Boytim: Lady Hornets have gained seasoning

Commentary

Juniata Valley took on Bishop Carroll Catholic for the fourth time in two years Tuesday at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse, but this final matchup certainly did not resemble the first more than a year ago.

In that game, a young Lady Hornet squad without much playoff experience jumped out to a 14-5 lead after one quarter but folded down the stretch when Bishop Carroll rallied. The Lady Huskies had already made state playoff runs by that point, and though the talent might have been close to equal, their confidence was superior.

Tuesday night when Juniata Valley jumped ahead by nine early only to see Bishop Carroll pull within a point in the second quarter, it was the Lady Hornets who kept their composure and exuded confidence.

Juniata Valley responded with a 13-2 run to end the half and eventually won convincingly, 55-33, to punch its return ticket to Hershey for the state finals. It was the largest margin of victory in the series.

“We’ve gotten so much better ever since the playoffs from last year,” Lady Hornets sophomore Halee Smith said. “We’re stronger, and we get better every time we play one of these great teams and adjust to their adjustments against us.”

As Juniata Valley continues to evolve, strategies that may have worked in the past are now working against the Lady Hornets’ opponents.

Sydney Reed was not an offensive threat in either game against Bishop Carroll last season but was the leading scorer in both the district championship and in Tuesday’s PIAA Class 1A semifinal.

Reed was left wide open for 3-pointers three different times as Juniata Valley built its first-half lead. When she wasn’t shooting outside, she was driving to the basket using her underhand scoop that hurt the Lady Huskies in the district title game.

“It’s a matter of increased confidence,” said Sydney’s father, Juniata Valley assistant coach Mike Reed. “She’s put in extra time with extra shooting. She trusts her teammates. The playoffs have just been her time. Fortunately, she’s been ready.”

In the middle of Bishop Carroll’s run to get back into the game that stretched into the second quarter, Reed pulled down a defensive rebound and dribbled the length of the court. She never hesitated, drove to the basket and laid it in.

“I think Syd driving to the basket has really opened up the 3-point shot,” Juniata Valley coach Rachelle Hopsicker said. “It has made us much more dynamic. Now, we have five players who can pretty much do anything inside and outside. It is really hard to defend us.”

Reed’s increased confidence is evident even in her quotes after the game in which she referred to the Lady Hornets as ‘her’ team.

“When the playoffs come around, everyone wants to play their best,” Reed said. “It is intense. You have to come out and show what you’re made of, and my team has been really good at getting me the ball for open shots. It’s all props to them.”

Bishop Carroll has achieved great success with talented seniors like Alyssa Martinazzi and Emily Kutskel, but the improvement the Lady Hornets have shown distanced themselves from the Lady Huskies in taking three of the four contests.

For what it’s worth, Bishop Carroll coach Bob Gongloff does not agree with that view.

“I don’t think they are any better,” Bishop Carroll coach Bob Gongloff said. “I really don’t. I think they are the same team. They still bury the shots. When we won districts last year, we made our shots. This game we didn’t. I think they are the same as they were last year. I don’t think they’re much better.”

Perhaps the talent level is still the same, but Juniata Valley played with a mental edge it did not have in the team’s first meeting.

“Even just thinking about the playoffs last year to now, the confidence has gotten so big,” Hopsicker said. “They take such pride in their defense. It has just carried us.”

When talent, no matter how large, is mixed with confidence, it is always bound to get better.

“We each have our different skills,” Smith said. “Hayden (Taylor) has her defense, Syd has her 3s and we all have our different things that we’re confident in, and together it makes us a really good team.”

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 946-7521

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