When Bo Burleigh looked around the court last season, he saw veteran teammates everywhere. The first-time starting forward was the youngster.
Now when Burleigh looks around he sees first-time starters surrounding him. Burleigh is now the veteran. A lot can change in a year and Burleigh has learned that early in his junior season.
But so far, so good. The transition has been a smooth one and Mansfield looks like it can keep building on its winning tradition. Burleigh is helping lead the way, averaging a double-double, but he has had plenty of help and the Tigers are 7-3 in what initially looked like a rebuilding season.
"It's a big change. I try to lead by example," Burleigh said after a 50-38 win at Montoursville. "I try to help them as much as they help me."
Burleigh has been the team's MVP nearly halfway through the season, but first-time starters Brady Andrews, Jarod Burd, Bryce Zaparzynski and Chandler Correll have come up big too as has freshman J.P. Shaw and senior Ryan Campbell. That is why Mansfield is starting to look like a NTL Small School title and District 4 Class A title contender.
The Tigers have played a solid early-season schedule and made a big statement Saturday when they beat Corning, NY, 73-66. Corning would be a Class AAAA team in Pennsylvania, so the win was an eye-opener. Considering that the team is still jelling, still learning and still gaining experience that is impressive. It also could point to even better days ahead. Mansfield concluded a four games in eight day stretch at Montoursville and won all four of those games.
Mansfield also has won two road games after trailing in the fourth quarter, winning at Troy and Towanda in the final seconds. The Towanda win was especially impressive coming against the experienced 2013 NTL-East champions who have lost just once since. That speaks to the Tigers' rapid maturing and ability to have different players come up big at crucial times.
"Everyone has come together and played real unselfish," Mansfield coach Kipper Burleigh said. "Bryce stepped up and played tremendous defense, Chandler stepped up and has gotten some tremendous rebounds and is passing well. JP has nice length and is blocking shots. Jarod Burd done a nice job and has stepped up and scored when we have needed him too in some big games."
That is why Mansfield has sustained its winning ways despite losing so much from last year's 13-win team. The Tigers have been one of the district's most consistent winners over the last decade, capturing two district championships and five state tournament victories. The names keep changing, but the results do not.
Instead of rebuilding, Mansfield really has just reloaded. Because most contributors are underclassmen too, the good times could continue for a long time. Mansfield is tucked away in the northern Pennsylvania mountains but it has become quite a strong program.
"It's a little different this year," said Bo Burleigh, who had 30 points and 13 rebounds in that Corning win. "Last year I was looking up to the older players on the team and then this year there's no one to look up to so you just have to keep stepping it up."
Over the last 10 years, that has become the Mansfield way.
BATTLING BUCKS: Bucktail is the smallest of the small, being one of Class A's tiniest schools. Just like in football, though, the Bucks still find ways to do well and captured the Coudersport Tournament last weekend. A year after losing three starters to graduation, Bucktail is making nice strides and is just a game below .500 at 3-4.
Bucktail drove home that improvement in the final, overcoming a 14-point halftime deficit to beat Cowanesque Valley in the final after having lost to the Indians (5-3) earlier this season. Instead of wilting in the fourth quarter, Bucktail thrived and came together, using a 15-0 run to win it. Chuck Probst scored a career-high 33 points in a 53-45 win over the hosts the previous night and forms a potent combination with Trent Risley. Willie Hopkins had 12 rebounds in the final and Derrick Long ignited a tenacious defense. Despite its size, do not be surprised if Bucktail makes a run at reaching districts.
