Montour girls out for more this winter

The current Montoursville players hear it all the time. Quite frankly, they are  sick of it.

So many keep reminding the Warriors that they lost four starters from last year’s 25-win District 4 Class AAAA champion. Others tell them only two players are back who played the entire varsity season. Obviously, many are questioning what Montoursville can do in 2018.

The players’ answer is that they can still do quite a lot. Montoursville looks a lot different than last year and is way more inexperienced, but it can still play. The Warriors opened their season last Saturday with a 47-36 win against Williamsport and expect their winning ways to continue. Just because many did not play last year does not mean, they can’t play. Montoursville is eager to prove just that.

“Everyone is coming up to me and saying you lost so many starters,” senior Rebecca Reeder said after grabbing 17 rebounds against Williamsport. “I tell them yeah, but we’re still pretty good this year. I think we’re very well-rounded.”

They looked the part against Williamsport. Lauren O’Malley is the lone returning starter and made a big impact, scoring 15 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and adding five steals. But it was so many other players, many first-time starters and/or high school players, who were so crucial to earning that win. Reeder dominated the glass, Allyse Marchioni hit a game-clinching 3-pointer, Lydia Albert scored eight points and reserves Kaitlyn Dawes, MacKenzie Weaver and Antone James made strong contributions.

Montoursville shook off a slow start, led by as many as 18 and shined in the final two minutes after Williamsport cut the deficit to four. Much work lays ahead, but this was a promising start.

“I really think we’ll do well this year,” Reeder said. “I feel very connected to everyone this year. Last year was a little iffy, but now all the girls are working together to achieve that common goal.”

“We panicked a little in the second half, but that is stuff that you learn. I keep telling people we have two girls that played varsity basketball all season last year and two freshmen that played eighth grade basketball last year so it’s a learning curve,” first-year coach Jon Weaver said. “It’s a win and we’ll take it and we’ll learn from it.”

Oh yeah, Montoursville also has a new coach. And Weaver had no offseason to work with his players either. He was not hired until late September. With many of his athletes also playing soccer, Weaver essentially had 2 1/2 weeks to get his team ready for this season. That is about as tough a situation as a new-look team can face but the Warriors are accepting it and growing.

Montoursville mightily struggled in its first scrimmage but looked like a different team against Williamsport. The Warriors outscored Williamsport 28-7 over the first-half’s final 12 minutes and are just scratching the surface of what they can be. Montoursville plays in a challenging league and a competitive 4A field so reaching 25 wins might be a long shot.

Still, this is a team that can remain a district title contender. A championship banner shows no bias toward win totals. Each one is special and you better believe this team still thinks it can earn another one.

Montoursville knows that would provide the perfect response to all those nagging comments.

“They work hard. A lot of it’s going to be experience and playing the game because we are very inexperienced,” Weaver said. “This was 100 times better than our scrimmage and if we can make that improvement in just a week and keep making those strides we’ll be all right.”

HOPEFUL SIGNS: Williamsport was one of the district’s youngest teams last season when it went 1-21. The Millionaires remain quite young, but they more experienced and they are better. That showed with the way they rallied at Montoursville. Williamsport trailed by 18 in the third quarter and by 13 entering the fourth but made a furious rally and trailed just 40-36 with two minutes remaining.

A year ago, if dynamic guard Jada Whaley was neutralized, Williamsport had no hope. So what happened Saturday could be an encouraging sign. Montoursville swarmed Whaley and held her to eight points, but Williamsport still had a shot to win late. Sophomore guard Katelyn Wilson scored a career-high 16 points, including 13 in the second half. Shelby Floyd and Samiyah Little form a nice inside tandem and combined for 15 rebounds. Those are players who can loosen up a defense, draw attention away from Whaley and make this a well-rounded attack.

Williamsport put together a strong summer and competed well in competition in Reading and Lancaster. While they may still experience, growing pains, the Millionaires are showing signs of life and could be fun to watch as the season progresses.

“Hopefully they look at their Hudl account and watch the first half and watch the second half and see what they did wrong and get better from it,” Williamsport coach Demarr Wright said. “If we get that inside-outside going we’ll be better off. I think we’re going to get better and be OK.”

