Friday, May 25, 2012

Stopera Commits to Southern Connecticut

It is no secret that the multi-sport athlete at the high school level is a dying breed. This makes it even more impressive when athletes are able to excel in two or even three different sports. Then there’s Hollis-Brookline senior Katie Stopera, who is one of the top athletes in the state in both basketball cross-country.

Stopera was heavily recruited in both sports, but ultimately decided to play basketball in college, as she recently committed to Southern Connecticut State University. Southern Connecticut is a Division II program that competes in the Northeast-10 Conference.

“I will not be running cross country at Southern” Stopera told the NH Notebook. “Unfortunately at the Division II level it is too difficult to do a fall and winter sport because seasons overlap. I was mainly looking at Division III schools because I did want to do both sports. I’d actually have to say that a lot of the schools I looked at were more ambitious to have me as a runner than as a basketball player.”

Choosing a college is a difficult decision as it is, but Stopera had to not only choose a school but also which sport to play.

“ In the long run (no pun intended) I have more of a passion for basketball and I realized that it’s something I won’t be able to do my whole life, on a team that is; whereas with running I have my whole lifetime to continue independently with it in road races and such” said Stopera.

Stopera is a 5-foot-8 shooting guard who thrives in a fast-paced, up-tempo style of basketball. She is effective on the fast-break either finishing or making great passes. Being a cross-country star has definitely helped her on the basketball court because she can run and run and run, be all over the place on offense and defense and still not get tired. Stopera is a very good outside shooter and defender who has really improved her ball handling, dribble-drive moves and ability to finish in traffic over the past year or so.

“Katie led our team in points with 444, averaging 19.3 points per game which was second in Division II” said Hollis-Brookline girls basketball head coach Bob Murphy. “She became the school’s first female 1,000 point scorer since 1998, she was a first team all-state selection, led the team in steals with 59, she scored a season-high 36 points in the playoffs vs. Oyster River and was named our team’s Most Valuable Player at award’s night.”

Stopera had a productive AAU season in 2011 on the NE Crusader Blue team, which led to her breakout senior season at Hollis.

“I’d have to say that I improved most on my confidence and intelligence of the game this season” explained Stopera. “Being on the infamous Crusader Blue team was absolutely the reason for this. The teams that we played were some of the best in the country and I knew if I could face them then I would be able to play well in New Hampshire. I’d have to say it’s one of the best and most thrilling experiences that I’ve ever had in basketball. I developed hugely with my intelligence of the game playing for Kara Leary she forced us to really think and use our brains to get a win. My only regret is not joining the program sooner, because I met a lot of wonderful and passionate basketball players that I consider role models on the Crusader team. As for colleges it is a name that coaches do recognize and it definitely puts emphasis on you as a player.”

Stopera’s AAU Coach on the Cruaders was Kara Leary, who was able to see Stopera’s rapid development as a player first hand.

“Katie is obviously a great athlete and a pretty good basketball player” said Coach Leary. “Known as an excellent 3-point shooter locally, Katie had a chance to play with and against some of the top players in the country with our national schedule last year. Game in and game out, our Crusader elite teams are pitted against great competition as a means to challenge our kids to get better. Katie was able to see some size and athleticism in club ball that she didn’t see in high school ball or on the local circuit, and was able to understand the need to bring her ‘A’ game to every game. It is a little different getting your shot off on a drive when you are playing against a 6-foot-10 kid (yes, we played against the world’s tallest teenage girl from New Jersey). She also had a chance to see why putting in the repetition work on her shot and handle are so important on the national level, as she went up against athletes that were longer, stronger, and quicker than she was. This all helped her prepare for what she will see in college.”

All of that hard work paid off for Stopera, as she was a force for the Cavaliers this past winter, leading them to a 17-1 regular season record.

“We were fortunate to have Katie's offensive and defensive skills all season long” said Coach Murphy. “She was our shooting guard, known for her deep 3’s and her hard drives to the basket. She’s also known for her steals on defense, starting and often finishing on the break. She is a player who has paid the dues to reach the next level. A nice kid on and off the court. She was a captain and a 4-year varsity player. During those 4 years HB went 49-10.”

Next season Coach Murphy will miss not only Stopera from the lineup, but also Kelsey Berry and the Gillis twins, Olivia and Jill. Together they formed the ‘Big Four’. All four players were guards, they could all handle the basketball, shoot it, defend and run the break. They had great chemistry together on and off the court.

“I think that because we have all played together since the 4th grade we have a special bond” Stopera continued. “Plus we all had the drive to want to be successful. It’s not just our bond though; I’d have to say as an entire team we really all seemed to click.”

Now Stopera heads from a successful high school team to a dominant college program. Southern Connecticut went 25-6 this year (19-3 in the NE-10). They made it to the conference title game and regional semi-finals of the D-II national tournament.

“To tell you the truth when I first looked into Southern I didn’t know much about their record and success” explained Stopera. “I find this to be a bonus. When I met with the girls at Southern they had a very strong bond relationship-wise, and to me I feel like this can produce any amount of success. Ultimately this is what pushed me toward the program. To go into a team like this I can only hope we will improve, and with the bonding that I saw I believe we can.”

The transition from high school basketball to the college game is never an easy one to make, but Stopera has the right mindset heading into the summer.

“For me I think the biggest challenges that I’ll go from in high school to college is level of competition” concluded Stopera, who added that she plans on studying business with a focus on marketing. “The girls are a lot bigger, faster and stronger so I know these are things that I’m going to have to work hard at over the summer and in preseason.”

With that kind of work ethic and attitude it is easy to see Stopera being an impact player for the Owls. Congratulations to Katie, and best of luck at Southern Connecticut State!

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