Lady Eagles should challenge in new Section Three home

By on December 10, 2014

It’s a season of change for the Cocalico girls basketball team, which makes the move down to Section Three from Section Two.

Emily White is the top returning scorer for Cocalico.

Emily White is the top returning scorer for Cocalico.

And while the Lady Eagles would have preferred to stay in Two, especially since they’ll be the only AAAA team in either Section Three or Four, they hope to make the best of the situation.

Look for them to do just that as they return a solid nucleus off of last year’s 15-10 team that finished second in Section Two and advanced to both the L-L League and District Three playoffs.

The one gaping hole on the roster was created by the graduation of Marissa Gingrich, who scored 1,047 career points before taking her talents to Elizabethtown College this past fall.

Cocalico does return three key starters, including junior Emily White, who averaged 12.5 points per game a year ago. Four-year starting point guard Natalie Sukanick (5.9 p.p.g.), the lone senior on the squad, and post player Megan Gingrich (7.3) are also back, along with reserves from a year ago in junior guard Jasa Lorah, and sophomores Emily Fassnacht and Lyndsay Engle.

Cocalico figures to be athletic, aggressive at the defensive end and able to score points offensively. That means the Lady Eagles should find themselves in the thick of things and battling for one of the top spots in Section Three.

The Lady Eagles open their season tonight as they head to Ephrata in a battle of now non-league rivals.

Recently, Ephrata Review Sports Editor Todd Ruth caught up with four-year head coach Tony DiMatteo to discuss the upcoming season.

The following is a transcript of that conversation:

Todd Ruth: You guys are coming off a nice 15-10 season in which you made the playoffs, Marisa Gingrich went over 1,000 points for her career…sum up the year and how it went for you guys?

Tony DiMatteo: I thought at times we played really, really well. I don’t think we were consistent enough, and that showed in some of the games. We played Cedar Crest extremely tough and lost to them in overtime, but we didn’t play our best some other times so that’s something we definitely need to improve on…the consistency. I thought we learned a lot, and eventhough we graduated three people we still have a relatively young team because the majority of the team is made up of sophomores and juniors.

TR: Obviously, the one key player missing from your team is Marissa Gingrich. She was a standout for four years on your team. How do you replace her?

TD: More than her points, it’s her leadership that we’ll miss the most. She works so hard, not just in practice but in the off-season…she did so much and it really influenced the rest of the kids. Like I said we had a lot of younger kids, and I think, not that we’ll necessarily miss that but I think it’s a blessing because both our younger kids and older kids now have picked up on her work habits. And I think that’s just going to be really nice because the kids are driving themselves now. They are really pushing themselves, which as a coach is a pleasure to see. But it will definitely be hard to replace 1,000 points…A couple of them are going to have to step up.

TR: I guess the other big news this year is the fact that you are making the move from Section Two to Section Three. What are your thoughts on that move?

TD: Well, a couple years ago when it first came out we tried to swap places with some teams but it didn’t work out. My fear was, which is what happened, we are the only AAAA team in both Section Three and Four, because L-S went to AAA too. That makes it tough. You don’t want to look ahead to Districts but your goal is to get as many quality points as you can. So being a AAAA team in Section Three is pretty tough. But we revamped some things. We got rid of our tournament schedule and picked up teams like Palmyra and Red Lion, which are two AAAA powerhouses. I know it’s going to be tough to play them but it’s only going to make our kids better to try to help us for our league games.

TR: You had talked about returning a nice nucleus of players. How has your team come together through the first two weeks of the pre-season?

TD: I’m really, really pleased. I think it started in the summer. We had a really nice camp at Penn State. We did well and then we played in the Hempfield Summer League. They have some really nice teams there, so I think we learned a lot about ourselves…about what we were good at and what we needed to work on. Each year I’ve been here I think we come into the season a little further ahead. We are still young. We only have one senior, so I think we’ve gotten better each year. The first couple weeks it’s sort of been nice not having to prepare for a game last weekend. We had a long training camp. I know the kids don’t like it but it gave us some extra time to put in just about everything that we do. I think we are pretty prepared so now it will be about just continuing the learning process and continuing to get better every game.

TR: Looking at your roster, Natalie Sukanick seems like she’s been there forever. She is the only senior on the team, but as a four-year starter at the point, brings a lot of leadership to this group. What are your expectations from her?

TD: Her leadership will be key. She’s picked right up where Marissa left off. She’s very vocal this year and works extremely hard. She really is pushing the other kids on the team, and that just runs through the other two captains, Megan Gingrich and Emily White. They are doing a really nice job so far, but we also told all the of the kids that they all have to be leaders, and everybody has to play hard at all times. It takes a commitment from everybody. But the leadership is definitely starting with Natalie and the other two captains.

