Moments after his team rallied past Lewisburg and recorded a big win last Wednesday, Montoursville coach Kevin Kurtz pulled aside senior Ally Yocum and thanked her.
Yocum had pointed out some things that could be more effectively done at practice. Kurtz was grateful for input like that from a veteran player. That is especially since he has so few veteran players.
Montoursville starts four sophomores and a junior. Yocum and Kayla Venema, both valuable reserves, are the team's only seniors. That youth, though, is hardly a detriment. It has become a strength and Montoursville (10-2, 5-0 HAC-II) is off to its best start since Kelly Mazzante played there in 2000. The Warriors took sole possession of first place Saturday, beating previously unbeaten Southern Columbia, 45-33, so as appealing as the future looks, the present looks pretty good, too.
CRAIG?S. MCKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
Montoursville’s McKenzie Ruffing dribbles around a defender during the championship game of the Montoursville Christmas tournament.
"We're a young team. We don't start any seniors so we know we can get it going this year and it makes it more positive for next year, too," junior guard McKenzie Ruffing said. "We have high expectations but we just have to keep it one game at a time."
Montoursville may have reached a turning point against Lewisburg. Playing against one of the district's premier Class AA teams, Montoursville scored just seven first-half points, trailed by 13 in the second quarter and still was down by 11 late in the third. None of it mattered, though, and the Warriors responded in impressive fashion, going on a huge run that bridged the third and fourth quarters while winning, 34-32.
All those young players made a huge impact, too. Sophomores Marissa Hall and Kelsey Stine kept Montoursville in the game, and sophomores Kirsten O'Malley and Carly Mill combined for 14 fourth-quarter points. Yocum and Venema made some big plays and the Warriors struck a nice balance between youth and experience while showing off their playoff credentials.
Dr. Masse's Top 5 teams
1. Montoursville (10-2)
There really are no easy HAC-II games, something proven this upcoming week. The Warriors' reward for two huge wins is two more tough games against Mount Carmel and Central Columbia. Sophomore Kelsey Stine is playing well inside and was vital to both wins last week. Her interior defense is stellar and she had 10 points in the Southern victory.
2. Lewisburg (7-3)
The Green Dragons bounced back from the Montoursville loss in impressive fashion, thumping Hughesville, 60-24. Lewisburg plays outstanding defense and sophomore Kasey Conrad helps ignite it. She was outstanding in the Montoursville game and also grabbed nine rebounds. Point guard Maria Kelleher is one of the area's best players and had 19 points in the Hughesville win.
3. Muncy (9-2)
The Indians remain one of the HAC-III's two undefeated teams and survived a scare from South Williamsport last Wednesday, winning 51-49. Muncy has won a lot of blowouts so handling the pressure of that game was good for it moving forward. Sophomore guard Brianna McLaughlin is one of the area's best defenders, but also is quite the offensive threat. She scored a career-high 23 points in Saturday's 60-27 win over Sullivan County.
4. Williamson (8-3)
The Warriors are having their best season in a decade and are perched atop the NTL-West standings after edging Mansfield, 54-50 last Thursday. Williamson is seeking its first league title since 2002 and has a big game at surging Wellsboro Thursday. Lori Horton and Kim Daugherty are having league MVP-worthy seasons and both are averaging more than 15 points per game.
5. Warrior Run (5-5)
The Defenders are a better team than their record indicates something they proved in Saturday's 49-47 loss to two-time defending District 4 champion. Warrior Run nearly rallied in the fourth quarter and center Steph Shamburg scored 23 points against a solid Mount Carmel interior defense. The Defenders have lost four games by nine points or fewer and remain a dangerous team if they advance to districts. Saturday's game proved that.
Player of the Week
Lori Horton, Williamson
An outstanding post player, Horton has been a force all season. She scored 39 points in two wins last week, recorded two double-doubles and blocked five shots against Mansfield. Horton is tough on both ends and has Williamson thinking championship for the first time in a long time.
Game of the Week
Muncy at Benton
Wednesday's game will break the tie atop the HAC-III. Both teams are 5-0 in the league and split two games last year. Benton center Justine Seely is one of the district's best players so the Muncy defense will be put to the test in a game that could have a playoff feel.
Whatever the future holds, this is a game Montoursville can always look back and lean on. This was a game where the kids grew up.
"It's huge. That is a big game to win," Mill said. "It prepares us for later on."
"We have a young team and it shows a lot of character," Kurtz said. "We have two seniors who provide some really good leadership. I'm not going to minimize the youth of the team but we have some seniors that really provide the leadership and help the team."
That showed against Southern. Instead of suffering a letdown after the dramatic Lewisburg win, Montoursville built on the momentum. It again played sensational defense and again received a balanced effort as it handed the Tigers a 12-point loss three nights after they had beaten two-time defending district champion Mount Carmel.
"It was a well-rounded team win," Kurtz said. "It was a good week, but a tough week."
Yocum and Venema will not be around the next two years as this Montoursville team continues growing and moving forward. But they still have a shot at winning league and district championships. The Warriors have several tough games remaining, starting Wednesday against Mount Carmel but they own the district's best record and have won nine of their last 10 games. They have held nine teams to fewer than 40 points and seem to be getting better and more confident every game.
The talk at Montoursville the last few years was about how bright the future was. Forget that and forget the grades these players are in.
The future is now.
"We are here to play," Kurtz said. "This program is moving in a good direction."
St. John Neumann guard Meghan Trenholm became the area's first player to reach 1,000 career points this year, doing so Saturday against Bloomsburg. The junior is the quickest player in program history to reach that milestone and the first to do so since Meredith Grausam in 2003. Trenholm is one of the area's hardest workers and is relentless on the court, excelling in all areas.
"We know we can always count on Meghan to make a play," Neumann coach Steve Sholder said earlier this season. "She has really grown as a leader."
Trenholm has helped Neumann reach districts the last two years and it is 8-3 this season. She has 1,001 career points, scoring that many in just 58 games while also leading the Knights in rebounding and steals the last two seasons. Trenholm is the area's second-leading scorer this season, averaging more than 21 per game and she has increased her scoring average in each of the past two seasons.
Wellsboro is surging after a frustrating 3-8 start. The Green Hornets stunned Mansfield, 51-50, on its home court last Tuesday and have won three straight while emerging as a NTL-West title contender again. Wellsboro lost six of its first eight games by seven points or fewer, but a young team is starting to jell and senior Mackenzie Marple has been sensational. She scored a career-high 29 points in the Mansfield win ... Allie Pagana had a good week for Loyalsock, playing good defense and averaging 11 points in three games. The Lancers (3-6) won two of those and should not be counted out of the playoff hunt ... Bucktail sophomore Maria Morgan had a triple-double in a 52-35 win over CMVT, going for 20 points, 10 assists and 10 steals. The Milton girls are playing as well as anyone in the area and stunned Danville last week before edging Jersey Shore. The Black Panthers (6-5) have won six of their last seven games.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.