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Copley pulls away from Howland

Staff photo / Neel Madhavan Howland’s Alyssa Massucci (4) drives to the basket during the Tigers’ loss to Copley.

ELYRIA — At the end of last season, Howland was full of optimism.

That team had no seniors, so the Tigers were set to return their entire roster from a below-.500 team that went to the district semifinals. Howland head coach Aaron Pounds expected things to be different this season, and he was right.

Despite ending their season in defeat 50-37 to Copley in the Division II, Northeast 4 district final on Saturday night, the Tigers built off the struggles of last season to finish this year 19-7 overall and as district runner-up.

“I think it played out pretty close to what we thought it was going to be,” Pounds said of Howland’s season. “This group of girls, I know they set the example and I hope the other girls follow the example of the seniors and work as hard as they did, because they worked really, really hard. All these girls play AAU, so they’ve been playing basketball 24/7 — that’s what it takes to get here.

“Copley was the better team, so kudos to them and their coaching staff. They got a really nice team, and I think they’ll make a nice run.”

Against the Indians, Howland got off to an ideal start — racing out to an early 6-0 lead thanks to a pair of buckets from Sophia Powell.

But Copley settled in and started to find its rhythm offensively. Despite Maya Kubanscek stealing an inbound and draining a prayer of a three at the first-quarter buzzer, the Tigers still trailed 14-9.

In the second quarter, as soon as leading scorer Izzy Callaway sat down with three fouls, the Indians opted to hold the ball and stall against Howland’s 2-3 zone. Copley held the ball for more than six minutes of an eight-minute quarter and took a 19-15 lead into halftime.

“We thought they might do that,” Pounds said. “They’re a team that likes to get up and down the court. They like to play fast. So if they wanted to hold the ball up three or four, I was perfectly fine going into halftime down less than double digits against a team like Copley. Most of their games, they’ve won by 20, 30 or 40 points. They’re extremely talented. … They’ve got guards and girls that can drive by, so we knew that coming into it and tried to pack it in.”

The Indians started running offense again in the third quarter and built a double-digit lead. But then, Alyssa Massucci finally got going for the Tigers.

Massucci hit a trio of threes in the third quarter, including one at the buzzer that cut Copley’s lead to six heading to the final period.

But the Indians opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run and Howland was never able to recover from there.

“Once they got a double-digit lead and got it to 10-13 points, it was hard to stay in that zone, and then some of their girls were able to get by our girls to get to the rim,” Pounds said. “We weren’t able to carry over (the momentum) into the fourth. But these girls fought with everything they had. They are the epitome of leaving it all on the floor. So as far as energy and effort, I’ve got zero complaints. They played their butts off, so I’m very proud of them.”

In her final game for the Tigers, Massucci finished with 18 points. Copley threw the kitchen sink at her defensively, mixing up defenders and face guarding her, but she was still able to find some space in Howland’s ball-screen offense to knock down some shots.

Powell finished with eight points for the Tigers, while Kubanscek and Jessie DeSalvo each chipped in four points.

“(Massucci) is somebody that all the girls look up to,” Pounds said. “The product you see on the floor is the result of a lot of hard work by her, and hopefully the other girls learn from not just her as a player, but her work ethic. She deserves everything she’s gotten, and for my money, she’s far and away the best player in Trumbull County, hands down. We’ve got some good players in D4 and D3, but when you look at the difference in competition, nobody plays at a higher level than her against that level of competition.”

Have an interesting story? Contact the Sports Department, at sports@tribtoday.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribChronSports.

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