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Loyalsock’s Allyia Kennedy named Sun-Gazette Player of the Year

DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Loyalsock’s Allyia Kennedy dribbles against Troy during a District 4 Class AAA playoff game. Kennedy was named the Sun-Gazette Player of the Year in girls basketball.

Before last season, no Lycoming County team had reached the state quarterfinals since Kelly Mazzante’s 2000 Montoursville state finalist. Now Loyalsock and South Williamsport have reached the Elite 8 in consecutive years.

Each lost a heartbreaker once there, showing that it was no fluke getting there. Loyalsock captured a third District 4 Class AAA championship this past season and South reached the Class AA state quarterfinals for the first time since 1987. Those two teams showed why the state of basketball here looks pretty strong, especially with so many young players throughout the area making big impacts this year.

Not surprisingly, Loyalsock and South are well-represented among this year’s Sun-Gazette basketball awards.

Sun-Gazette Player of the Year — Allyia Kennedy, Loyalsock

A vital contributor the past two seasons on highly successful teams, Kennedy took her game to another level this season and became both the area’s top player and an all-state candidate. Kennedy was a force inside and won the area scoring title, averaging 17 points per game while going against one of the state’s most demanding schedules. The 6-footer also pulled down 8.5 rebounds, dealt 2.5 assists and made 2.7 steals per game, helping Loyalsock repeat as district champions. Kennedy finished well around the basket, ran the court like a guard and also had a nice shooting touch, making 52.6 % of her shots. Teams were focused on slowing Kennedy, but few did and she recorded consecutive double-doubles in the district semifinals and championship. Kennedy and Patterson were the lone Lancers who had played a lot of varsity minutes the previous season and their leadership was as crucial as their production. Kennedy will play at Elizabethtown next season, joining two-time Sun-Gazette Player of the Year and former teammate Summer McNulty after helping Loyalsock win three district titles and 83 games during her scholastic career.

Sun-Gazette Coach of the Year

Second Runner-up–Helena Floyd, St. John Neumann and Darrin Bischof, Jersey Shore: Floyd has helped lead a resurgence at Neumann and the Knights enjoyed one of their best years yet, reaching the Class A playoffs for just the second time and the first since 2014. Neumann enjoyed an eight-win turnaround and finished third in District 4 after winning just one game two years ago. Nearly every player returns next season so the foundation is strong. Ditto for Jersey Shore where Bischof guided the Bulldogs to a 10-win improvement. Jersey Shore went 13-9, won 10 of its last 15 regular-season games and highlighted its improvement with a late-season win against Class AAAA state qualifier Shamokin. With a strong nucleus returning, Jersey Shore may just be getting started.

First Runner-up–Curtis Jacobson, Loyalsock: Already a three-time Coach of the Year winner, Jacobson nearly made it four after helping a team with three new starters repeat as District 4 champions. Loyalsock won 19 games while competing in the brutally tough HAC-II which featured three district champions and two state semifinalists. As usual, Loyalsock played its best basketball at the perfect time, avenged two regular-season losses by beating top-seeded Bloomsburg in the semifinals and reached states for a sixth straight season. Loyalsock has reached the state tournament every year in which Jacobson has coached and has won at least 19 games in five straight years.

And the winner is…Justin Marnon, South Williamsport: Like Jacobson, Marnon has helped his program make enormous strides in six years there and South raised the bar extremely high this season. The Mounties won 23 games, repeated as Mid-Penn champions, ended Mount Carmel’s six-year district championship run and reached the state quarterfinals for just the second time in program history. Marnon and his staff pushed all the right buttons and led a team which was resilient, tough, balanced and unselfish. The Mounties rallied from second-half deficits in three of their four playoff wins, defeated two district champions during the state tournament and are one of only two teams to beat Mount Carmel in districts during the past 12 seasons. Four starters return next year, so if the progress and work continue South could have a shot at soaring even higher in 2023.

Honorable mention: Craig Weaver Sr., Muncy; Casey Aylesworth, Canton; Phil Davis, Milton; Ryan Callahan, Hughesville

Sun-Gazette All-Star Team

Peyton Dincher, Jersey Shore: Headlining a group of outstanding area freshmen, Dincher made a huge, immediate impact. The versatile guard was among the area’s leading scorers, averaging 14.7 points per game, while adding 3.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. Dincher also is one of the district’s premier shooters and drained an area-high 55 3-pointers while making a remarkable 47 percent of those attempts. She also was an 85-percent foul shooter and scored 21 or more points five times. That included going for 29 points in a victory against Central Mountain. Dincher put on a shooting clinic in a midseason win against Sullivan County, going 8 for 12 from behind the arc.

Mia Patterson, Loyalsock: A huge part of Loyalsock’s success the past three seasons, Patterson produced her best season and helped Loyalsock capture a third district championship in four yeas. A hard-working forward who always played bigger than her actual height, Patterson averaged 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. She added 2.4 assists and 2.2 steals per game, earning first team HAC-II all-star honors. A three-year starter, Patterson produced five double-doubles and was a multi-faceted weapon who could do damage in the post and also handle the ball like a guard. Patterson averaged 2.4 assists per game and will play college basketball at DeSales.

