YOUNGSTOWN — The Cardinal Mooney Boys basketball team will have a busy 2022-23 season — both on and off the court.
After the loss of senior point guard Mick Hergenrother, who led the Cardinals in almost every statistical category and provided Cardinal Mooney with an undeniable leader, the Cardinals have a major hole to fill before the season begins. But the Cardinals aren’t exactly lacking in experience.
After an up-and-down 2021-22 season filled with tough games, the Cardinals were on a deep playoff run. They defeated a Springfield team that was 24-1 by that point in the District Finals, then turned around and sent a Campbell Memorial team that was also 24-1 by their matchup.
By this point in the season, Cardinal Mooney coach Carey Palermo said the players were beginning to settle into their roles, which helped the entire team grow and thrive.
“During that period, guys took over roles,” said Palermo. “Guys like Ashton O’Brien and Rocco Turner didn’t start earlier in the year but as they learned more and got better defensively they became bigger players for us. So when you have your best five players on the floor, you can thrive.”
Senior Jaxon Menough, another of the three returnees, agreed that being able to trust Turner and O’Brien late in the season really helped their late run.
“We started trusting these guys because it was a really short leash early in the season, just starting the program,” Menough said. “But once we started trusting these guys, the lights went out on them. They were just great players and we could have those extra players to continue this run. They really came into their own.”
Now Menough, O’Brien and Turner will lead the Cardinals this season. As runners-up last season, Turner and O’Brien averaged 12.8 and 7.3 points per game, respectively. Menough averaged 3.9 points per game and had two rebounds per game and 1.4 steals.
While they will look to take the lead on the pitch, Turner says their skills off the pitch will be just as important as trying to fill the hole Hergenrother left.
“Returners definitely need to step up, but I think it starts with them leaving the pitch and generally taking a leadership role,” Turner said. “I think that will lead to the game on the pitch and everything else will take care of itself. We have people who are talented enough to do that.”
Until the Cardinals find that lead, it will be a growing process throughout the season, which may be the case any year at this point. Fall Sport players begin submitting after their respective seasons are over and begin to redevelop that chemistry from a year ago.
“We are very inexperienced. We have a lot of people coming back, but we have a lot of people stepping into new roles who aren’t very experienced at all,” Palermo said. “So if we get everybody back healthy and everybody’s back to football or golf or soccer or whatever fall sport they were up to, we’re going to be pretty good.”
The Cardinals will tip their hat to defense this season. Palermo said they will press teams with a press, they will play aggressive man-to-man defense and stick to what they know.
O’Brien added that if they could adhere to the culture Palermo and his associates have been preaching, they would be fine.
“I think we just have to keep developing that culture that Coach P and the staff are always preaching to us. We have to be tough and tough, look for loose ball and just focus on defense,” O’Brien said. “I think that’s really what it’s going to come down to.”
The Cardinals begin their season away against Liberty on Tuesday.
Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox