St. John Neumann provided an area breakthrough earlier this month, becoming the first area team to win a state tournament game since Loyalsock four years ago. The Knights were a team that overcame a lot of odds to do some great things. It is no surprise then, they will be seen throughout the Sun-Gazette 2014 Girls Basketball Awards.
Sun-Gazette Coach of the Year
Second runner-up-Jon Weaver, Warrior Run: Weaver has led a basketball renaissance in seven seasons and this year helped guide Warrior Run to its best season since 1995. The Defenders won 21 games and reached states for the first time since that season and gave state semifinalist Dunmore a scare in the first round. Warrior Run was winless the year before Weaver arrived but it has now reached six straight playoffs and continues getting better.
Bucktail’s Maria Morgan is the Sun-Gazette Player of the Year in girls basketball.
First runner-up-Mike Allison, South Williamsport: The Mounties lost three starters from last year's team and started 3-8. The playoffs seemed a far-fetched dream, but Allison performed one of his best coaching jobs and helped South win eight of its last 10 games to qualify. The Mounties were one of the district's most improved teams during the season and beat three teams during their push that had defeated them earlier in the season, including Muncy (18-6).
And the winner is...Steve Sholder, St. John Neumann: The Knights did not have a starter taller than 5-foot-7, went only six players deep and had three new starters. And yet they made history as Sholder continued showing why he is one of the area's premier coaches. Neumann went 18-9, reached the district semifinals, the state tournament and won a state playoff game for the first time in program history. Sholder had his team playing its best when it mattered most and it stunned District 3 champion Steelton-Highspire in the state tournament while raising the bar high.
Honorable Mention: Jason Dominick, Mansfield; Carl Gentzyel, Bucktail; Greg Bruce, Jersey Shore; Craig Weaver Jr., Muncy.
Erin Dempsey, Mansfield: The senior might not have had flashy numbers but she was like a coach on the floor and was the player who helped Mansfield feature one of the area's premier defenses. Dempsey was the defense's quarterback, averaged a steal per game and helped the Tigers make a seven-win improvement while winning 20 games for the first time in six years.
Stephanie Fernandez, St. John Neumann: Like Dempsey, Fernandez might have flown under the radar but she was instrumental to her team's success. Fernandez often guarded the opponent's best guard and handled it well. The senior hounded opponents, averaging 2.6 steals, and was part of a stingy defense that allowed just 42 points per game in three playoff wins.
Allie Pagana, Loyalsock: A ferocious defender throughout her scholastic career, Pagana again made a big impact and had a knack for slowing opponent's top scorers. Pagana could guard explosive guards and/or strong post players and consistently contained them. She made lots of steals to spark Loyalsock's transition and also was a tenacious rebounder who helped Loyalsock flourish down the stretch. In her last two game, Pagana had 30 points, 16 rebounds and 8 steals.
Paige Packer, Jersey Shore: Many years, Packer might have been the Defensive Player of the Year. The hard-working point guard was the engine that powered a resurgent team. Jersey Shore reached the playoffs in a non-open format for the first time since 2007 as Packer played relentless defense and averaged 4.7 steals per game. Packer was the biggest reason Jersey Shore held opponents to just 34.3 points per game and four times she made seven or more steals.
Defensive Player of the Year-Brianna McLaughlin, Muncy: The junior is making a case to have this award named after her. McLaughlin takes the top honor for a third straight year after again being the team's defensive stopper. McLaughlin is the best defender this reporter has covered in 15 years and has textbook techniques while possessing outstanding foot and hand speed. The three-year starter ignites a swarming defense and averaged 3.8 steals per game while consistently shutting down opponent's best guards. She is especially tough on point guards and makes bringing the ball upcourt a difficult task. McLaughlin is closing in on 1,000 points as well and averaged 14.2 points, 4 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.
Kirsten O'Malley, Montoursville: Despite dealing with a nagging back injury, O'Malley had another big year and helped Montoursville reach the district semifinals for the first time since 2002. An outstanding defender, O'Malley also was the player who made the Warrior offense go. The point guard who is closing in on 1,000 career points averaged 16.6 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals per game while leading Montoursville to its most wins in 12 years. O'Malley topped 20 points eight times and her 24-point performance paved the way for a 57-50 win over state quarterfinalist Mount Carmel.