TR: You bring back Emily, who is entering her third year as a starter. She’s your best scorer returning, and I think what makes her so tough at the offensive end is because at 5-11 with guard skills, she is such a matchup problem for teams. What are your expectations from her?

TD: Everybody talks about Emily and what she does at the offensive end, but we’ve been working really hard with her on the defensive end because she is one of our tallest players so we are going to rely on her to defend on the post. She’s got to rebound for us, so we’ve been working a lot on her footwork and her defenses and so forth. She does present a matchup problem on the other end and we’ll try to take advantage of that when we can. It’s nice because I have five people that can handle the basketball. That makes it nice on us to handle pressure and things like that.

TR: Your third returning starter is Megan Gingrich on the inside. Talk about your expectations for her.

TD: She’s our center. (At 5-11) she’s still undersized compared to some of the other teams but she’s athletic. She’s got long arms and legs and runs the floor really well. We are going to look at her to fill the post position and to be our big rebounder and scorer and to block some shots for us inside.

TR: What other girls are you looking to step in and play key roles for your team this year?

TD: Jasa Lorah is another one of my juniors. She’s a little sparkplug. It seems like every year over the years I always have that one player, and she definitely fills that bill. She’s a very good defensive player who is full of heart. She’ll be all over the place, and she leads by example. Then we have a couple sophomores in Lyndsay Engle and Emily Fassnacht. They both got quite a bit of playing time last year, although Lyndsay missed the last part of the year with a knee injury, but she’s fresh and healthy this year. Emily grew a lot. She was thrown in as a freshman last year, and she had a pretty good summer and is doing very well. We got a nice rotation to go with.

TR: So what are you looking at as far as a rotation?

TD: We’re probably going to go with Natalie and Jasa at guards, Emily Fassnacht will play like a third guard, and Emily White and Megan underneath. Lyndsay Engle will be the first person probably off the bench.

TR: What other girls do you hope to contribute?

TD: I’ve got some young sophomores. Jess Munoz is a junior. Annika Naumann is another junior, then we have Maddie Bock and Sammy Klumpp as sophomores who have really progressed a lot in the last year and a half. Everybody needs to just keep working. There are plenty of opportunities there, it’s just if they take advantage of it.

TR: Looking at your squad overall, what do you consider its greatest strengths?

TD: I think we’re athletic. I think we run the floor really well. I mean, we do have people who can handle the ball. I think we’re pretty balanced this year on both the offensive and defensive end. I think at any given time I have five people who will play pretty good team defense and five people who can score at any time so I think that’s going to be a nice strength for us this year.

TR: As far as where you need to get better, what would you say are your biggest weaknesses right now?

TD: I would probably say team communication at both ends of the court. We are still learning each other. There is that experience you get from knowing your teammates that we are getting much better at. Having just one senior and a variety of juniors and sophomores you have to know each other on the court, and I think that’s where the Penn State Camp and the summer league really helped us. I think the kids are really starting to click with each other. I think they know each other’s games now so I think that’s starting to show and is something we definitely want to continue.

TR: What kind of goals has your team set for the season?

TD: The only thing that we’ve talked about as a team is we want to compete every single game. People talk about sections and blah, blah, blah…we just simply said, “let’s compete every single game at our ability.” We are going to show up every night, we are going to keep improving, and we’re just going to let it go. You have Donegal, which is the defending Section Three champs, and they have everybody back. You have L-S, who has been there every year, and you have Northern Lebanon, Elco, Manheim Central…They’ve all been good, quality teams over the years so we are just looking at ourselves, honestly. We just want to compete every single game, and we’ll take that.

TR: Do you feel as though this team is capable of challenging for a Section Three title?

TD: I think anyone in that section is going to be able to challenge, honestly. I think it’s a really strong section. We don’t know those teams and they don’t know us…We are used to the Section Two teams and the Section Ones. I think if we play our game, we’ll see what happens.

TR: That unfamiliarity with the other teams, does that hinder you or help you in any way?

TD: I don’t think it necessarily hinders us. I was able to personally see almost all of the teams this past weekend, which is nice. I got to see them in person because we didn’t play, so I got a pretty good feel for what’s out there. Seeing them on film is one thing, but seeing them in person is a different thing. Not playing probably helped us because those other teams haven’t been able to see us. I don’t think it’s a hinder or anything. We are just excited, it’s new….we’ll get to see some new gyms and new uniforms and we’ll see how it goes.

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