A year ago, either Mount Carmel or South Williamsport winning the District 4 Class AA championship seemed as predictable as the Cleveland Browns experiencing a losing season.
Mount Carmel featured a dominant starting lineup while South had one of the state's best players in Tierney Pfirman. Not surprisingly, the district title came down to Mount Carmel and South (the Tornadoes officially beat Wyalusing for the championship because of a flawed seeding system but anyone who knows anything about girls basketball knows the semifinal was the real championship).
In some ways it was exciting to see that all unfold but in other ways it was boring. Unpredictability and parity equals more excitement. This year there should be plenty in Class AA since there is no clear favorite. Mount Carmel was hit hard by graduation but has enough back to remain a title contender. Lewisburg, Montoursville, Loyalsock and Warrior Run all appear evenly matched and each appears capable of making a postseason run.
Throw in back-to-back Class A state qualifiers Muncy and Line Mountain moving up to Class AA and one might have a better chance picking a district champion out of a hat than trying to analyze everything each team brings.
This year nobody knows who will emerge district champion. Maybe that means there is no dominant team that can make a state run like Mount Carmel, but personally, I do not care. The next few months should be a lot of fun and that makes this reporter a happy guy.
Player of the Year
Steph Shamburg, Warrior Run: A relentless worker who never is satisfied with past accomplishments, Shamburg has played through pain to have two straight brilliant seasons. The junior forward is a force on both ends and has led Warrior Run to its two best seasons since the 1990s. Last year, Shamburg averaged 17.9 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while helping Warrior Run go 15-9. The Defenders also won their first playoff game since the 1990s as Shamburg battled through a painful ankle injury and played a strong game against Williamson. Shamburg can control the paint and is as tough a defender as one will find in District 4. Shamburg made a big jump from her freshman to her sophomore seasons and if she makes a similar jump this season, she could have one of the best years in program history.
Aisha Evans, Williamsport: The senior had a rough 2012 and missed most of the preseason, but expect a huge bounce back this season. Evans has been working hard throughout the offseason and will be the foundation Williamsport builds upon. Evans is one of the area's more versatile players and can be a terrific post scorer while also being able to go outside some. Quick and feisty, Evans can make things happen with her defense and is the team's top returning scorer.
Jordan Jones, Muncy: The junior guard came back strong from a torn ACL and helped Muncy reach states for a second straight year, something that had not happened at Muncy in 10 years. The three-year starter is the team's most experienced player and can shine on both ends. She averaged 12.3 points and three steals per game and, combines with Brianna McLaughlin, to give Muncy a stifling defensive tandem in the backcourt. Jones is a good passer, gets to the basket and can hit from long-range. She had 27 points in the district quarterfinals last year, hitting seven straight shots at one point, while adding eight rebounds.
Maria Kelleher, Lewisburg: One of the district's premier point guards, Kelleher is Lewisburg's most versatile and valuable player. The four-year starter will play at Mansfield University next winter and has made steady progress each year of high school. Kelleher averaged 13 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game last year as a young Lewisburg team reached the district quarterfinals and gave state quarterfinalist Mount Carmel a big scare. Kelleher is a good on-floor leader and is a big reason the Dragons could have a big year in his final year.
Maria Morgan, Bucktail: Only Tierney Pfirman has had a better freshman year in the past five seasons among area players. Morgan burst onto the scene last year, averaging 23.1 points per game and scoring 508. Quick and able to shoot from seemingly anywhere, Morgan also averaged 4.6 assists and a whopping six steals per game while leading Bucktail to districts for just the second time since 1999. A force on both ends, Morgan is potent in transition and topped 20 points in nine of her last 11 games while never scoring fewer than 17 during that span.
Meghan Trenholm, St. John Neumann: Only a junior, Trenholm already is closing in on 1,000 career points and has become one of the most well-rounded players in program history. Despite being only 5-foot-7, Trenholm can play just about every position and was a guard offensively a year ago while playing on the post defensively. She averaged 18.4 points per game and was dangerous whether driving to the basket or shooting outside. Trenholm does it all for Neumann and also averaged 8.9 rebounds, 5.4 steals and 2.2 steals per game. The three-year starter was outstanding in big games and had 27 points in the district quarterfinals against undefeated Line Mountain while also breaking the program record for points in a season and highest scoring average in a season.
