Jan. 29—Among the best traits of any successful athlete is confidence.
The belief in oneself to get the job done when the team needs it the most.
It was a chilly winter day in February 2022 when the Chardon girls basketball team broke the huddle, down by two points to Aurora in a Division I sectional game with eight seconds remaining on the clock.
The ball went to sophomore Nicole Krakora. The ball went up. Everybody in the gym held their breath. Then the buzzer sounded.
The ball didn't go in that day for Krakora and the Chardon Hilltoppers. But there haven't been a lot of times since then that the ball HASN'T gone in for Krakora, who is now a senior for Coach Erik Hoenigman's squad.
Heading into this week's game, Krakora leads the area in scoring (21.3) and 3-point shooting (45). On top of that, the soft-spoken daughter of Dina and Jeff Krakora is on pace to be one of the program's all-time scorers.
A big reason why is confidence. The 5-foot-7 guard trusts her shot just as much today as she did back in her sophomore year when that game-winning shot didn't go in. She didn't stop shooting because one shot didn't go in.
"Like I tell my teammates, just give 100 percent," Krakora said before a recent practice. "If you don't make the shot, that's OK. Get back on defense."
And don't pass up the shot next time around.
"I saw this coming last year," Hoenigman said of Krakora's breakout season. "But we had some other players (and scorers) on the team. I knew it would come. I thought it might be last year, but this year is even better than I thought."
In addition to her scoring and 3-point shooting, Krakora is averaging 5.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game while A) often being locked up defensively against the opposing team's best player, B) going up against teams that face-guard her or play a box-and-1 in attempt to slow her down and C) being the only senior on an injury-riddled, underclassmen-laden squad in a rugged league like the Western Reserve Conference.
"She's our only senior and she's been the only player in her class for the last three years," Hoenigman said. "Then you put into the equation that she's face-guarded and teams hone in on her — and she still comes up with 20-25 points per game.
"The most impressive thing to me is her rebounding. Sometimes I get on her that she has to turn up things on defense a little and she does it."
All of which just brings a shrug of the shoulders from Krakora. It's all in a day's work in the game she loves. It's a game she first played in second grade, and she's worked her craft ever since.
"I think it was first grade, really," she said. "It was at our church. Then in second grade, I played in the rec leagues.
"Ball-handling is the part of my game that came first. I went to a trainer who focused on ball-handling. He didn't really mess with my shot."
It's hard to mess with a shot like that. Hoenigman said few he has ever seen or coached have as pure of a shot as Krakora. On this particular day in practice, she went a dozen shots — from the line, the arc or mid-range — before missing.
That marksmanshipship was evident in Chardon's recent game against Chagrin Falls, when Krakora went to the line in the fourth and drained eight straight free throws for her team.
"I'm confident in my shot," she said. "I've shot a lot of free throws, so (the pressure) really doesn't bother me."
Hoenigman said what has been perhaps more impressive than Krakora's numbers is her leadership. With a team full of young players — many on the varsity roster are freshmen and sophomores — Krakora often jumps into drills with the younger players.
With her senior season winding down, Krakora said she doesn't plan on playing college basketball. But she hopes her impact on the Chardon program lasts well beyond her final game and her graduation; not just from her productivity if she becomes the fourth girl in program history to hit the 1,000-point plateau, but more so if she passed on her work ethic and confidence to those who are now her underclassmen teammates.
"How would I want to be remembered?" she pondered the question. "Probably as a leader. A leader to the younger kids."