Lori Horton, Williamson: One of the best players in program history, Horton has a good shot at receiving all-state honors for a second straight year after putting together another outstanding all-around performance. Playing on a young team, the 6-3 center averaged 16.5 points, 15.5 rebounds, 6.1 blocks and 2.4 steals per game. An inside force, Horton finished her scholastic career with 1,048 points and 1,024 rebounds. She was a triple-double threat every night and scored a career-high 37 points while grabbing 23 rebounds and blocking five shots in an early-season win over Canton.
Jordan Jones, Muncy: One of Muncy's all-time greats, Jones helped lay the foundation for one of the most successful four-year runs in Muncy history. She saved her best for last too, excelling in all areas while helping Muncy win 18 games. A dynamic guard, Jones averaged 16.3 points, 3.8 assists and 3.3 steals per game while displaying excellent ball-handling. She could take her game inside and outside and combined with McLaughlin to give Muncy one of the district's premier backcourts. Jones helped Muncy reach the state tournament three times during her scholastic career, fought back from a torn ACL and finished with 1,316 career points while becoming only the program's fifth 1,000-point scorer.
Steph Shamburg, Warrior Run: The best player to ever wear a Defender girls uniform, Shamburg was the MVP on a team that made a major breakthrough. An offensive and defensive catalyst, Shamburg averaged 15.8 points, 8 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game while willing Warrior Run to a state-qualifying win over Montoursville. In that game, Shamburg scored 24 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and made seven steals as the Defenders overcame a 10-point third-quarter deficit. Shamburg combated just about every defense imaginable and graduates as Warrior Run's all-time leading scorer with 1,367 points. The forward was outstanding against state semifinalist Dunmore too and finished with 841 career rebounds and 286 steals.
Meghan Trenholm, St. John Neumann: The best player in Neumann history, Trenholm concluded a brilliant scholastic career with her best season. A guard who played like a center and who made a huge impact on both ends averaged 18.1 points, 9 rebounds, 7 steals and 3 assists per game. Though only 5-7, Trenholm played like a 6-footer and blocked two shots a game. She always was giving up inches when defending inside but pounded the boards and ignited Neumann's transition offense. Trenholm made a good case for receiving all-state honors once again and is the program's all-time leading scorer with 1,723 points. A player who helped usher in the best four-year run in program history did it all and also finished with more than 800 rebounds and 500 steals.
Player of the Year-Maria Morgan, Bucktail: A near-lock for all-state honors once again, Morgan has become District 4's best all-around player. The point guard dazzled once again, averaging 27.5 points, 7.9 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 5.4 steals per game while helping a team with just one senior starter reach districts and win nine straight games to finish the regular season. Every team Bucktail plays gears its defense toward stopping Morgan but none could. She never scored fewer than 15 points and topped 30 points nine times while twice topping 40 points and scoring a career-high 44 in a win over Austin. Morgan has outstanding vision and consistently sets up teammates for good shots. She has terrific quickness, great range and sees things many players don't making her unstoppable at times. Morgan already has scored 1,763 career points and has averaged 26.3 points per game during a three-year run that is the best in Bucktail history.
Second Team: Jen Jackson, South Williamsport (16.5 ppg, 18 or more points in last 8 games); Brianna McLaughlin, Muncy; Emily Sholder, St. John Neumann (15.1 ppg, 5 spg, 5 apg, 4 rpg, 1,149 career points, 500+assists); Ali Hillson, Mansfield (15.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2 spg); Corrine Shaffer, Montgomery (14.7 ppg, 4.8 apg, 2.6 spg, 8th all-time Montgomery leading scorer); Abby Fisher, Warrior Run (13.0 ppg)
Third Team: Kaitlyn Garverick, Mansfield (12.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.4 spg); Allie Pagana, Loyalsock; Latascia Shadle, Galeton (18.0 ppg, 4.5 spg, 4.3 spg); Emily Conrad, Lewisburg (13.3 ppg); Sarah Ingerick, Wellsboro (14 ppg, 2.4 spg); Jahnae Hall-Gaddy, Williamsport (10.3 ppg)
Honorable Mention: Tiffany Werts, Bucktail; Hayley Painter, Cowanesque Valley; Grace Earle, Cowanesque Valley; Kierra Croucher, Hughesville; Paige Packer, Jersey Shore; Sara Danley, Jersey Shore; Chelsea Repard, Liberty; Kelsey Harer, Liberty; Kayla Gee, Loyalsock; Kendall Watkins, Loyalsock; Maggie Wetzel, Milton; Brooke Swartz, Milton; Dionna Satteson, Montgomery; Kelsey Stine, Montoursville; Mariah Berguson, North Penn; Anna Steer, South Williamsport; Katie Beinlich, Sullivan County; Emily Webb, Warrior Run; Jada Jackson, Wellsboro; Amy Southard, Williamsport
(Signifies an underclassmen who made great strides, not the top overall underclassmen)
Second runner-up-Tiffany Werts, Bucktail and Akilah McFadden, Lewisburg: Werts was a big key to Bucktail's second-half resurgence and became a strong post player. She averaged 10.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and made huge strides as the season progressed, recording four straight double-doubles at one point. McFadden made a big jump in her sophomore season and could be one of the area's premier point guards the next two seasons. McFadden is a versatile player who helps on both ends. She was playing her best basketball late in the season and had 18 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks against Loyalsock.
