St. John Neumann coach Steve Sholder is not receiving the same exercise he did last basketball season.
He is not complaining.
A year ago, Sholder and assistant coaches Seth Burch and Matt Henderson suited up every day and practiced with their players. It was the only way Neumann could have an actual practice since it had just nine players and no junior varsity team. Somehow the Knights still reached districts for a fifth consecutive year.
Now reinforcements have arrived. Neumann has 18 players and a JV team once again. The coaches' playing days are over and Neumann could be poised for a big year.
"We're not going to sneak up on anybody this year, but I feel pretty good about us," Sholder said.
Neumann is definitely off to a good start. The Knights are 3-0 for the first time in four seasons and have the look of a team that can challenge for both HAC-III and District 4 Class A championship.
Dr. Masse's Top 5
1. Warrior Run (3-0)
The Defenders face their first two major tests, traveling to Lewisburg Wednesday and hosting Montoursville Saturday. Both games could be playoff previews. Warrior Run has not allowed more than 31 points in any of its games and Abby Fisher is building off a strong finish last season, averaging nearly nine points per game.
2. Lewisburg (1-1)
It's tough dropping the Green Dragons for losing a two-point game at Shikellamy Saturday since the Braves are a District 4 Class AAA title contender, but I like the Warrior Run is playing. Then again, this matter gets settled in two nights anyway. Lewisburg has allowed only 78 points in two games but needs some players to complement high-scoring guard Maria Kelleher who is averaging 18 points while the rest of the team is averaging 24.
3. Muncy (2-0)
The Indians might feel like they have back in preseason practice since they have not played in eight nights. Muncy returns to the court tonight against CMVT for the first time since romping to its second straight Muncy Rotary Tournament championship. Four players averaged in double figures at the tournament. Muncy has two challenges this week at Montgomery and Bloomsburg in what should be a rugged HAC-III schedule.
4. Montoursville (2-1)
It is a big week for the Warriors who host Loyalsock Wednesday and travel to Warrior Run Saturday. Montoursville opens its debut season in the HAC-II against the Lancers and will try and build off the stellar defensive performance it produced in a 37-11 win at Milton last Thursday. The Warriors are allowing only 26 points per game and sophomore point guard Kirsten O'Malley is averaging 14.7 points per game.
5. Mansfield (4-1)
Just as impressive as a 74-48 win over Northeast Bradford Saturday was a 51-46 overtime road loss to District 4 Class AAA title contender Athens Wednseday. Mansfield overcame an 11-point halftime deficit to force overtime and showed why it could be a tough out in Class A. The Tigers are receiving balanced scoring and have topped 70 points in three of their last four games. Sisters Jackie and Ali Hillson combined for 37 points against NEB while Emily James added 23.
Player of the Week
Steph Shamburg, Warrior Run
The junior forward showed why she is one of the district's premier players last week, averaging 24.5 points in two wins while rebounding well and playing outstanding tenacious defense. Shamburg nearly outscored Mifflinburg herself in a 62-31, going for 28 points and 13 rebounds.
Game of the Week
Loyalsock at Montoursville
Wednesday's game has added significance since the cross-creek rivals also are HAC-II rivals for the first time. Loyalsock (1-1) will be playing for the first time in 11 nights and will be missing one of its best players but still is deep and versatile. It should be a hard-fought, close game.
The Knights lost only one player and have four starters back, including three-year starting guards Meghan Trenholm and Emily Sholder. Both are climbing up various Neumann all-time statistical lists. Rachel Daneker and Emily Sheleman also started last year and Neumann will have the luxury of a bench this season. A year ago, Sholder's bench consisted mostly of four players, who were mainly untested freshmen and first-time players.
"It's a lot easier. We can scrimmage easier. We were so used to how it was last year that we kind of forget we have a second team," said Emily Sholder after an impressive all-around performance against Sullivan County. "It's really good having double the size of our team from last year. We have Bailey Gerrity and Megan Helminiak and we have a lot of good subs coming in, and our JV team is pretty good, too."
