Veteran Cocalico to challenge Donegal for top spot

By on December 9, 2015
Cocalico’s Emily White returns to lead the Lady Eagles.

Cocalico’s Emily White returns to lead the Lady Eagles.

Cocalico performed quite well in its first season in Section Three a year ago.

The Lady Eagles compiled a 17-8 overall record, finished second only to Donegal in Section Three, won an L-L League playoff game and made Districts.

Not a bad year by any stretch of the imagination. And judging by the list of returnees, the Lady Eagles should have similar, if not greater success if things go right in 2015-16.

The Lady Eagles return all but one player from a year ago, but Natalie Sukanick, a four-year starter at the point, is a big loss. However, with a cast of seven returnees who all saw key varsity time a year ago, led by seniors Emily White (16.1 p.p.g.) and Megan Gingrich (11.4), Cocalico should be able to spread the wealth and make up for Sukanick’s absence.

Junior Lyndsay Engle takes over the point while defensive whiz Jasa Lorah (Sr.) and scorer Emily Fassnacht (Jr.) also return to round out what could be one of the best starting fives in the L-L.

Add to that junior role players Maddie Bock and Samantha Klumpp, as well as newcomer Sophie Benson (So.) and the Lady Eagles could have what it takes to dethrone Donegal.

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

The following is a transcript of that conversation:

Todd Ruth: Looking at last year, you guys had a really nice season, finishing second in the section, won an L-L League game. What are your thoughts on how things turned out?

Tony DiMatteo: It was good. I felt like we grew as the year went on. I feel like we are continuing to grow. I’m excited because I feel like we have a more deeper roster this year. I think I’ll be able to play some more people…we got some experience. The only graduate was Natalie, which hurts, but it also means we got a lot of experience coming back. We are looking to build upon last year, the last couple of years.

TR: You have five seniors on the roster which means that’s a nice veteran nucleus to have.

TD: Definitely, and we have a bunch of juniors.

TR: After two weeks of practice, what are your early impressions of your team?

TD: I’m pleased. It’s a close-knit group. I think they are having a lot of fun while they are playing, which is really nice to see, but they are also focused. We had two scrimmages against Garden Spot and Warwick, and we did a lot of nice things but we definitely still have some work to do.

TR: Last year you moved to Section Three. With a year now under your belt there, what are your thoughts on the competitive level of that section?

TD: I think Section Three was a very competitive section last year. I think it’s going to be just as competitive this year. I think you got some really nice talent with Donegal and Northern Lebanon, and Elco is up and coming. There are a lot of underclassmen that have played now for several years and it’s starting to show. The section is tough. We enjoyed playing there, and of course the crossover games you get to play at Lebanon Catholic, Lancaster Catholic…there are some tough games there.

TR: Personnel-wise, obviously you lose someone in Natalie who was such a great point guard for you the last four years. How are you going to fill that void?

TD: The opportunity is there, so the challenge is for some of the younger players to look to step up. Right now Lyndsay Engle is a junior and she’s looking like she’s going to start for us. She’s a great kid, hustles, but we have a couple other juniors and a sophomore Sophie Benson, who are all playing very well so it’s going to make my job hard and easy at the same time. Hard because they are so competitive but easy in a sense that I feel comfortable playing any of them. I think it’s going to make us a deeper team.

TR: Also too you have someone like Emily who can handle the ball as well.

TD: Yep, we have quite a few girls who can handle the ball so that makes it nice but defense will always be the key. We just have to shut teams down. We can’t get into a running game with people, we are not real fast and we’re not real big…we just got to make sure we maintain the tempo of the game.

TR: You look at someone like Emily, who is back for her fourth year. What kind of expectations do you have for her this season?

TD: I told her have fun. That’s number one. Enjoy it, because it’s the only high school senior year you are going to have. The challenge to her is, I’ve always said, “you are a good ball player, now make the players around you better.” That’s what the real top-notched players will do. She sacrifices a lot. She may give up some points here or there to get her teammates some shots, but it is going to make the team a better team. She’s been doing that.

TR: She’s such a match-up problem because she can handle and take you down on the post. That’s got to be a huge weapon for you.

TD: That’s the thing. If you put a little guard on her, then she can go inside. If you put a big person on her she’s quick enough to beat. It’s definitely a match-up problem.

TR: Looking at someone like Megan Gingrich, I thought she really started to emerge the second half of the season a year ago. What are you looking for from her?

TD: The same things. She works extremely hard. She really is a little undersized for a center but she works hard. She gets up and down the court quickly. We are looking for her to be a little more consistent, to build upon the second half of the year. The second half of last year she definitely started playing at a higher level and I’m just hoping she puts the whole 22 games together this year. She’s another match-up problem because she is big but she’s also fast.

TR: Some of your role players, Emily Fassnacht gave you some nice offensive punch last year, you got Jasa on the defensive side…Talk about your other key players.

TD: Jasa is one of our captains and is definitely a sparkplug. She and Natalie played real well together last year, and now we are learning she is playing with Emily Fassnacht. They are sort of connecting. And we have a young one in Sophie Benson, who is learning from them. But she definitely provides leadership and hustle. Emily Fassnacht was another one who had some real good games as a sophomore, but there were other games where she got some silly fouls. She’s got to learn but she did a pretty good job this summer at camp. She’s definitely improving, and Maddie Bock is another junior who had a big shot in our last playoff game and has progressed a lot this summer. We are looking to run about 10 deep this year, which is a nice problem to have.

TR: You obviously have a bunch of strengths but do you view your overall experience as your greatest strength?

TD: We have a nice mix of veterans and some young players. I think defense is going to be the strength. I look for us to communicate better. I think the players are a year wiser and they know each other a little better, and I think we’ll communicate on offense and defense a little bit better. I think that will show on the court.

TR: Where does your team need to improve?

TD: We talked about some goals that we have. We got to make sure we finish and make some more field goals. We want to continue to limit turnovers, and we definitely want to rebound better. Rebounding has been an Achilles (Heel) for us at both ends, so we want to hit the offensive boards and we want to do a better job of one and done at the other end.

TR: What are your goals this year?

TD: We want to come out and play our game every game. Honestly, I truly feel if we play to our capability we will play with anybody, but if we don’t we are going to struggle. That’s just a fact. Our goal is to just focus on whoever we are playing. I’m not looking ahead or at anything down the road. I know we finished in second place a few times but it is what it is. you have to take care of every game because you lose one along the way then it costs you. We are worried about our next opponent, and that’s it. Our goal is just to go out there and compete every game. Obviously, we expect to win every game, but we are not looking anywhere that far down the road.

TR: As far as the section is concerned, obviously defending champion Donegal has just about everybody back. Can they be dethroned?

TD: Well, they lost the Stark girl, and she hurt us. She was a heck of a player. She had some big third quarters against us. But they do have a lot of veteran players back who played for a number of years. We lost Natalie and they lost Stark but you are right. They are the section champs for a couple years running. You got two really nice players at Northern Lebanon coming through, and like I said, Elco last year had some growing pains but they are a year wiser too. Every game is going to be important. You just can’t overlook anybody, especially when you are traveling on the road. There are some long trips and you got to play hard.

TR: What are going to be the keys to your overall success?

TD: Again, I’m going to go back to our four goals. We want to make more field goals, we want to shoot a higher percentage from the foul line, we want to rebound, and we want to limit our turnovers. Those are four things we’ve been working on since open gym last spring. The little things. They don’t mean much that day but they add up, and I’m hoping those little things will be adding up here as we get into the season.

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