Ally Cesarini | Bill Stone/Contributor

Junior Ally Cesarini is handling important additional responsibilities in her third varsity season with the Lyons Township High School girls basketball team.

Her teammates have noticed.

This season, the Lions are using the Lead ‘Em Up program to encourage and strengthen overall leadership skills. Players on all three levels will be voting and commenting about which teammates best represent the program-wide’s leadership definitions.  

Cesarini was the varsity’s first selection. Also chosen were Kiera Kessler (sophomores) and Anne Georgelos (freshmen). 

“I felt really appreciated by my teammates. I wasn’t expecting it. I’m glad that they just noticed my efforts,” Cesarini said. “I felt really honored. Hearing all of the things that my teammates said made me want to keep being a leader and keep standing out.” 

This season, the talented Lions (8-1) are going for the green – the color Lead ‘Em Up uses to signify those with exemplary leadership traits.

LTHS coach Meghan Hutchens found the Maryland-based program online, watched podcasts and was impressed by testimonials, most notably women’s basketball Hall of Famer Jennifer Rizzotti, currently president of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.

“I felt it was important for us to learn behavior necessary to lead and to follow,” Hutchens said.

“It would only help us because a player-led team will be more successful than a coach-led team in high level or intense situations. Such as in a game, where they can’t hear you. They have to own it and be on the same page. Just having that common shared language and culture built was really important.” 

Early in the season, Lead ‘Em Up’s Adam Bradley conducted a four-hour, in-person session explaining to players the tiers of leadership qualities through the colors red, gray and green, the highest level.

Hutchens now administers the program’s philosophies and activities. Bradley remains as a consultant who checks in occasionally. 

“We were all really excited about it. It’s not that we weren’t close but we weren’t just fully developed as a team,” Cesarini said. “It’s definitely brought more leadership and more acceptance. Before we’d all go to the same people, like [to practice] free throws. Now we’re kind of mixing and doing everything together.” 

The Lions define leadership by six words — accepting, encouraging, selfless, competitive, communicative and coachable. 

LTHS varsity players already voted Cesarini among their captains with seniors Izzy Lee, Hailey Markworth and Olivia Mezan. On the court, Cesarini is adjusting to playing more minutes and as an inside forward rather than off-guard.

“The things that her teammates said were very complimentary of her personality and her game,” Hutchens said. “[Comments included] ‘You never see Ally speak of our team negatively. Ally makes an effort to connect with every teammate,’ which is important because we have freshmen through seniors [on varsity].”

“We have a freshman [Nora Ezike on varsity] and I know how it feels, so I’m trying to make sure to get her in as much as possible, make her feel accepted, and all of the newcomers on the team,” Cesarini said. “I feel like the previous two years I didn’t really talk, ask questions. I definitely wanted to form better relationships by just being accepting and talking.”   

LTHS players will vote monthly for green players. Cesarini feels many teammates already are green. 

“Anyone can be a leader. You just have to take that stance and have the right mindset of being one,” Cesarini said. “We all kind of help each other. [One game] Hailey came up and told me something. Then I went up to Izzy and told her a few things. There’s no one person that has more leadership than the other.”