Last season ended with four teams hanging in the lurch.
Scranton Prep, Dunmore, Old Forge and Susquehanna were all two wins from a state title game appearance when the coronavirus pandemic forced the shutdown of the PIAA playoffs, leaving them among many experiencing the emptiness of unfinished business.
As the pandemic affects a second straight girls basketball season, only one thing is certain: Nothing is certain.
“It’s tough for coaches because we all try to prepare for everything, but I just don’t see that as being realistic this year,” Riverside coach Jack Mekilo said. “Our goal is to have as many players ready to play varsity as we possibly can, because night to night, we don’t know what our lineup is going to look like.”
No exhibition season. An abbreviated regular season. And who knows what will come in the months ahead.
“Add in the very unique last several months in terms of preparing to play, and potentially not having the exhibition games that help teams establish an identity before league play, also should be another interesting twist with the league this year,” Dunmore coach Ben O’Brien said.
Abington Heights said it got its 15 practices in before the three-week shutdown, but it’s been a different look, head coach Deanna Klingman said.
With only 12 players allowed in the gym at a time, separate workouts were held for upperclassmen and underclassmen on the same day. Players all wore masks. There was no 5-on-5.
When the shutdown happened, players got individual workouts — until the weather prohibited it, but maintaining chemistry got harder.
“We did some journal
writing when we’re on the pause,” Klingman said. “We did our individual workouts, some Zoom call team meetings, stuff like that just to stay connected.”
Now, what lies ahead, who knows? But here goes.
Scranton Prep will be gunning for a fourth straight league title and an even rarer feat, going undefeated in that span.
The Classics were 27-0 last season behind NCAA Division I recruits Rachael Rose (South Carolina Upstate) and Cecelia Collins (Bucknell). Both were all-state in Class 4A — Rose second team; Collins third team.
Opponents will find more to contend with this year as Maria Belardi turned into a potent offensive weapon, and tough defenders Lizzie Neville and Maggie Mills, and post player Meredith Purcell all return.
“(Belardi) is a much different animal than she was last year,” Scranton Prep coach Bob Beviglia said. “She’s extremely confident shooting the ball from behind the 3-point line. If she’s open, the ball goes up and you expect it to go in. She’s reached that point now where she’s much more confident and aggressive going to the basket.”
The team that’s come closest to ending the Classics’ 41-game win streak, Abington Heights, has plenty of offense back in inside-outside threat Clair Marion and 3-point specialist Rachel McDonald, who added other dimensions to her game.
So has Anna Scoblick, most notable for her defense and rebounding. Klingman also has great expectations in the post for junior Allison Dammer, who saw important minutes last year, along with Allison Murray and Lauren Lombardo.
“Dammer could be one of the one of the best players in the league,” Klingman said. “She is doing stuff at practice and I’m like, wow.”
After graduating nine seniors, leading scorer Skylar Bianchi will take added responsibility on offense, along with fellow seniors Alivia Romano and Alyssa Valenza.
West Scranton lost its starting five to graduation, and only senior Jaela Johnson and junior Olivia Dougher saw significant playing time.
Scranton is in a similar boat, with only one starter, sophomore point guard Lanie Olson, returning, and Reanna Cleveland and Riley Bittenbender with varsity experience after graduating seven.
Lauren Carra steps into the head coaching role at North Pocono, and her team into the familiar role of favorite.
Last year ended in disappointment after winning the division title, but falling in the Class 5A District 2 semifinals.
“I think that left a bad taste in our mouth,” Carra said of the loss to West Scranton. “We are going to work as hard as we can, every day, and earn everything we can.”
Jenna Beach and Carena Colo combined for nearly 600 points a year ago, and Alicia Goldenziel is much improved and has committed to Susquehanna University.
“I think Alicia’s really going to break out and show what she’s capable of doing, Carra said.”
Western Wayne, Honesdale and Wallenpaupack all have enough back to make a run at the Lady Trojans, depending on how the schedule shakes out.
Speedy Kaeli Romanowski and Cathy Shepard, both juniors, are the top returning scorers for Western Wayne, which has experienced sophomore starters Skylar Long and Jacque Morris back in the fold. All of them have the ability to knock down the 3.
“In our division, this will be very competitive because all the teams have starters returning from last year,” Lady Wildcats coach Mike Judge said.
Honesdale also has depth, with four of its top six scorers back in returning starters Rowan Murray, Chloe Lyle, Grace Maxson and Katie Ludwig.
“I think what’s going to make us competitive is experience from last year and this summer we could not do anything team wise, but allowed to do individual drills outside,” second-year coach Ron Rowe said. “We did a ton of shooting and ballhandling. I hope we’ve matured and they know what we want, and we know what they can and can’t do.”
Leading scorer junior Devon Kiesendahl hit 23 3s last year for Wallenpaupack, which also has its second- and third-leading scorers back in Megan Desmet and Grace Steffen.
