Jersey Shore girls basketball coach Greg Bruce learned of the meeting but was uninvited. His players understand a coach can only do so much. If they want to set themselves apart, the players understand they must do the heavy lifting.
So early in preseason practices, seniors called a players' only meeting. Playoffs was the main topic and not settling for anything less was the main idea. Jersey Shore is seeking its first playoff berth in a non-open format since 2007. Like the school's football team last month, these girls are trying to write a new chapter in program history.
And they are off to a good start.
Jersey Shore won two convincing games last week over South Williamsport and Sullivan County and is now 3-0. Every time the Bulldogs win, they rip a number off a countdown to playoffs banner in their locker room. Eight more rips and the Bulldogs will reach their destination.
"We haven't made the playoffs in a long time and we just want the girls to look forward to doing something after the regular season is over," senior co-captain Paige Packer said. "We're working really well as a team and that's what's different from last year. We just want to keep building and getting better."
The Bulldogs made big strides last year and had their best season since that 2007 playoff campaign, going 9-13. It was a big improvement for a program that had won three games the previous three years combined and that had endured two winless seasons. Still, it left the underclassmen unsatisfied. They wanted more, and now control their own destiny.
Dr. Masse's Top 5 rankings
1. Muncy (4-0)
Senior forward Crystal Good had a breakout game against Bucktail, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Nikki Scott has become a valuble reserve and is tough on the boards. She had six rebounds and four blocks Friday.
2. Montoursville (2-0)
The Warriors are off to their first 2-0 start in a long time and looked strong in their first two games last week, routing Central Mountain 73-26 and beating previously undefeated Milton, 52-38. It is early, but Montoursville has been much more productive than last year and the 73 points scored were the most by a Montoursville team in a decade. Kirsten O'Malley has picked up where she left off after a terrific sophomore season, scoring 42 points in the two wins. Junior forward Kelsey Stine also scored in double figures in both games.
3. Warrior Run (3-0)
In the past losing dynamic forward Steph Shamburg to a foul out in the third quarter would be cause to panic. Now the Defenders appear just fine. Despite Shamburg fouling out Thursday against Mifflinburg, Warrior Run still pulled away and won 55-37 against an up and coming team. Warrior Run is showing more balance than in any year during its current four-year playoff run and has four players in or near double figures. Abby Fisher has shown potential in the past and is becoming a weapon this year, twice scoring at least 19 points. Freshmen Emily Webb and Madi Welliver look like potential stars and the Defenders have a nice inside-outside game.
4. Williamsport (2-0)
The Millionaires are off to their first 2-0 start since school all-time leading scorer Madina Ali was there in 2005. Williamsport downed Selinsgrove, 50-46 last Wednesday, winning despite Selinsgrove shooting 46 foul shots. Senior guard Amy Southard has been one of the area's most improved players early on, averaging 13.5 points in her first two games while first-time players like Jahnae Hall-Gaddy and Montana Lewis are making an immediate impact. The Millionaires receive two big tests this week, playing at Hazleton and Wyoming Valley West, two potential playoff opponents.
5. St. John Neumann (2-0)
The Knights have done little wrong in their first two games, pounding Canton and CMVT by a combined 95 points. Three players are averaging in double figures, including four-year starting point guard Emily Sholder (21 ppg). Sholder and 1,000-point scorer Meghan Trenholm have been outstanding the past three seasons, but the development of players like Megan Helminiak could make this the best season during this run. Helminiak has started strong as a sophomore, averaging 13 points per game and reaching career-highs in her first two starts. The Knights will be tested later this week against Bucktail and fellow HAC-III title contender Millville.
Players of the week
Paige Packer, Jersey Shore and Jordan Jones, Muncy
Packer is at the heart of Jersey Shore's strong start, averaging nine steals per game. She grabbed 20 rebounds in two wins last week while making 17 steals. Jones became Muncy's fifth 1,000-point scorer in Friday's win over Bucktail, scoring a career-high 31 points while dealing six assists and grabbing six rebounds. The four-year starter is averaging 18.8 points per game.
