It has been pretty standard that the State College girls’ basketball team experiences a long break between its final regular-season game and its first postseason appearance.
Sometimes there is a week off, sometimes it stretches as long as two.
Usually coach Bethany Irwin is lamenting how long her team has to endure the break, and airing concerns about her team possibly cooling off.
Not this year.
This time the Lady Little Lions (15-7), who meet Altoona (12-11) in the District 6 Class AAAA Championship Game, have had a 15-day break, and Irwin thinks her team has needed every one of those days.
“I think it was really good for us this year,” Irwin said. “We’ve had so many little nagging injuries or kids out sick, or we tweaked an ankle, we had this, we had that — I think it gave us a good opportunity, almost like a preseason for us.”
The teams battle for a spot in the PIAA Tournament at 6 p.m. Thursday at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson.
It will be State College’s first appearance on the Mount Aloysius campus since the 2002 PIAA semifinals, when the Lady Little Lions lost to Oakland Catholic in double overtime.
State College last played Feb. 11, beating Hollidaysburg 68-44. Two days earlier, the Lady Little Lions and Lady Mountain Lions tangled in the North Gym, with Altoona prevailing 58-49.
In the loss, Paige Whitfield stunned State College the most with her 25 points, including five of the team’s nine 3-pointers. The Lady Little Lions also had a long stretch of futility in the game, with just one made basket over 18 possessions.
“It really showed some of the things we need to focus on,” Irwin said. “That wasn’t a very good game for us, personnel-wise. There was a spurt where we did really well, and all of a sudden we had 18 possessions … and we only scored once. What are you, nuts?”
For the last two weeks, there have been a variety of challenges on the plates of her team. There were a few days of rest, there were some non-basketball festivities to break up the monotony and there also were a couple scrimmages. And during practices, the Lady Little Lions focused on their own issues, refining a lineup that has been shuffled a great deal over the last two months.
Then, when Altoona beat Hollidaysburg on Tuesday, the Lady Little Lions finally knew their opponent and refined their focus. They had a film-study session for an hour Tuesday and then spent two hours correcting all that went wrong in that last game against the Lady Mountain Lions earlier this month.
They know what they have to do, and have made good use of their time off.
Still, there is a worry the time off will leave them a little stale, since Altoona will be in the rhythm of already having a game this week.
“I’m hoping we don’t have lull,” Irwin said. “I’m hoping we start out with a bang because we’ve practiced that way. They really have. I think everything has fallen into place.”