Lady Olympians begin rebuilding process
Front: Ilse Hassler. Catherine Condly, Colleen Hoffman. Middle: Brittany Doughty, Erin Shigo, Autumn Cope, Anna Beard, Rebecca Cressman. Back: Jordan Waselus, Briea Bush, Nikki Ennis, Danielle Becker, Alissa Rusbarsky, Emily Allem, Devon Lignore.
Four years ago, Jim Thorpe girls basketball coach Rob Kovac welcomed a young and talented freshman class to the varisty level.
And while many of those ninth graders were skilled and eventually developed into quality players, that squad still faced numerous ups and downs.
Those trying times in the early stages of their career may have been tough to swallow at the time, but they helped the group mature into arguably the best Lady Olympian team in school history.
While no one is predicting the same success Celeste Robinson, Chelsea Smelas, Kristen Lawrence, Jeanne McElmoyle and Co. enjoyed as seniors a year ago when they went 21-6 and won the Schuylkill League Division 1 title, the fact remains there are similarities between that group and this year's incoming freshman class.
"We've talked about (where that team started)," said Kovac. "When those kids came in as freshmen a lot of them played right away. We went through some growing pains and experienced some hardship along the way. We'd love to get to a position where the program on a yearly basis can contend in Division 1 of the Schuylkill League. Unfortunetely we're not quite there.
"But I love the direction we're headed. I think in a matter of a year or two, we should be pretty solid for an extended period of time but I think in the next year or two we are in that transition period again and we understand that."
Actually, that's something rather easy to understand.
Robinson was an all-state player that set many school records. Her scoring, along with the rest of the seniors, accounted for 1,334 of the Olympians' 1,369 points.
Four of the freshmen on this year's roster should see significant time and one may even start, but for now a promising but inexperienced group of juniors will probably gain the starting roles.
Those juniors include guards Cat Condly and Nikki Ennis, post player Danielle Becker and swingman Alyssa Rusbarsky.
"Condly's probably had the most experience at the varisty level," said Kovac. "In fact, by the end of the season last year Catherine was our first off the bench and was essentially playing starter's minutes for us. She's matured as a player ... and she's really become a leader with this group.
"Nikki's a great shooter. She might be one of the best shooters in the area. She has tremendous range on her jump shot. Danielle has matured and grown. She's legitamately 6-1 right now. She's a nice-sized kid and has improved a lot. Alyssa may play four different positions for us this year. She plays hard and is versatile ... We feel pretty comfortable with those four in the starting lineup."
Bryanna Kehrli, another junior who transferred from Panther Valley, along with freshmen Autumn Cope, Rebecca Cressman and Erin Shigo will compete for the final spot. Brea Bush, a ninth grader, is also in the mix for considerable minutes.
"While we're inexperienced, this team's pretty athletic," said Kovac, now in his sixth season at Jim Thorpe. "We can put some kids on the floor that can move and get up and down the floor.
"We expect some natural graining pains early. But our goal, and something we've stressed from Day One, is to get better every day. We want to become a good basketball team by the end of the season. That doesn't happen unless you start to get better right now and we're headed in the right direction."