Loyalsock’s McNulty earns Sun-Gazette Player of Year nod
Late during the regular season, I wrote a column saying how the Heartland Conference’s Division III might be the state’s most competitive.
The end result was all six teams producing winning records. Two captured district championships, four reached district finals and five reached the state tournament. Point proven.
It is no shock then that one will see HAC-III coaches and players throughout the 2019-20 Sun-Gazette Postseason Awards.
Coach of the Year
Second runner-up–Ed Rogers, Muncy: Despite losing three quality starters from the previous year, Rogers helped Muncy again reach the the District 4 Class AA semifinals and win 15 games. The Indians went 15-10, made a run at the Mid-Penn title and won a playoff game for a third straight year, something that program had not done since 2011-13. Just as impressive, Rogers helped the Indians enjoy that success despite having just one senior. Muncy has made big strides in Rogers’ four years and the future certainly looks bright.
First runner-up–Justin Marnon, South Williamsport: Like Rogers, Marnon faced a difficult task, losing three senior starters who had helped fuel a big program turnaround. But Marnon and his staff have done an excellent job since arriving at South and did some of their best work this season. Marnon pushed the right buttons again as South reached its second District 4 Class AA final and state tournament in three years. The Mounties won 14 games, beat District 4 Class AAA champion Bloomsburg and defeated Southern Columbia to reach the district final. Marnon preached strong defense, his players produced it and South took another enormous step forward.
And the Winner is…Curtis Jacobson, Loyalsock: Maybe we should just start naming this award after him because Jacobson takes the honor for a third straight year. In a recurring theme, Jacobson did some of his best work a year after losing an outstanding group of players. Four three and four-year starters graduated from Loyalsock’s 2019 district champion, but the Lancers did not miss a beat, winning the rugged HAC-III along with 24 games. Loyalsock finished 24-5 while navigating one of Central Pennsylvania’s toughest schedules, reached another district final and won a state tournament game for a third straight year. Jacobson and his staff have done marvelous work in their four years at Loyalsock, reaching states each time and going 86-26. All but one senior starter returns next season as Loyalsock will continue trying to elevate its program among the state’s elite.
Honorable mention: Casey Aylesworth, Canton; Kurt Parrish, Sullivan County; Rachael Herb, Warrior Run; Glenn Trick, Montgomery; Scott Baker, Central Mountain
Aleaha Bigelow, Muncy: When one thinks about what Bigelow did the past three seasons it is hard comprehending that she never before had played basketball. Bigelow became one of the area’s best all-around players during that time and was the MVP for a team which exceeded expectations this season. Bigelow averaged a double-double for a second straight year, producing 15.3 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. The team’s only senior, Bigelow again was a first team Mid-Penn All-Star and was a defensive menace, averaging 4.8 steals and a block per game. Fast and tall, Bigelow often was a game-changer and ignited Muncy’s surge when she recorded seven straight games with 20 or more points at midseason. She also grabbed 549 rebounds in her three seasons.
Julie Anthony, South Williamsport: While her numbers are solid, they only tell part of Anthony’s story. On a well-rounded and balanced team, Anthony still stood out, providing whatever South needed on a nightly basis through production and leadership. The senior guard was a calming influence who averaged 10.6 points, five rebounds and two assists per game. An unselfish player, Anthony knew when to attack, when to shoot from the outside and when to dish. The Wilkes-bound senior drained 48 3-pointers and also was a terrific defender who averaged three steals per game. A first team HAC-III all-star, Anthony often stuffed the stat sheet and was a clutch performer who drained the game-winning free throws with 20 seconds remaining in a 49-48 win against Southern.
Jade Cordrey, Hughesville: One of the best to ever play at Hughesville, Cordrey produced her best season. Before Cordrey arrived Hughesville had seven winning seasons in program history. It speaks volumes about her that the Spartans produced winning seasons each year she was there. The versatile guard finished fourth among area scorers, averaging 16.1 points per game despite being the focus of opposing defenses, hit 45 3-pointers and earned HAC-III first team honors. Cordrey finished her Hughesville career with 975 points, fourth all-time, and a program record 131 3-pointers. She also is tied for 3-pointers in a game (6) and her 45 3s this year were second all-time. Cordrey also averaged 2.3 steals per game and made 84.4 percent of her foul shots. A ferocious competitor, Cordrey often delivered in the biggest moments and made all 12 fourth-quarter shots from the field and line in a regular-season finale comeback win against Lewisburg.
Emily McKee, Warrior Run: A program that has produced a pipe line of excellent post players like Steph Shamburg, Madi Welliver and Megan Zimmerman now has another. The second runner-up for Player of the Year, McKee built off a strong debut season and delivered a super sophomore campaign. Developing into one of the district’s best post players, McKee averaged 16.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game while earning HAC-II MVP honors. A hard worker who helped Warrior Run win 16 games, McKee was a factor on both ends of the court, producing 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. She has a good touch around the basket, making 56 percent of her shots from the field and also was a 77-percent foul shooter who recorded 14 double-doubles. McKee tore her ACL in the team’s regular-season finale, but look for her to bounce back in a big way and help spark a team which returns four starters. McKee highlighted her outstanding season with a 23-point performance last month as Warrior Run rallied from eight down at halftime and beat District 4 Class AA champion Mount Carmel, 53-47.