Senior Brooke Acoveno and junior Mackenzie Olsommer are the top-two scorers back at Delaware Valley, and with Gabby White, combined for 59 3s a year ago. Kaitlyn Hernandez gives the team four returning starters.
Dunmore is the defending champ in a division that features four returning all-state players: first teamers in Class 3A and future Drexel teammates, Dunmore’s Moriah Murray and Riverside’s Kylie Lavelle, both juniors; sophomore and third-teamer Dunmore’s Ciera Toomey; and third-teamer in Class 2A, Old Forge senior Olivia Ciullo.
“As it’s been for many years now, it’s going to be a really competitive division with some great teams, some teams that return their best players,” O’Brien said.
All five starters are back at Dunmore, the defending league champs who will be seeking another district title, this time at Class 4A after they were bumped up a class under the competitive balance rule.
Elisa Delfino, Alexis Chapman and Mia Blume join Murray and Toomey, and sixth-man Anna Talutto, while sophomore Cady Lewis is expected to play a bigger role as the Lady Bucks try to fend off Riverside, which has four starters back, with Kayla Rose, Alese Karpinski and Emily Taylor joining Lavelle.
“I suspect us and Riverside have an opportunity to be improved teams, and that is saying a lot because both were good teams last year,” O’Brien said.
Mekilo understands the challenge in overtaking Dunmore, and knows he will need to utilize depth, with varsity returnees Bella McKeefery, Paige Olanovich and Morgan Antonniacci joined by Allie Nenish and Kate Slaboda, who step up from a jayvee program that won its last 35.
“We’re one of the teams that thinks we can do that if we can just take that next step and get over the hump,” Mekilo said.
Holy Cross’s four starters back include junior Kaci Kranson, snubbed on last year’s all-state team despite averaging 27.5 points in two PIAA playoff games, along with Emily Ferguson, Abbey Lentowski and Julia Goetz.
Ciullo worked on her outside shot to go along with her superb mid-range game, and has fellow seniors Makayla Parker and Angelina Rios back for the defending District 2 champs.
Lakeland’s senior-led roster features two more-than-capable scorers in Colby White and Addie Piraino, and four other players — Kaylee Lorenzetti, Skylar Arendt, Angelina Nowak and Katie Zabrowski — who got starts last year.
Carbondale Are returns five senior starters — Giana Arnese, Deana Mancuso, Alyvia Schiavone, Hailey Schwartz and Sarah Tolerico, while first-year Mid Valley coach Denise Larson has six underclassmen back, all of whom saw action as starters, in Kaylee Terranelle, Katie Glinsky, Grace Goetz, Avery Rebar, Courtney Rebar and Abby Merrifield.
Susquehanna’s reign as division champs will be challenged by not one, but at least two teams this year, as rivals Montrose and Elk Lake both return four starters.
Montrose’s top four scorers, Hayley Pompey, Mia Snyder, Tangi Smith and Lizzy Lathrop will show the way when the Lady Meteors have the ball, but that’s not head coach Todd Smith’s emphasis.
“You know me. We’ve got to play defense,” coach Smith said. “We’re still young but we should be pretty good. We just need some experience for some of the younger players. The kids we have back are real solid.”
Elk Lake junior guard Lily Decker has grown a few inches and is much stronger, head coach Kevin Tewksbury said.
“It will give me the flexibility to move her inside and outside,” Tewksbury said. “We’ve been working with her on her post game. I think she’s going to be a two-way player and that will propel her to possibly leading the league in scoring.”
Decker, Krista Jones, Tamara Voda and Megan Johns all started a year ago.
“I think that makes a legitimate contender along with Montrose,” Tewksbury said. “Montrose may be a little cut above us, but it puts us in contention.”
At Susquehanna, Meghan Kiernan is the lone starter back, but Mackenzie Decker, Megna Decker and Cortney Bennett all saw key minutes.
“This team is hungry to prove themselves,” first-year coach Gina Baker said. “They are energetic and determined to continue a culture of a winning basketball program.”
All five starters are back at Mountain View, with leading scorer Regan Cameron heading a group that includes Morgan Hammond, Emory Bewley, Jade Travis and Taylor Neri.
Forest City returns Bella Pleska, Madeline Shema, Haylee Herrmann and Brianna Cahoon from last year’s first five, while Blue Ridge also has four starters back — Alexis Parks, Kara Wdowiak, Rayne Glover and Lily Bleck.
Lackawanna Trail juniors Amaralis Thiel and Megan Gatto and senior Kassidy Kostick are the top three scorers from a year ago.
Marty Myers began his career as a sports writer at The Wayne Independent in Honesdale, where he served as sports editor and later managing editor. After 10 years there, he joined The Times-Tribune in 1994 and has spent the ensuing years reporting on high school sports, local and professional golf. An award-winning journalist, he also enjoys his duties as a copy editor for The Times-Tribune, editing stories and designing pages. A native of Williamsport, Marty resides in Clarks Summit. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 570-348-9100 x5437 or @mmyersTT.