His expectations hardly were grand. After watching three double-digit scorers, along with 60 percent of his scoring and rebounding, graduate, Mansfield coach Jason Dominick simply hoped his next team could reach the postseason.
Then he watched his new team play.
Suddenly, Dominick believed big things could be accomplished.
"It's tough because there were so many wild cards out there with the new league format and the new schedule and those types of things but honestly before the season began and before we did our offseason workouts I thought we would battle and be a border-line playoff team," Dominick said. "Then we started playing and working and I realized they could be pretty special because they have a desire unlike many teams."
That desire has helped carry Mansfield to its best season since 2010. The Tigers defeated East Juniata 42-35 last Thursday, winning their first playoff game since that year while reaching the District 4 Class A semifinals. Up next is Round 3 against Northeast Bradford, a team it split two regular-season games against.
Despite last year's heavy losses, Mansfield has increased its total by seven wins. It also has reached 20 wins for the first time in seven seasons and is playing in the semifinals for the first time since 2010.
"Some people think we lost a lot but we look up to the challenge," sophomore Ali Hillson said following a terrific all-around performance.
"People thought we weren't going to be as good as we were last year because we lost so many people and we wanted to prove them wrong," fellow sophomore Alysa Davey-Bostic said. "We get along so well together. We're best friends and best teammates. It helps a lot because if we didn't trust each other we couldn't have come this far."
Mansfield is still young too. Hillson, Davey-Bostic and Kaitlyn Garverick are average at least 10.9 points per game and all are underclassmen. Davey-Bostic is a first-time starter and Garverick played at North Penn last year. Still, this team quickly meshed together and proved the future is now. Others might have doubted them, the Tigers never doubted themselves.
The Tigers might not have the talent they did last year but they have more chemistry and play better together. The underclassmen have meshed with defensive standouts and senior leaders Simone Lichty and Erin Dempsey. Every player knows her role, every player embraces it and every player goes all out all the time. The results speak for themselves.
"Everybody has bought into what we're doing and that's such a big part of it," Dominick said. "We've won in the past but this year everyone is buying in and we're utilizing our ability more than we did with a couple of those other teams."
Northeast Bradford is the only Class A team that has beaten Mansfield. The Tigers lost their two other regular season games to Athens and Wyalusing by eight combined points. Following the Wyalusing loss, Mansfield won 12 straight games, its biggest winning streak in nine years.
It might have been Thursday's playoff win, however, that best symbolized the team and its success. East Juniata built a seven-point second-quarter lead and the smaller Tigers struggled the entire first half. Instead of wilting, Mansfield kept battling and, after Hillson (18 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) carried it in the first half, every player made a big impact.
Garverick recorded a double-double while Davey-Bostic scored all 10 of her points in the second half. Sara Wolbert was huge off the bench and Lichty and Dempsey sparked the defense. Together, the Mansfield senior duo scored two points but their influence on the game was huge. East Juniata hit just four second-half field goals and made just one over the final nine minutes when Mansfield took control.
"The kids have really risen to the occasion. Everybody knows who are scorers are but not everybody knows the little things that everybody else does to make us successful," Dominick said. "Simone has the most thankless job on the floor. She has the ball 90 percent of the time, she's getting pressured, she's' getting a tough defensive assignment and at the end of the night there's no statistic to measure what she does and it's the same thing with Erin Dempsey. Without her we might give up 80 points a game because she keeps everyone focused defensively and that leadership is huge."
It took just one look for Dominick to sense something big might happen in 2014. He was right too.
The expectations have changed. This thing might just keep getting bigger now.
HISTORY MAKERS: St. John Neumann made history Saturday, rallying in the second half and beating Sayre, 41-30 while clinching a spot in the District 4 Class A semifinals for the first time. It has been a big four-year run for seniors Meghan Trenholm and Emily Sholder who have doubled the program's 1,000-point club and now the Knights rank up there with the best teams in program history.
Neumann already has reached the postseason a program-record seven straight seasons and now this team has a chance to enhance its legacy and become its first district champion and/or state qualifier. The Knights (16-7) try reaching their first championship Wednesday at Danville when they face undefeated Millville. The Quakers dethroned five-time champion Lourdes Saturday, but Neumann is the last time to beat them, knocking them out of last year's tournament when they completed a three-game sweep.
