Ligonier Valley girls basketball motivated from postseason setback
There were losses — 11 of them — during a season that saw Ligonier Valley earn a District 6 playoff berth in girls basketball a year ago.
There were losses, but few quite like the first-round defeat the Rams were handed by Bellwood-Antis and high-scoring, all-state guard Karson Swogger, who committed to St. Francis (Pa.) last week.
Swogger netted 36 points — nearly eight above her average — to spark Bellwood-Antis to a 33-point victory in the Class 2A bracket and send Ligonier Valley home with a final record of 11-12.
“That was a wake-up call for the girls,” Ligonier Valley coach Tim Gustin said of his team's 71-38 loss, a deficit exceeded only by the outcome of a season-opening, 40-point setback to then-Class 3A Trinity at the Greensburg Salem Tip-Off tournament.
“They got to see what it was like to play against a (Division I) prospect like Swogger,” Gustin said. “For most of them, it was like being a deer in headlights. It actually motivated them.”
Fast-forward to the 2016-17 season, which for Ligonier Valley gets underway Friday at the Greensburg Salem Tip-Off tournament.
Gustin, who enters his second season as coach, said the bar is set higher this year, despite the loss of junior forward Lexi Petrof, who underwent successful surgery Nov. 8 to repair torn ligaments in her ankle.
Petrof, who led the Rams in scoring (18.9 ppg.) as a sophomore, has been attracting Division I interest in softball.
“The good news for us is Petrof played softball all summer,” Gustin said. “The core of girls we have that have been playing together in summer leagues is still intact, and we've seen a lot of improvement, a lot of progress with them.”
Gustin said with or without Petrof, his players went all-in on building a winning program following the eye-opening loss to Bellwood-Antis in the playoffs.
“Everyone was asking a week later when they could get going for (this) season,” he said. “They all showed up ready to work and that showed me they were vested in the cause. We've had a really good turnout.”
With Petrof sidelined, Gustin envisioned an opening-night lineup possibly consisting of remaining returning starters Kacie Flickinger, Alexia Boyd and Mackenzie Jester — all guards — and forward Olivia Miller, as well as freshman forward Jenna Moore.
The 5-foot-8 Moore is among three freshmen on a team with just two seniors — Flickinger and Miller.
“Jenna Moore is not as refined as Petrof, but she does a lot of things that we're hoping will help to offset the loss of Lexi,” said Gustin, who mentioned forwards Rachel Horrell and Kyleigh Jester as possible first options off the bench.
A former junior high boys coach at Ligonier Valley and a men's assistant coach at Penn Highlands Community College, Gustin said he hoped his players understand last season remains a success in his mind.
Judging from the workmanlike attitude he has seen from them during the summer, he's optimistic heading into a new schedule.
“It was my first year, and it was the girls' first year with me,” he said. “We all faced a learning curve, learning our man-to-man defense, learning our motion offense, learning that we want to run. We're better for it this year, and we expect to make an improvement because of it.”
Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.