Valley has ‘unfinished business’

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Juniata Valley players take in Bellwood-Antis’ victory in Hershey on Monday.

When Juniata Valley coach Rachelle Hopsicker got the opportunity to see Jenkintown play in person, the sentiment that stuck with her the most was how similar the Lady Drakes are to her own Lady Hornets.

“They are very disciplined, similar to us and play good basketball,” Hopsicker said. “It’s going to be a lot like playing Bishop Carroll, because you know they are going to play good basketball. They had a good crowd like us, and that should make for a fun atmosphere.”

Both teams’ seasons ended last year with losses to Lebanon Catholic. Now, they’ll play at Hershey’s Giant Center today at noon to find out which team gets to replace Lebanon Catholic as the reigning PIAA Class 1A champion.

“All I have to say is we have unfinished business,” Juniata Valley sophomore Halee Smith said. “I’ll be happy to attend to it.”

Jenkintown avenged its loss in last season’s PIAA semifinals with a 50-46 win over Lebanon Catholic on Saturday, a victory the Drakes had thought about for an entire year.

Juniata Valley is hoping to get that same satisfaction today.

“We made it, and obviously we’re excited, but we’re not just focused on getting there this year,” Hopsicker said. “This year, we’re focused on finishing it.”

Following their victory over Bishop Carroll Catholic in their own semifinal, the Lady Hornets immediately concentrated on what they know is a rare opportunity at redemption after losing last year’s title game to Lebanon Catholic.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we get to do it twice,” Juniata Valley point guard Taylor Leidy said. “I love these girls so much, and it means the world to me that we can do this again.”

For Leidy and fellow senior starters Sydney Reed and Maddie Mattas, this will be the final game of their high school careers.

“I think we got too hyped over the emotions last year,” Leidy said. “Now that we’ve been in that setting, we know how to play. This is the last time this group of girls is ever going to get to play together, because most of us are seniors. So, we’re just going to go out and have fun and enjoy this moment.”

Jenkintown coach Jim Romano said after his team’s semifinal win that his coaching style leans more toward tough post play, but that his squad this year has changed his philosophy.

“They are primarily guard oriented,” Hopsicker said. “They are all about the same size. They can run, play good defense and box out well. You can tell they know basketball. They recognize help situations. They are a lot like us.”

All of Jenkintown’s 50 points against Lebanon Catholic were scored by five girls. Four of them are two sets of twins.

Ashley and Jennifer Kremp each scored 14 points and combined for five 3-pointers. Mia Kolb led her team with 15 points, and Natalie Kolb scored four points.

Because Jenkintown depends so much on its guards, Hopsicker said she thought Mattas and Smith could play a major role in the paint.

“We have to play our defense; we have to play our game,” Hopsicker said. “If we play our game, we can bring home the gold ball. We need five people crashing boards. We need to box out, and if we can stay true to ourselves, they’re going to have a tough matchup with Halee and Maddie.”

Another factor that could play into the Lady Hornets’ favor is that this is Jenkintown’s first trip to the state championship.

“It feels a lot better going into this year because of the experience of going last year,” Smith said. “I think that will make us a lot more confident going into this state championship game.”

That experience has changed Juniata Valley’s mindset.

“We’re playing to win games,” Hopsicker said. “Before maybe we were playing to not lose. That’s part of becoming winners. If you are a winner, you start to expect to win.”