Kailee Helmrich, Williamsport: She finished second among area scorers, but Helmrich did so much more than just score. The senior point guard also was among team leaders in every other category, averaging 6.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.2 steals per game. The three-year starter set the tone on both ends of the court and was outstanding at turning defense into offense while helping Williamsport reach the District 2-4 Class 6A semifinals. Helmrich became a more polished offensive player and averaged 15.8 points per game, adding an outside shot to complement her aggressiveness at attacking the basket. During one five-game stretch, Helmrich scored at least 21 points in every game, reaching career-highs three straight times.

Emily McKee, Warrior Run: The only starter back from Warrior Run’s 2021 team, McKee was a marked player each game but consistently thrived and helped a young team made massive strides throughout the season. The senior was a difference-maker in all facets and it’s surprising she was not named as a first team HAC-II all-star because no player may have meant more to her team. Despite constant double teaming, McKee reached 1,000 career points and nearly averaged a double-double, going for 15.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. She also was tough on defense and blocked 4.5 shots per game while making 51 percent of her shots. McKee added an outside element to her game as well, knocking down 24 3-pointers. McKee twice topped 10 blocks in a game and had a triple-double (17 points, 10 rebounds, 13 blocks) against Mount Carmel.

Claudia Green, South Williamsport: A tremendous senior leader whose impact went well beyond her numbers, Green is the runner-up for Sun-Gazette Player of the Year and was the engine powering South Williamsport to its best season since 1987. The three-year starting forwarded was absolutely robbed of the Mid-Penn Most Valuable Player Award and anyone with eyes should have realized Green was the conference’s top player. She led the Mounties in scoring and rebounding while also playing outstanding defense and playing her best at the most crucial times. The lone senior in the rotation, Green helped South go undefeated in league play, win a second straight Mid-Penn championship, reach the District 4 Class AA final and the state quarterfinals. She averaged 13.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 2.6 deflections per game all while making her teammates better along the way. Green should receive serious all-state consideration and was at her best in the district semifinals, scoring a career-high 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds as South defeated defending state champion Mount Carmel.

Second team: Avery Bigelow, Muncy (11.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 99 offensive rebounds, 2.8 apg, 3.7 spg); Alli Anstadt, Hughesville (10.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 10 games of at least 10 rebounds, 5 double-doubles, 1.6 spg); Sheiana Tutler, St. John Neumann (14.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.7 bpg, 1.8 spg, 1.4 apg, 7 double-doubles, 1st team Mid-Penn); Emily Coolidge, Wellsboro (11.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 3.4 spg, 3 double-doubles); Lacey Kriebel, South Williamsport (10.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.9 spg, 54 3-pointers, 1st team Mid-Penn); Sophie Kilbride, Lewisburg (7.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3 apg, 1st team HAC-I)

Third team: Gigi Parlante, Neumann (8.6 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 3.3 spg, 1.2 bpg, 1.9 apg, area-high 11 double-doubles); Jocelyn McCracken, Jersey Shore (11.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1 bpg); Taylor Rae Jones, Williamson (13.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 3.0 spg, 39 3s, 4 double-doubles); Piper Minier, South (7.3 ppg, 3 apg) Makenzie Wagner, Bucktail; Morgan Reiner, Milton

Sun-Gazette Defensive All-Stars

Leah Walter, Milton: Walter made it three straight years earning first team HAC-II first team all-defense honors and was one of the most valuable players for a team which reached its first district final since 2011. Walter always wanted and almost always drew the toughest defensive assignment and thrived in that role. She was a major reason Milton allowed just 34.8 points per game during the postseason.

Rhandie Jessell, Loyalsock: The Lancers really surged defensively late in the season and Jessell was a major factor. Also a first team HAC-II defensive all-star, Jessell hounded opposing guards and frequently disrupted offenses with her pressure. Jessell came a long way in her first year starting and her defense helped Loyalsock stymie potent Bloomsburg and Towanda offenses during districts as Loyalsock repeated despite entering as the No. 4 seed.

Mia Edkin, Muncy: Like Walter, Edkin often drew the opponent’s most explosive guard and so often the junior shined, becoming Muncy’s shutdown player. Edkin frequently held the player she was guarding well below her scoring average and usually to single digits. In addition to having her best overall season in three years of starting, Edkin ignited a stifling defense which held 17 teams to 35 or fewer points as Muncy went 18-5. That played a major role in Muncy producing its most wins since 2013.

Grace Pysher, Hughesville: Maybe the area’s most versatile defender, Pysher was exceptional at matching up and containing either high-scoring guards or strong post players. The versatile junior blanketed players in whatever role she was playing and emerged as one of the district’s premier defenders. Another first team HAC-II defensive all-star, Pysher locked down Dincher in a January win and then was strong against some of her league’s top post players as well. Pysher is one of five starters returning next season and her defensive strength provides a nice foundation to build upon.