Jessica King, Sullivan County: Arguably the best player in program history, King took Sullivan County to new heights in her four years there and is the runner-up for Player of the Year. An inside force, King likely will soon be a three-time Class A all-state selection after helping the Griffins win 20 games, reach states four a fourth straight time and capture a fourth straight Mid-Penn championship. Sullivan had never won 20 games or reached states before King arrived and she also helped the Griffins reach two district finals and win two state tournament games during her four years. King was at her best this past season, helping a team which had just nine players and no other seniors win 20 games and finish third in District 4. A double-double machine, King produced a district-high 20 while averaging 16.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 4.2 blocks and 3.7 steals per game. The Mid-Penn MVP, King set a tone on both ends for Sullivan, fighting through double teams and finishing third among area scorers. King has recorded 39 double-doubles in 53 games the past two seasons and is the first area player since Williamsport’s Madina Ali to top both 1,000 career points and rebounds. She closed her career with 1,079 points and 1,076 rebounds.
Player of the Year
Summer McNulty, Loyalsock: A lot was asked of McNulty a year after four starters and the junior all-state candidate delivered every time. As good as the other players were on this team, McNulty was an easy choice for this award, consistently doing whatever Loyalsock needed, playing her best at the most crucial times and helping a young team match last season’s win total after losing so much talent from the previous year. Like so many on this team, McNulty was the player opponents game planned to stop, but no one really ever did. If McNulty was not scoring a lot one game, she was creating opportunities for others. She averaged 17.2 points per game, good for second in the area, 4.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists against the area’s toughest schedule. A three-time first team Sun-Gazette and HAC-III selection, McNulty was named HAC-III MVP and played every position. She also guarded just about every position while setting in at point guard, a position she never before had played. Just the third player in program history to reach 1,000 career points as an underclassman, McNulty has scored 1,218 career points while helping the Lancers win 68 games, including 20 each season. She dazzled against state power West Catholic in states, scoring 16 points and containing Division I recruit Destiney McPhaul. McNulty diversified her game, set a tone with her hard work and made all those around her better.
Cathryn Brought, Wellsboro (17.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.2 spg, 76.7 free throw percentage, area scoring leader); Aubrey Stetts, Jersey Shore (13.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 1st team HAC-I); JoAnne McNamara, North Penn-Mansfield (14.6 ppg, 4.2 apg, 2.3 spg, 1,031 career points); Sydney Hoffman, Warrior Run (12.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 2.7 spg, 4 double-doubles, 1st team HAC-II); Quinlynn McCann, Central Mountain (14.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.3 spg, 1st team HAC-I); MacKenzie Weaver, Montoursville (12.6 ppg, 4.9 rpb, 2 spg, 57 3-pointers, 1st team HAC-II)
Sophia Springman, Sullivan County (13.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.6 spg, 1st team Mid-Penn); Cassie Gee, Loyalsock (10.8 ppg, 2.6 apg, area-high 61 3s, 90.6 free throw percentage, 2nd team HAC-III); Riley Fry, Montgomery (11.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3 bpg, 1 spg, 8 double-doubles, 1st team Mid-Penn); Haley Neidig, South Williamsport (8.4 ppg, 4 apg, 3 rpg, 2 spg, 3rd team HAC-III); Elle Binford, Canton (12.3 ppg, 3 spg); Jamie Fedorjaka, Lewisburg (10.9 ppg, 36 3-pointers, 1st team HAC-II)
Anna Burdett, Loyalsock: The only senior among Loyalsock’s rotation set a strong defensive tone all season and was one of the team’s most valuable players even she did not score in a given game. Burdett was an outstanding interior defender who slowed talented post players and who was key to the team’s defensive success on a consistent basis. A HAC-III Defensive selection, Burdett was at her best in the playoffs, cutting off the lane and neutralizing strong teams inside like Bloomsburg, Notre Dame-Green Pond and West Catholic.
Cierra Getz, Hughesville: The Spartans allowed just 38 points per game and Getz was the player igniting this ferocious defense. Like Burdett, Getz impacted the game in a major way even if she did not attempt a shot. A HAC-III Defensive all-star for a second straight year, Getz swarmed ball-handlers, forced turnovers and ignited the transition offense. The point guard does all the little things that fly under the radar and could change a game’s complexion with her ability to disrupt opponents’ offenses.
Bell Hitesman, Muncy: If one is seeking someone who can protect the rim, he or she cannot do much better than Hitesman. The junior center is an outstanding shot blocker who also frequently alters shots. Opponents often think twice after getting into the lane and seeing Bachman cutting off their path. The second team Mid-Penn all-star blocked an area-high 4.8 shots per game and also averaged 1.8 steals per game. Hitesman was quite a weapon down the stretch and also averaged an area-high 12.8 rebounds per game.
