It was hardly an optimal scenario.
Just past the midpoint of the season, the Penns Valley girls’ basketball team saw its leading scorer and senior leader get injured.
In the next game, another senior leader was lost.
It left one senior among the regulars, and a lot of youth.
As it turns out, the Lady Rams were up to the challenge.
As the District 6 playoffs begin Tuesday, Penns Valley is the No. 5 seed in Class 3A, hosting Ligonier Valley at 7 p.m. It will mark the first, and perhaps only, time a district playoff game will be played in the old-fashioned “Ram Dome.” A new gym is expected to be ready in time for next season.
Other Centre County girls teams ready to start the postseason include Philipsburg-Osceola traveling to Everett in Class 3A on Tuesday, Bellefonte at DuBois in Class 5A on Tuesday and State College visiting Mifflin County on Wednesday in Class 6A.
Penns Valley coach Karen McCaffrey’s team had a good mix of experienced seniors and very talented younger players. But the mix got out of balance on Jan. 18 when forward Maci Ilgen tore her ACL. Six days later, Alicia Houser suffered both a high- and low-ankle sprain.
“Maci is my best friend and seeing her go down was not easy. I cried too,” Houser said. “I knew we had to come together and play for her. I think they’re still doing that now and doing a pretty good job of that.”
How well are they doing? The Lady Rams are 9-2 since Ilgen took her tumble.
“If you would have told me (11) games ago we’d be 15-7 right now, I would have been jumping for joy,” McCaffrey said. “Losing Maci and Alicia, that experience, I couldn’t be happier right now.”
Thrust into the leadership role was Kourtney Beamesderfer. As a point guard, it’s expected, even moreso as the team’s best defensive player, but she is more of a quiet leader.
Now, as her name is called for pregame introductions, McCaffrey tells her senior, “Go lead them.”
“It’s helped me as a player to kind of have to have that responsibility and have to try to be the leader on the court,” Beamesderfer said. “I think it’s helped me grow as a player.”
Houser and Ilgen are still around for practices, in the locker room and on the bench as captains, but they also serve as a reminder to the many young Lady Rams.
“I think that it kind of showed everyone that every game isn’t guaranteed to you,” Beamesderfer said. “I think it kind of helped inspire us to go out and play hard every game because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Ilgen was averaging 11.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game when she went down, while Houser, who hopes to be healthy in time for softball season, was tossing in 7.3 points per game. Along with leadership, scoring help was needed.
“Kourtney handles the ball a lot, and Kourtney’s a very unselfish ballplayer,” McCaffrey said. “So she’s coming down, passing off, and we were all passing off looking for who is going to take the shot.”
Finally, players like sophomore Isabella Culver (7.9 ppg) and Emma Butler (9.5 ppg) were more willing to drive to the basket, and Jordan Andrus (5.6 ppg) was working harder in the paint. And in recent games, freshman Hannah Montminy also has been showing confidence to drive the lane.
“I have seen a lot of the younger girls step up (and) I am very proud of all of them,” said Ilgen, who hopes to hit the court again in college. “You will never see them give up on themselves. They just need to stay confident and play together.”
The Lady Rams have hardly missed a beat, and are ready for the next challenge.
“It’s really good for all of us to still be experiencing that success,” Beamesderfer said. “It’s really helped everyone have to step up and take different roles, and helped everyone evolve. It’s helped our team grow.”