If expectations hold up to reality, this upcoming York-Adams League girls’ basketball season may be the most exciting and competitive ever.
That opinion comes from fans, players and coaches alike.
The most excitement figures to come from Division I and Division II, where any of at least five teams could reasonably consider themselves contenders to claim a division title and/or league title.
While Division III and Division IV look to be a little more predictable, division titles may not be decided until the final regular-season contest.
Following is a preview look at each division, with last year’s records noted in parenthesis.
Division I: West York (23-7 overall, 13-2 Division I) moved up from Division II a year ago and ended the 12-year reign of Red Lion atop the division standings. The Bulldogs finished fourth in the District 3-AAA Tournament to earn a fifth-consecutive trip to the PIAA state playoffs.
Repeating as division champion won’t be easy for West York coach Jon Shultz, who will have to find a way to make up for the loss of three starters from that squad — Sarah Shearer (13.0 ppg), Heather Zinn (8.7 ppg) and Jess Noll (5.6 ppg).
“We have to replace three tough players,” Shultz said. “But specifically, they all played inside for us. We call them bruisers and they’re hard to replace. So we’re going to see what we’re made of. It’s going to be like a gang of kids that we use.”
The Bulldogs coach will also be without senior guard Raychel Johnson (3.3 ppg) for the majority of the season. Johnson tore her ACL in May and doesn’t figure to return until late January at the earliest.
While that is the bad news for Shultz and company, the good news is the return of junior guards Kari Lankford (12.0 ppg) and Emily Wood (9.3 ppg). Shultz considers Lankford and Wood two of the best, if not the best, guards in the league.
“Our strength is definitely going to be our guard area,” Shultz said. “But I think our defense will be pretty nasty this year. You’re going to see a lot of organized insanity.”
While the Bulldogs won the division title, it was last year’s Division I runner-up, Dallastown, that was crowned as the league’s top outfit. The Wildcats (19-7, 12-3) knocked off both Division II champion Dover and West York to capture the school’s first league tournament title in 13 years.
Dallastown coach Mary Manlove will have to replace a trio of graduated seniors. Shae Grim, the team’s leading scorer at 11.3 ppg, Shannon Thomas (9.0 ppg) and Jenna Jackson (6.3 ppg) were primarily guards, so Manlove is in just the opposite predicament of Shultz.
The strength of the Wildcats, however, figures to be inside, where the junior duo of Amari Johnson (8.4 ppg) and Katie McGowan (6.7 ppg) return.
“We’ll have a lot of height and a lot of athletes,” Manlove said.
The key to everything figures to be Johnson, who’s built a reputation as a strong inside presence. Manlove, however, feels that Johnson has taken some significant steps to expand her role, in much the same way that Kennard-Dale’s Sara Tarbert, who earned a scholarship to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, did a year ago.
“Amari should be much more versatile than she was a year ago,” Manlove said.
Even though they failed to capture a division title last year, Red Lion coach Don Dimoff’s club may be the wild card in this mix. While the Lions will surely miss Jenny Horvatinovic and her 16.0 points a game average, Dimoff has a knack of getting the most out of his club.
Dimoff will have the duo of senior Morgan Kuehne (10.8 ppg) as well as his daughter, sophomore Courtney Dimoff (9.4 ppg), in hopes of leading the squad to another title.
The Lions will also utilize a freshman with a familiar name — Maciejewski. The younger sister of former standouts Todd and Erica, Amy Maciejewski could be a big part of the formula for replacing Horvatinovic, who earned a scholarship to Monmouth University.
Shultz, who saw Maciejewski play a few times over the summer, was impressed.
“She’s going to be a little bit different of a player than her sister,” Shultz said. “She has more of a guard-mentality, although she does have the body frame to go inside and bang around, but she’s not a six-footer like her sister, Erica.”
The division will be rounded out by South Western (8-13, 5-10), New Oxford (7-15, 4-11) and Central York (7-15, 3-12).
The Panthers will be led by a “new” coach this season, although he’s hardly that. Scott Wisner was a longtime coach of the program before stepping down years ago. Wisner led the program to back-to-back Division I titles in the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons, the league and a District 3-AAAA title in 1999 as well as a back-to-back berths into the PIAA playoffs.
“I’m very excited about it,” said Wisner.
Division II: While it was a history-making season for Dover (27-4, 14-0 Division II) in 2012-2013 — a division title, a contest at the Giant Center and a berth into the state playoffs — the only thing the Eagles and Coach Troy Lokhaiser have to show for it is a single yet significant banner adorning the walls of the gymnasium.
“We did not garner any hardware titles last year and that certainly is a goal this year,” said Lokhaiser. “And we’d love to get back to the county playoffs and the district playoffs and see how we fare. But that banner is something special for the girls. It’s the first one ever for girls’ basketball up here and they treasure it, as well they should.”
Lokhaiser won’t have to make many major adjustments to his lineup this season. He lost just one starter — guard Kara Funk (7.8 ppg) — to graduation.
“We’re still feeling that out a little bit,” Lokhaiser said of possible replacements for Funk.
He will have one of the most senior-laden squads throughout the league, with eight seniors in addition to one junior in his primary mix.
Unquestionably the biggest return will be that of senior Alayah Hall (15.4 ppg), who turned up her play a notch in the state playoffs. Hall averaged nearly 19 points a game over three contests in leading the Eagles to upset victories over Bayard-Rustin and Nazareth.
Hall will be joined by fellow seniors Maxine Herman (6.2 ppg) and Megan Lokhaiser (6.8 ppg), as well as junior Marissa McMahon (7.0 ppg).
