Mount Carmel girls continue dominating teams in District 4

Loyalsock's Cassi Kuhns passes around Mount Carmel's Nicole Varano in the fourth quarter Tuesday at Loyalsock.

Look inside the Mount Carmel gym most summer mornings and one sees it. It is only 7 a.m., but there are the Mount Carmel girls basketball players, building a sweat, working hard and thinking big.

Mount Carmel has become District 4’s model program this decade. The Tornadoes have made seven straight state tournament appearances, won seven straight league titles and captured five of the last six district championships. The answer as to how is evident during those summer sessions as the Tornadoes relentlessly compete and furiously try improving. Once the games start, nothing changes and that was evident yet again Tuesday at Loyalsock.

The Lancers played a strong game and threw repeated scares into Mount Carmel. But the Tornadoes never flinched anc ans­wered every punch with a haymaker. Nicole Varano scored 17 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dealt seven assists and Mount Carmel thrived under pressure as it held off Loyalsock, 51-42. The Tornadoes (20-1, 11-0 HAC-III) stayed undefeated in one of the district’s toughest leagues and won their 13th straight game.

“I’ve been very blessed. We have had a lot of great kids and good athletes that just work hard all the time,” Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano said. “It’s such a positive group. There’s no selfishness. They’re just such team players.”

“It’s a lot of hard work and we all feel the same way,” Nicole Varano said. “Everybody out there is going to put 100 percent work out and everybody is going to give their best effort so you don’t have to worry about someone else slacking. Everyone is there to make a play.”

As good as Mount Carmel has been this decade, this season might be its most impressive yet. The Tornadoes have just one senior and 1,000-point scoring, all-state guard Maura Fiamoncini did not play this season so she can focus on her future collegiate track career. If ever there was a year Mount Carmel seemed ripe for a letdown, this was it.

But the Tornadoes just keep winning. The HAC-III is loaded with playoff teams but Mount Carmel keeps finding ways and has fought off fierce challenges like last night’s all season. Nothing seems to faze the Tornadoes and it showed at the most crucial times against Loyalsock.

“I definitely think there’s times we’re off and Loyalsock was a tremendous team,” said Nicole Varano, a junior who scored her 1,000th point earlier this season. “They were a tough matchup. They can shoot and are big inside so it was tough for us, but time after time, people were able to make a big play to help us.”

Loyalsock (13-7, 7-4) overcame a 10-point first-quarter deficit and took a late second-quarter lead before Mount Carmel closed on a last-minute 6-0 run and took a four-point halftime lead. The Tornadoes extended that lead to eight in the third but Loyalsock cut it to two. Again, the Tornadoes answered with a 6-0 run in the last minute that Emilee Wasilewski capped with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. And after Loyalsock cut an 11-point deficit to eight midway through the fourth quarter, Varano, Bailey Little and Myia Miriello made key plays, ending the run.

Those sequences basically are a microcosm of what has made this program so strong. No matter the obstacle, someone always is eager to deliver and so often does.

“Most teams we’ve played this year are evenly matched and we just have to kind of weather that storm and know that we want to come back and know that we don’t want to give up or quit. There’s no quit in these girls,” Lisa Varano said. “They’ve all just assumed their roles so well.”

Loyalsock is starting to do that as well and that has it looking dangerous as the layoffs approach. The Lacers are not after moral victories, but know they are right there with Mount Camel. In addition to going on some big runs to take the lead and make it smaller, Loyalsock effectively executed its offense against a relentless defensive team. Ultimately, a few missed layups and chippies inside proved too costly against a team that can make one pay dearly for not capitalizing.

Still, Loyalsock featured a strong inside-outside game with Cassi Kuhns scoring 11 points and grabbing 10 rebounds and Juliana Cruz hitting three straight second-quarter 3-pointers that tied the game. Maddie Fox added four steals, Sam Stopper had four assists and Sarah Van Fleet had eight points and seven rebounds so the Lancers continue making strides and showing better balance.

“We played well enough to be winning after three and we were down seven. I looked at the scoreboard and I couldn’t believe we were down seven,” Loyalsock coach Curtis Jacobson said. “Cassi played very well down low and Jules got us back in the game with those three 3s. I think all of them are playing with a high-level of confidence. We’re growing. A loss hurts, but you take the positives out of it against a very good team.”

Kuhns scored Loyalsock’s first eight points and the game was tied early before Kuhns picked up her second foul. Mount Carmel went on a 10-0 run and led 21-12 after a quarter, but Cruz started making 3-pointers like they were layups and two Fox free throws gave Loyalsock its first and only lead, 25-23 with 1:46 remaining in the first half. Mount Carmel ended the first half strong and opened the second half stronger, but Loyalsock again fought back.

Stopper hit consecutive 3-pointers and Van Fleet scored off a putback and free throw as Loyalsock cut it to 37-35 late in the third quarter. Again, though, Mount Carmel responded as Varano went coast to coast and Wasilewski hit her buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Just like that the lead was seven again and Loyalsock again was facing a daunting task.

“You can’t get down like that against a team like that. We came back once in the second half but to come back again you’re really playing your cards pretty poorly,” Jacobson said. “I told the girls you have the control to hopefully see them one more time and at this point you should want to see them one more time. If we’re going to get to where we want to get to at the end of the season which is winning a district title you want to beat the best team and right now the best team is Mount Carmel.”


Nicole Varano 7 3-4 17, Amanda Arellano 4 0-0 8, Bailey Little 3 2-2 8, Hannah Nolter 1 0-0 3, Myia Miriello 2 2-6 6, Emilee Wasilewski 3 0-0 7, Brooke Berninger 0 2-2 2. Totals 20 9-14 51.


Maddie Fox 1 4-4 6, Sam Stopper 2 0-2 6, Juliana Cruz 3 0-0 9, Cassi Kuhns 5 1-1 11, Sarah Van Fleet 3 2-4 8, Elizabeth Haller 0 0-0 0, Lauren Rude 0 0-0 0, Charlotte Neylon 0 0-0 0, Bryssa Dunkleberger 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 7-11 42.

Mount Carmel    21 8 13 9–51

Loyalsock    12 13 10 7–42

3-pointers: Mount Carmel 2 (Nolter, Wasilewski); Loyalsock 5 (Cruz 3, Stopper 2).

Records: Mount Carmel 20-1, 11-0 HAC-II. Loyalsock 13-7, 7-5.