When many, including this reporter, noticed standout Montoursville point guard Kirsten O'Malley was not playing last Wednesday at Loyalsock, they figured a blowout seemed imminent. It was a similar sentiment Friday against undefeated Warrior Run.
But both times Montoursville nearly won. The Warriors lost to Loyalsock, 44-41 on a last-second Kayla Gee 3-pointer before losing 34-24 to Warrior Run after leading by eight in the third quarter. Sure, the losses hurt, but Montoursville showed more depth than many thought it had. The Warriors showed they are far from a one-player team and are, in fact, a deep team.
And just imagine how good Montoursville can be when O'Malley returns. That could happen Friday at the Wellsboro Tournament. Add in starting forward Kelsey Stine, who missed most of the Warrior Run game with a head injury, and Montoursville certainly looks like a District 4 Class AA title contender. Nobody likes to lose, but the two losses last week could prove a significant turning point.
"You take the good with the bad right now and we're rotating people through right now. We didn't think we'd be in this position right now as finding out as deep as we are but I think it's going to pay off," Montoursville coach Kevin Kurtz said. "It gives kids opportunities and some of the kids are stepping up and taking advantage of those opportunities."
O'Malley averaged 16 points last season while anchoring one of the district's best defenses. Montoursville entered last week 3-0 with her in the lineup but losing without her is not necessarily a bad thing. The Warriors faced two fellow district title contenders and had chances to win both games. Players who might have waited in the past for O'Malley to make something big happen elevated their performances and played outstanding defense.
Freshmen Lexi Marchioni and Gillian Mitchell made big impacts against Loyalsock and junior Marissa Folk was a force at times against Warrior Run. Sophomore Nicole Weisser looked like a potential breakout player while experienced players like McKenzie Ruffing and Marissa Hall also made nice impacts.
Dr. Masse's Top 5 Rankings
1. Muncy (6-0)
The Indians are off to their best start of the 21st century and won two games in convincing fashion last week. Muncy has won all six games by double-digit margins and has a tenacious defense that can match its solid offense. Brianna McLaughlin is one of District 4's best defenders but also can score in a variety of ways, passes well and is an excellent ball-handler. She had a game-high 18 points in a 59-39 win over Bloomsburg while Emily Shnyder had a season-high 10 points. Natalie Lamoreaux and Nikki Scott can be big off the bench for Muncy and combined for 13 points in that game.
2. Warrior Run (5-0)
Four-year starting forward Steph Shamburg needs one point Friday against Montgomery to reach 1,000 career points. Shamburg has helped lead a resurgence at Warrior Run during her four seasons, but the Defenders are more balanced this season. Slow down Shamburg in the past and a team slowed down Warrior Run. That is no longer the case with players like Abby Fisher, Emily Webb and Madi Welliver making big early-season impacts. Fisher is averaging 13 points per game, Webb is shining as a freshman point guard and Welliver had 22 rebounds in an impressive 50-36 win over Lewisburg.
"The nice thing about this year is she (Shamburg) is still our leader but all the pressure is not on her," Weaver said. "We have enough people around her. We're 5-0 going into our holiday tournament and that's where we want to be."
3. Montoursville (3-2)
Marchioni looks like a player who could develop into one of the area's premier ones over the next four seasons. The freshman point guard has a nice shot, plays good defense and runs the court well. She also showed a lot of poise against Loyalsock, hitting both ends of a 1-and-1 in the final minute to give Montoursville a brief lead.
4. St. John Neumann (4-1)
Neumann lost its first game 56-46 at Millville Saturday after Baylie Gerrity and Megan Helminiak suffered a black eye and a front tooth being moved, respectively. The Knights had started 4-0 for a second straight year. Senior point guard Emily Sholder is off to her best start. The four-year starter is averaging 19.4 points per game and has scored at least 15 in all five games. All-state guard Meghan Trenholm has been just as strong. She scored 21 of her 26 points in the second half last Thursday as Neumann rallied in the second half and won at Bucktail, 56-47.
5. Mansfield (5-2)
Alysa Davey-Bostic is having a breakout season. The sophomore matched a career-high with 15 points in a 48-30 win over Williamson and reached double figures in both games last week. She has been instrumental to the Tigers starting strong despite losing three double-digit starters to graduation. Fellow sophomore Ali Hillson and Kaitlyn Garverick also are off to impressive starts and Mansfield's only two losses are to defending District 4 Class AAA champion Athens and District 4 Class AA title contender Wyalusing by a combined eight points.
