GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Spartans, Olympians very familiar foes

Charlie Roth, Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.
·4 min read

Feb. 26—POTTSVILLE — It's unlikely that two girls' basketball teams anywhere know each other as well as North Schuylkill and Jim Thorpe.

The Spartans and Olympians will square off in the Schuylkill League championship game at 5 p.m. today at Martz Hall in a rematch of last year's final, won 49-46 by North Schuylkill.

It will be their sixth meeting over the past two years, counting regular season and league playoff contests. This season, they split their regular-season matchups, each winning on their home court.

There are no secrets. Each knows what the other does. Each knows what it has to do to win the title.

Each cruised into the championship game, the Spartans with a 69-31 semifinal win over Division II champion Minersville, the Olympians with a 70-33 victory over Division III champ Mahanoy Area.

Of the 10 girls who started last year's finale at Martz, nine are back this season. The Spartans have all five starters back. Jim Thorpe has four, with Olympians' sophomore Haley Smelas being the only newbie to the title-game pressure.

"They're a quality team," North Schuylkill coach Rich Wetzel said of Jim Thorpe. "We've seen them so many times over the last two years.

"I don't expect anything but another war here on Friday. As far as us, we play the way we play and if you're going to beat us, you're gonna beat us by the way we play. Hopefully, by the end we outscrap you. It's going to be two good teams playing."

Wetzel and the Spartans know what to expect. Thorpe's attack revolves around junior point guard Skyler Searfoss, one of three Olympians who will be starters in their third straight league championship game, beginning two years ago when they defeated Mahanoy Area for their first-ever league title. She is joined by two other starters from that first title team, both juniors, 6-foot-1 center Olivia Smelas and sharpshooting wing Leila Hurley. Leah Snisky, also a junior and with plenty of experience over the past three years, adds good size, rebounding skills and a knack for scoring when needed.

The Olympians can score inside with Smelas, they can drive and slash to the basket and they can score from the outside, although they don't shoot as many threes as the Spartans.

"I'm excited to be back in the Schuylkill League," said Jim Thorpe coach Nadia Gauronsky, who played at Panther Valley but had been coaching outside the Schuylkill League for a number of seasons before taking over at Jim Thorpe this season. "It's been a long time for me.

"To coach a team like Jim Thorpe who has this much talent, I'm just really happy to be here."

Wetzel's Spartans play at a more frenetic pace than the Olympians.

The key to their game is defensive disruption and the offensive opportunities, particularly in transition, that disruption creates. In the semifinal victory over Minersville, the North Schuylkill defense forced an amazing 40 turnovers, with 20 of their 30 field goals coming via layups, most in transition.

"As far as us, we play the way we play and if you're going to beat us, you're gonna beat us by the way we play," Wetzel said. "Thirty-two minutes of pressure, and pressure leads to transition."

Sophomore Kamryn Mengel has been the biggest spark in the North Schuylkill offense. In Tuesday's semifinal win, she scored 31 points without going to the free-throw line one time. She's also a leader in that pressure defensive scheme, but that style is very much a team effort. The Spartans, with a lineup that can go nine or 10 deep, have the bodies to keep fresh legs on the court at all times.

Seniors Mya Wetzel and Sarah Wagner, both capable of big scoring nights, join Mengel in the starting lineup, along with junior Katelynn Himes and senior Joslin Stitzer. Savannah Gawrylik, Maddy Wetzel, Jaclyn Mogish and Mackenzie Fetterolf are among those who provide quality minutes in reserve.

"North Schuylkill is a wonderful basketball team and they're very aggressive," Gauronsky said. "I'm hoping that we take care of the basketball a little better than we did last time, play a little more poised than we were.

"If we can come out and play that style of basketball from the very beginning, I think we'll have a much better showing than we did last time."

Contact the writer: croth@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6025