"Leave a legacy."
That has been Jim Thorpe's motto since the beginning of the season.
However, perhaps unbeknownst to them, this year's core of Lady Olympians may have been creating their legacy all along.
The Jim Thorpe girls' basketball program has come a long way since 2008. After an away game at Shamokin in January of '08, an incident occurred that left the school board with no other option but to cancel the remaining season. The program 'cleaned house' the following year and started over from scratch. It was then that five freshmen unknowingly began to write their legacy.
Now seniors, Kristin Lawrence, Jeanna McElmoyle, Chasity Mosteller, Celeste Robinson and Chelsea Smelas were some of the initial players charged with moving the program in the right direction. Each played in at least 14 games their freshman year, with Robinson, Smelas and Lawrence starting in all 22. They, along with Cristyna Batts who transfered in a year later, have since changed the culture of Jim Thorpe girls' basketball.
This year the Lady Olympians are the best girls' team in the TIMES NEWS area at 17-2. It was something a lot of people should have saw coming, considering they have increased their win total each of the last three seasons. As freshman the girls were 8-14. The next year they were only one game better at 9-13, but the lessons they would learn would go beyond wins and losses. It was in 2010-11 that Jim Thorpe made the jump from a nine-win team to a 16-win team and earned its first district berth in nine years. Head coach Rob Kovac and his girls want to take the next step this year. So far they are well on their way.
"A big part of our success can be attributed to the girls just understanding what it takes to be successful," said Kovac. "Coaches can stress things, but until the players go through it they never really understand. I've been saying that to them since they were freshmen and sophomores. Since then they have learned from expierence.
"We do the little things now. We trust each other now. The girls are as close as I have ever seen a team be and I think it all stems from their sophomore year. We went through some growing pains that year, but I know we wouldn't be as successful as we are today without those sophomore struggles."
Kovac admitted that the team's eight wins in 2008-09 were more than expected and may have led to some raised expectations for the following year. As sophomores, the group improved by just a single game due to a lot of close losses. Still, it was through those tough losses that the girls' learned what must be done in order to win tight games. Since then the Lady Olympians have posted a 33-9 record.
While all of the girls have had a hand in the program's turnaround, Robinson has been the key contributor. The 5-9 do-everything guard has increased her scoring average every year and currently leads everyone in the area - boys included - at 25.3 points-per-game. That makes for a 13.8-point increase since her freshman year.
"Celeste has improved through hard work," Kovac said. "She hasn't become Jim Thorpe's all-time leading scorer by accident. She has worked on her game and has put it all together this season. This year she has added the pull-up jumper. It just adds another wrinkle to her game. She definitely makes things easier on me."
In order to have a big-time scorer, Kovac said the other players must show a sense of selflessness. Fortunately, Jim Thorpe's supporting cast does just that while still doing their fair share of contributing. Smelas, a 5-7 forward, chips in with 11.7 points a game. Fellow guards Lawrence (6.9), Batts (3.0), Mosteller (2.2) and McElmoyle (2.0) each add at least a bucket a game as well and make for a deep, seasoned group of girls.
Recently Jim Thorpe added another feather to its cap when it knocked off Blue Mountain 45-41 on Jan 27. The win avenged the Olympians' only loss at the time and tied them atop the Schuylkill League's Division I. They have since lost to Minersville, but still lead the division at 8-1 while the Eagles are a half-game behind at 8-2.
Coming into this season Kovac and his girls wanted to take the next step and qualify for the Schuylkill League playoffs for the first time ever. However, if they can continue their great play for another month or so, the Jim Thorpe girls just may get their wish: to go down as the best team in school history.
"The Blue Mountain game was a boost for our confidence moving forward," Kovac said. "It had a playoff atmosphere and the gym was packed. It was intense on both sides and it showed that we can win the types of games that you need to win in late February and early March. We will benefit from it because it was a playoff game in January.
"We want to be the first team to qualify for the league playoffs. That was our No. 1 priority coming into this year. As of (Monday), we are on the verge. Doing some damage in districts would be nice too. The AAA is brutal and there will not be an easy game, but I would love to be one of the three teams representing District 11 in the state playoffs."
SEEING TRIPLE(S) ... Marian's Kaysi McLaughlin went on quite a tear from the three-point line this past week.
In two games against Schuylkill Haven and Weatherly, McLaughlin sank a total of 14 three-pointers. She made eight against Haven last Tuesday before following it up with six more against the Wreckers on Friday. She accounted for 14 of the Fillies' 18 triples in the two games.