Paul Appel taking over a very good Wyoming Valley West program was the biggest news of the offseason, but Wyoming Valley Conference play opened with new-coach-guaranteed-opening-win-night Thursday.
Northwest coach Amy Kachinko took her Rangers to Hanover Area to face the Hawkeyes and coach Vic Kopko. It was Kopko's squad that claimed a 47-39 win.
The majority of Hanover Area's starters are not old enough to have a driver's license, but they all appear comfortable driving to the basket. Sophomore Amber Grohowski is in her second varsity season, and freshmen Asdone Hooper and Haley Bobos are lining up against seniors on a daily basis.
They are hard workers and they are outstanding people, said Kopko, who coached the Hawkeyes (6-4) for four years through 2002, of his new squad. It all starts with discipline and respect. It's my job to build the program, and these girls have bought into the system.
The underclassmen are the team's top-three scorers this season, providing offense after the graduation of 1,000-point scorer Danielle Tuzinski in the spring. Bobos has proven remarkably consistent, scoring 12 points five times this season and averaging 11.9 per game. Her and Grohowski are strong in the paint.
The freshmen starters have gone to the free-throw line 115 times this season. Players not named Tuzinski had just 154 free throws for the entire 2011-12 campaign.
We go play by play – that's the level of scrutiny we put on ourselves, Kopko said. We follow (legendary college coach) John Wooden's Pyramid of Success. He never talked about wins and losses. It was about doing the best that you can.
Hooper shined Thursday after picking up her fourth foul midway through the quarter. There were no timeouts or quick subs. Nor was there a change in style of play. The lefty was still part of the full-court press, was still reaching into passing lanes for steals and was diving on the floor for loose balls.
Brittany Miller, the team's No. 2 scorer last year, is back for Hanover Area, and a quartet of captains are filling key roles. Seniors Sam Masher, Tiffany McCary, Julie Mizenko and junior Mickie Kaminski offer leadership on a team where so many younger players contribute.
Any success that we may have would not have been accomplished without our captains incorporating everyone into the team concept, said Kopko, a former college coach. They've only got about one-10th (of the full game plan). They've already beaten GAR in our conference and this is a good Northwest team.
Kachinko has different math to deal with at Northwest (0-9). She has just two seniors on her roster. One didn't play varsity last season (Tiffany Adams), while top scorer Alivia Womelsdorf is back pouring in 18 points per game.
Sophomore guard Kelsey Yustat is the only other Ranger with significant varsity experience.
We're very young, but there is a lot of promise, said Kachinko, a 1,000-point scorer during her playing days at Wyoming Valley West. They are learning a whole new system and they are grasping it. They have bought into the program.
Where last year's Rangers had a nice balance of size, this season's group is more of a tall or short only set up. The team has a number of guards 5-foot-6 and shorter (Angel Rollo, Brina Sotelo, Faith Rierson), led by Yustat.
Womelsdorf leads a handful of players around the 6-foot range. Sophomore Bailey Taylor is a presence in the paint and Emily Buerger had decent height. The added taller players allow Womelsdorf to be used in more creative ways.
We did rely a lot more on Alivia early in the exhibition schedule, said Kachinko, who has been on the staff at Pittston Area and Holy Redeemer, where she was JV coach of the year. Now she's able to play out at the top (on both offense and defense) instead of just setting up in the post.
While Kachinko and her Rangers are still looking for their first win, you can see it is close. Thursday, the team appeared to be just a split-second away from clicking. The team is developing the touch that comes with game-time experience, as passes clipped off fingertips just an inch or two from perfect.
We're just trying to get it all to mesh, Kachinko said. We're really just right there. It's so close. These players have been great. I could tell them to run through a wall and they would.
COUGARS' BIG START: Hazleton Area opened last season 2-10. This season has been much better at the beginning.
Coach Joe Gavio's squad opened 6-2, including 5-0 against District 2 foes. They handed Pittston Area its only loss of the season Friday.
Alyssa Sitch has emerged from a deep team as its leading scorer, posting 16 per game in her last five. Angie Marchetti has added 6.5 per game in her last four.
GRENADIERS IMPROVED: GAR lost three of its top-five scorers from last year, but the new-look Grenadiers are excelling at 5-4 a year removed from a six-win season.
The team has six players averaging 4.9 points per game or more, lead by Brea Seabrook. She's had 14.8 points over her last four games.
The five returning players from last season -- Julianna Leco, Breana Mosier, Majeedah Nealy, Marena Spence and Seabrook -- have nearly doubled their output from a season ago, scoring 41.8 points per game this season.
KEEP GETTING BETTER: Crestwood already had one of the deepest lineups in the WVC before Maddy Ritsick entered her freshman season.
Now, the 6-foot-1 guard is getting a chance to establish herself while on the floor with the established veterans.
Maddy has been playing really well, Comets coach Isiah Walker said. She's going out there getting 6-8 points. She's showing how good her skills are already.
Ritsick is averaging nearly 6 points per game and has five three-pointers to her credit. She's also shooting 80 percent from the free-throw line in her last seven games.