The Bellefonte girls’ basketball team got a little taste of postseason success last March.
Now, the Lady Red Raiders are looking for more.
Bellefonte played in the PIAA tournament for the first time since 2010 and it was a learning experience, even though it produced a lopsided loss to Trinity in the first round.
Even though most of the roster is young, the experience is still a major topic of conversation.
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“They talked about what it meant to play in the states,” fourth-year coach Adam Gearhart said, “and how they would like to go beyond the first round of states this year.”
It took a little while to put together the pieces of last season’s success, using balanced scoring and a stout defense with lineup made mostly of seniors and freshmen. Those freshmen of last season are now sophomores and now part of this year’s team leadership, since this year’s roster has just one senior and one junior.
But the youthful team will not be deterred after last season’s experience in the state tournament.
“We’re setting that as a goal,” Gearhart said. “We don’t want to step back from that, even though we lost three good seniors and we’re a very young team.”
The regular season tips off Friday — although Centre County Christian Academy has already gotten a jump on the season. Here is a look at the area teams:
Bald Eagle Area
The Lady Eagles are under the direction of Darin Hazel this season, looking to get a fresh start with a coach with 15 years of experience on the bench of other county basketball programs.
“It is always challenging taking over a new program,” Hazel said, “because you are trying to get a feel for what the kids can do and what they’ve been taught in the past along with teaching a new system. I feel the kids are getting used to my coaching style and expectations.”
The teaching began with some of the game’s fundamentals like ball-handling and defense for the guard-oriented team, and he has been encouraged by the attitude of the girls and how coachable they are.
One thing in the Lady Eagles’ favor is the experience they have on the court, with few players lost to graduation and nine returning letterwinners to help break in the six freshmen on the roster.
The team is led by senior forwards Morgan Chambers and Alexis Bucha, and guards Mariah Veneziano and Madison Watkins. They also have junior forwards Brianna Dyke, Kaleigh Cunningham and Annie Barnhart, and guard Tessa Cingle.
“The upperclassmen have made it an easy transition for me,” Hazel said. “They are really embracing the culture change and learning the game of basketball. Their attitude has been outstanding and they are working really hard each and every day.”
The Lady Raiders followed the lead of their three seniors last season en route to a runner-up district finish and first-round PIAA berth.
This season’s roster is decidedly younger with nine freshmen and only one senior — guard Abbey Bruni. She and sophomores Mallorie Smith and Maddie Steiner are returning starters.
That means there will be a heavy reliance on those sophomores.
“It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a couple of sophomores, but we’re asking them to be leaders,” Gearhart said. “Both of the sophomores are strong-minded kids. They know what it takes.”
The second-year players have also taken on teaching roles with the freshmen, helping transition them from junior high. Gearhart expects to start two freshmen with Maddie Tice and Bella Corman, and perhaps the first four off the bench also will be ninth graders in Sara DeHass, Lily Gardner, Hannah Louck and Mia Johnson. Each night they likely will be battling girls who will be a couple years older and stronger.
“They’re talented freshmen; they’re athletic,” Gearhart said. “Probably the biggest thing right now is learning the mental part of the game.”
Centre County Christian Academy
The small school is surviving with its roster of eight girls, led by senior guard-forward Devan Walker and sophomore post player Cassandra Poorman, who averaged 8.8 points per game last season to lead the Lady Bulldogs in scoring.
The rest of the roster is filled by guards or wing players in Hannah Crafts, Hannah Sides, Moriah Smith, Ellie Biers, Kayla Shipe and newcomer Emma Rossman. But coach Martie Maholic is more interested in the process than the number of wins the team gets each season.
“I think the skills you learn playing basketball are important,” Maholic said. “There is a lot of value to being a part of a team. It’s hard. It takes effort.”
The team split a pair of games last week in a season-opening tournament, including seeing an 18-point effort from Poorman.
“Being on the team, having fun is one of our goals,” Maholic said. “If you’re not having fun, you probably won’t keep at it. Basketball teaches them to do things to help them get better on their own ... and it all comes from their heart.”
The Lady Storm get new guidance this season with veteran coach Brenna O’Connor taking over the program. O’Connor has years of coaching experience with the State College and St. Joseph’s programs.
Grace Prep has a trio of senior leaders in Anna Haris, Becca Seibel and Laurel Shearer to help mentor an otherwise youthful roster with three freshmen and seven sophomores among the 15 girls.
“They show great potential and are eager to learn from their older teammates,” O’Connor said of the young players. “The captains have shown great leadership, on and off the court, and the unity and chemistry among the team has been fun to watch.”
