Tough seasons to end on high note for girls at Cager Classic
Senior Rachel McKaveney enjoyed plenty of success with the Springdale girls soccer team, which never is left out of the WPIAL playoff conversation.
But basketball season was a much different story. It was predictable and anticlimactic, and rough around the edges.
But McKaveney stayed the course on a team depleted by injuries and low numbers — both on the roster and on the scoreboard — and earned a reward along the way: a spot in Saturday night's 19th annual Cager Classic at Highlands.
She will play for the West team.
“It was rough. I went from being on a soccer team that was winning all the time, to basketball where we really struggled,” McKaveney said. “I was starting every game and I was inexperienced. It was so hard not to quit.”
Valley's Jame Reese and Kiski Area's Kyjiah Peterson also were slightly taken aback when the Cager came calling. Both girls can relate to McKaveny, having played through a grind of a senior season.
Still, the Cager extended invitations regardless of their teams' records or statistics.
If nothing else, McKaveney, Reese and Peterson are all-stars for their stick–to–itiveness and senior leadership.
They may not have had playoff games to cap their final seasons, but one last game carries special meaning for them.
“We want to have at least one player from each of the local teams,” Cager committee member and game announcer Bill Heasley said. “Even though their programs might be struggling, their schools need to be included and their efforts need to be recognized. I'm sure they work just as hard during practices and try their best in the games ... they should be applauded for it.”
McKaveney, who said she was surprised to be selected for the Cager, felt swept along by the unevenness of the season. Springdale finished 0-19 and averaged just 11.7 points, all the while dealing with low roster numbers.
The Dynamos were down to four players at one point and even had to postpone a game until a fifth girl returned from an illness.
“They told me I had to play shooting guard and I was never a shooter,” McKaveney said. “It was hard to switch.”
Valley and Kiski Area also were programs that took the bear-with-us approach and aimed at better days ahead.
Valley (1-19) battled dwindling roster numbers and had trouble scoring points, averaging 13.7.
“It was challenging because we had players who didn't know how to play and were just learning,” Reese said. “We worked together as much as we could, but it was a free-for-all.”
Reese, who has been active in basketball since the seventh grade, said she is looking forward to playing against skilled players in the Cager.
“To me, it never was about winning or losing,” Reese said. “I just love the game.”
Reese has attended the past two Cagers and said she hoped to get a chance to play in one.
Kiski Area also was bogged down by single-digit scores and finished 1-19. The numbers seemed even more troubling because Kiski Area is a Class AAAA school.
“It was a rough season but my team was really young,” Peterson said. “It was interesting to see a lot of girls start out and learn the game. We knew things were going to be rough going in, but we still had fun.”
Kiski Area's program appears to be on the upswing, with numbers vastly increasing in a few years' time under coach Nick Ionadi.
“I give my team a lot of credit,” Peterson said. “There aren't a lot of teams that go through something like that. In past years, girls have quit. Our team didn't do that.”
Ionadi said there is no “miracle cure,” but he essentially has a five-year plan to gradually get the Cavaliers back to respectability.
Peterson said she wouldn't compare her basketball talents to that of some of the other all-stars, but calls the Cager “something to remember.”
McKaveney agrees — excuse her if she treats the Cager a bit like Super Bowl week.
“It will be a cool experience,” McKaveney said. “I am interested to see all of the other girls; there are some amazing players.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.