Shortly after he was named Twin Valley girls basketball coach back in 2015, Mark Morrow had a conversation with the returning Raiders trio of Taylor Knorr, Julie Wallace and Gabby Parlaman.
“I told them I thought they had a lot more talent than three wins,” Morrow said, referring to a campaign that saw the Raiders go winless in Berks Conference action and 3-18 overall.
Two years later, Morrow has proven to be quite prophetic – and Knorr, Wallace and Parlaman played a huge part in validating his vision.
During that span, the Raiders have enjoyed a sharp and satisfying upward trend that culminated in their first PIAA tournament appearance earlier this month.
With seniors Knorr, Wallace and Parlaman spearheading a squad blessed with speed, height and promising underclassmen this season, Twin Valley went 10-2 in Berks I to finish in a first-place tie with perennial power Governor Mifflin (which won the title on tiebreaking criteria), advanced to the District 3-AAAAA semifinals and qualified to states during a 20-8 season.
It was the Raiders’ winningest season since 1980-81, when Twin Valley went 24-5 while reaching the Berks title game and District 3 quarterfinals.
Prior to the 2015-16 season, Twin Valley had won just 21 times in the previous five years.
But the Raiders served notice they would be a force to contend with last season – notching a 15-10 mark, qualifying for the Berks playoffs for the first time in eight years and earning a District 3 preliminary-round win.
“To be honest, when I got there, the key was making them believe that they could win,” said Morrow, who was the Twin Valley boys basketball coach from 2008-11 and also an assistant coach for Holy Family College’s women’s basketball team for 10 years before that. “There were some competitive girls; it was just a matter of changing the mindset a bit. I know it’s a cliche, but success breeds success.
“Getting a start last year by making it to counties and districts was a huge confidence-builder, but I told them, ‘If you want to go any further, you have to work over the summer,’ and they just put in so much work.”
That effort laid the groundwork for this winter, as the Raiders took the proverbial next step in a season chock full of highlights.
Knorr, a slashing 5-foot-10 forward, became the third 1,000-point career scorer in program history and averaged a team-high 11.9 points.
Wallace (9.5 ppg), a sharp-shooting guard, led the league in 3-pointers with 65.
Forward Parlaman, gutsy junior point guard Ashlynn Lennon and defensive-minded 6-foot sophomore Cameryn Jamison rounded out the starting five, with freshman Peyton McDaniel (10.6), sophomore flash Alyssa Gibson and 6-1 junior Julie Danilak also making key contributions to the rotation.
The Raiders came out firing in a 4-0 start and won seven of their first eight games – including a 37-34 win over Cocalico in which Twin Valley rallied from a double-digit deficit and got 14 points from Knorr and 13 points from McDaniel.
Twin Valley’s tenacious defense, which ranked first in the league while allowing 35.1 ppg, was on display in a 31-18 January win over eventual Berks runner-up Wilson.
“For us to win, we have to play a very specific way,” Morrow said. “We do shoot a lot of jumpers, and some nights you’re not going to be on, so it’s important to be strong on defense. They kind of took that to heart last year, but it really came ot life this year.”
After falling to Wilson 44-38 in the Berks quarterfinals, the Raiders came to life in districts, taking down Palmyra 50-46 in the opening round thanks to 19 points and 14 rebounds from McDaniel.
Then, in the quarters, McDaniel again scored a team-high 19 points and Lennon delivered 10 points and a gritty effort that defined a 54-46 victory.
“Ashlynn’s our engine,” Morrow said. “She sprained her ankle in the second quarter and we were going to hold her out the rest of the game, but she got taped up and came back in. She’s just tough as nails. If she isn’t in that game, I don’t know if we win it.”
Though the Raiders dropped their final three games, including a 41-27 loss to Wyoming Valley West in their PIAA opener March 11, it hardly diminished the positive vibe of the breakout season.
“The three seniors really set the tone for us,” Morrow said. “They definitely set the bar high for next year. We might not have gotten that championship we wanted, but we definitely did accomplish some of our goals.”