Hampton 3-sport standout picks basketball, makes college choice

Saturday, April 16, 2022 | 10:01 AM

Sophia Kelly’s answer was exactly what Mercyhurst women’s basketball coach Brooklyn Kohlheim wanted to hear.

Kelly, a senior three-sport star from Hampton, was on a recruiting call with the Division II school when Kohlheim posed a question.

“I said, ‘You’re really, really good at soccer. You’re really, really good at lacrosse. Why did you pick basketball?’” Kohlheim said. “She said that someone told her that she wouldn’t ever be able to play basketball in college, and she’s like, ‘I wanted to prove them wrong.’ I loved that response. That’s what really sold me on her.”

The 5-foot-9 Kelly has committed to play at Mercyhurst, the only school that offered her a basketball scholarship. She didn’t start playing AAU basketball until her junior season and was late to the recruiting trail.

But a chance sighting by Kohlheim when Kelly was playing for the Western Pa. Bruins Under Armour team in Kentucky in July set in motion the events that led to an offer from the PSAC school.

“It was just an all-around fit for me,” Kelly said of Mercyhurst. “The whole atmosphere along with the coaching staff and the team.”

Kohlheim was in Louisville to recruit Kelly’s AAU teammate and eventual Mercyhurst commit Bailey Kuhns of Greensburg Central Catholic. But the Lakers coach quickly noticed the long, athletic Hampton guard.

“Sophia kind of caught our eye,” Kohlheim said. “I really didn’t know anything about her. … We were surprised that she was still available. She has such a tremendous upside. She just plays a lot of other sports, and she really just started playing basketball competitively in the last few years. She’s kind of fallen under the radar.

“She hasn’t even seen her best basketball yet. She doesn’t even know what she can do.”

Kelly was named first-team all-section as a junior after averaging 12 points and was second-team all-section as a senior after averaging 10.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists and leading the 18-5 Talbots in steals. She finished with 796 career points — 14th all-time in Hampton history — and led the team this season with a plus-minus of 390.

Kelly, along with Hampton teammate Biz Watson, was selected for the Roundball Classic basketball game. The Class 5A (Silver) all-stars will face the District 10 all-stars May 19 at Geneva College in Beaver Falls.

Kelly is the second Hampton player from Class of 2022 to commit to play college basketball, joining Pitt Greensburg-bound Kayla Hoehler.

Kelly decided to focus on getting a basketball scholarship a couple of years ago after being told soccer or lacrosse would be her easier ticket to college. Kelly didn’t want to take the easy way.

“That is one of my motivators in why I switched (sports),” Kelly said. “I had played club soccer up until my junior year. Halfway through my junior year, I switched to AAU (basketball). I probably could have gone on and played for a good school for soccer, too. I don’t know. I always wanted to challenge myself, and I thought I could do that in basketball.”

Kelly has also created some friendly collegiate rivalry in her home. Both of her parents played sports at PSAC rival Gannon. Jason played football and Cara (Eisenschmid) played basketball for the Golden Knights.

“It’s kind of funny,” Kelly said. “My mom played at Gannon and now I’m going to her rival school.”

Hampton coach Tony Howard has no doubt Kelly will succeed in college, calling her “probably one of the best pure shooters that I’ve ever coached in 15 years” and terming her athleticism “off the charts.”

“Obviously, I think she has the athleticism and the basketball skills to play at that next level,” Howard said. “Her knowledge of the game is what’s going to make her really excel.”

Kelly will play a guard/forward spot for Kohlheim’s up-tempo attack. The Lakers went 9-19 last season and have only two winning seasons in the past 22 years. Kohlheim, entering her fourth season, said Kelly’s athleticism and prove-you-wrong attitude make her a perfect fit.

“We are pretty young as a program,” Kohlheim said. “We are in the process of turning it around. We need some dogs like that. We need underdogs who want to come in swinging.”

Kelly’s defensive abilities will give her a chance to play immediately. Mercyhurst graduated its top defensive guard, and Kelly at one point defended every position on the floor while at Hampton.

“She’s special,” Kohlheim said. “She’s got such pure athleticism. What I loved about her in the summertime is that she can defend multiple guards.”

For the first time since she started playing three sports, Kelly will focus solely on basketball at Mercyhurst, where she will major in cyber security and computer science. As a Hampton senior, she has sandwiched her basketball season between a first-team all-section soccer season in the fall and lacrosse, where she is one of the team’s top players, this spring.

“I’ve been training my body for all three sports since the beginning my sports career,” she said. “I think that focusing on one and training for one sport will really hone in my athletic ability to play basketball.

“I feel like I’m kind of just getting started.”


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