PUTBACKS: North Penn is a vastly improved team and already has exceeded last year's win total, doing so Saturday with a 57-47 win over Canton. Dayton Wood, Cody Crum and Dylan Rudinski all scored in double figures for the Panthers (4-3) ... Sullivan County's Conner Wylie has been a double-double machine. The senior forward has recorded one in all eight Griffin games and has helped Sullivan start 6-2 ... Wellsboro made a nice showing at its own tournament, beating Jersey Shore 65-59 and giving undefeated Lewisburg its toughest game yet in a 40-33 loss. Junior forward Kieron Smethers is really blossoming and had 21 points and eight rebounds against Jersey Shore ... Liberty won its first game, edging Canton, 51-49. Cody Schmouder had a season-high 19 points in that win and is averaging in double figures as is JJ Walker ... Galeton is off to an excellent start and looks like it will reach the District 4 Class A playoffs for a second straight year. Guard Dakota Shadle is among the area's leading scorers and the Tigers (6-2) are off to their best start since 2009
Dr. Masse's area top five
1. Loyalsock (7-1): The Lancers made a real nice showing at the State College Tournament, splitting two games and thumping State College, 63-42 in the consolation game. A 54-52 loss the previous night to Upper Darby might have been even more telling. Undefeated Upper Darby is a Class AAAA team that has nearly cracked the state's top 10 rankings but Loyalsock was a few missed free throws from beating it. These are the types of games that make teams better, win or lose, and help immensely come playoff time. Junior forward Ben Sosa is developing into an inside force and has reached double figures in six straight games while guard Mike Pastore is averaging 16.5 over his last four.
2. St. John Neumann (6-0): The Knights dealt a blow to one of their rivals in the hunt for another HAC-III championship Saturday, routing Millville, 68-32. The Quakers are 4-2 with both losses coming to Neumann. All-state center Alize Johnson has picked up from where he left off last year, averaging 22 points per game. Nasza Short has been a nice addition and had 15 points against Millville. Entering last night's game against Selinsgrove, Neumann had scored 68 or more points in all five games. The Knights are 29-3 over the last two years.
3. Lewisburg (7-0): The venue changed but the teams remained the same and again Lewisburg emerged as champion, this time at the Wellsboro Tournament championship. A year after beating it in the Montoursville Tournament final, Lewisburg edged Wellsboro, 40-33. Lewisburg has featured some explosive offense early, but Saturday showed the Green Dragons can win in a variety of ways. Speed it up and Lewisburg handles it well, slow it down and Lewisburg adapts and plays tenacious defense. The Dragons do what it takes to win and again are a serious HAC-II and District 4 Class AA title contender.
4. Williamsport (4-4): The Millionaires are coming together and starting to play some outstanding basketball. They have won three straight following a rough 1-4 start and captured their Christmas Tournament championship, routing Frederick Douglas, 61-37 a night after rallying from a nine-point second-half deficit against George Washington. Penn State-bound Isaiah Washington continues playing well and was Tournament MVP after scoring 46 points in the wins. Still, it is the development of the players around Washington that is making Williamsport especially dangerous. Maleak Benjamin has big-time potential and started revealing that last week, playing well on both ends and scoring 36 points. Point guard Nyric Gosley ignited a swarming defense while Tyler Gardner played well inside. Williamsport has a lot of upside and it is starting to show. If the upward ascension continues, Williamsport has a shot to make a run at a third straight District 2-4 Class AAAA championship.
5. Wellsboro (5-2): Junior center Kieron Smethers is starting to really flourish. He is becoming more assertive inside and is scoring and rebounding as well as he has the last two seasons. That is big too since Wellsboro lacks a lot of size. The Hornets gave Lewisburg all it could handle and play Neumann Wednesday and those are games that should help when the playoffs arrive.
Players of the week
Sam Allen, Lewisburg and Chuck Probst, Bucktail: The sophomore forward is one of the district's premier underclassmen and was outstanding over the weekend. The 6-foot-6 forward scored 20 points and had double-doubles in both tournament wins at Wellsboro. If Allen continues his upward trend he has the potential to do some special things before he graduates from Lewisburg.
Probst capped his big weekend with 21 points and eight rebounds in the comeback win against CV. He averaged 27 points in those wins while earning Tournament MVP honors.
Game of the week
Muncy at South Williamsport, Friday: The Indians and Mounties have performed well early this season and Friday's game should be a dandy. Both teams are undefeated in the HAC-III and the winner here emerges as possibly the biggest threat as Neumann tries repeating as champion.