Player of the week
Jen Jackson, South Williamsport
The senior forward has been one of the area's premier players the past two seasons and shined in South's road wins last week. Jackson, a determined player who also averages near double figures in rebounds, scored 42 points in the wins, including a season-high 23 against Benton.
Game of the week
Warrior Run Tournament
This one edges out the Wellsboro Tournament which features the hosts, Montoursville, Williamsport and Troy. The Muncy-Milton game Friday should be a dandy and a potential championship between Warrior Run and the winner of that game might be even better. If Muncy and Warrior Run play it would not just be a battle of unbeatens but also brothers with Craig Weaver Jr. coaching Muncy and Jon Weaver coaching Warrior Run.
If they did realize it before, those players now should realize how good they can be. It is not the way Montoursville scripted things but it might work out pretty well in the long run.
"We're finding out real quick exactly what we have and how deep we are," Kurtz said. "We're expecting them to make mistakes, no doubt about it, but the confidence they're gaining is going to pay off."
Montoursville held Warrior Run to its lowest point total of the season - 16 below its previous low. It turned early nine and five-point deficits into second-half leads in both games, too. Others might have counted them out, but the Warriors believed.
"Give credit to Montoursville," Warrior Run coach Jon Weaver said. "They get after it."
Kurtz said O'Malley could have played against Warrior Run but it was a coach's decision to hold her out. She has been fighting the painful back injury since the preseason and, early in the season, it seemed foolish to risk making it worse. Holding O'Malley out gives her six more days to rest before Montoursville plays in this weekend's Wellsboro Tournament.
Stine might return as well, bolstering Montoursville's inside game. The Warriors are not bad when missing players. At full strength, anything now seems possible.
"Marissa Folk stepped up big-time (Friday) and we have other players that are stepping up big-time," Kurtz said. "That is what we need. That is really going to help."
There has been no such thing as an easy game for Loyalsock this season. The Lancers opened their season by playing District 1 Class AAAA title contenders Bishop Shanahan and Chester and have met three of District 4's premier Class AA teams since then, including last year's finalists. Few Class AA teams play a tougher non-conference schedule so there might be hope for a playoff return despite a 1-4 start.
"Starting out with those Quad A teams we learned a lot from it," said guard Kayla Gee, who has reached double figures in four straight games. "It gives us confidence going against all the teams in our conference."
The HAC-II is one of central Pennsylvania's most rugged small-school leagues, so Loyalsock has ensured it will be prepared for that night-in and night-out. Still, the Lancers have to fight their way back if they hope to end a two-year playoff drought and play Class AA power North Schuylkill in their next game. Nothing will come easy down the stretch but Loyalsock is used to that.
And if the Lancers do rally and reach the playoffs they could emerge as a sleeper title threat. But only if they play better than they did in Saturday's 60-57 loss to undefeated Southern Columbia when turnovers, fouls and poor rebounding doomed them.
"We talked about our schedule and I feel like if we get through January we'll be in good shape," Loyalsock coach Demarr Wright said. "I've been telling them them that with the exception of Bishop Shanahan who flat out beat us, Loyalsock has beaten Loyalsock every time. I told them if you play defense and do not foul, you're going to beat a lot of teams."
Bucktail all-state guard Maria Morgan played one of her best games in a 60-22 rout of Northern Potter on Saturday. Morgan scored 32 points, dealt six assists and made four steals while hitting 13 of 17 shots. Tiffany Werts is emerging for the Bucks (2-4) and has topped 10 rebounds in three straight games ... Hughesville (2-4) has eclipsed last year's win total and made a nice fourth-quarter comeback in Thursday's 45-42 win over Montgomery. Sophomore Carly Rogers had a career-high 14 points and is one of several promising Spartan underclassmen ... South Williamsport won its first two games, going on the road and beating Sullivan County and Benton by 41 combined points. The Mounties (2-3) are tied for the first in the HAC-III and had season-high point performances Saturday from Anna Steer, Roxie Keller and Lizz Cummings ... Corrine Shaffer and Dionna Satteson each scored 12 points in Montgomery's 41-32 win over Sullivan County. Satteson has the potential to be a force inside and the sophomore has had three double-digit performances.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse for more basketball information.