Being 5-5 a few years ago probably would have had Warrior Run girls basketball players dancing in the streets. A few weeks ago, it had them sitting in coach Jon Weaver's class room searching for answers.
Times have changed at Warrior Run. The Defenders have become a perennial winner and no longer hope to make the playoffs, but expect to do so and make an impact once there. That is why they were so frustrated after losing five of seven games and dropping to .500 near the season's halfway point.
"They expected to win those games and they were shell-shocked at first and we had some long, long talks after that fifth loss," Warrior Run coach Jon Weaver said. "It was rough. We sat for two hours and talked. I think some people had a change of heart after that and started playing a lot better."
The results speak for themselves. Warrior Run (12-5) has won seven straight and is playoff-bound for a fourth straight year. The Defenders won 15 games last year and captured their first playoff win this century. This year they expect to take the next step and have that potential.
During its turnaround, Warrior Run has beaten Lewisburg, Southern Columbia and Central Columbia teams that defeated it earlier this season. It gets second chances against Montoursville and Mount Carmel this week, teams it lost to by seven combined points earlier in the year. The Defenders take some momentum into those rematches and are reversing a trend that saw it playing its best basketball early in the season before stumbling late the past three years.
"I told the girls that there were a lot of games in those first 10 we should have won. They are still sour losses but I said I can handle them as long as we learn from them and win them the second time around," Weaver said. "We've gotten three of them and have Montoursville and Mount Carmel (this) week so that will be a test."
Warrior Run might have won that first Mount Carmel game had it not been for an officiating debacle at the game's conclusion. Mount Carmel was hit with a technical foul as time expired but the Defenders were not given the two foul shots they should have been awarded and lost by two. Instead of sulking, Warrior Run took out its frustration on its next six opponents, winning each time while showing why it has to be considered a serious district title contender.
The Defenders have become a more well-rounded team as players like Abby Fisher, Laura Bastian and Chloe Eisenhuth have emerged. Steph Shamburg is one of the area's premier post players and Tay Parker one of it's top guards. But now opponents have a lot more to concern themselves with than just stopping those two and that has been instrumental to the turnaround.
Warrior Run is playing better and is part of the best run its program has experienced this decade. But the Defenders are not about to pat themselves on the back. There is much more work to do.
"After that (5-5 start) I told them to not come into the gym tomorrow and we did not practice. I told them either you want to play basketball or you don't and that was kind of the turning point," Weaver said. "I think the program is definitely going in the right direction, but we're not happy. The district title is what we're working for as is everybody else."
BOUNCING BACK: St. John Neumann snapped out of a funk in a big way last Saturday, thumping North Penn, 63-45. The Knights (10-8) started the season 8-2, but had lost six of seven entering Saturday. It was not quite time to hit the panic button, but Neumann desperately needed a win.
The Knights not only earned that, but looked outstanding doing so. In fact, Neumann had one of its best stretches this season when it blew open a two-point game and went on an 18-0 three-minute run that bridged the third and fourth quarters. The most impressive aspect was that during one 10-point stretch, five different Knights scored.
"We needed to play the kind of game we played in the first 10 games of the season. We had to play our style and just take it to somebody," Neumann coach Steve Sholder said. "It was just all mental. It was a lack of confidence and people afraid to take shots and today they were taking them and playing confident."
It showed as Neumann overcame an early four-point deficit and made 9 of 14 fourth-quarter shots. The Knights also did not panic when North Penn cut a 12-point deficit to 37-35, instead answering with its 18-0 run. Three-year starters Meghan Trenholm and Emily Sholder were outstanding. Trenholm, who became the fourth player in program history to grab 500 career rebounds, had 24 points, eight steals and seven rebounds while Sholder added 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
The most encouraging aspect for Steve Sholder, though, was the way the other players performed. Megan Helminiak scored a career-high 10 points while promising freshman Baylie Gerrity scored five fourth-quarter points and grabbed six rebounds. Emily Sheleman added four assists and Stephanie Fernandez played well off the bench. Combine those contributions with what Trenholm and Sholder consistently do and Neumann becomes a dangerous team.
