DANVILLE —Thirty years ago at the 1983 Schlarman Topper Classic, the Hilltoppers made history by knocking off Lawrenceville to win the tournament for the first time since its inception in 1967.
But keeping the title in their home gym that year meant more than adding a trophy to the case. To do so, Schlarman ended Lawrenceville’s 68-game winning streak and a run of three consecutive Topper Classic titles.
The Hilltoppers have not won the tournament since, but there is once again a sense of hope in the air at Paul C. Shebby Gymnasium. The atmosphere, however, has a newness to it that has not yet been broken in.
Not only does this year’s Schlarman Academy squad have only two seniors (Chris Kuchefski and Ben Watson), and two returning starters (Kuchefski and sophomore Michael Simmons), it has a new coach gracing the sideline in Jason Henton.
Henton and the Hilltoppers had a rough season opener on Monday in the former Danville High standout’s debut losing 53-46 to Judah Christian. But, they are optimistic about the upcoming season.
“Right now we’re just trying to figure out where everyone is and where everyone is going to work,” Kuchefski said. “At the beginning, there will be a little bit of a learning (curve), but then we’ll get our wins.”
It appeared as though Schlarman Academy was going to have little trouble with the Tribe, jumping out to a 16-2 lead with the help of back-to-back threes from Watson. Judah Christian didn’t do itself any favors shooting a horrific 1-of-19 in the first quarter. But in the second quarter, the Tribe outscored the Hilltoppers 21-8, and 20 seconds into the second half had its first lead of the game at 25-24.
The Hilltoppers didn’t hesitate to shoot from outside in the first quarter making four of their seven attempts. Their downfall, however, came in that they continued to shoot from the outside despite making only two of 16 attempts in the final three quarters.