“Alayah and Max have started every varsity game that they’ve ever played here,” Coach Lokhaiser said. “And then we have two other starters, Megan and Marissa, back here so we have a good returning core.”
While the Eagles cruised through the regular season, winning their first 23 games, they may be fortunate in that they share the bull’s-eye with a number of other clubs.
“We certainly had a great year last year but Susquehannock had an awesome year too,” Troy Lokhaiser said. “They made it to the district finals last year. Dallastown won the county title. Red Lion is always a perennial contender, as well as West York. So I think we’re just one of the teams out there that could have a good year.”
Repeating as division champs won’t be easy for the Eagles. In addition to cross-over contests against West York, Dallastown and Red Lion (all on the road), Dover will have to battle division rival Susquehannock twice this season.
One particularly brutal stretch comes in mid-January when the Eagles will play the Warriors, the Wildcats, the Bulldogs and the Lions in a row over a stretch of seven days.
“That will certainly be a challenge for us,” Lokhaiser said.
Susquehannock (18-9, 9-5) failed to qualify for the league playoffs, but made amends for that by defeating West York in the District 3-AAA semifinals to earn a berth in the district finals.
And like Dover, Susquehannock will return a significant core of talent again this year. The trio of seniors Makenzie Fancher (8.5 ppg), Shannon Druck (10.6 ppg) and Katie Wagner (11.0 ppg) figure to spearhead Coach Dave Schreiner’s club to higher levels.
Spring Grove (10-12, 5-9), Northeastern (7-15, 3-11) and York Suburban (4-18, 1-13) round out the rest of Division II.
The Rockets may make some noise themselves if they can find a couple of play-makers to go along with senior Morgan Arden. Arden finished second in the league scoring race after averaging 22.5 points a game last year.
Division III: Eastern York (18-10, 11-2 Division III) figures to be the favorite to repeat as division champion this year. Despite the loss of Liz Myers (13.4 ppg), second-year coach Cheryl Land will have Bloomsburg-bound senior Morgan Thomas, in addition to Myers’ younger sister, junior Leah (7.3 ppg).
Kennard-Dale (15-10, 9-4) will have to deal with two major changes in the program after finishing second to the Knights a year ago. Josh Clark will step in as the new head coach of the program, replacing Jeff Stratmeyer.
Probably more important for Clark will be finding a way to replace Tarbert, the league’s scoring champion a season ago. Tarbert scored more than 24 points a game, while no other K-D player averaged more than eight points a contest.
Bermudian Springs (7-14, 5-8) didn’t graduate any seniors from last year’s club. The Eagles figure to once again be led by junior Shannon Kuhn, who averaged 13.9 points a game.
York High (4-17, 2-11) and Littlestown (0-19, 0-13) round out the rest of the division.
Division IV: Much of the excitement figures to again come from parochial rivals York Catholic (29-3, 13-0 Division IV) and Delone Catholic (20-8, 11-2).
And according to Irish coach Kevin Bankos, his team may not be at the top of the pecking order in the division, at least heading into this year.
“Delone, I think, is actually the favorite in Division IV,” Bankos said. “(Delone) Coach Eckenrode has a lot of talent to work with.”
Don’t let Bankos fool you. His team is still extremely talented, even if they do have to find a way to replace leading scorer Morgan Klunk (17.0 ppg).
The Irish will have three starters back from last year’s squad that advanced all the way to the PIAA Class AA title game in Hershey. That trio is led by Zaenna Echevarria, who earned a scholarship to play along with Tarbert at UMBC. Echevarria averaged 8.5 points a game, a figure that many expect to rise now that Klunk is gone.
Echevarria be joined by junior center Hannah Laslo (10.7 ppg) and senior guard Deanna Chesko (5.3 ppg).
While Bankos knew he had to find a way to replace Klunk after last season, the job got a bit more difficult with the injury suffered by Amelia York over the summer. Like West York’s Raychel Johnson, York suffered a torn ACL.
“I think she’ll be able to play sometime in February, which is a pretty important time of the year for us,” Bankos said. “Amelia brings a level of toughness that we don’t have in a lot of other kids. So my challenge right now to them is that we need to make up for that. We need to make up for her toughness, her hustle and her passion to play the game.”
Even with the losses of Klunk and York, the ultimate goal hasn’t changed one bit at York Catholic.
“The expectation is set, and I think they set it upon themselves, that once you’re there and you’ve tasted (a championship), you strive to get back,” Bankos said. “But we also realized how extremely difficult it is. It certainly is not easy to do what we’ve done. It’s not easy to do it one time, and some schools still haven’t gotten a chance to experience it. So we certainly don’t take it for granted, but we feel like it’s a definite opportunity for us.”
At Delone, Eckenrode will try to replace eight seniors from last year’s club, including Abbey Sponseller (10.6 ppg). Fortunately for Eckenrode, he will have the duo of Maddie Comly (14.0 ppg) and Mary Gingrow (6.1 ppg) back for another go-round. The Delone coach also figures to have some younger players from the junior varsity and junior-high programs step in.
Hanover (14-10, 7-6) figures to be an up-and-coming challenger to the two parochial schools. The Nighthawks won a district contest before falling to the Irish in the quarterfinals. Leading scorer Soukaina Tracy (14.5 ppg) returns, along with her fellow sophomore and sister, Zaynah. Seniors Shelby Barnes and Renee Drawbaugh are also back after both averaging 6.0 points a game.
Biglerville (15-9, 5-8) and Fairfield (6-14, 2-11) round out the rest of the division.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.