HP girls, boys look to challenge traditional powers for playoff seeding
After back-to-back exits in the third round of the girls basketball playoffs, Highland Park is setting its sights even higher.
That goal will be more difficult at the Class 6A level, especially in a district alongside perennial powers such as Irving MacArthur and Richardson. But the expectations will remain high, and so will the motivation.
“Our [nondistrict] schedule is predominantly 6A, so we keep those teams on our schedule for that reason,” said HP head coach Nicole Fleming. “We’re going to prepare for each team without harping on the 6A part. We’re not backing away from anyone.”
The talent level should keep the Lady Scots competitive. Two returning starters — Paris Lauro and Vivian Jin — already have multiple years of playoff experience on the varsity level. Other top returnees include Audrey Walker, Kate Jackson, and Charlotte Collins.
The depth within the program has improved, too, thanks to more players competing year-round in workouts and tournaments.
Fleming said she has been encouraged not only by the dedication, but by the unselfishness of her players as they embrace her team-oriented system.
“Once you get past where you’ve always been, and get to experience it, now we continue to push and raise the standard,” Fleming said. “Now we want to make it to the regional tournament.”
HP boys face 6A challenge
The Highland Park boys are accustomed to playing a difficult nondistrict schedule of 5A playoff contenders. But this year, those games will come with more frequency — and higher stakes.
Head coach David Piehler hopes the Scots’ experience hanging tough with state powers such as Richardson and Lake Highlands will carry over to their upcoming matchups in District 7-6A play.
“It gave us confidence to know that we can play with any team on any given night,” Piehler said. “This district is going to challenge us to where if we do make the playoffs, we’ll be ready. We will have been tested numerous times.”
In terms of experience and maturity, the Scots could be well-equipped to challenge for a top playoff seed in their first year at the 6A level since 2016. They have just one returning starter in forward Coleson Messer but will have 11 seniors on the 12-man roster.
HP will have a solid mix of interior and exterior players with returning contributors including Dylan Walker, Thomas Jackman, Jackson Heis, and Drew McElroy.
“We’re very versatile and experienced. The commitment level in the offseason has been very impressive,” Piehler said. “They’re very self-motivated and have been together for a lot of years playing with each other.”