One girls’ basketball team had a fun celebration last week, complete with a fire-engine escort the final few miles back to its high school. The other has been sitting, and waiting … and waiting.
Both return to the court Friday night to start play in the PIAA tournament.
Bald Eagle Area High School will host a first-round doubleheader, first with Penns Valley (20-5) meeting Seton LaSalle (10-14) in Class 3A at 6 p.m., followed by State College (14-10) and Dallastown (19-9) at about 7:30 p.m.
Having their state playoff openers so close to home has added to the excitement felt by team members.
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“We’re going to have a big fan base that can come,” Penns Valley guard Emma Butler said. “We love having the community come out, our school, our teachers, our student section — it’s great.”
Having a neighboring program make the tournament benefited both in another way — they scrimmaged each other Wednesday.
Taking a look at both games:
Penns Valley vs. Seton LaSalle
The Lady Rams had not won a District 6 title since 1997, so the celebration after beating Everett last Friday and all of last weekend was memorable for the girls — including the return home with fire sirens blaring.
“We’re all trying to take it in,” Butler said. “It’s a new experience for every single one of us on the team, but we’re also not trying to change how we play. What we’ve done has been so successful, we play best when we’re having fun, when we play as a team and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Just a couple years ago, the team set a modest goal of winning the Mountain League, coach Karen McCaffrey said, and when they hit that mark everything beyond that seemed to be a bonus. This year, they don’t seem to be satisfied just yet.
“I don’t think any of us on the team expected a district champion in November,” Butler said. “We always make a run in districts — it was a goal to make it to states — and we wanted to make a good run in districts … and we were like, ‘Oh, we’re here? Let’s just go, let’s try to win it all.’ That’s what we did.”
McCaffrey also said this team has a different personality — fun and loose but responding better to positive reinforcement more than critical comments. Once McCaffrey had a feel for what the team needed, it all started to gel. They have won their last eight games since a loss at Central essentially knocked them out of Mountain League contention.
“We pretty much just reorganized, said we had to take it one game at a time, get in the gym and fix what’s not working,” McCaffrey said. “They worked so hard and never lost faith.”
The Lady Rams are still hungry, even as they open PIAA play against a program that has been to the PIAA championship game three times in the last six seasons, winning twice.
“Sometimes you have to keep reaching,” McCaffrey said. “This year we didn’t win our league, but we didn’t stop reaching for goals. They had a goal of making the state playoffs because it’s hard.”
State College vs. Dallastown
Meanwhile, State College will have had a full two weeks off by the time they hit the floor Friday at BEA. Coach Chris Leazier has been trying to balance keeping them sharp but rested. Team members have had plenty of off days before resuming a normal schedule on Tuesday of this week, with the added scrimmage with the Lady Rams on Wednesday.
“You try to get a read on your team and get a sense of what they need,” said Leazier, in his second season guiding the program. “At this point in the year they feel confident and prepared, and for us those are the biggest things. We want to be prepared, but also energetic, excited to play.”
Leazier said he consulted with Little Lion boys’ coach Joe Walker on how to deal with the long layoff, and said his players have been very easy-going about the down time, which also includes spring break this week for the district. Leazier had early practices so the girls wouldn’t sleep in, but tried to keep the practices tight so the girls had plenty of free time for their break. The girls will have a morning shoot-around Friday to get them to the school help make up for not having classes like they would for a typical weekday game.
“You have to look at the preparation, not just from an on-court perspective but from a mental perspective,” Leazier said. “You’ve got to have them invested in that, then you have to ask them to do it for you.”
PIAA girls’ basketball
At Bald Eagle Area HS
Class 3A: Penns Valley (20-5) vs. Seton-LaSalle, 6 p.m.
Class 6A: State College (14-10) vs. Dallastown (19-9), 7:30 p.m.