Sydney Bachman, South Williamsport: Another guard who hounded opponents, Bachman earned HAC-III all-defense honors and was vital to the Mounties allowing just 37.1 points per game. One of three excellent senior-leading guards, Bachman averaged two steals per game and consistently prevented opposing guards from getting into the lane while frequently contesting outside shots. She averaged two steals and seven points per game and came up big on both ends in the district semifinal win against Southern.
Sophia Springman, Sullivan County: One of the Mid-Penn’s top offensive players, Springman also provided lock-down defense and was at the heart of the team’s stingy defense. Springman is fast and has good length, making her ideal to cut off passing lanes and harass ball-handlers. A driven athlete, Springman turned offense into defense and averaged 2.6 steals per game. A two-year starter, Springman was part of the team’s glue all year and averaged 13.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
Sun-Gazette Defensive Player of the Year
Haley Neidig, South Williamsport: Whenver South wanted to slow a high-scoring guard, Neidig was the one chosen. So often the senior delivered, either containing that player or shutting her down. A glove-like defender, Neidig was a big reason South allowed fewer than 40 points 15 times. One of the area’s quickest players, Neidig stifled ball-handlers, cut off passing lanes in a flash and provided a jolt by producing turnovers which altered the game’s complexion. An unselfish point guard, Neidig averaged 8.4 points, 4 assists and 2 steals per game while helping the program continue its upward trend.
Underclassman of the Year
Second runner-up–Molly Ward, Canton and Allyia Kennedy, Loyalsock: Ward is a player people can expect to hear a lot from the next three years. The freshman dominated the glass, averaging 10.1 rebounds per game while helping the Warriors reach the playoffs for a third straight year. Ward topped 10 rebounds in eight straight late-season games and grabbed 22 against Cowanesque Valley. Kennedy surged at the perfect time, helping Loyalsock excel throughout the postseason. The sophomore forward played super interior defense during that time and closed her first year starting by averaging 6.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. Kennedy made a run at double-doubles in two state games and scored 13 points while grabbing seven rebounds against Notre Dame-Green Pond.
First runner-up–Faith Persing, Montgomery: The Red Raiders produced a second straight winning season and Persing was a major reason why. The sophomore point guard kept progressing throughout the season and looks like a player Montgomery can build around moving forward. Persing averaged 7.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game and dazzled in a midseason win against Bucktail, scoring a career-high 25 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and adding seven steals. She also is a tough defender who averaged 2.4 steals per game.
And the Winner is…Avery Bigelow, Muncy: While her older sister did not play basketball until her sophomore year, Bigelow has been playing most of her life and that helped her make a sudden and impressive impact as a freshman. A versatile player who can compete at multiple positions, Bigelow frequently compiled big numbers and was among Muncy leaders in every major category. A fierce competitor who has only scratched the surface of what she might do, Bigelow averaged 6.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Fast and well-rounded, Bigelow also averaged 4.6 steals per game and is one of several good young players Muncy will be relying on next season.
Other Underclassmen to watch in 2021: Maddie Adams, Montoursville; Gracy Beachel, Warrior Run; Bethany Beinlich, Sullivan County; Emma Coolidge, Wellsboro; Ariana Copeland, Muncy; Whitney Felix, Williamsport; Claudia Green, South Williamsport; Kailee Helmrich, Williamsport; Kiahna Jones, Central Mountain; Sophie Kilbride, Lewisburg; Alli Macensky, Galeton; Taylor McRae, Montgomery; Paisley Nudd, Cowanesque Valley; Mia Patterson, Loyalsock; Lily Reid, St. John Neumann; Aubrey Schilling, Jersey Shore; Sarah Spohn, North Penn-Mansfield; Cassidy Skoranki, Sullivan County; Alex Snyder, Hughesville; Rachel Stahl, South; Olivia Strother, Hughesville; Madi Tolomay, South; Sheiana Tutler, Neumann
GameS of the Year
South Williamsport 49, Southern Columbia 48: This victory marked a turning point for the Mounties. It was when they really started taking off and offering a preview of playoff success to come. South trailed by 10 with four minutes remaining, but closed the midseason game on a 14-3 run, winning it on Anthony’s last-second free throws.
Sullivan County 46, Muncy 45: The lead flipped and flopped like a fish and this midseason battle for first place in the Mid-Penn. No one ever led by more than five points before Sullivan went ahead in the last minute before making one, last defensive stand. King played one of her best high school games, scoring 27 points, grabbing 26 rebounds and making five steals as Sullivan County won the fifth of 13 straight league games.
Loyalsock 57, Notre Dame-Green Pond 53: After three quarters it appeared unlikely this game would be anywhere near the top games list. Loyalsock dominated the third quarter, breaking open a close game and taking a 17-point lead until the fourth. Notre Dame, however, came storming back and rapidly cut the lead down. The Crusaders pulled within three at two-minute mark and within two in the last 30 seconds. McNulty, however, drained four straight free throws in the last 90 seconds and fed Kennedy for a fastbreak basket as Loyalsock survived and handed Notre Dame just its third loss in 27 games.