Injuries can't derail Carlynton's quest to resuscitate program
Conor Richardson is back.
The same can be said for the rest of the Carlynton girls basketball team.
Despite a laundry list of injuries, the Cougars are winning games at such a steady and impressive pace that it's conjuring up memories of the mid-2000s, when Carlynton was a girls basketball power.
“We try to look back at our past,” coach Tim Bonner said. “We have a great tradition.
“We always end with, ‘1-2-3-glory' because we want to return to where we were back in the earlier days.”
Carlynton (12-3, 7-1 Section 6-AA) has a balanced lineup, but it's hard to ignore the importance of Richardson, who's averaging 20 points per game.
A 5-foot-10 junior who shines on both ends of the floor, Richardson missed her sophomore season with a torn ACL in her right knee.
“I've learned to love it more,” said Richardson, who also averages 4.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds. “It was taken away from me for a whole year, you know? I just really love the game, and it feels great to be back.”
Carlynton won the 2003-04 WPIAL Class AA title and made the playoffs the next season. But that was followed by a stretch of six coaching changes in eight seasons and just two wins in 2009-10.
Bonner, a Carlynton lifer, took over before last season and helped snap a seven-year playoff drought. The Cougars scored a preliminary-round win over Charleroi before falling to Burrell in the WPIAL Class AA first round.
“We've put in so much work,” junior forward Jordan Melko said. “It's starting to pay off. We play really well together and have great chemistry.”
Which is a coincidence given how many injuries Carlynton has endured this season.
Returning starter Hannah Murray was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury Dec. 22, 2013. Melko missed time with a concussion, Alexis Kowal with a broken finger and Abby Diulus with back problems.
Still, Carlynton has averaged 53.1 points, scoring 70 or more four times.
“Our kids have not changed their goals,” Bonner said.
Besides Richardson, Melko is second on the team at 8.5 points per game. Taking over for Murray, freshman Ashleigh Wilson has contributed 7.1 points per game. Four-year starter Jazz Meredith is chipping in 5.7, sophomore Abigail Greiner 4.8.
Kowal has been another pleasant surprise as a freshman, along with Wilson, and Bonner praised Mackenzie Mangum's versatility. She's played everywhere but point guard this season, Bonner said.
“Luckily we have girls on our team who have been stepping up to help us because we have been broken down a little bit,” Melko said. “It's making our team stronger.”
Restoring a winning tradition is usually enough to keep a group busy, but with all the injuries, Carlynton has had a few additional challenges.
“I know when you're dealing with high school kids, they get sick, they get hurt,” Bonner said. “I'm not crying about it. I know that's part of the game. You just have to overcome, and I'm proud of our girls for how much they've been able to overcome.”