Decade’s best No. 7: Kirsten O’Malley was outstanding for Montoursville in girls basketball
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a series looking back at the Top 10 girls basketball teams, coaches, games and players from the last decade.
Only those who knew her understood the pain Kirsten O’Malley was enduring. She played her entire junior year with a stress fracture in her lower back, making it hurt every time she jumped, landed hard and sprinted.
Nobody outside Montoursville knew because O’Malley so often played so well. Somehow she fought off the pain, locked herself into a different mindset and kept surging. She finished that 2014 season, averaging 16.6 points, four rebounds and two steals per game.
That stats were a testament to her versatility and production. The performances were a testament to O’Malley’s toughness. A year later, O’Malley was fully recovered and helped Montoursville enjoy its best season since 2000, going 22-4 and reaching both the District 4 Class AA championship and state tournament.
Healthy or fighting, the results always were the same. O’Malley became one of the best players in program history and for four years she remained a model of consistency as Montoursville experienced its best run since the Kelly Mazzante days.
“Kirsten’s a tremendous athlete. I had the privilege to be an assistant on the soccer team and just seeing her as an athlete out there and then transitioning to basketball, she’s one of a kind,” former Montoursville coach Travis Heap said in 2014. “Having her fully healthy is a blessing for the coaching staff because she can do so many things and we can use her in so many different ways.”
That basically has been the story of O’Malley’s basketball and athletic life. A dynamic three-sport athlete who was one of the state’s premier track, soccer and basketball athletes in high school, O’Malley was one of last decade’s top overall athletes. She flourished in track and field at Bloomsburg and one has the feeling she likely would have done the same had she played basketball instead.
O’Malley could play any position on the court and was lethal in the open court. As a freshman, O’Malley played center and did it well despite frequently giving up inches. She then became a fantastic point guard over her final three seasons, stuffing the stat sheet nearly every night and helping Montoursville enjoy four straight winning seasons after it had recorded none in the previous nine years. A scorer, a facilitator and a ferocious defender, O’Malley was the engine which powered the Warrior resurgence and she earned first team Sun-Gazette and Heartland Conference all-star honors three times each while also becoming a 1,000-point scorer.
“I think she’s the best player in the entire area. I’ve thought that for a while,” former Loyalsock coach Demarr Wright said after O’Malley scored her 1,000th point against the Lancers in 2015. “She plays the entire all-around game so well.”
O’Malley began her high school career as an undersized center out of necessity since Montoursville had little height. She made an immediate impact, averaging 6.5 points and becoming one of the area’s premier defenders as Montoursville went 13-10 and recorded its first winning season since 2003.
A year later after moving to point guard, O’Malley became one of the area’s best players and Montoursville continued making strides, going 16-7. O’Malley did a little bit of everything, averaging 15 points, seven rebounds and an area-high five assists. It was the best season by a Montoursville player since Tesa McKibben in 2009 and it highlighted what made O’Malley so difficult to stop. One might take away her scoring on a given night, but O’Malley would hurt them with her passing and defense. Guard her too close in an effort to cut off her passing angles and O’Malley could blow past them and score off the dribble. Or she could stay on the perimeter and hit outside shots. Basically, she became a matchup nightmare.
At times, O’Malley thought she was living a nightmare during her junior year when the painful back injury made its presence felt. Throughout it all, O’Malley again earned first team HAC-II and Sun-Gazette honors again. Still, she felt like a new person a year later when she was pain free again.
Now it was her opponents who often experienced pain as O’Malley produced her best season and Montoursville its best year since 2000. The Warriors went 20-2 during the regular season, ended Mount Carmel’s four-year District 4 Class AA title reign in the semifinals and reached states for the first time in 15 years. O’Malley averaged 17.7 points, an area-high 5.1 steals and five rebounds per game as O’Malley and her senior teammates capped their high school run in impressive fashion.
Minersville was ranked No. 5 in the state, but had no answer for O’Malley in the state tournament. Making her final game a memorable one, she scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, helping Montoursville nearly upset the favored Miners.
A glimpse of what was coming came in Montoursville’s second game when O’Malley scored 23 points, grabbed five rebounds and made four steals in a 48-28 win against eventual District 4 Class AAA champion Lewisburg.
“I used to go up for a jump and I’d be scared and nervous. I’d come down for a layup and it would hurt, but now it’s fine,” O’Malley said afterward. “The thought of, ‘this is going to hurt,’ is not in the back of my mind anymore. It’s easier to go and not think about it.”
O’Malley did think about it as she prepared to shoot her milestone free throw against Loyalsock a few weeks later. The Montoursville students made it feel like a home game and O’Malley did not disappoint them, draining the free throw and reaching her 1,000th point. The students and her teammates seemed just as excited as O’Malley.
She never gave in, never gave up and never stopped being a good teammate. And this moment encapsulated her impact on the program.
“It’s definitely an honor because all those players were so good,” O’Malley said. “A lot of emotions came over me. I thought about playing through the pain last year and about these girls who I love so much who I’ve been playing with since third grade.”
“The girls are so happy for her because they know what a great person she is and they are just as happy as she is,” Heap said. “She’s a special player.”