O’Connor is hoping the depth and strong numbers for the future will help turn around the one-win season from a year ago.
“We expect to grow and improve as the season continues,” O’Connor said.
The Lady Rams have their eyes on another run toward the postseason with an experienced roster. The list includes four starters from the end of last season, with a couple girls pressed into bigger roles after injuries to a pair of senior starters.
With the depth and experience, coach Karen McCaffrey thinks the intensity of practices are already high, and the team is also making good progress.
“After our first scrimmage,” she said, “we felt we were farther ahead in terms of understanding the offense and making quick on-the-court decisions.”
Health issues have hit the program many times in recent years, so McCaffrey has her fingers crossed the Lady Rams can spend less time in the trainer’s room this season.
Pacing the girls are juniors Emma Butler, who averaged 9.7 points per game last season, and Isabella Culver, who netted 8.5 points per game. They are complemented by senior forwards Dayna Brown and Peyton Homan, athletic sophomore guard Hannah Montminy and junior guards Paige Kubalak and Jordan Andrus.
The Lady Rams have had a high-pressure, up-tempo style for years and McCaffrey expects this edition of the team to be no different.
“Team speed is great when you are a running team like we are,” McCaffrey said. “Fast breaks should be just that — fast.”
The expectations for the Lady Mounties are rising this season, with every member from a team that finished just below .500 back again this season.
“It’s nice to have everyone back,” second-year coach Alexis Bacher said. “I wouldn’t say it’s been easier. I’ve just been trying to make practices harder than last year to push these girls to improve from last season. Expectations are high this year they know what they accomplished last year and we’re trying to build on what we didn’t.”
Leading the way is junior point guard Halle Herrington, who not only was the leading scorer in Centre County but was among the top scorers in the state at 30.3 points per game. However, Bacher would like to see more scoring from others on the team including guards Lindsey Bordas and Loryn Hughes, and post players Lacey Potter, Cassidy Hughes, Megan Winters and Kyleigh Kennedy.
“It would be great if (Herrington) performs like last year,” Bacher said. “However, the rest of the team knows they need to step up and be a threat also.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
The youth movement in building up the Lady Wolves program continues for Katie Sosnoskie, now in her second season. With most of last year’s roster returning, and four sophomores and four freshmen among the 11 girls, Sosnoskie has her eyes on the future.
“We have the girls from last year, and they are now used to program and tradition,” Sosnoskie said. “The sophomores are pretty seasoned. Last year we started setting a standard on how to build a program.”
Aubrey Weiss is the lone senior, and sophomores Emma Mallison, Maggie Mangene, Brynn Hershbine and Cat Thornburg also return, with all five averaging in the 4-8-point range in scoring.
Two juniors also have been added with Selena Mann and Denaya Cooper, each of whom transferred from State College and played for the Lady Little Lions program.
Sosnoskie is excited with what she is seeing in the gym each day.
“Every day is a new learning experience with these kids,” she said. “Things are starting to click. We started with the fundamentals and getting them up and down the floor. ... We want to be aggressive, we want to play defense to get the lead, we want to play with tempo. We’re excited about that.”
With a full year for the girls to get used to his systems and concepts, second-year coach Chris Leazier is optimistic the Lady Little Lions can put together a strong campaign.
“I knew last year was going to be a transition year,” said Leazier, who wasn’t named the new coach of the program until about a month before last season began. “It feels like we have a starting point, a little more of a foothold for our system, the kids understand me much better, there is consistency in what we are running in drills and the offense, and that has made a huge difference.”
Leazier, in his 24th year of coaching basketball at various levels including college, professional and internationally, is hoping a successful junior varsity team from last season can sustain that level with the varsity. He also sees a major benefit of four girls who are natural point guards all on the roster for multiple ball-handlers on the court in Lexi Risha, Jess Lingenfelter, Maya Bokunewicz and Isabell Leazier.
Bokunewicz is the top returning scorer at 11.5 points per game, and junior guard Kelsey Love also is a returning starter
His team has a little size in the post with Elizabeth Czekaj and Emilee Engle, but two of his taller players are guards Bokunewicz and Olivia De La Nuez.
“They have really good athletic ability and they can play multiple positions,” Leazier said. “That’s the direction the game is going: Maximize the skill level that you have on the court offensively, and maximize the number of players you can put on the court that can guard multiple positions.”
