Youthful Marauders gain experience

GREENSBURG – They sure do grow up fast.

In the Bishop Guilfoyle Lady Marauders’ case, though, there’s still a lot more time to grow.

Guilfoyle had its season ended Tuesday night at Hempfield Area High School. However, if not for an incredible performance by Vincentian all-stater Brenna Wise, the Lady Marauders might be playing this weekend for another PIAA Class A championship.

When your starting lineup is comprised of three freshmen and a sophomore, that’s a pretty good showing. And reason to feel pretty optimistic about what might be on the horizon.

“I didn’t know what would happen. We’re a young team,” Lili Benzel, one of the Lady Marauders’ ninth graders, said following the 60-45 defeat.”We kind of just proved it doesn’t matter how old you are or how much experience you have. You just have to play and see what happens, and that’s what we did.”

The potential and growth showed during the game itself, as Guilfoyle found itself down nine less than 90 seconds into the game against the defending state runner-up with three quick turnovers. The Lady Marauders tied it before the end of the quarter, convinced the Lady Royals to pull back on their fullcourt press less than 2 minutes into the second period and actually led by halftime.

“Just even to show how much savvy they had coming back after the opening [minutes] to be down 11-2 and go into halftime with the lead just shows the character of this basketball team,” BG coach Mark Moschella said.

“People make this statement, but I truly feel it. I know that there weren’t too many people that felt that they could come as far as they did,” Moschella added. “The only thing you can hope is that the girls stay together, realize that we had a heck of a lot of accomplishments this year and there could be good days ahead if they decide that they want to just keep working in the offseason.”

The Lady Marauders will enter 2014-15 as an eight-time defending District 6 Class A champion and will be looking to return to the Laurel Highlands Conference championship game as Section 1 champs. Guilfoyle also will be aiming to better a 23-6 record.

It’s a long way from the team that was playing together in the Hollidaysburg YMCA last summer.

“We through the ball away a lot,” freshman guard Macy Adams recalled. “As soon as Coach Moschella came in, we got focused, and we gained so much confidence that we thought we could have gotten here. I feel it’s just amazing that we’re here.”

Moschella said he didn’t really set much in the way of goals with such a young group, just focusing on daily improvement. Next year, there’ll be more room for expectations.

“That motivates me,” Adams said. “I feel like, if everyone picks it up in the offseason and works on what we did wrong in that game [against Vincentian], we can definitely go farther.”

Benzel didn’t just have a great year for a freshman, she had a great year period. The 5-foot-8 frosh established herself as one of the elite talents in this part of the state, averaging more than 18 points per game.

She scored more than 30 late in the season in a comeback win at Altoona and did the same in a similar situation against Serra Catholic in the second round of interdistricts.

Benzel, though, felt she had a lot of room for improvement.

“I have to get better at everything,” Benzel said. “Working with my teammates. Defense. Offense. Everything.”

While Benzel might be the most notable, she won’t be the only Lady Marauder capable of giving opponents headaches. Adams at times carried the team offensively in the postseason once she began looking for her very consistent shot from deep. Maria Scipioni also provides outstanding shooting range.

Rising junior Alyssa McGhee will give the Moschella a proven point guard and an excellent on-ball defender, while Karis Taddei, another freshman, is a do-it-all, glue-type player.

Moschella said he’s looking to have the players do a lot of strength and agility training in the off-season. Having another scorer emerge to complement Benzel and Adams would be a big lift for the team, and the successful junior high program should be providing some reinforcements capable of pushing the returnees.

“There’s not one girl in this locker room that doesn’t know that to be fair to this whole team we have to put the five best on the floor, whoever they are,” Moschella said. “There’s a good group coming up. I’m sure a few of them are going to push the ones that are here.”

The major losses for Guilfoyle will be inside. Annie Dombrowski, who scored a team-high 14 points against Vincentian, led the Lady Marauders in rebounding for the season, and, at 6-1, Jenna Irvin provided some length of the bench. Five-eleven sophomore Brayley Lewis, though, looks capable of shouldering some added responsibility.

That, though, doesn’t necessarily cover the intangible element.

“We’ll need a couple of leaders on our team in the future. We have two seniors graduating and juniors on the team, we have two. Some people are going to have to step it up,” Adams said. “This year, it was just amazing, the leaders that we had. Next year, I’m sure it will be the same, but I think everyone that plays or gets on the floor should be a leader.”

Guilfoyle still accomplished much. Benzel couldn’t help but giggle when asked about her favorite achievement.

“Probably the D6 [championship] game,” Benzel said. “I just felt that was a great accomplishment. No one thought we would get anywhere. It was pretty cool.”

Of course, Vincentian should be right back there standing in the way of the Lady Marauders and their goal of taking the next step. Wise, who scored 38 on Tuesday, has another year of eligibility, and four of the Lady Royals’ other top players are sophomores.

But, next year – and the next three years – Guilfoyle’s players won’t come into Tuesday night’s setting flying blind. They’ll have been here. They’ll know what it takes.

“Coming into the season, I didn’t know how anyone was going to play. I never experienced anything before,” Benzel said. “Now that I’ve gone through it all, I know more about it. Next year, hopefully, we can do better.”