The Knights avenged last year's playoff loss to Sayre and ended the season of last year's runner-up, outscoring it 32-16 in the second half. Neumann scored only nine first-half points and was down 19-13 midway through the third quarter before taking over. It was a gutty win by a team that keeps raising the bar. Trenholm scored 22 points while sophomore Megan Helminiak added 10.
BREAKTHROUGH: Montoursville is headed to the district semifinals for the first time since 2002 after rallying past Wyalusing 50-39 on the road Friday. The Warriors (15-8) meet three-time defending champion Mount Carmel and are a win from reaching states for the first time since Kelly Mazzante was a senior in 2000.
Montoursville overcame a three-point halftime deficit and held Wyalusing to just nine second-half points. Kelsey Stine, Kirsten O'Malley and McKenzie Ruffing combined for 30 points while Marissa Folk came up big off the bench. The Warriors play outstanding defense and that changed the game's complexion as they allowed only one fourth-quarter point. They are the only HAC-II team to beat Mount Carmel since its league opener last year and swept the regular-season series, winning two close games.
BITTERSWEET: Warrior Run reached the District 4 Class AA semifinals for the first time in the 21st century and won its 20th game Friday, beating Southern Columbia 45-36 in overtime. Freshman Emily Webb lifted the Defenders (20-5) into overtime when she drained a clutch 3-pointer in the corner with just two seconds remaining.
Early in overtime, however, Webb likely was lost for the season when she tore her ACL. Coach Jon Weaver carried Webb off the court and players cried. But they also rallied and won it for their gutty freshman point guard. Warrior Run dominated the overtime, outscored Southern 12-3 and earned a semifinal spot against Central Columbia.
"The girls are really close so when somebody like that goes down, it's tough it bothers me. It's like it's my own kid," Weaver said. "They came together and I'm just glad they got it for Webby."
Webb has started all 25 games for Warrior Run, an impressive accomplishment in the rugged HAC-II. She also has been instrumental to Warrior Run having its best season in a long time. Webb was 0 for 8 before hitting the game-tying 3-pointer, showing she is as cool and tough as she is talented. Without Webb, Warrior Run would have been turning in its uniforms Monday.
"She came up big again. She's done that for us a couple of times this year when we needed a shot to keep us in the ball game and here comes Webb and puts a shot down," Weaver said. "That's why she is out here as a freshman. The kid can play the game."
GOING IN STYLE: Muncy guard Jordan Jones made her last scholastic game a memorable one. The four-year starter nearly willed Muncy to victory last Thursday before the Indians lost to Central Columbia, 47-45 in overtime. Jones scored 22 points and took over in the second half, delivering the kind of clutch performance that symbolized her career.
Jones helped Muncy reach the previous three state tournaments and almost always elevated her performance in the biggest games. She twice scored a then-career-high 27 points in playoff wins the previous two years and helped ignite a Muncy comeback last Thursday. Jones scored nine fourth-quarter points and 11 of Muncy's final 19.
Jones did it all the last four years and finished with 1,316 career points. She leaves Muncy as one of its all-time great players and would definitely be on its Mount Rushmore of girls basketball players.
GOING IN STYLE II: South Williamsport forward Jen Jackson also ended her stellar career on a high even though her team lost. Jackson scored 22 points in a 66-39 District 4 Class AA quarterfinal loss to Mount Carmel. Still, Jackson was playing as well as anyone in the district down the stretch and was a big reason South reached the postseason.
The Mounties (11-11) opened the season 3-8 and playoffs seemed like a far-fetched dream. Jackson, though, elevated her performance-as did her teammates- and South rallied, beating three teams that defeated it earlier in the season. Jackson scored at least 18 points in her last seven games and also was a terrific rebounder.
Dr. Masse's Top Five: 1. Warrior Run; 2. Mansfield; 3. Montoursville; 4. Muncy; 5. St. John Neumann
Players of the Week-Meghan Trenholm, Neumann and Ali Hillson, Mansfield: Trenholm refused to let her career end and played some of her best basketball when it mattered most, helping Neumann in all facets. Hillson kept Mansfield in the game early against East Juniata and appeared to be willing it to victory at times. The sophomore scored 18 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dealt five assists as Mansfield also came back to win.