A lot goes into the kind of turnaround that the Northwestern girls' basketball team has pulled off this year.
After going 7-15 last year and 3-19 in 2009-10, the Lady Tigers (9-2 overall, 5-2 Colonial League) are already just two wins away from qualifying for a district playoff berth with half the season still in front of them.
Several factors produced the team's improvement. Northwestern has a group of team-oriented seniors that have set a great example. The team added a couple of freshmen to fill the much-need point guard spot. And a successful offseason injected a boost of confidence before the season started.
"We were expecting to be a lot better than last year," said sophomore center Trista Cunningham. "I don't know if we were expecting to do this well, but I hope we keep it up.
"We're really hoping to make it to playoffs. I think we'll make it there if we keep going at this rate."
The past two years the team relied on Sara Jones to do most of its scoring. At the same time, without a wealth of strong ball handlers, head coach Chris Deutsch often had to use Jones at point guard.
This year, freshmen Sabrina Mertz and Sarah Segan can both play point guard. They have both earned spots in the starting line up and have been a big boost to the team.
"If you put freshmen out there, they're going to make mistakes," said Deutsch. "But they don't put their head down. They keep battling and they do the best they can. And they're very well-liked by their teammates. They're good team players. To have that means a lot."
The fact that the team gets along so well surely contributes to its success. That starts with the group of six seniors. Only one of them is in the starting line up, but all of them contribute regularly.
"When you have six seniors and only one is starting, that is hard for the other five," Deutsch said. "But those girls are great. They're really supportive. I know they want to play more and I understand that. I know that is tough. They're not causing trouble. They're well liked by their teammates and that's something for the younger girls to look up to."
Senior starter Caileigh Landrigan is the team's "unsung hero," Deutsch said. But any of her classmates - Emma Kemmerer, Jen Nemes, Sam MacLaughlin, Jess Albright and Taylor Dietrich can step in and play meaningful minutes while adding a spark.
"We're really deep," said Cunningham. "The girls off the bench can get the job done. No matter who's in we can count on everyone."
Jones is happy to have some of the scoring load taken off her shoulders and to be part of a winning team.
"The first game we hit the floor I knew everything was meshing," Jones said. "I have seven people around me who are just as capable of doing what I'm doing. Each night a new person is stepping up. It's awesome."
Deutsch couldn't be happier with the way his players mesh on and off the court.
"These girls really get along with one another," he said. "You can see it on the court the way they pull for one another."
The team formed bonds in the offseason. The Lady Tigers were runners up at the Penn State team camp and played to Sunday in both Cedar Beach tournaments - the Stellar and Sportsfest.
It marked the most successful summer in Deutsch's nine years at the helm, including the ones that preceded the team's league title seasons in 2006 and 2007.
"This year's team," said Cunningham. "We really get along well. We have a great connection between all of us. On the court we connect really well and we play well together."
AWESOME OERTNER ... Northern Lehigh's Aimee Oertner displayed her versatility on Saturday in a 70-34 non-league win over Pius X.
Oertner posted some incredible numbers as she racked up a quintuple-double in the Bulldogs' victory. The senior led all scorers with 26 points, pulled in 20 rebounds, had 10 assists, 10 steals and blocked 11 shots.
Although the TIMES NEWS doesn't keep records on multiple doubles in a game, no one at the paper can recall a quintuple double ever being recorded.
While hitting double figures in five different statistical categories in the same game might have been a first for Oertner, having guady numbers in all of those categories is nothing new for the Bulldog senior.
Oertner is currently closing in on milestones or has recently achieved them in all five categories.
These were Oertner's totals heading into Tuesday's game against Saucon Valley. The numbers are courtesy of Northern Lehigh Athletic Director Bryan Geist:
* Oertner had 1,488 career points, She needed 151 more points to break the Northern Lehigh school record (boys and girls) of 1,639 held by 1992 grad Becky Blose.
* Oertner had 949 rebounds. She needed 51 more to hit the 1,000 mark for her career.
* Oertner had 474 blocked shots. She needed 26 more to hit the 500 mark for her career.
* Oertner had 268 steals. She needed 32 to reach the 300 mark for her career.
* Oertner had 310 assists. She hit the 300 mark against Palisades on Jan. 6.
In addition to those career numbers, Oertner is currently ranked first in the entire nation (among schools that submit stats to Max Preps) in blocked shots per game this season. Oertner is averaging 9.6 blocks per game.
GOING FOR A RUN ... There are scoring runs that can change the momentum of a close game, and then there are scoring runs that can put a contest completely out of reach.
So was the case for the Palmerton girls' basketball team last Saturday. The Bombers' opponent, East Stroudsburg North, scored the first bucket of the game before the locals went on a 24-0 spurt that essentially blew the game open in the first half. Palmerton led 24-6 at the end of the first half and went on to win by a score of 38-22.
INJURED COLT... The Marian Boys Basketball squad took a big hit on January 4th against Shenandoah Valley when point guard and defensive stopper Anthony Agosti (8.78 ppg) was injured and lost for the season with a broken wrist. Agosti is Marian's second leading scorer and floor general for the Colts.
"Losing Agosti is obviously a huge loss for our squad moving forward," said Marian coach John Patton. "We're going to struggle offensively and defensively he can't be replaced. He's still going to be a leader for us on the bench, but a couple kids are going to have to step up for us."