The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 1, 2013

Scott Dudinskie on Girls Basketball: Coach sensed a promising future

By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item

— SUNBURY - Lew Dellegrotti and his wife Madye raised a house full of standout athletes. Four in all, and not just in basketball but football and swimming as well.

So Shikellamy’s coach recognizes talent — truly exceptional ability — when he sees it. Even if it comes in packaging that’s less than typical.

That’s why, several years ago, he pulled his ballgirl aside and played fortune teller to the cute little seventh-grader he still affectionately calls “Minnie.”

As Dellegrotti recalled this story Tuesday night in the Shikellamy Field House lobby, it wasn’t enough just to tell it; he wanted an eye-witness to verify it.

“Minnie!” he shouted across the room, toward a throng of people around a table supporting a large cake. “Min! C’mere! ... “ he insisted. A girl emerged from the crowd and walked toward him. “What did I tell you when you were in seventh grade?”

“He told me I was going to be his next 1,000-point scorer,” Alexis Angstadt told a visitor, nodding at her coach with mock reluctance. “It’s true.”

Dellegrotti beamed as he remembered his star pupil, running drills with the Braves varsity while she was still in junior high, doing everything with a determination that screamed she wouldn’t settle for anything but success.

“I looked at her and I said, ‘I guarantee you,’” he said of their 1,000-point conversation. “It’s just the work ethic; you know it when you see it.

“We butt heads now and then ... “

He was suddenly interrupted by a perfectly timed bear hug from Angstadt that seemed to be one part kissing-up and 99 parts sincerity.

“No one else I’d rather want to play for, Coach,” she said.

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Angstadt has packed a lot of athletic achievement into a relatively short period of time.

Growing up she was into Little League baseball (yes, with the boys). Not picking daisies in right field, mind you. She was a pitcher, and played ball for about 10 years. After that she turned to martial arts, and she considers earning a black belt her “first big accomplishment.”

Angstadt didn’t get involved in basketball until the fifth grade and, at first, simply found it “fun to do.” It became a passion after she earned her black belt.

“I see something and I say, ‘I want to do that,’ and then I work at it until I get it,” she said. “When I was 10 or 11, I heard, ‘Rachael Scheller, she’s a great player;’ I heard about Amanda Fleming, Kelly Bickel. When I heard Rachael was going for her 1,000th (career point), I said, ‘Mom, I’m going to do that.’ And she’s like, ‘That’s a lot of hard work.’ And I said, ‘I’m prepared to do that.’”

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog — that’s how the saying goes, and it’s rarely been more spot-on than with Angstadt. She wanted to excel in basketball, to be a historic scorer in high school, and she had to do it with a 5-foot-4 frame. (That’s the height — wink — listed in the program.)

Regardless, she consistently gets it done. This season projects to be the third in a row she’ll lead the Braves in scoring. If one had to sum up her play in one word, it likely wouldn’t be “star,” or “scorer,” or even “winner,” although she’s every one of those. The word that probably fits best is “fearless.”

“She is the hardest worker,” said Dellegrotti. “Always the first in sprints, never misses (stuff) and works the hardest. She’s been super from Day One.”

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Angstadt seemed a little embarrassed by all the attention prior to Tuesday’s game. She occasionally glanced at the Shikellamy student section during warm-ups and the singing of the national anthem. But she couldn’t look at her classmates and their signs counting down to 1,000 points for more than a second or two before turning away.

“I’m not one to really get embarrassed but ... I do get a little flustered,” she admitted. “I knew I would get a lot of attention, but I loved the crowd and that was a great student section. A lot of the school came to support me, a lot of people were talking about it, and I’m so grateful.”

The atmosphere was electric, from the introduction of starters straight through the opening quarter, the noise building with each of Angstadt’s scoring opportunities. She buried a long jumper from the top-right of the key nearly three minutes in, and drove for a layup off a high Raven Fatool screen a few minutes later.

Four points in the book, she was a basket away from realizing the individual goal that drove her, the one Dellegrotti guaranteed that seventh grader.

“I knew it would come — I wasn’t worried about not getting it — but the fact that it was happening ...” she recalled. “It was like, ‘OK, four (more points). OK, two.’”

There was a palpable intensity in the gym. Even when Angstadt wasn’t an immediate threat to score, the crowd made it feel as though it was a win-or-go-home situation — a crowd maybe one-fifth the size of the groups that normally generate that mojo when the field house hosts postseason games.

Just as those fans were ready to exhale and look toward the second quarter as Danville worked its offense in the waning seconds of the first, the Braves rebounded a miss. In a flash, the ball was in Angstadt’s hands and she was momentarily free of the box-and-one the Ironmen put on her late in the quarter.

She made a beeline down the center of the court, crossed the mid-court stripe, and with both hands thrust the ball toward the basket a beat or two ahead of the buzzer. A perfect strike from the pitcher/black belt.

Angstadt was instantly transported to a place where it all made sense and none of it did. The teammate in her leaped and pumped her first at beating the buzzer for a 13-12 lead at period’s end. The player in her flashed a mega-watt smile and braced for the impact of a stampede of Braves from her bench.

“I really wasn’t thinking about (the milestone) in that moment; I think I kind of blocked that out when it happened because that is not how I imagined it (happening) at all,” she said. “Before I knew it, I was attacked by teammates and I knew that must have been the basket. It was definitely special, and my teammates made it even more special.

“I was just in awe that it even went in, and then it was like ‘This is my thousandth point; this is what I’ve been working for so hard.’”

n Scott Dudinskie covers girls basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments or questions to sdudinskie@dailyitem.com.