Second Team: Tay Parker, Warrior Run; Emily James, Mansfield; Kirsten O'Malley, Montoursville; Lori Horton, Williamson; Brianna McLaughlin, Muncy; Corrine Shaffer, Montgomery.
(Last year's records in parentheses)
1. Lewisburg (13-10): The Green Dragons were one of the area's youngest teams last season but made big strides, winning five straight games while going from the playoff bubble to the District 4 Class AA quarterfinals. Lewisburg gave eventual champion and state quarterfinalist Mount Carmel a big scare in the quarterfinals and should benefit from its two-game postseason run. Kelleher ignites Lewisburg, but players like Emily Conrad, Kasey Conrad, Lois Lesher and Lenore Doyle, to name a few, made big contributions last year in addition to several sophomores that received extended minutes. The young Dragons grew up quick last year and appear ready to reach the District 4 big time now.
2. Montoursville (13-10): Coach Kevin Kurtz used a youth movement last year to help the Warriors reach districts for the first time in a non-open format since 2003. Montoursville beat some of the district's best Class AAA teams during that run and featured stifling defense. Starters Kirsten O'Malley, McKenzie Ruffing and Carly Mill are bolstered by a deep bench and this team might be the area's quicket. Montoursville can fly up and down the court and if the returning contributors improve offensively this is a team that could easily be one of the district's best. The Warriors have moved to both District 4 Class AA and the HAC-II. The switch does not mean a whole lot, though, because whatever the classification or league, Montoursville appears primed for its best season in a decade.
3. Warrior Run (15-9): The Defenders are a lot like the two teams ranked above. They were young last year but still had good seasons, gained valuable postseason experience and seem ready to break out. It all starts with Shamburg but guard Tay Parker is one of the area's best on both ends and coach Jon Weaver has a bevy of talented young players that were vital to last year's 15-win season. Abby Fisher and Mackenzie Mantha blossomed late last season with Fisher scoring a career-high 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a playoff win over Williamson. Laura Bastian also can be a factor and Parker is a defensive force whoe also is one of the area's premier shooters.
4. Loyalsock (7-15): The Lancers missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999 last season but could return to being a district title contender this season. Loyalsock has a nice blend of outstanding freshmen and a bevy of returning contributors. The incoming freshmen lost just one junior high game last year and players like Taylor Daskivich, Allie Pagana, Asia Ungard, Abby Sullivan and Sam Pagana, to name a few, all received big minutes last year. Loyalsock is challenging itself right off the bat by playing in the Great Valley tournament down near Philadelphia against all Class AAAA and AAA teams. The Lancers played well throughout the summer against strong competition, giving the freshmen and returning players time to mesh so good times could be coming back.
5. Muncy (17-9): The Indians are moving up to Class AA for the first time this century. Muncy reached the Class A state tournament the past two seasons and can compete with the best AA has to offer. The Indians return a solid nucleus from last year's team and have one of the area's best backcourts with Jordan Jones and Brianna McLaughlin shining on both ends. Muncy does not have the height it has had in year's past but forward Crystal Good plays big as do Jones and McLaughlin. If some of the younger players progress well, this team can compete for the HAC-III championship.
Rounding out the Top 10...
6. Mansfield (11-12): The Tigers return nearly every player from last year's team, including three of the NTL-West's premier players, Emily James, Jackie Hillson and Molly Wood.
7. St. John Neumann (11-12): A year after having only nine players-all quality ones-Neumann has 18 players and a JV team once again. It also has four starters back along with a determined attitude after making five straight playoff appearances.
8. Williamson (11-12): If Mansfield is the early NTL-West favorite, Williamson is not far behind. Kim Daugherty, Cheyenne Jones and Lori Horton are back after having strong seasons.
9. Montgomery (9-13): The Red Raiders are another team that has a solid core back. Point guard Corrine Shaffer could have a breakout year and Montgomery and the post game appears strong.
10. Williamsport (9-13): Some young players have to grow up fast, but the potential is there for a good season.