High school girls’ basketball
Bald Eagle Area
Head coach: Darin Hazel (first season)
Assistant coaches: Dave Gregor, Tyann McDaniel, Mary Pillot, Joe Pillot
Last season: 2-20
Key losses: Caylee McCaslin, Julia Cingle, Liz Wellar
Returning letterwinners: Alexis Bucha, Morgan Chambers, Mariah Veneziano, Madison Watkins, Annie Barnhart, Tessa Cingle, Kaleigh Cunningham, Brianna Dyke, Lacee Barnhart
Key newcomers: Georgia Cingle, Kristen Onder, Lexi Skripek, Alexis Rogers, Rachel Veneziano, Sarah Holler
Head coach: Adam Gearhart (fourth season)
Assistant coaches: Clair Steiner, Linda Reichert, Erica DeVinney, Shannon Rados (volunteer)
Last season: 12-13, District 6-8-9 Class 5A runner-up, lost in PIAA first round.
Key losses: Raisa Gregor, Lauren Young, Abbie Carr
Returning letterwinners: Abbey Bruni (Sr., G), Maddie Steiner (So., G), Mallorie Smith (So. G),
Key newcomers: Bella Corman (Fr., F), Lily Gardner (Fr., G), Sara DeHaas (Fr., F), Mia Johnson (Fr., G/F), Hannah Lauck (Fr., F), Maddie Tice (Fr., G)
Centre County Christian Academy
Head coach: Martie Maholic (25 th season)
Assistant coach: Ben Black
Last year: 4-15
Key losses: Allison Rossman, Brinn Miller
Returning letterwinners: Devan Walker (Sr., G/F), Hannah Crafts (Jr., G), Hannah Sides (So., G), Cassandra Poorman (So., C), Moriah Smith (8 th, G/F), Ellie Biers (Fr., G), Kayla Shipe (8 th, G)
Key newcomers: Emma Rossman (7 th, G/F)
Head coach: Brenna O’Connor (first season)
Assistant coach: Jen Zubler
Last season: 1-16
Key loss: Naomi Amos
Returning letterwinners: Anna Haris (Sr.), Becca Seibel (Sr.), Laurel Shearer (Sr.), Grace Moyer, Abigael Fisher, Saran Ashley-Douglas
Key newcomers: Sierra Addleman, Madde Dagan, Abby Galliano, Cindy Huang, Nhi Nguyen, Rebekah Sechler, Ava Snyder, Zoee Gray, Sarah Zubler.
Head coach: Karen McCaffrey (23rd season)
Assistant coaches: Rob Irwin, Dr. Thomas Butler, Garrett Milner, Megan Houser
Last season: 16-9, lost in District 6 Class 3A quarterfinals
Key losses: Kourtney Beamesderfer, Alicia Houser, Maci Ilgen, Cassidy Stover
Returning letterwinners: Dayna Brown (Sr., F), Peyton Homan (Sr., F), Jordan Andrus (Jr., G), Emma Butler (Jr., G), Isabella Culver (Jr., F), Paige Kubalak (Jr., G), Hannah Montminy (So., G),
Key newcomers: Lydia Collison (So., G), Kennedy Welshans (So., F), Cassondra Ulmanac (So., F), Rylee Arney (Fr., G), Kylie Auman (Fr., G), Leah Beban (Fr., F), Kelsey Hull (Fr., G), Katie Martell (Fr., G)
Head coach: Alexis Bacher (second season)
Assistant coach: Terry Parks
Last season: 10-13, lost in District 6, Class 3A first round
Key losses: none
Returning letterwinners: Lacey Potter (F), Loryn Hughes (G), Halle Herrington (G), Cassidy Hughes (F), Megan Winters (F), Kyleigh Kennedy (C), Lindsey Bordas (G).
Key newcomer: Maddy Kephart (F)
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
Head coach: Katie Sosnoskie (second season)
Assistant coach: Carly Onkotz
Last year: 7-15
Key losses: Bella Bassett, Janina Romero
Returning letterwinners: Aubrey Weiss (Sr., G/F), Emma Mallison (So., F), Maggie Mangene (So., G/F), Brynn Hershbine (So., G), Cat Thornburg (So., G)
Key newcomers: Selena Mann (Jr., F), Denaya Cooper (Jr., G)
Head coach: Chris Leazier (second season)
Assistant coaches: Jamie Brennan, Allison Mock
Last season: 11-15, District 6 Class 6A runner-up, lost in PIAA first round
Key losses: Kayla Hawbaker, Taylor Love, Ellie Strauss
Returning letterwinners: Maya Bokunewicz (So., G), Jessica Lingenfelter (Jr., G), Kelsey Love (Jr., G/F), Lexi Risha (Jr., G)
Key newcomers: Elizabeth Czekaj (Sr., F), Emilee Engle (Sr., F), Addie Orndorff (Sr., G)