Wayne Renz is undoubtedly the area’s newest high school coach, having stepped in to lead Danville girls basketball mere days before Thanksgiving.
In the short time since his hiring, the Ironmen began preseason practice, played their season opener just hours before a state-mandated three-week COVID-19 pause, and returned to work five days before play is to resume.
It’s not an ideal situation for someone who must replace four starters from a division, league and district championship team.
“I told them, when I go out there I have less experience than everybody on the team,” Renz said with a laugh. “I don’t know all the other players or teams, but I’m not scared of it because I’ve been there and done that.”
It’s a good time for Renz to enter the fray, with the Heartland Athletic Conference having consolidated into two divisions. His Ironmen are joined by HAC-I holdovers Central Mountain, Jersey Shore, Mifflinburg, Selinsgrove and Shikellamy, as well as newcomers Lewisburg, Midd-West and Shamokin.
Central Columbia, Montoursville and Warrior Run remain in HAC-II, joined by former HAC-I member Milton and all of HAC-III (Bloomsburg, Central Columbia, Hughesville, Loyalsock, Mount Carmel and Southern Columbia). South Williamsport is no longer a HAC member.
Danville, Central Columbia and Loyalsock were HAC division champions last season. Danville, Bloomsburg and Mount Carmel were District 4 champions.
Elsewhere in the Valley, Greenwood lost the Tri-Valley League championship to Susquenita. Upper Dauphin won the TVL East, while Greenwood won the TVL West crown.
Northumberland Christian swept the East Division and tournament titles in the Allegheny Christian Athletic Association. Lourdes Regional finished fourth in Schuylkill League Division II.
Here is a look at Valley girls basketball teams:
Danville is in a precarious place as defending champion of a division with many eager contenders. The Ironmen have just 14 total players on their high school teams, and just one varsity starter back in senior point guard Olivia Outt.
“I opened the gate to our freshmen. I told them, ‘You’re gonna play, and if you’re not ready, tough.’ I don’t want to burn these girls out; we need everybody,” said Renz, the father of Danville career scoring leader Amber Renz. “My main goal is for our three seniors to have their opportunity for a season and to have a good experience. I want them to walk off the court after their last game and say it was worth it.”
Cross-river rivals Selinsgrove and Shikellamy each lost one starter — the Seals’ Emma Atwood and the Braves’ Tori Smith — and are positioned to make a run at the HAC-I crown. Selinsgrove may have the division’s top post in 6-foot junior Cierra Adams (8.5 ppg., 6.4 rpg. as a sophomore); Shikellamy may have the division’s most dynamic scorer in senior Jordan Moten, whose 14.5-point average was bolstered by a 41-point game.
Lewisburg senior captains Roz Noone (11.7 ppg.) and Hope Drumm (5.6 ppg.) developed into more than spot-up shooters for a young squad last season. Green Dragons point guard Sophie Kilbride earned all-division recognition as a freshman.
“The biggest obstacle, I think, is that we haven’t played competitively against another team since last February in Milton,” said Lewisburg coach Brent Sample.
Mifflinburg and Shamokin each graduated significant portions of last season’s lineups, but they both return cornerstone players to build around. Ella Shuck led the Wildcats at 11.9 ppg. as a freshman, while Indians senior Grace Nazih returned from a shoulder injury to average 8.4 points and 6.1 rebounds.
“With practicing for a few weeks, playing one game, then being off again, it is hard to focus on anything other than how can we get prepared and conditioned,” said Shamokin coach Jordan Rickert. “It is a different type of crazy, but it is great to be back in the gym with the team.”
Midd-West graduated only leading scorer Zoe Webb (8.3 ppg.) and Mattie Spriggle from Erica Wagner’s first team as head coach.
Mount Carmel returns four senior starters from a team that won its eighth district title in nine seasons and made an 11th consecutive state playoff appearance.
The Red Tornadoes have their work cut out for them within the division, though. Loyalsock returns all five starters from a 24-5 squad, while district champion Bloomsburg returns all but one player from a 21-6 season. The Panthers had won just 28 total games in the five previous seasons.
“I do think our upperclassmen — and I am sure upperclassmen on all teams — really understand what is at stake,” said Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano. “They lost their spring (sports), and with the winter season in jeopardy they are dialed-in. They know they can’t get this time back.”
Southern Columbia and Warrior Run, in addition to graduating just two players apiece, have post players who can hold their own against two-time Mount Carmel all-stater Dani Rae Renno. Tigers sophomore Alli Griscavage (12.3 ppg., 8.4 rpg.) and Defenders junior Emily McKee (16.1 ppg., 10.8 rpg.) had breakout seasons. Both have supporting casts that feature a pair of all-division players: Southern Columbia guards Faith Callahan and Loren Gehret, and Warrior Run guards Jordan Hartman and Sydney Hoffman.
“They don’t care what kind of season they get,” said Defenders coach Rachael Herb, “as long as they get one and they put 150% into every moment, knowing it could stop or change at anytime.”
Milton struggled after a 3-4 start last season, dropping six in a row. The Black Panthers are led by senior forward Crystal Hamilton (6.9 ppg., 4.8 rpg.).
Greenwood enjoyed consecutive 21-win seasons and two straight berths in the District 3 Class A championship game. Two-time all-state guard Kenedy Stroup and all-TVL post Alli Walton were the engines of those teams, and their absence will be felt by the Wildcats. Current seniors Alli Crockett (7.1 ppg.) and Abby Taylor (5.8 ppg.) will help to take up the slack.
“We feel like we are in a great position to continue the success we have seen the past few years,” said Wildcats coach Jeff Deitz. “Things we do will certainly look a little different to fit the personnel we have, but the expectations and goals are the same.”
Line Mountain, coming off a three-win season, is led by a four-member senior class that includes guard Liberty Downs (8.7 ppg.). Emily Gonsar, a junior, emerged with 6.2 ppg. for the Eagles last season.
East Juniata, which went 15-9 last year, returns three key seniors in Alyssa Robinson, Leah Sankey and Tiana Terry.
Emily Garvin’s all-state recognition capped an unprecedented season at Northumberland Christian highlighted by the program’s first state playoff wins and a district championship. The dynamic junior returns for a veteran team that has won 18 consecutive games.
“One challenge is a compressed schedule reduces the number of practices you can have,” said Warriors coach Dan Severn. “We’re teaching all year long, but a lot of it happens in practice so we won’t have as much opportunity to teach.”
Meadowbrook Christian will look to duplicate or improve last season’s 17-9 record with a young team that includes just two upperclassmen. Emily Baney averaged 7.0 points and 9.1 boards as a freshman.