First runner-up-Madi Welliver, Warrior Run: Only a freshman, Welliver showed why she could be an inside force over the next three seasons. The tall and athletic forward made an immediate impact, averaging 7.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game while helping Warrior Run have its best season in 19 years. Welliver is strong, athletic and quick and has the potential to become a double-double threat every time she plays next year. She has good moves too and could be a perennial HAC-II first team all-star after earning second team honors this year.
And the winner is...Dionna Satteson, Montgomery: The tall and athletic sophomore showed flashes of potential last year and put it all together this season, becoming one of the area's best post players. Satteson averaged 10.5 points and 12.9 rebounds per game and helped Montgomery come a long way in the season's second half. A first-time starter, Satteson complemented point guard Corrine Shaffer and became a force after returning from injury at midseason. In her next 12 games, Satteson averaged 12.9 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. Satteson grabbed a program-record 21 rebounds in a win over Bucktail and recorded nine double-doubles in her last 12 games.
Other underclassmen to watch in 2015: Megan Helminiak, St. John Neumann; Baylie Gerrity, St. John Neumann; Carly Rogers, Hughesville; Mackenna Budman, Hughesville; Brook Rozenberg, Jersey Shore; Kendall Watkins, Loyalsock; Emma Fox, Loyalsock; Alysa Davey-Bostic, Mansfield; Sarah Wolbert, Mansfield; Maggie Wetzel, Milton; Carissa Wagner, Milton; Lexi Marchioni, Montoursville; Gillian Mitchell, Montoursville; Nikki Scott, Muncy; Anna Steer, South Williamsport; Lizz Cummings, South Williamsport; Katie Beinlich, Sullivan County; Torie Shultz, Sullivan County; Emily Webb, Warrior Run; Jada Jackson, Wellsboro; Jaynell Robinson, Williamsport.
Game of the Year
South Williamsport 46, Muncy 39: The Mounties recorded their signature win and shook up the District 4 Class AA playoff picture when they stunned Muncy in this late-season comeback. The Indians were 15-2 at the time and opened the game on a 16-2 run. South, though, made a furious rally against a team that had played its best game just three nights earlier and went ahead for good in the third quarter while handing Muncy just its second league loss. Jen Jackson and Anna Steer combined for 31 points in a win that paved the way for a playoff berth.
Montoursville 52, Mount Carmel 48: State quarterfinalist Mount Carmel had won 19 straight HAC-II games and lost just one in 2 1/2 seasons before Montoursville came to town last January. Montoursville overcame an eight-point halftime deficit as Kelsey Stine scored a career-high 20 points and stunned Mount Carmel late. The Warriors completed a regular-season sweep a few weeks later and were the only District 4 team to beat the four-time defending champions this season.
St. John Neumann 51, Steelton-Highspire 49: The Knights were given little chance against the District 3 champions who won state championships in 2011 and 2012. Steel-High was much taller, more athletic and deeper than Neumann. Really, this game symbolized Neumann's entire team and season. The Knights made a huge statement in this back and forth game and recorded the biggest win in program history. Sophomore Megan Helminiak found fellow sophomore Baylie Gerrity for the go-ahead basket with 39 seconds remaining and Meghan Trenholm nearly recorded a double-double as Neumann won a thriller.