"If we can spread it around we can get other people involved and than you can't concentrate on Meghan and Emily all the time and it opens everything up," Steve Sholder said. "That was a good one to get. Now we just need one more to get to the playoffs and we can go from there."
The Knights are seeking their sixth straight playoff berth, something no team in program history has accomplished. And if Neumann plays the way it did Saturday, it might do more than just qualify for the postseason.
PUTBACKS: Milton (11-7) has made a nice comeback, going from 0-4 to first place in the HAC-I. The Black Panthers overcame a 12-point deficit on the road at Danville last Friday and won 39-38 before clinching a playoff berth with a win over Mifflinburg Saturday. Milton is playoff-bound a year after going 6-16 and looks like a serious district title contender ... Jersey Shore (7-9) kept its playoff hopes alive with a 41-22 win over Sullivan County Saturday. Kayla Allen had 13 points and seven steals ... North Penn and Liberty combined for 17 3-pointers last Wednesday. The Panthers won 80-58 as Mariah Berguson scored a career-high 25 points. Kaitlyn Garverick is having a nice sophomore season and had 18 points and nine rebounds against Neumann.
Dr. Masse's top five in girls basketball
(Records through Saturday's Games)
1. Montoursville (15-3): The Warriors were outstanding in Friday's 45-23 demolition of playoff-bound Lewisburg, but can not afford to let down. Montoursville is seeking its first league title since 2000 and has huge games against Southern Columbia, Warrior Run and Warrior Run in a four-night span. The Warriors have won five straight and held Lewisburg to its lowest point total in a long time. It was an impressive performance, especially considering Montoursville needed to rally from 13 behind to edge the Dragons, 34-32 last month.
"We knew they would want revenge so we knew we had to come out real hard," said point guard Kirsten O'Malley. "We tend to come out slow and we know we had to stop doing that."
2. Warrior Run (12-5): Chloe Eisenhuth usually does everything but score. One of the district's smallest player is a tenacious defender who also finds a way to consistently get rebounds and make nice passes. But now she is adding some scoring punch too. The junior guard is averaging eight points over her last three games. It might not seem a like a huge total but it is just enough to complement players like Shamburg and Parker.
3. Lewisburg (12-5): The Dragons never recovered after Montoursville opened a 10-0 first-quarter lead but remain a dangerous team that has district title potential. Lewisburg needs only look back at its history to realize that. The Dragons came within a few seconds of winning the 2009 district crown after starting the season 6-11 and then rallying to win their next eight games.
4. Williamson (14-4): The Warriors can capture their first NTL-West championship since 2002 if they beat Wellsboro at home Thursday. Williamson is having its best season since that year and completed a season sweep of Mansfield with an impressive 71-62 win on its rival's court. Center Lori Horton is having a huge year and scored 26 points while adding 17 rebounds. Williamson received a huge lift last week when guard Cheyenne Jones returned from injury. Jones adds another dimension to an already strong offense and scored a career-high 27 points in a 61-52 win over Cowanesque Valley.
5. Muncy (13-4): The Indians opened a two-game series with Benton Monday night and host it Saturday. Muncy entered last night one game behind the Tigers for first place in the HAC-III. Jordan Jones played well for Muncy last week, averaging 16 points in three games. She scored 20 points in a hard-fought win at South Williamsport and had 17 in a 57-44 win over Neumann. Jones also is a good passer and defender who has helped Muncy reach states the last two years.
Player of the week
Maria Morgan, Bucktail: The standout sophomore had a sensational week, averaging 35 points in three games. Morgan, the area's leading scorer, pulled within four points of 1,000 and had 41 points, along with nine steals and seven assists against district title contender Benton. She ended her week with a 32-point, 10-assist performance against Williamson.
Game of the week
Warrior Run at Montoursville: Thursday's game has been postponed twice because of weather but features a showdown between the district's hottest teams. Montoursville rallied to win in Turbotville last month by five and it would be surprising if the rematch does not come down to the final minute as well.