UNIVERSITY PARK - After his traditionally short postgame comments to his team, Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic high school girls basketball coach Mark Moschella emerged to speak to the media with the relaxed appearance of someone who was ready to move on to the next game.
Except, in this case, there was no next game until December. And he and his team would have months to think about ending the season with a loss for the first time in three years.
"The better team today was Steel-High,'' a gracious Moschella said. "They played an exceptional game. They combated every defense we threw at them, and their size was the biggest factor that we just couldn't overcome.''
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Mark Moschella and the BG players watch as the Steelton-Highspire players get their medals and trophy.
Although Bishop Guilfoyle's 73-60 loss to the Lady Rollers at the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday afternoon might have drawn some of the attention from it, the Lady Marauders' trip to Penn State may have culminated the best performance from a coach who has won 452 games and four state titles in 19 seasons.
Although Moschella was probably just as comfortable if no one noticed it.
"The kids do whatever you ask them to do. They make it a lot of fun to be their coach,'' Moschella said, effortlessly pushing the glory to his players. "They make it a pleasure for a coaching staff, and we truly feel blessed to have the kids that we have.''
Moschella gushed about their coachability, but their coach had something to do with that.
Sure, Moschella came into the year with a pretty good team - three starters were back from a two-time defending PIAA champion, including one of the top players in the state in Halee Adams, and Guilfoyle was ranked No. 1 in the state from the start.
The level of success the Lady Marauders achieved, though, wasn't a slam dunk, or even a layup.
Guilfoyle had to beat Steel-High just to make it to the finals of the Lady Marauder Classic to tip off the year. It had to best Class AA power Delone Catholic and future Division I college player Sierra Moore to win the Jim Ellis Shootout. It needed to beat a very good Forest Hills team twice just to make it to the Laurel Highlands Conference championship game, where it needed to avenge its only setback in two years before Saturday's state final to claim the overall conference crown against Westmont Hilltop.
Then, to win District 6, the Lady Marauders needed to hold off underrated Homer-Center and Kaitlyn Skinner, another player who looks like she might be able to play Division I basketball in a couple of years. To get to BJC, they had to beat Skinner and the motivated Lady Wildcats a second time.
They did all that with a talented lineup that still, no matter how you cut it, was comprised of four sophomores. This wasn't the 2009-10 Lady Marauders that had four-year player, two-time class player of the year and St. Francis recruit Alli Williams along with Kaleigh Floyd to help Moschella from within set the course for a team that included two freshmen starters and a third playing a prominent role.
"You just think about how hard you have to work on everything,'' Moschella said. "Sometimes, if you have some veterans coming back, you can maybe build it a lot faster. But we started from scratch, and it happened in a hurry for these kids because they are so coachable.''
Still, Moschella and his staff deserve a great deal of the credit, because they found the right buttons to push. Unlike a lot of coaches, Moschella isn't married to a style. Although defense has always been at the foundation of his squads, this year's team played straight halfcourt man-to-man, whereas, a couple of years ago, they used a variety of zone presses and last year played a lot of halfcourt combinations.
Offensively, the familiar call of "four man" - a pattern play - has been replaced with a more freelancing, motion approach.
Moschella has found that promised land where he can coach to his players' strengths instead of forcing them to conform to his. Where players can grow, so can coaches, and the Mark Moschella who was on the sidelines against Steel-High was not the same as the one who coached in Hersheypark Arena against Lourdes Regional and Marion Mercy in the mid-1990s.
"I have grown,'' Moschella said. "I always think that kids can learn from coaches. I think coaches can learn from players. I've learned a lot. I have a great coaching staff that I rely on.''
One thing Moschella hasn't learned, though, is stomaching defeat. He could accept it Saturday because his team played well but Steelton-Highspire was an outstanding group of athletes that put everything together and did just what it needed to do.
He said all the right things, both to his team and the press. That doesn't mean he liked it.
"Can I handle a loss better? The answer is no, because you care as much about these kids as you did about the first championship in '93,'' Moschella said. "When you see your kids work so hard and have this temporary moment where they feel down, if you don't feel bad, then I don't think you care.''
Which is why it wouldn't be a surprise to be talking about how it was his best coaching effort again next year at this time.
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 and firstname.lastname@example.org.