JOHNSTOWN - The Tussey Mountain girls don't have a player taller than 5-foot-9. The Lady Titans don't have any Division I players, and they don't have anyone averaging more than 16 points, eight rebounds or four assists, either.
But Tussey has one thing in abundance.
"Our team has chemistry," Lady Titan senior Paige Reed said. "Everything fits together perfectly."
Tussey Mountain’s Breana Kendrick puts up a shot in traffic during Tuesday night’s district final. Kendrick scored 13 points to help Tussey prevail.
The Lady Titans also have something else no one else has: this year's District 5 Class AA girls basketball championship.
Tussey never trailed, leading by as many as 12, as it carried off district gold for the first time since 2010 by using its typical balanced effort to defeat young, tall, athletic North Star 43-37 on Tuesday night at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Sports Center.
Breana Kendrick and Courtney Rupert scored 13 points apiece to lead the Lady Titans, while Morgan Lynn pulled down 10 rebounds, and the Tussey defense came up with 13 steals in winning for the 23rd time in 24 starts. The Lady Titans also punched their ticket into the PIAA tournament, where they'll take on the fifth-place team from the WPIAL on March 7, probably back at UPJ.
"It's awesome. It's an experience I'm going to remember forever," said Tussey senior point guard Sam Coffman, whose steal in the frontcourt and layup for her only two points of the night with 1:24 to play essentially iced the win. "I love my team. They're like a family."
And Tussey coach Todd Gates was like a proud father. The Lady Titans had been here last year with the almost the same lineup only to come up empty. They also finished as 5-AA runner-up the season before that.
"I'm excited," Gates said. "This group of seniors had never won a district championship, so we wanted this for them. They put a lot of hard work into the last four years."
It showed. With three seniors and three juniors it its rotation against a North Star team dominated by sophomores and freshmen, Tussey was able to overcome any physical disadvantages it might have had by playing with cool calm on offense and opportunism on defense. The Lady Titans got the Lady Cougars' top two scorers - Courtney Schrock and Jackie Stanko - into quick foul trouble, and worked the ball around the perimeter beautifully for a Rupert trey that gave Tussey a nine-point lead after one period.
North Star made a run with a full-court press in the last 6 minutes but never could get any closer than five.
"The experience made a difference," said North Star coach Randy Schrock, whose team finished the year 16-8. "They are patient, they take care of the ball, they did a better job of it than we did. We just got ourselves into some foul trouble early, and we had to adjust our game plan. We wanted to be about more pressure. It just didn't work out for us."
Tussey took its biggest lead at 38-26 into the fourth quarter when Rupert hit the third of her three 3-pointers coming off the bench.
"We were determined to win," Rupert said. "We were ready."
Reed set the tone with a big blocked shot to open the game, and the Tussey defense made its presence felt throughout the first half, forcing the Lady Cougars into 14 turnovers. Rupert had four steals, and Coffman, who makes her impact running an efficient offense and playing tough D, had a couple more along with a big block of a Courtney Schrock 3-pointer in the final minute.
"Our team's really quick," Coffman said. "We play well on defense together. We help each other out."
Just like it played for most of the district final - it was the program's sixth championship - Tussey's players seemed fairly low key in their postgame reactions. The Lady Titans probably have flown as far under the radar as a 23-1 team could, but they've got some very impressive wins on their resume the last couple of years. This year's victims have included District 6 Class AAA top seed Huntingdon, Claysburg-Kimmel, Southern Fulton with Division I recruit Macey Hollenshead and Tyrone, among others.
"We thought coming in we were going to be pretty good," Gates said. "We beat Southern Fulton, Williamsburg, Northern Bedford and Tyrone all in the same week. We knew then that we could put it all together."
Five of Tussey's six players scored at least four points.
"Over the years, we've learned how to work well together and know everyone's weaknesses and strengths," Rupert said.
"We've been here three years in a row, and we were looking for the win finally," said Reed, who scored five, made one of the Lady Titans' five 3-pointers and had a couple of big blocks. "It felt so nerve-wracking at first. But, once we started playing, everything sunk in. It felt normal. We just played our game.
"We've been playing together since sixth grade, and we're just a big family. I wouldn't want to play with any other girls. We work together, and everything feels so in sync."
Courtney Schrock, a sophomore guard, topped all scorers with 14 points, while Stanko, a 6-foot freshman, finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Cougars.
NORTH STAR (37): Zuchelli 0 0-0 0, Schrock 5 2-3 14, Carmean 1 0-0 2, Rice 2 0-0 4, Stanko 5 1-3 11, Berkebile 3 0-0 6, Novak 0 0-0 0, Miller 0 0-0 0. Totals - 16 3-6 37.
TUSSEY MOUNTAIN (43): Coffman 1 0-2 2, Kendrick 5 2-4 13, Reed 1 2-2 5, Lynn 3 0-0 6, Stoudnour 2 0-0 4, Rupert 3 4-6 13. Totals - 15 8-14 43.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
North Star 4 14 8 11-37
Tussey Mountain13 13 12 5 -43
3-point goals: North Star 2 (Schrock 2); Tussey Mountain 5 (Rupert 3, Kendrick, Reed).
Records: North Star (16-8); Tussey Mountain (23-1).
Officials: Rod Jarvis, Craig Elbin, Mike Price.