Steve Moser’s final game as Danville girls basketball coach was undoubtedly more bitter than sweet.
Last week’s second-round state tournament loss to Northern Lebanon — a game senior standout Linae Williams was unable to play due to concussion symptoms — capped Moser’s 14 seasons with the Ironmen.
It was an earlier exit than anyone associated with the team wanted for a senior-laden squad and their coach, a year after they matched the deepest postseason run in program history. It did, however, put a bow on another exceptional season for one of the area’s premier programs.
Danville went 25-4 and won the Heartland Athletic Conference-Division I championship, the HAC Tournament crown, and District 4 Class 4A title. It marked the Ironmen’s fifth 20-win campaign in the last eight years, and their eighth state playoff appearance in a decade.
It was Moser’s fourth HAC-I banner, his record third league tournament trophy, and second win in seven district finals.
While nothing in his career would compare to a district championship, which Moser considered the ultimate goal, there were a great many more highlights.
Moser vividly recalled specific games from early in his tenure. Jessie Kutz “almost single-handedly” won a 2007 game at Selinsgrove with her dribble penetration during his first season; Adrienne Jantzi turned around a see-saw game against Shikellamy by hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in late January of his second year. He enjoyed a more recent budding rivalry with Mount Carmel that included two HAC Tournament victories.
“We beat (the Red Tornadoes) a few times we shouldn’t have,” Moser said with a laugh. “I was happy to play them last year with no Varano on the court.”
Sisters Ali and Nicole Varano were all-state players who starred at Mount Carmel in consecutive four-year stretches through 2018.
Moser finished with a 243-113 record, an average of 17 wins per season. Some of those wins came in bunches while others were pleasant surprises, as seen in our picks for Moser’s (non-district) career highlights:
Amber Renz, a Mercyhurst University senior, will be remembered as the top player in the Moser Era, if not the program’s history. The 6-foot-1 forward scored the most points at Danville (boys or girls), and set the girls’ rebounding mark that was eclipsed this year by Corinna Petrus.
Renz amassed 1,728 points and 846 rebounds in her career despite missing the first 14 games of her junior season to a torn ACL suffered in the summer of 2014. The Ironmen were expected to struggle mightily in her absence, given they’d lost forwards Ericka Heath and Liz Pavis to graduation.
Instead, the Ironmen were 11-3 to open the season as guards Paige Harris, Sara Naessig, Lauren Campbell, Allie Berg and Zina Knight fueled a relentless defense. Meanwhile, newly minted starter Maddie Moro (9.1 ppg.) became a HAC second team all-star at forward.
“I talked to them at the beginning of the season and used the line, ‘Amber Renz isn’t walking through those doors. You have to step up more than you thought you might have to,’” Moser said. “So many of them stepped up and played well. A lot of them had played significant minutes the year before and knew what they were supposed to do.”
Renz said: “I think it was the competitive drive that team had. Even though it sucked having to sit, watching made me appreciate the game even more and also my teammates for what they did. It was so cool.”
Renz returned right in the middle of a remarkable 15-game winning streak that was abruptly snapped with a season-ending loss to Athens in the district semifinals. The Ironmen just missed their fifth consecutive berths in the district final and state tournament, but simply being in the conversation was an undeniable success.
“That was a pretty rewarding year, to be honest,” Moser said. “Was there something they wanted to prove? I don’t know. I guess we just approached it like Amber did not exist because they responded very well.”
It all began innocently enough, when Danville’s game at Jersey Shore was one of a slew in the Valley postponed by inclement weather on January 25, 2013.
The game was rescheduled for February 4, but then pushed ahead one week to the following Monday. It butted against a home division game with Midd-West the next day, sure, and there was a HAC crossover with Warrior Run slated for Valentine’s Day. Oh, yeah, the inaugural HAC Tournament was to played later in the week. And what do you mean the winner-take-HAC-I game with Shamokin was postponed to Friday?
Before the Ironmen knew it, their schedule listed five games in as many days — and a potential sixth loomed with the HAC Tournament title game.
So they went to Jersey Shore and won, 48-37, then easily handled Midd-West, 53-18. On Wednesday, they battled favored Mount Carmel to overtime for a 58-53 win at Mifflinburg in the first-ever HAC Tournament game. That left Moser in a difficult spot, wishing to rest his starters for a division championship game Friday despite hosting 14-win Warrior Run on Thursday.
“When Mount Carmel went to overtime, I thought, Man, oh man,” Moser recalled. “I was going to throw (the Warrior Run game), so to speak, basically give a game away and only play the starters a little bit of time. Well, they just went off — went out and won, which was a real tribute to those kids. And what it did was carry over to the next couple games.”
Siobhan Bross, a senior, and Renz, a freshman, each scored 13 points, as Danville beat the Defenders 52-35. The Ironmen led by six after one quarter and finished with a 22-12 flourish.
The following day Danville won its first HAC-I title, 48-30 over defending champion Shamokin, by pitching a fourth-quarter shutout at home. Running on little more than fumes and pride in the HAC Tournament final at Williamsport, the Ironmen fell behind Benton 10-0 out of the chute and trailed by eight with about three minutes to play. They rallied and closed the gap to where freshman Paige Harris’ buzzer-beating putback forced overtime, then willed their way to a 66-61 victory despite the Tigers’ Justine Seely recording 37 points and 24 rebounds.
“I thought they way they dug deep and just refused to lose was amazing,” Moser said.
One could argue the Danville-Shamokin girls rivalry, that began to take shape a decade ago, paved the way for the HAC Tournament.
League officials modeled the event on the wildly successful Schuylkill League version, pooling three division champions and a wild card on both the boys and girls sides. It was a big draw annually at Pottsville’s Martz Hall in large part because the girls’ tournament was great theater.
HAC didn’t have a similar product to sell until after Danville and Shamokin waged a series of wars for league and district supremacy in the early 2010s.
The seeds of a rivalry were planted in 2010-11 when Shamokin won the teams’ first meeting in overtime to go 14-0 in the division, but Danville upset the 21-2 Indians in the District 4 Class 3A semifinals, 43-39.
The following year, Shamokin swept the Ironmen in three meetings — by eight total points — winning their district championship matchup, 34-31.
A year later, Danville (11-3) edged the Indians (10-4) for the HAC-I crown with a sweep of their series, including the title-clinching 18-point win in the Ironmen’s fifth game in as many days.
In 2013-14, the teams split their regular-season meetings (with Danville winning in OT at home), but the Ironmen (12-2) nipped Shamokin (11-3) to repeat as HAC-I champion.
The Indians had a 6-4 series advantage in those four seasons (2010-14); fans had an appetite for more matchups, such as the HAC Tournament; and Moser made a fast friend.
“When I got to know (then-Shamokin coach Bill Callahan), he and I fed off each other in those games,” Moser said. “It was a friendly rivalry and a good one; there was seldom a blowout. It created one heck of a friendship. We call each other three, four times a week.”
This past season, the two coaches met with Danville high school guidance counselor (and former Moser assistant coach) Gary Grozier before the Ironmen hosted Callahan’s Southern Columbia girls on Jan. 16. The trio talked and laughed about old times until they were suddenly interrupted.
“We were sitting in my office when the buzzer went off at the end of the JV game,” Grozier recalled. “I said, ‘You guys going to go coach?’”
Moser beat his good buddy’s Tigers, 56-45.