the Tigers will have a lot of new faces when the curtain is finally unveiled.

Second-year head coach Jess Rader has stepped down to spend more time with her family as Heath Savage takes control of the reigns.

Savage, who has been a fifth-grade math and science teacher at Dodge Elementary for nearly 22 years, takes over after being a varsity assistant coach for the Tiger program a host of years ago.

Just recently Savage completed his first campaign as Twinsburg’s girls golf coach, plus he had coached the Chamberlin Middle School eighth grade volleyball team.

A 1996 Ohio University graduate, Savage actually began coaching while he attended Ohio U as an undergrad student. He was hired as the middle school boys basketball coach for Nelsonville York Middle School during his junior and senior years at Ohio U.

Savage is aided by varsity assistant coach Niki Chuppa and the junior varsity coach is Mark Willis.

“Niki brings a great deal of coaching experience to our staff as she and I coached together as varsity assistants from 2002-2004,” said Savage.

Twinsburg has an influx new coaches and has some athletes that will engage with increased roles this winter.

The Tigers will miss graduates like 6-foot wing Alana Ellis, guard Faith Gregory, and post Alex Walker.

Ellis, an All-Ohio special mention player who was saddled with injuries late in her career, is now at Notre Dame College, under Falcon head coach and former Tiger grad Lauren Macer.

A speedster, Gregory is a starter who will be missed while Walker (The College of Wooster) added defense and rebounding.

While there have been some losses in the program, there are some familiar faces to lean on when action resumes.

According to Savage, returning players from a 7-15 squad include seniors Jada Austin and Nighyah Carthen, juniors Logan Pride, Makayla Busicnki, and Elliotte Schneeman, plus sophomore Genesis Carthen.

“The senior leadership demonstrated by Jada and Nighyah has been very productive in our early practices this fall,” said Savage.

“Jada and Nighyah were chosen as team captains,” Savage added.

Twinsburg will once again feature a good backcourt.

Austin is the most experienced Tiger and can play both guard spots with her excellent speed. The 5-foot-4 Austin has improved her perimeter shot and is a 3-point threat who can also penetrate and dish.

Able to score in transition, Austin has good playmaking skills. Last year, Austin showed that she also improved her defense as well.

In 2019, Austin averaged 15.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.0 steals, had 15 blocked shots, and ended with 47 deflections.

A four-year player, Austin averaged 31.8 minutes a game, as she was the club’s chief ballhandler and perimeter shooter.

Twinsburg will look to cut down on turnovers, including unforced turnovers, but one key for the Tigers is to develop depth and somehow extend the player rotation.

Many of the starters had to log big minutes in 2019 and against stronger competition, ran out of gas at times.

On the year, Austin buried 38 3-pointers (20-percent) and hit at a 47.4-percent clip on 2-point shots. Austin posted 116 transition points.

“Limiting turnovers and valuing each offensive possession will be a large part of our game plans for each game,” pointed out Savage.

Austin and Pride give Twinsburg a good 1-2 punch and form a strong guard duo, although the athletic Pride will be needed at small forward as well.

“Jada was first team All- Suburban League last year while Logan was second team All-Conference and they will be key players for us once again this season,” remarked the coach.

Pride is an athletic and versatile 5-10 wing who can play at a few spots on the court and excels on the defensive end.

Twinsburg loves Pride’s defense and they needed her assistance on the offensive game as well on the boards too.

Pride responded last year as her offensive game continues to improve as evidenced by her best game of her career to cap league play last year in the 52-43 regular season finale win over Hudson.

In that win, Pride scored a career-high 22 points with six rebounds and five steals.

On the year, Pride averaged 8.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.2 thefts, and had 13 blocks. She had 50 offensive boards on the season, which equates to 2.3 a game, plus she had 43 deflections, and made nine 3-pointers.

Pride can thrive in the transition game, help near the rim on the offensive glass, handle the ball and bury mid-range jumpers. In late September, Pride shined at the Ohio Top 250 Expo.

“Logan is a three-year player,” noted Savage.

“Our coaching staff has placed an early emphasis on defense,” pointed out Savage.

Nighyah Carthen is back after the 5-11 post added 1.8 points a game and 2.9 rebounds in 2019. She can also defend well.

“A good leader, Nighyah is a four-year forward,” observed Savage.

The Tiger staff will be looking for more rebounding from the Carthen sisters.

Genesis Carthen is back and is certain to expand on her 2019 numbers of 4.2 points and 2.7 rebounds.

The 6-0 Carthen has an underrated skill set as she is athletic and has some perimeter skills. A forward, Carthen can play anywhere on the front line and could even be used at off guard or a wing spot.

Last year, Carthen hit five 3-pointers and has 62.5 percent shooting at the free throw line, which is tops among returning players.

Busicnki is a 5-5 guard who played in 10 games last winter while the 5-4 Schneeman saw action in nine games. The duo will help the crowded Tiger backcourt.

Savage noted his first-year varsity players as junior Gabi Bonnizzio, sophomore Sophie Adick, junior Maria Pontius, sophomore Alexis Cellura, sophomore Lauren Glessman, and senior Christine Jiang.

Many of these athletes have vast junior varsity experience, plus there are several players who also have decent varsity experience.

Bonnizzio is a 5-10 junior forward who will help the Tigers in the paint on both ends. She dressed varsity for the post season for Twinsburg as a freshman JV player.

Adick played in 14 games last season and averaged 1.6 rebounds.

An undersized forward at 5-8, Adick is tenacious, uses sound footwork in the paint and is strong on the offensive glass.

A 5-3 guard, Cellura played in 12 games in 2019 while Pontius (5-4) will also see action at guard.

Glessman is a 5-8 wing who can play forward or guard. Jiang is a 5-4 guard.

Pontius, Glessman, and Jiang played primarily JV ball in 2019, along with Adick, Cellura, Busicnki, and Schneeman.

“Our style of play this year will be to spread the floor on offense with an emphasis on spacing,” said Savage.

“I think our speed and athleticism this year will allow us to run a variety of defenses and keep our opponents from getting too comfortable,” added Savage.

Scheduling changes will likely be announced later this month and in December as Twinsburg will again compete in the rugged Suburban League National Conference, led by defending champion Stow-Munroe Falls, Nordonia and Wadsworth.

Twinsburg was 6-8 in the SL National in 2019. Stow (22-3) reached the Sweet 16 in Ohio in Division I after an undefeated league showing.