BOTD: Seniors helped ignite Montoursville’s turnaround in 2015
As they worked their way up the scholastic ladder, a buzz built. This was the group many in Montoursville thought could soon reverse the fortunes of a struggling varsity program.
Montoursville was a state powerhouse when the 2000s began. All-time Big 10 leading scorer Kelly Mazzante led the Warriors to their second consecutive state final and they won 59 games in those two seasons. After 2002, however, Montoursville did not experience another winning season until 2012.
That was when those hyped young players Kirsten O’Malley, Kelsey Stine, Marissa Hall and Marissa Folk arrived in high school. O’Malley started four four years, Stine and Hall for three, and Folk was a vital three-year contributor. Together, they helped revive the program, producing four winning seasons in a row and progressing each season.
Add in talented sophomores like Marlene Bassett and Lexi Marchioni and 2015 became the breakout season. Montoursville had won 31 games the previous two seasons, just missing reaching states in 2014. The Warriors would not be denied a year later, going 22-4, reaching the District 4 Class AA final, and handing Mount Carmel its only district playoff loss in the last 10 years.
“They left their mark on the program,” first-year Montoursville coach Travis Heap said that season. “The program was kind of down until that senior class got to ninth grade. They gradually have gotten better and better and when we got to this year everything was starting to click.”
Those six previously mentioned players all averaged more than five points per game. O’Malley was a first team Sun-Gazette all-star for a second straight year, averaging 17.7 points and a whopping 5.1 steals per game. She also went over 1,000 career points that season. Stine, Folk and Bassett were tough inside and Marchioni and Hall were tenacious defenders along the perimeter.
This team was defined by its balance and defense. The top six players in the rotation all produced multiple double-digit scoring performances and all could stuff the stat sheet. Montoursville defended the basket like a mouse does its cheese, allowing just 31.2 points per game. The Warriors held 13 oppponents to fewer than 30 points and beat them by a 19-point average.
“The defense this year is really solid. It’s aggressive and we’ve worked hard to cover the weak points on our defense so they can’t take advantage of us,” Folk said after Montoursville smothered Williamsport, 41-28 and captured its Christmas Tournament championship. “The shots aren’t going to fall all the time. We go on dry spells, but if the defense is always intense it makes it that much easier to win the game.”
Montoursville won a lot of games that year, starting 8-0 and 17-1. Its four losses were to state qualifiers. Montoursville pounded Bloomsburg, 65-35, in the district quarterfinals, giving it a coveted shot against Mount Carmel. The Red Tornadoes were four-time defending champions and had played five close games in the previous two seasons. Mount Carmel had dashed Montoursville’s championship dreams a year earlier when it won a 42-40 semifinal thriller.
But this night, this moment belonged to Montoursville as Bassett provided a big spark off the bench and the Warriors parlayed a strong second half into a 55-50 win. Montoursville not only earned the program its first state tournament berth since 2000, but also became the last team to beat Mount Carmel in districts through 2020.
The only negative coming from that win is that Montoursville may have let down in the final as Central Columbia pulled away in the second half and won, 42-25. It was the only time Montoursville lost a game by more than 10 points that season, but it did not diminish how far this team had come.
“We played against them since seventh grade and just now are starting to figure them out,” Central leading scorer Lindsey Carl said following the final. “They are definitely really good.”
As important as the wins and achievements Montoursville produced in 2015 were, the example it set might be its most impressive legacy. The good times continued the next two years and, in 2017, Montoursville captured a district championship. This 2015 team and the seniors who ignited the turnaround started that climb.
“With hard work comes results. One of the reasons we’ve been successful is because we have a senior-laden team that has the experience, but also has the work ethic,” Heap said following the district final. “For them to experience a season like this, it sets a new bar of Montoursville basketball for them to live up to.”