Sophie Kilbride, Lewisburg: The Sun-Gazette runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year, Kilbride often made life miserable for opposing guards. The junior point guard was all over the court and led the area in steals, averaging 4.8 per game. Lewisburg’s offense struggled at times because the team was so young, but Kilbride fueled a defense which kept the Green Dragons in nearly every game as they finished fourth in District 4 Class AAAA. Kilbride made 10 steals in a 35-30 loss against Jersey Shore and helped Lewisburg surrender just 31.1 points per game.

Sun-Gazette Defensive Player of the Year

Piper Minier, South Williamsport: The driving force of the area’s best defense, Minier relentlessly competed and her swarming pressure often had opposing offenses crumbling. The junior point guard averaged three steals per game but her most important contribution was all the disruption she caused. Minier harassed guards from start to finish and often created turnovers or played a role in a bad shot being forced. Minier’s defense led to offense and helped South allow 28.5 points per game. A fearless athlete who plays like she’s a 7-footer, Minier helped South hold three state playoff opponents to fewer than 40 points and is one of four starters returning next season as South tries building off its super 2022 run.

Second team: Devon Walker, Jersey Shore; Aleigha Rieppel, South; Izzy Dadzie, Loyalsock; Maddie Still, Lewisburg; Sofia Casella, South; Avery Bigelow, Muncy

Sun-Gazette Breakthrough Player of the Year

Second runner-up–Alexis Hudson, Warrior Run and Paige Logsdon, Wellsboro: Hudson likely will be Warrior Run’s go-to player next season and came on strong during the season’s second half. The sophomore forward averaged 10.4 points over her final seven games and can hurt teams inside or outside. Hudson was tremendous in a win against Montoursville, scoring a career-high 16 points and adding 12 rebounds. Logsdon was another player who made big strides as she gained more experience. The freshman forward showed signs of becoming one of the NTL’s premier post players the next few years. She will be a consistent double-double threat and averaged 8.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals during her debut season.

First runner-up–Izzy Dadzie, Loyalsock: Those who watched Loyalsock compete during the postseason realize how valuable Dadzie was. The sophomore played her best basketball at the perfect time and her sensational defense played a major role in Loyalsock repeating as district champions. Dadzie helped Loyalsock slow dynamic tandems in the last two district games and showed her offensive growth as well. She will be Loyalsock’s lone returning starter next season after averaging 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game.

And the winner is…Addi Eyer, Muncy: This was the best collection of freshmen area talent this reporter has seen in a long time and Eyer was at the center of it. The freshman point guard looks like a rising star after averaging 7.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Like Minier, Eyer is a fearless player who never stops hustling and showed that when she pulled down eight rebounds in an early-season win at St. John Neumann. A good shooter with excellent vision as well, Eyer stepped up in big games and twice was a tournament MVP as Muncy captured both its Rotary Tournament championship and the CMVT Christmas Tournament. She also shined in the District 4 Class AA quarterfinals against NTL-II champion Northeast Bradford, scoring a career-high 17 points and draining three 3-pointers.

Game of the Year

Second runner-up–St. John Neumann 48, Meadowbrook Christian 42: The Knights put an exclamation point on their stellar season by overcoming a three-point fourth-quarter deficit and surging past Meadowbrook. Neumann revealed its character, winning despite leading scorer Sheiana Tutler being sidelined with a knee injury. Four players scored at least eight points, freshman Kylie Cendoma played her best game and Gigi Parlante dominated the fourth quarter, clinching the win with an emphatic block.

First runner-up–South Williamsport 42, Millville 36: Beating defending state champion Mount Carmel in districts was impressive and exciting, but if South had not rallied past Millville that game never would have happened. Just 12 minutes into the postseason it looked like South’s playoff journey was going to be over as fast as it started. Millville opened an 18-point lead and appeared in control. Instead, in a game which epitomized everything this team represents South came storming back. The Mounties cut the deficit to eight entering the fourth quarter and then dominated those final minutes, outscoring Millville, 19-5 to win their 20th game. It was the first of three comeback playoff wins for this resilient team.

And the winner is…Loyalsock 47, Bloomsburg 45: When people ask me why I love this job, I point to games like this one. A year after playing a classic in the District 4 Class AAA final, Loyalsock and Bloomsburg found a way to top that. Bloomsburg had won two regular-season contests this season, but Jacobson and his staff had an excellent game plan and the players brilliantly executed it. With 30 seconds remaining, it appeared Loyalsock had this game all but one, leading by seven. Remarkably, Bloomsburg then scored seven points in 9.5 seconds and tied the game. Loyalsock called timeout with 3.4 seconds remaining and Grace Baylor threw a perfect inbounds pass to Kennedy who faked right, came back left and banked in the game-winning jumper. A year after preventing a buzzer-beater in a one-point championship win, Loyalsock won at the buzzer in a game which basically was a third straight championship between these rivals.

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