But what could they do for an encore? Return to the county championship?

By: Nils Groten

Last season, the Schuylkill Valley girls' basketball team won the Berks championship and advanced to states.

But what could they do for an encore? Return to the county championship?

Highly unlikely, considering head coach Mitzi Reitnouer lost Gladine St. Julien's 40 points per game and other senior starters.

Yet, when the dust settled this season, the Panthers found themselves in the county girls' basketball championship again against Wilson.

"The kids had a heart that refused to lose," Reitnouer said. "It was unbelievable. Without St. Julien, Marissa (Lewis) stepped up inside, and Alli (Rothenberger) became better at handling the ball. All stepped up as a team. It amazed me."

What made the season even more satisfying for Reitnouer and her players was the fact that the Panthers went 13-0 in league play.

Beating division-favorite Brandywine Heights twice was a highlight because the two teams are such rivals. These wins showed S.V. that it could defend its division title.

"During the last two years, I will remember being such a great team together," senior Brittany Owens said. "It was just great showing people we could do it. Being such a small school, nobody expected us to be half as good as we were."

Without St. Julien's inside presence, the Panthers concentrated on driving to the basket and hitting outside shots.

Sophomore Corielle Yarde was adept at cutting to the basket and getting open looks for her teammates.

However, in their District 3-AA quarterfinal game against three-time defending state champion Delone Catholic, Yarde and Co. couldn't sustain their good play and fell to the Squirettes, 63-35.

The Panthers led 18-16 with 2:27 left in the second quarter, but foul trouble soon doomed SV's hopes.

Yarde fouled out late in the third quarter as did Lewis. Delone held her in check as she managed only 1-of-6 from the floor for six points.

However, the Squirettes were doing more than hand checking the Panthers. They were almost mugging them.

"Their defense was really tough," Owens said. "We would try to cut, and they would hold onto our shirts, stuff like that."

"The game was very poorly officiated," Reitnouer said. "At one point, it was something like 9-to-1 for them in terms of fouls called."

According to Reitnouer, Delone's height was a bit of a problem for her team, but frustration set in when the officiating became a negative factor.

"The momentum was going in their direction, but how do you make an adjustment when you can't do anything right (in the referees' eyes)," Reitnouer said. "They were out-muscling us, but it wasn't called."

Despite her dissatisfaction with the officiating, Reitnouer gave credit where credit was due.

"Delone has a very good team, a great player in (Meredith) Cox, (who scored a game-high 27 points,) and a great supporting cast," Reitnouer said. "(But) we played extremely well before foul trouble."

And never gave up hope against a more talented opponent.

"We stayed positive and believed in ourselves," Lewis said. "That kept us going against Delone."

Lewis learned from being a member of the supporting cast last season how to react as a senior this season.

"When you're a senior, you're in control, you're the motivator whereas last season the seniors motivated us," Lewis said. "The whole team got involved at pushing each other. Last year, it was more centered around the seniors. It was more their county championship, not ours."

This year, Lewis and Co. wanted their own county title but came up short against a Wilson team that played tenacious defense.

In the first round of districts, the Panthers returned to their winning ways by easily defeating Pequea Valley, impressing coach Reitnouer in the process.

"It was nice to come back and win after an emotional loss," Reitnouer said. Who would have thought we would have gone undefeated in the league and make it to the county championship. The way they worked and had a lot of fun together. That's what it's all about."

(Nils Groten is a freelance writer.)

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