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Moshannon Valley girls return just one letterwinner this season
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
By Jon Christoff Sports Writer
AMESVILLE - When you have one returning letterwinner and three upperclassmen total on the roster, most coaches would enter the season skeptical about what to expect.
Not Moshannon Valley girls basketball coach Van Cornish.
Cornish, who's entering his third season at the helm of the Damsels, has just one letterman in senior Tayia Swoope on his 11-player roster, but his youthful team is giving him reason to be optimistic.
After going just 5-37 in his first two years, Cornish is hopeful his team can close the gap on the competition within the Moshannon Valley League.
Perhaps even compete for the title.
"The coaching staff is very excited for the upcoming season," said Cornish. "We realize we are a very young team this year, but we also believe there is a great deal of potential in this group. If we can play our style of basketball, we feel we can be successful this year.
"On the very first day, we sat them down and gave them three expectations for this year - be more competitive in every game, play better defense and we want to contend in the MVL. We know we're young, but we feel we can close the gap between us and some of these other teams and be more competitive in that league this year."
Why the reason for optimism?
The hard-working Damsels have a lot of athleticism and an intensity that Cornish hasn't seen from his other teams.
Aside from Swoope returning in the post, Cornish is still trying to peg his starting five, and he said the competition has been fierce up to this point.
"It's almost day-to-day and week-to-week with us," Cornish said. "The sophomore girls have been really working hard and the freshmen have stepped up, too. It could easily change back and forth, and that's what I've been telling them at practice - we have four open spots.
"This team is a lot more athletic and aggressive and intense than the other teams we've had. This group has easily surpassed the other one. Last Wednesday's practice was the best that we've had since I've been here. We've been trying to simulate the game as best we can, and they've handled it really well."
In addition to last year's senior class, Cornish has to deal with a couple of girls not on this season's roster who were underclassmen a season ago.
As a result, Cornish will be looking for a new point guard and he has his sights set on sophomore Emily Smith and freshman Emily Kolesar.
Both are more than capable, according to Cornish, and he's excited to see what each brings to the table.
"The two Emilys will be the ballhandlers for us," said Cornish. "They're easily the best ballhandlers on the team. As to which one will be starting, it could be either one.
"They're both really athletic and they've each got a good outside shot. They're fast and they're long, too. They each have a good wingspan. They'll probably split time, if nothing else."
Juniors Kelsey Kitko and Mackenzie Kitko, sophomores Maggie Holenchik, Ally Kronenwetter, Samantha Matchock, Tiffany Smeal and Haley Stodart, and freshman Hannah Kitko round out Cornish's squad.
Aside from Swoope, who averaged 6.6 points in 19 contests, the Damsels have just five players with any varsity experience.
Despite the fact that the five varsity returnees totaled just 23 points, Cornish has spent a great deal working on defense after Mo Valley allowed 51.4 points per contest a year ago.
"We don't have any returning scorers that were 15- or 20-point scorers," Cornish said, "so we have to win on defense. That's the first thing we do in practice every day - defensive positioning, defensive slides and knowing where we need to be in each defense.
"There are some great teams on our schedule between the MVL and the (Inter-County Conference), but with hard work and the right attitude, we believe we can compete with all of them. Our practices have reflected that so far."
Mo Valley opens its season on Friday at the Glendale tournament against the hosts.
Tipoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.

Roster - Seniors
*Tayia Swoope.
Kelsey Kitko, Mackenzie Kitko.
Maggie Holenchik, Ally Kronenwetter, Samantha Matchock, Tiffany Smeal, Emily Smith, Haley Stodart.
Hannah Kitko, Emily Kolesar.
*Denotes returning letterwinner.

Schedule - December
7-vs. Glendale at Lady Viking Tip-off Tournament; 8-at Lady Viking Tip-off Tournament, TBD; 10-at Curwensville; 13-Juniata Valley; 17-at Williamsburg; 20-Claysburg-Kimmel; 28-29-at Williamsburg Tournament, TBA.
2-Harmony; 3-at Mount Union; 10-Glendale; 14-at Bellwood-Antis; 17-at West Branch; 22-at Juniata Valley; 23-at Harmony; 25-Williamsburg; 29-at Claysburg-Kimmel.
1-Mount Union; 5-at Glendale; 8-Bellwood-Antis; 11-Curwensville; 12-West Branch.
Games begin at 7:30 p.m. unless noted.


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