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Ligonier Valley girls basketball team enjoyed District 6 playoff run

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 12:27 a.m.
Bill Pribisco | For The Dispatch
Madison McLaughlin (right) of the Ligonier Valley Rams takes a shot as Marissa Moriarta of Bellefonte tries for a block Monday in a first-round District 6 playoff game at Central Cambria High School.

Prior to the start of the basketball season, members of the Ligonier Valley girls team heard the same chatter: The Rams wouldn't be able to make another run to the District 6 playoffs.

They couldn't replace Maddy Grimm — a three-time Tribune-Review female athlete of the year — and her 13 points per game.

They were too young and inexperienced.

The Rams proved the doubters wrong with a run into the Class AAA District 6 playoffs that ended in a 38-34 semifinal loss to top-seeded Huntingdon on Feb. 27. Ligonier Valley ended the season 13-11 overall and went 10-5 in the Heritage Conference, good for third place behind Blairsville (16-0) and Marion Center (14-2).

“I think a lot of people didn't expect us to do well,” senior guard Taylor Rudnik said. “I know in the conference they thought we were going to be a lot lower in the standings. We surprised a lot of people.”

Rudnik led the team in scoring with 11 points per game. Rudnik, along with Amanda Ross and Jamie Wynn, were the three seniors on an otherwise young team.

Olivia Miller, a freshman who was not a starter, was second in scoring with an average of nine points.

Valerie Ray was the team's first-year coach after previously serving as an assistant. She was not officially hired until June 10, and by then many of the area summer leagues were already full.

Prior to Ray taking over, there were no weight lifting or conditioning sessions taking place.

“We definitely picked up as the season went along,” junior guard Madison McLaughlin said. “It took a little while. We started off slow. After that, we grew as a team.”

Ray said her squad's defense was excellent, but a disturbing trend played out on offense. In both Blairsville games and the Huntingdon playoff game — all losses — the Rams were unable to hold a lead late. Against Huntingdon, the Rams were held scoreless for the final five minutes.

“Next year, the goal would be to focus on the mental aspect of the game,” McLaughlin said. “We can't fall apart in a playoff game.”

Ray said her team will need to work on ball-handling and getting more efficient possessions in order to progress. She doesn't want her players to forget those losses because she feels the worst part of the season, the loss to Huntingdon, could influence how they play next season.

“I hope this taste of what could have been stays with them and they work harder for next season,” Ray said. “We got that far, and to have that happen I'm hoping they remember what that felt like and work a little bit harder during the offseason and perhaps next year come back stronger.”

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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