B-A, JV girls will wait to play for state championship

By Michael Boytim

mboytim@altoonamirror.com

Juniata Valley girls basketball coach Rachelle Hopsicker had just finished her team’s hotel reservations for the Lady Hornets’ trip to the PIAA state championships in Hershey when she got word Wednesday morning that everything had changed.

The state-wide snowstorm that had already postponed many of the PIAA semifinal games on Tuesday has now altered the times of championship games, including Hopsicker’s Juniata Valley squad and the Bellwood-Antis girls team.

Bellwood, originally slated to play at noon today, now will take on Philadelphia’s West Catholic on Monday at noon for the Class 2A championship. Juniata Valley will play in the Class 1A final on Tuesday at noon in a game that was originally scheduled for Friday.

“When we started looking at semifinal games, there are areas still getting large amounts of snow,” Associate Executive Director of the PIAA Melissa Mertz said. “We still were not sure we would be able to get them in Thursday. Even if we could, we were struggling with the idea of them playing back-to-back nights. We learned that some of the schools in the Philadelphia area will likely still be closed Thursday, and that made it even more obvious we may not get these games played in time.”

The 12 PIAA championship games will now be played Monday through Wednesday.

“Everyone has been pretty good,” Mertz said. “We got in contact with PCN and the Giant Center, and they worked with us. The Giant Center was not available Sunday due to a Hershey Bears game, and it unavailable next weekend. We felt hesitant about next weekend anyway because of Good Friday and Easter weekend, so we agreed to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.”

One of the semifinal games that had originally been rescheduled for tonight impacts Juniata Valley. The Lady Hornets still do not know their opponent for the state title game. That will now be decided on Saturday when District 3 champion Lebanon Catholic plays District 1 champion Jenkintown at Downingtown West High School at 1 p.m. Lebanon Catholic defeated Juniata Valley, 55-43, in last year’s title game.

Hopsicker said she plans on attending that game, something she admits is an advantage to her squad, which has already qualified.

“Obviously there is a benefit seeing them live,” Hopsicker said. “You can only get so much from video.”

Juniata Valley would have had an even more obvious advantage had the winner of the Lebanon Catholic-Jenkintown game been forced to play its game tonight and then turn around and play Friday at noon.

“We wouldn’t want that same situation if it had happened to us,” Hopsicker said. “It’s the only fair way to do it. Kids could potentially get injured playing on short rest like that.”

The time crunch was also a concern for the PIAA.

“That was a big piece of it,” Mertz said. “Tournament directors that we lean on across the state agreed it was the right thing to do. It’s certainly not ideal, because the PIAA will likely take a financial hit.”

For teams that had already qualified, the change meant plenty of shuffling of schedules.

Hopsicker’s reservations had not yet been confirmed, because she had only made them 10 minutes prior. The Lady Hornets will now be departing from their school Monday at 9 a.m. instead of today at the same time. They have a team breakfast and a send-off planned before their trip to Hershey to see the Bellwood-Antis game at noon.

Bellwood-Antis coach Jim Swaney had already confirmed reservations with the Hershey Country Inn & Suites and the Raystown Transit bus company, but he said the transition from moving everything from today to Sunday went well.

“We set up their reservation yesterday and sent them the contract,” Hershey Country Inn & Suites front office and sales manager Sharese Miller said. “I contacted them this morning to see if it was canceled, and they let me know it got postponed, and we switched it out. We definitely understand with the weather, and we are a Hershey sports-approved hotel. We have worked with teams in the past that couldn’t make it because of weather or ended up not qualifying, and we’re always very reasonable when it comes down to that.”

Many of the hotels in the Hershey area are in partnerships with the PIAA.

“We’re working with the Hershey box office on tickets on refunds for pre-paid tickets,” Mertz said. “We’ve been in touch with most of the hotels to please work with us. We had a scheduled board meeting, so there’s been rescheduling with hotels on our end too. For the most part, everything has gone smoothly, because we do a lot of events and have hotel partnerships. This has happened with cheerleading finals and other events in the past, and our hotels work with us and are very accommodating with our schedule.”

Swaney said having a couple extra days to prepare would be welcome for his team.

“You probably settle down a little more,” Swaney said. “At our shoot-around yesterday, the girls were pretty hyped, probably from too many Hershey kisses. This settles you down. I told them, ‘this is what memories are made of,’ and we’ll always remember the one that got delayed.”

Hopsicker said she’ll enjoy getting to spend five extra days with her seniors.

“We get an extra day of rest today,” Hopsicker said. “We don’t have to worry about being short on practice, and we get to plan things. The kids really get to enjoy this experience. They are being treated like celebrities right now, and they get a few extra days to enjoy that.”

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