Neumann, which travels to Bucktail tonight, was as gritty as any team in District 4 last year but the lack of depth took its toll. Trenholm and Sholder took a physical pounding since they were marked players every game and foul trouble doomed the Knights at times, including in a close district playoff loss to undefeated Line Mountain. The increased numbers should help alleviate those problems this season. Irongirl basketball will not be such a necessity.
And, no offense to the coaches, but practices appear more fruitful now. Unlike a year ago, there is competition every day and that is a good formula for improvement.
"It's not that the kids slacked off or anything last year, but now there is competition for playing time and having that number of kids gets everyone going," Sholder said. "We're excited. I think the boys run (to the second round of states) last year helps us out because the girls want to match that or go beyond that."
Now that Sholder has much more company on the bench and at practice, that idea does not seem so far-fetched.
Williamsport might have turned its season around with a dramatic 64-53 overtime win over Westinghouse on Saturday. It was not just Williamsport winning that was so important, but rather how it won. Three nights after losing in double overtime at Selinsgrove, Williamsport rallied from an 11-point late third-quarter deficit and dominated overtime and earn its first win.
The Millionaires are a fairly young team which has only one starter back from last season. They appeared to grow up Saturday and outscored previously undefeated Westinghouse, 39-19, in the fourth quarter and overtime. It was an impressive display of resiliency, especially after Williamsport made just 8 of 60 shots through the first three quarters.
"This sets the rate for the rest of the season," senior guard Deidra Dunkleberger said. "We are going to keep going out and try to get the rest of the wins."
Dunkleberger was nothing short of amazing in the fourth quarter and overtime. After missing all 13 shots she attempted through three quarters, Dunkleberger drained five fourth-quarter 3-pointers, including in the final minute of regulation, and scored 21 points in the final 12 minutes. She made 5 of 7 shots during that time, in addition to six of eight free throws.
Dunkleberger was far from a one-player show as Aisha Evans scored 20 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and made six steals, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Freshman Chloe Jennings also had a breakout game, scoring 15 points, grabbing six rebounds and making six steals. Jaid Harsh and Lydia Whaley also made an impact and a team that had been winless and now looks like it has the potential to be vastly improved as the season continues.
The pieces are there and Saturday's performance might have been the one that brings it all together.
"Everybody stepped up and it was a total team effort," Williamsport coach Derek Slaughter said. "That's why we came out of here with a win."
Jersey Shore is off to its first 3-0 start in more than a decade. The Bulldogs have made some nice strides the past two seasons after enduring two straight winless campaigns. They already have matched their win total from last season and rallied past South Williamsport, 35-30, last Wednesday.
How Jersey Shore won that game was even more important. The Bulldogs missed their first 10 shots and lost six turnovers while falling behind early. In years past, that kind of start might have doomed Jersey Shore, but not this season. Jersey Shore has an experienced group back from last season and the maturity showed against the Mounties as the Bulldogs took the lead by halftime and hung on throughout a pressure-filled fourth quarter.
Jersey Shore is allowing only 33 points per game and five players are averaging at least five points per game, led by Kayla Allen's 16.7. Sarah Danley and Courtney Smith are both tough inside, averaging 18.3 rebounds between them and Holly Peacock, Paige Packer and Morgan Keller all are playing well.
Galeton (4-1) already has surpassed its win total from last season. The Tigers, like Jersey Shore, took some lumps last season but have most of their players back. Andi Leach and Lataschia Shadle both are averaging in double figures. ... Bucktail's Maria Morgan is averaging 33.5 points through four games. She scored a career-high 38 in last week's 75-61 loss at Benton and had 36 Saturday in a 52-46 win over Northern Potter. ... Keep an eye on North Penn. The Panthers (2-2) have a strong core of young, talented players and have increased their scoring in their last three games. Sophomore Mariah Berguson looks like a breakout player, scoring 21 points in a 62-25 win over Canton and averaging 15.3 thus far.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at twitter.com/docmasse.