PUTBACKS: While Sullivan County lost four starters from a team that won a school-record 22 games and reached its first state tournament, do not think it is falling apart. The Griffins showed they plan on staying near the top after winning their second straight North Penn-Liberty Tournament championship. The Griffins defeated Northeast Bradford and Canton by 38 combined points as four players scored in double figures. Sophomore Jessica King made big strides as last season progressed and had 17 points in the final while newcomer Mykenzie Malacusky had 27 points in the two wins. Canton could be poised for a solid season in the NTL-II and received double-figure performances each night from Shea Roupp, Tamara Hess and Elle Binford … Wellsboro captured the Muncy Rotary Tournament championship in thrilling fashion as Lizzie Poirier hit a buzzer-beater and lifted it to a 57-55 win. Poirier hit her second buzzer-beater in her last seven games going back to last year and had a game-high 23 points. Wellsboro overcame an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit as Tory Self scored 21 points. A night earlier, Emma Poirier scored a career-high 25 points in a 52-31 win against Muncy … Cowanesque Valley looks like it could be headed for a big turnaround after winning the Jack Bush Tournament championship. CV defeated Northern Potter and North Penn-Mansfield, allowing just 62 points. MacKayla Vargeson earned Tournament MVP honors while Karmen Short was an all-tournament selection and Brynn Williams and Amaya Walker each had 11-point games. Lizzie Welch had 18 rebounds in two games for NP-Mansfield and Shaelyn Berugson scored 20 points … Galeton captured its second straight Williamson Tournament championship, defeating Austin and Williamson. Galeton, a Class A state qualifier last season, overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit in the final as Katelyn Pagano scored 13 points and Haylee Ludington grabbed 11 rebounds. Emylee Yusko scored a career-high 24 points for Williamson in its opening-night win over Bucktail … Megan Weber opened her season in impressive fashion, scoring 22 points as South Williamsport defeated Montgomery, 61-27. Alyssa Johnson, Julie Alexander and Haley Neidig combined for 22 points and South built a 23-2 first-quarter lead … Abby Henderson could be poised for a big year at St. John Neumann. The 6-footer looked strong in her season debut, scoring 11 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 57-38 loss at St. Joseph’s.

Dr. Masse’s top five in girls basketball

Records through Saturday

1. Loyalsock (0-0): The Lancers have high expectations after reaching states last season for the first time since 2011. Loyalsock opened its season against North Schuylkill Monday, the first of several strong non-conference opponents it will face this season. Combine that with the fiercely competitive HAC-III that produced three state qualifiers last year and Loyalsock will be one of the most battle-tested teams if it reaches the postseason again.

2. Jersey Shore (1-0): Maybe even more impressive than the turnaround Jersey Shore has made the last three seasons is the fight it has shown making it happen. The Bulldogs are as resilient a team as one will find. A season after staging several comebacks, Jersey Shore did it again in its season opener. The Bulldogs dominated the second half against a super defensive team, turning a 12-point deficit into a 63-49 win against Hughesville. Jersey Shore scored 50 second-half points against a 2017 Class AAA state qualifier that has four starters back and showed they remain determined to keep moving upward among the district’s top teams. Keep an eye on young players like Aubrey Stetts and Sadie Griswold who combined for 13 points.

3. Lewisburg (0-0): Most players return from last year’s Class AAAA state qualifier and Lewisburg looks like a potential title contender again. Lewisburg faces a challenge in its opener Wednesday, facing Lourdes, a team that has reached the Class A state final and quarterfinals in the last two seasons. The Dragons overcame injuries throughout the roster last season. If they stay healthy this time around, they will have a nice mix of good guards, size, experience and depth.

4. Hughesville (0-1): Do not expect the Spartans to let Friday’s loss at Jersey Shore faze it. Hughesville is a tenacious team that can be as good as any in District 4 AAA if it learns from its opening night performance and becomes better from it. The positive for the Spartans is they showed some nice scoring punch throughout the first half and also had good balance. Jayden Leighow scored 13 points, Alisha McKinley added 10 and Alison Snyder and Jade Cordrey combined for 15 points. Snyder and Cordrey making an impact bolsters a team that has several experienced players who have helped the program make major strides the last four years.

5. Montoursville (1-0): Dawes, Weaver and James combined for 10 first-half points and Dawes scored five quick second-quarter points. That was a pleasant surprise for Montoursville and could give Weaver more confidence about going to his bench. O’Malley played well in her first start in the post, too. O’Malley has the size to play inside but was more of a guard the last three years. When the game was really intense, she showed that inside strength, earning four free throws that she made and grabbing three clutch rebounds.

Players of the week

Hannah Kauffman, Jersey Shore and Makaya Shadle, Galeton: Kauffman delivered one of the decade’s most explosive performances, scoring a career-high 43 points against Hughesville. Kauffman, a first team league and Sun-Gazette all-star as a sophomore last season, scored 35 second-half points, drained 16 field goals, went 8 for 10 at the line and became the area’s first 40-point scorer in three years. To put in perspective how sensational Kauffman was consider that she scored as many points in the second half as Hughesville as allowed as a team average last season. Shadle is closing in on 1,000 career points and has been an excellent four-year starter. The versatile guard earned Tournament MVP honors at Williamson, scoring 48 points and topping 20 each night. Shadle had 27 in the opener, 21 in the final and drained seven 3-pointers against Austin.

Game of the week

Montoursville at Hughesville: It is Father vs. Son Thursday when Craig Weaver Sr.’s Spartans face Jon Weaver’s Warriors in a showdown between 2017 state qualifiers. This is a good rivalry game and Hughesville generated playoff momentum last season when it nearly overcame a big second-half deficit at eventual 4A champion Montoursville. These are teams built the same way and expect a physical and defensive battle.

Masse may be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse