The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 28, 2014

Girls basketball: Mount Carmel aims for fourth straight District 4 title today

SUNBURY — A couple of weeks ago, the Mount Carmel girls basketball team was visited by Maria Fantanarosa, formerly the Miami (Ohio) University women’s basketball coach.

Fantanarosa is also the top scorer in Pennsylvania girls hoops history with 3,823 points.

And she happens to be a Mount Carmel alumna.

There was plenty of talk about X’s and O’s, motivation, and life off the court during the three-hour visit. There was also the unspoken message that the program’s success has roots much deeper than its current strings of three district championships and four state playoff appearances.

“That was a nice boost for the girls,” said Red Tornadoes coach Lisa Varano. “She’s awesome. She talked to them a lot about ‘what can you control on the court.’ It’s hustle plays, going after loose balls, little things. Some things you can’t control, but you can control that.

“The girls really are focused on that.”

The Mount Carmel team that plays for a fourth consecutive District 4 Class AA crown at noon today in Shikellamy’s Lockcuff Gymnasium is a different version than its predecessors.

These Red Tornadoes (22-4) are less about scoring and rebounding prowess and more about defense and determination. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, not before senior forward Ana Raybuck left the team, but that’s how the Tornadoes have adapted to succeed.

“Most people counted us out. We knew the girls had talent, and I think they took that personal,” said Varano. “For as much as they missed Ana, I think they took it personal, like, ‘Hey, we can still do this.’ They had something to prove.”

Mount Carmel won its first district championship in 26 years in 2011 with Kim Andruscavage and Ranotta Ahrensfield leading the charge. With those two 1,000-point scorers back the following year, they repeated with an especially well-rounded team that won its first 27 games.

Last season, senior post Christina Perles (a Lourdes Regional transfer), Raybuck, and Varano’s daughter, Ali, blazed yet another a 20-win trail to district gold. The Tornadoes moved away from 70-point games, nestling in the high 50s, low 60s, with more emphasis on defense and rebounding.

Without the 5-foot-10 Raybuck, however, this year’s team has relied on defense and the transition offense it generates. The Tornadoes still average 47.6 points per game.

“This is a different team but I still think we can accomplish the same things, just a little differently,” said Ali Varano, a senior who leads the team at 15.2 ppg. “I think we just have to stay positive and keep the team motivated.”

Mount Carmel swept district final opponent Central Columbia (15-9) in two regular-season games, winning by six and 10 points. The sixth-seeded Blue Jays, riding a five-game win streak as are the Tornadoes, present a challenge with 6-foot junior Lindsey Carl in the middle.

The Tornadoes’ tallest starter is 5-9 senior Brianna Lutz, but they compete and win simply by keeping the ball away from opposing players who create mismatches. Facing a bigger Warrior Run team in the HAC tournament title game, Mount Carmel forced 26 turnovers. Against Montoursville — a team they were 0-2 against this season — in Wednesday’s district semis, they forced 20.

“So many people expected us to not do as well as we are, and I think we’re proving to a lot of people that, no matter what, we stick together as a team and work our hardest,” said junior guard Jen Bolick. “It’s not surprising (to be in the district final); I think it’s more of a reward. We went through so much during the season, and I can’t think of a team that would want it more than we do.”

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