By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
Every game I’ve seen so far this season has been played with a crystal ball.
Not literally, of course.
That would make quite a mess. Give a whole new meaning to “crashing the boards,” for sure.
No, what I should say is I’ve witnessed the future: The Daily Item All-Star teams two and three years from now, to be precise.
From what I’ve seen, and read in game recaps and box scores, the Valley is flush with talented young players who have skipped the 6 p.m. proving ground of junior varsity ball and become significant contributors in prime time.
Few have been as impressive as Warrior Run’s Madi Welliver. The freshman forward has played a key role in several of the Defenders’ wins, impacting the scoreboard on both ends of the court.
“It’s nice to have someone like Welliver coming off the bench,” said Warrior Run coach Jon Weaver. “We don’t lose anything with her out there.”
When the Defenders met a much-improved Mifflinburg team in a pre-holiday HAC crossover game, Welliver stepped up after star senior Steph Shamburg was lost to fouls late in the third quarter.
Welliver scored five of her nine points (3-for-4 at the foul line) and pulled half of her game-high 12 rebounds in the fourth quarter to help keep the Wildcats at bay.
Earlier this week, in a pivotal HAC-II game at Southern Columbia, Welliver had nine points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. In the second half, she scored eight points (including the only two Defenders field goals in the third period) and added 10 rebounds as Warrior Run pulled away for a 12-point win.
Like Danville’s Amber Renz in her freshman season a year ago, Welliver is a terrific finisher around the basket and plays the ball well off the boards. And, like Renz, you get the feeling she is just scratching the surface of her potential.
“You haven’t seen Madi Welliver yet,” Weaver agreed. “You can’t even coach the skills she came with. You can fine-tune it, but she’s just a natural. I have never, in my seven years here, had a post with the moves as a ninth grader that she has.
“It’s all going to depend on how hard she works, but we’ve got big plans for her.”
Weaver has another freshman — guard Emily Webb — in his starting lineup. She brings a shooter’s touch, good range and the ability to make plays off the dribble. She has stepped into the void left by Tay Parker’s graduation.
“I think Webb is one of the quickest girls in the area when comes down to (playing with the ball or defending),” said Weaver.
In that same Mifflinburg-Warrior Run game, Wildcats forward Julia McArdle-Coe was a revelation. The sophomore had a significant growth spurt last year that changed her inside game from physical to finesse. Her array of post moves make her tough to check around the basket, and she’s given Mifflinburg a presence they lacked: an inside compliment to Sara Stauffer and Kayla Kline.
“Over the summer she worked hard. She has put a of time into her game,” said Wildcats coach Kelly Griffith after McArdle-Coe went for 18 and 11 against the Defenders. “I think she’s a little more aggressive, maybe more confident. I expect her to play like that every game.”
Sophomores such as Southern Columbia’s Haley Levan and Midd-West’s Brianna Beiler played extensively last season as freshmen (like Kline) and have made obvious strides.
Other 10th graders have emerged from well off the radar to rank among their teams’ scoring leaders: Greenwood’s Morgan Kauffman and Lewisburg’s Akilah McFadden.
She’s not a sophomore, but junior Kelsey Zimmerman leads Shikellamy at 13.6 points per game after totaling 10 points over 35 quarters in 19 games a year ago.
“We have got her to play more under control,” said Braves coach Lew Dellegrotti. “She’s learning, and she has the capability because she can shoot. I’m pleasantly surprised.”
Several freshmen have bolstered their teams’ scoring, including: Line Mountain’s Joelle Snyder, the Milton duo of Carissa Wagner and Maggie Wetzel, and Lourdes Regional’s Carmella Bickel, who is one the Valley’s top 3-point shooters.
Some other ninth graders have earned their coach’s trust — and the varsity minutes that come with it: Brynn Miller and Brianna Turner of Halifax; Mount Carmel’s Maura Fiamoncini; Selinsgrove’s Sam Rodkey; and Shamokin’s Sara Popewczak.
What these girls bring to the table now is like money in the bank: each an investment that should return big dividends for the next two or three years.
n Sports writer Scott Dudinskie covers girls basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments or questions to email@example.com.