It hit me a week ago when talking with Steve Moser after a game.
He sat on a cushioned folding chair at the head of Danville’s bench, the one he never uses when his girls are playing, and dissected the game plan in a win over Milton. He described the Ironmen’s execution — good and bad — as well as his adjustments, and he punctuated the stream of intricate thought with the most basic key of all:
“Our concern was we weren’t going to let Maggie Wetzel do what she did to us at Milton.”
That’s right. The area’s best girls team — one with a 13-game win streak, that’s a two-point overtime loss away from a perfect record — was most mindful of a freshman with 18 varsity games to her credit.
Not long ago, I used this spot to highlight so many eye-catching newcomers in the Valley, freshmen, sophomores and the rare junior, who emerged to help their varsity teams.
Since then, however, it’s become obvious this is the best ninth-grade class the area has seen in some time. These freshmen are difference-makers, girls who have skipped the 6 p.m. warm-up act to contribute to the success of their programs.
There are plenty to fill an all-freshman team; enough for two, in fact. So that’s what follows here, our nod to the area’s terrific crop of newcomers.
Guard: Joelle Snyder, Line Mountain (10.1 ppg.)
Snyder has been the Eagles’ second-leading scorer throughout the season, and is coming off a career-high 18 points against Greenwood. She is a terrific ballhandler with a knack for finishing in transition and an improving perimeter game.
“She’s still learning a little bit,” said Eagles coach Mike Reed. “She had been forcing up some bad shots earlier in the year, and that’s kind of going away. Because as an eighth grader, she would be getting double-teamed but she could drive right past people with her athleticism.
“I told her, after about the fourth game, I said, ’It’s not eighth grade anymore, is it?’ She like, ’No.’ We’ve still got some work to do, but she’s getting better.”
Guard: Carmella Bickel, Lourdes Regional (13.2 ppg.)
Bickel would be the area’s premier 3-point shooter if not for teammate Bailey Trell, who is leading their race to 50 (and beyond). Bickel came on just a few games into the season and hasn’t looked back, helping the Red Raiders push for a playoff berth with a pair of 20-point in her last six.
Guard: Maura Fiamoncini, Mount Carmel (5.2 ppg.)
The personification of “energy off the bench,” Fiamoncini is the lone varsity reserve on this all-freshman team but that has more to do with the Red Tornadoes’ talent than hers. She’s fearless with the ball despite her stature, has some range, and is a ball-hawk in the Ali Varano mold. Her coaches say she’s the type who gives 110 percent on the practice court.
“She’s played, obviously, a lot of (junior varsity), and then in varsity she kept coming along as the season goes on,” said MCA coach Lisa Varano. “She’s a hustler, and we really like what see from her. She’s a nice player.”
Forward: Madi Welliver, Warrior Run (7.8 ppg.)
If we were going to award an MVP for this team, it would go to Welliver. She needed very little seasoning before cracking the Defenders’ starting lineup, and now she’s a key cog in a 15-win team and one of its more reliable contributors. Her career-high 13 points came with 14 rebounds Tuesday at Mount Carmel.
Forward: Maggie Wetzel, Milton (9.3 ppg.)
Wetzel went for 17 points in that first game against Danville, matching her career-best. She appears to have some of the hard-nosed skill around the basket that made former Black Panther post Madi Krebs a nightly double-double threat.
“She’s a good young player. She’s got a lot of potential,” said Milton coach Aaron Slusser. “(The) big thing with her is keeping her focused; she gets frustrated sometimes. It’s a big step going from eighth grade to the starting lineup in varsity but she’s made that transition pretty well.
“She puts in a lot of work and hopefully she keeps improving over the next couple years.”
Second team: guards Emily Webb (Warrior Run) and Sam Rodkey (Selinsgrove); guard/forward Christina Podopora (Southern Columbia); and forwards Sara Popewczak (Shamokin) and Brynn Miller (East Juniata).
Most of the teams represented by the girls listed are playoff-bound, with the exception of Line Mountain and Selinsgrove (Milton and Lourdes are on the bubble), and they definitely owe some of their success to the “fresh” faces.
n Sports writer Scott Dudinskie covers girls basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ScottDudinskie.
It hit me a week ago when talking with Steve Moser after a game.
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