Game of the week
Warrior Run at Montoursville
Both solid teams have HAC-II championship aspirations and the winner of this league opener has a nice stepping stone toward reaching that goal. The Defenders and Warriors are two of District 4's premier teams and split two hard-fought games with the road team winning each time.
"After that meeting they called me over and said we want to make the playoffs," Bruce said. "They are really working hard for that."
Jersey Shore has a nice foundation to build around in Packer and fellow seniors Sara Danley and Grace Naehu. Packer is an outstanding point guard who had eight assists and nine steals in a 44-29 win over South. She had 12 rebounds and eight more steals in Friday's 37-22 win over Sullivan. Danley and Naehu are tough inside and the two post players combined for 35 points and 19 rebounds against South, while making 14 of 16 shots from the field.
Kayla Allen, currently playing at Mansfield University, and Courtney Smith graduated and left big voids but that trio as well as other solid contributors have helped fill it thus far. Isabella Bubb is tough on the boards, Courtney Morlock plays solid defense and both Brook Rozenberg and Brianna Stetts complement Danley and Naehu inside.
More importantly than the talent is the way the Bulldogs are playing together. Friends on and off the court, they are playing unselfish basketball, working for good shots and putting their egos aside. Who receives the glory is insignificant. This team has tunnel vision and just wants to keep ripping those numbers off the board.
"Who has the points don't matter to us," Danley said. "As long as we're winning that's all we care about."
Muncy guard Brianna McLaughlin is a two-time Sun-Gazette Defensive Player of the Year winner. She remains determined, though, and keeps getting better. McLaughlin played one of her best defensive games yet in Friday's 58-44 win over Bucktail. While all-state guard Maria Morgan finished with 18 points, only five came against McLaughlin before she fouled out in the fourth quarter. The three-year starter blanketed Morgan for 3 1/2 quarters and let her connect for just one field goal against her.
McLaughlin, who had four steals, is a solid offensive player, too, but defense has become her calling card. She has harassed four point guards this season and not allowed any to score in double figures against her. In doing so, McLaughlin disrupts the opponent's entire offense and that is a big reason Muncy is 4-0.
"Her defense is what gets us going and Brianna's defense is second to none," Muncy coach Craig Weaver Jr. said. "She's done that all year against everyone's point guard and she does a great job at it. We gave that challenge to Brianna (Friday) and she rose to it. She stepped up and did a great job."
YOUNG AND STRONG
Mansfield lost three double-digit scorers to graduation and some thought the Tigers might stumble this season. Early on, though, the Tigers appear just fine. In fact, they still look like a team that can be a major factor in District 4 Class A. Mansfield is 3-1 despite starting mostly underclassmen, and its one loss reveals a lot about its potential.
The Tigers dropped a 30-26 decision to defending District 4 Class AAA champion Athens last Tuesday, playing stifling defense against an experienced team. Mansfield has shown early it can play different styles, too, beating Lewisburg with an up-tempo game, and slowing it down and grinding out a 44-29 win over Troy. Sophomore Ali Hillson is averaging 16 points per game and Kaitlyn Garverick had a double-double in a 42-38 win over Troy. Simone Lichty plays strong defense and Alana Davey-Bostic has tremendous upside. Keep an eye on this team.
"I really believe we're better than last year because we're more of a team," Mansfield coach Jason Dominick said. "These girls care about each other and it's fun to coach them. We were one possession away from beating the Triple A champions. That says a lot for ourselves."
Morgan is now Bucktail's all-time leading scorer in boys and girls basketball. She surpassed older brother A.J. and has 1,212 points in just a little more than two years ... Cowanesque Valley (2-1) is getting back to its defensive roots. The Indians held NTL-West champion Williamson to two scoreless quarters in Friday's 44-16 win ... Loyalsock (0-3) has played a brutal early-season schedule but showed signs of progress in a 52-44 loss to three-time defending District 4 Class AA champion Mount Carmel. Kayla Gee had 15 points for the Lancers who could benefit down the road from these early games, including two against Class AAAA teams ... Montgomery's Corrine Shaffer and North Penn's Whitney Holdren both reached career-highs last week, scoring 24 points against Southern Columbia and Troy, respectively.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse for more basketball information.