ALEXANDRIA - The Juniata Valley High School boys basketball team started the season 2-5.
However, the squad that took the court Friday night did not look like a losing team. And if fans are having trouble recognizing the players, it is because the team has a new identity.
The Hornets utilized their newfound team cohesiveness and up-tempo style of play to improve to 9-7 with Friday night's 71-51 victory over the visiting Williamsburg Pirates in an Inter-County Conference North Division game.
The Hornets have found a winning formula over the last two games that seems to have made them a stifling defensive unit that causes turnovers and creates transition offense because of it.
As a result, Juniata Valley had its opponent frustrated on offense for the second straight game.
"Shots just weren't falling for us," Williamsburg coach Mike Farrell said. "Credit their defense. Against a zone, you have to be able to hit perimeter shots."
The 1-3-1 zone can be credited as a catalyst for Juniata Valley's turnaround. But it was discovered somewhat by accident.
"We started doing it because of foul trouble, which is the same reason we did it last game," Juniata Valley coach Ron Anders said. "It's working great. We've been playing it decent for most of the year, but it's something we are going to have to take a look at."
Juniata Valley's ability to create turnovers and then beat teams in transition can be attributed to another disruptive performance by sophomore Caleb Taylor. Taylor followed his five steal game against Northern Bedford County with a six steals and 29 points Friday night.
"He has really active hands," Anders said of Taylor. "He disrupts passing lanes very well, which disrupts the whole offense and gets us some leakouts."
"I love playing on the top of the zone,'' Taylor said. "If I can get my hands on it then I'm out running."
Thanks to Taylor and the Juniata Valley defense, Williamsburg shot just 26 percent in the second half and was outscored, 25-6, in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
The loss is particularly frustrating for the 12-4 Pirates after beating Juniata Valley earlier in the season.
"Juniata Valley is a good team," Farrell said. "After beating them, if you didn't think they were going to come out frothing at the mouth, you're silly."
The home team's energy was noticeable throughout the contest and resulted in turnovers and fastbreaks. And lately, the Hornets' play closer resembles a chameleon the way they have changed their style to fit the roster they have.
With a brand of basketball that fits, Juniata Valley has found team cohesiveness that was lacking earlier in the year.
"Now we are starting to build some chemistry. We are playing our best basketball at the right time," Anders said. "We are playing better than our record."
WILLIAMSBURG (51): C. Morrissey 3 2-2 9, J. Morrissey 1 0-0 2, Dishong 6 0-0 12, Price 7 2-4 17, McCall 3 0-0 6, Fay 1 0-0 3, Palmer 1 0-0 2, Biddle 0 0-0 0, McMonagle 0 0-0 0, Ross 0 0-0 0. Totals-22 4-6 51.
JUNIATA VALLEY (71): Borst 8 3-3 22, Grissinger 4 0-0 8, Taylor 13 0-0 29, Varner 4 0-0 8, Gardner 1 2-2 4, Maysonet 0 0-0 0, Leri 0 0-2 0, Collins 0 0-0 0, Grove 0 0-0 0. Totals-30 5-7 71.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Williamsburg 16 12 6 17 - 51
Juniata Valley 20 13 25 13 - 71
3-point goals: Williamsburg 3 (C. Morrissey, Price, Fay). Juniata Valley 6 (Borst 3, Taylor 3).
Records: Williamsburg (12-4); Juniata Valley (9-7).