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Thorpe girls on the rise with young talent

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    Jim Thorpe girls basketball team members are, front row, from left, Rhiannon Berger, Sydney McArdle, Natalia Richards, Kristen Scott and Skyler Searfoss. Back row, Taylor Craigie, Leah Snisky, Olivia Smelas, Leila Hurley and Riley Solt. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS

Published December 06. 2018 12:15PM

This season’s Jim Thorpe girls’ basketball team will have a brand new look that has coach Rob Kovac brimming with excitement.

Gone is all- everything Kayley Kovac, who has recovered from a torn ACL to get to play some quality minutes in early season games for St. Francis (PA) University. Also departing were Payton Kovac and Jackie Condly, who were vital contributors for Thorpe once Kayley was shut down with a season-ending injury in the middle of last season. Graduation also removed Devon Lignore and Sara Gabel from the JT roster.

“With only one senior on the team, you might think we will struggle for wins, but we have some very talented underclassmen who will start and we think will do very well,” said Rob Kovac.

Senior Natalia Richards brings her fourth year of varsity experience to the hardwood. As team captain, she will mostly play the shooting guard position.

“Natalia is quite polished as well as battle-scarred from playing here and AAU basketball as well,” said Kovac. “Her game is solid. She can distribute, she can score, and she can defend.”

Junior Kristin Scott is described by Kovac as a “jack of all trades” because of her versatility.

“Kristin is long in the body,” he said. “She’s a great ballhandler and she can run the floor on offense and defense.”

Junior Taylor Craigie started 15 games last year and is expected to score from inside the paint for the Olympians. She will also be counted on for rebounding and be a strong defensive force.

Kovac praised his two starting freshmen.

“Skylar Searfoss is as talented as anyone who’s ever played at Jim Thorpe,” he said. “She’s already played at a very high level with AAU, but the best thing about her is that she has an extraordinary IQ for the game despite her young age. She’ll play the off-guard or the wing. She makes everyone else better.”

Olivia Smelas is a 6-0 freshman who might become “the best post player ever at JT” according to Kovac.

“Olivia has outstanding footwork, she can change her shot on the fly and she can finish plays,” Kovac commented.

Freshman Layla Hurley brings athleticism and adds a left-handed weapon to the Olympian’s offense. She, too, can run the floor and stretch the defense. Freshman Leah Snisky and junior Rhiannon Berger will provide depth to the rotation.

On defense, Thorpe will mix and match man-to-man and zone. One concern is the depth outside the first seven and, of course, in Kovac’s words, to hope the basketball gods keep everyone healthy.

“We look young on paper with just the one senior,” said Kovac. “But these kids have played a lot of basketball and won a lot of games together at the AAU Nationals.”

Versatility, competitive spirit, and athleticism will all be on display with this year’s edition of Jim Thorpe’s girls’ basketball.

With all their youth, they just might become a very special team in the next few seasons.

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