Bald Eagle Area has a long and storied history in high school wrestling.
But its the other occupants of the gymnasium, when the mats are rolled up, that are stealing some of the spotlight this winter.
The Eagle basketball teams are flying high and doing their part to bring pride to the hallways in Wingate and add to the conversations of the community.
“Everywhere you go the people are talking about it,” boys’ basketball coach Bill Butterworth said. “Everywhere I go, someone stops me, ‘Hey this is fantastic what’s going on there.’ It feels good. The kids are doing everything. They’re working hard and this is all because of them.”
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The Eagles (20-2) and Lady Eagles (21-1) both both finished with 20-win regular seasons, won Mountain League titles and each are No. 1 seeds for the District 6 tournament — a first in school history.
The hoops teams hit the floor at Hollidaysburg High School on Friday night to try to extend their exciting seasons with a doubleheader against Marion Center. The girls game is at 6 p.m., with the boys following at 7:30.
“We were ready to go out there and play (Thursday) as soon as school was over,” girls’ senior center Kaitlyn Miller said. “Unfortunately we had to wait another day. It feels good to go into it again.”
It’s not that new of an experience to be on top for the girls, who have been district contenders the last three seasons, holding the top seed in 2010-11 and the No. 4 seed last season. But quarterfinal losses each of those years has left the girls eager to prove they can do more.
“We’re the No. 1 seed again,” Miller said. “We want to make sure we don’t blow it this time and lose in the first round like we did two years ago.”
With a starting lineup that includes six seniors who were on the floor or at least on the bench for each of the previous two seasons, there is plenty of fuel for the playoff fire.
“They’re pretty confident and believe in themselves,” coach Troy Butterworth said. “I remind them not to take anybody lightly. ‘There’s a big bulls’ eye on your back.’ But I told them, ‘I don’t want to see anybody walking out of that locker room wiping their eyes.’ I remind them how it felt (to lose early) so I think they’re ready.”
The team is led by four-year starter Marissa Ward, who surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this season and is averaging 19 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.9 steals and 4.6 assists per game. Mary Pillot is scoring 10.5 points per game and Miller is just off a double-double pace at 9.6 points and 10.7 rebounds.
While the girls have had some recent success, it’s a little different for the boys, who are having their best campaign since the 2005-06 team was a top seed, won the district crown and advanced to the second round of the state tournament.
“I think this team can do as much as we did that year,” Bill Butterworth said. “We have high expectations. I keep telling them, this could be your last practice. You have to go out there and keep working your butts off because once you lose you’re done.”
Much like the team that season, the Eagle boys have a mix of good size and ability inside and solid play from the guards — not to mention a balanced offense. Center Dennis Fisher, at 6-foot-7, leads the team with 17.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. He’s followed by the guard trio of Bryan Greene (10.9 ppg), Bryce Greene (9.0 ppg) and Brandon Gettig (8.5 ppg), and as a team the Eagles are averaging 62 points per night.
“We have a lot of balance,” Fisher said. “We have almost four guys scoring in double figures. Last year we only had two guys in double figures so we pretty much grew as a team.”
There also has been a pretty healthy rivalry between the teams in the gym and the hallways and are glad to be right up there with the wrestling team — which also won the Mountain League this season.
“It’s pretty enjoyable, but wrestling’s not too far behind us,” Fisher said. “It’s not like we own the school yet.”
“It’s awesome that they’re No. 1,” Miller said. “It’s so cool that we both have a good girls and boys team. We all work hard, we come to each other’s games and support each other. We are just hoping for the best for both teams.”
The chatter between the hoops teams has been good for the spectators as well.
“There’s always a little trash talk,” Miller said. “Who has the better season, who plays the tougher games, but in the end we’re all so proud of each other that we kind of forget about it.”
The rivalry extends all the way to their coaches — Bill and Troy are brothers, and the boys teams also has their brother Robert and Bill’s son Brett on the staff.
“It’s exciting at the school,” said Bill Butterworth, who will earn his 100th career win with a victory Friday. “Everybody’s talking about the games. It’s especially nice because my brother coaches the girls and for him to get No. 1 seed and us getting No. 1 seed, it’s a good thing for our family.”
A booster bus is lined up to take other students to the games, and the BEA teams hope to get a good turnout from other fans from the Bald Eagle Valley to rival the blue-and-gold turnout a few miles away for the district wrestling in Altoona.
“I hope it’s packed,” Fisher said. “It’s more fun that way.”
Both basketball teams also hope Friday will not be the last BEA doubleheader for basketball.
“We’re just hoping we go to the same place,” Bill Butterworth said, “to the district finals.”