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A FASTBREAK TO REMEMBER: FORMER NEB HOOPERS RECALL THE SEASON THEY MADE THE ELITE 8 (2022-07-31)

BY CHRIS MANNING
Northern Tier Sports Report
Nearly 30 years ago a Northeast Bradford girls’ basketball team took the league by storm. They were talented and battled tested, but, more interestingly, they played at a breakneck pace - and won doing it.

Coming into the 1993-1994 NTL girls’ basketball season the Panthers were riding high. They were the defending league champions, and had reached the Sweet 16 in the PIAA Championships the year before.


They also returned the NTL Player of the Year Kelly Jo Gallagher, who had already amassed 1,000 career points.


“Expectations, for me, personally, the coaches, and for us collectively as a team, were extremely high heading into the 93-94 season,” Gallagher said. “We had progressively been getting better and better each year since my freshman year. We had a number of players who had improved significantly heading into that year. We knew we wanted to win the NTL, and go as deep into the state tournament as possible.”


Gallagher would go on to play at Division-I Boston University after the season, and they also featured another soon to be 1,000 point scorer in Sherry (Mackechnie) Kapr. Those two gave NEB two of the best players in the NTL to build around.


“I looked up to Kelly and Sherry since the fourth grade when coach Moore invited me to join them on the fifth-sixth grade team,” explained point guard Tina (Robinson) Maynard. “I’m sure they carried a lot more pressure than I ever felt. I never felt like I had to score a bunch of points, I just wanted to win games. I knew I had to score enough points to be a threat so my teammates could play their games, too.”


They wore the high expectations well, though, not letting them drag them down or create added tension.


“I personally didn’t remember there being pressure,” said  Maynard. “I think coach knew, we knew, and our fans knew we would still have a good team. We had some big shoes to fill, like Lori Heft and Sarah Lavin, but I think we knew we had the potential to do that. We always worked hard in the off season, and all got along well. Coach wanted to try a new play with us that was fast, and we were all excited about it.”


Everybody on the team, and later the league, was about to find out what they meant by fast.


———


Back in the late 1980’s Loyola Marymount men’s basketball coach Paul Westhead came up with a fast break offense that led all Division-I teams in scoring, peaking at 122.4 points per game in 1990 - a record that is still unbroken. 


It was a quick firing offense where the point guard pushes the ball up court as fast as possible, flanked by two wings, who are sprinting as fast as possible. The two trailing bigs then spot up for deep jumpers if the guards can’t get to the basket. Players are not just encouraged, but are required, to pretty much shoot or drive as soon as they get the pass from the breaking point guard.


To the casual fan it looks like unorganized streetball, but there are actually quite a few intricacies to it - like all basketball plays, everybody has a role to fill, and it won’t work unless all five players fill that role.


And aren’t in shape.


“Definitely lots of conditioning,” said Kapr. “And lots of shooting drills/post moves, I could do them in my sleep.”


Maynard relished the chance to take off like a racehorse every time she touched the ball.


“I loved it,” she said. “I always found it easier to handle the ball when you were going fast with a purpose rather than trying to dribble stagnant in front of a good defense.”


With Steve Nash the Phoenix Suns of the mid-2000’s had the seven seconds or less offense, NEB did them two seconds better.


“We could step out of the box if we needed to, and we did a lot, but our play had purpose, and the goal was that we had to get a shot off in five seconds,” explained Maynard. “That took everyone doing what they were supposed to do, and being where they were supposed to be.”


They averaged 72 points per game that season, about 20 more than the next closest NTL team, and it could have been higher, as they had a few blow outs that meant an early night for the starters. 


But they also had nights where they needed every point, like the game where they beat Wellsboro 93-82 in regulation.


“Playing in high-scoring, run and gun games like Wellsboro were fun,” said Gallagher, who netted 48 in that contest. “We were a fast, athletic team with a lot of people who could shoot and score, so it was always enjoyable when everyone could join in the fun in such a high scoring game.”


Team buy in was key - players had to go with the flow of the offense, and sometimes that meant not seeing the ball as much as they wanted.


“I think I passed off a lay-up at the end which would have given me 50 points, but it didn’t matter, we had won the game at that point,” said Gallagher. “It was a very fun, and memorable game for sure.”


Playing that fast, though, meant having to play efficient, something that is hard to do going all out. So NEB didn’t forget to work on the basics in order to keep from being a turnover prone team.


“Fundamentals,” remarked Kapr. “Coach Moore always drilled the basics, fundamentals. We had to take care of the ball on offense, and communicate on defense.”


One thing they did was be aggressive on passes, and not wait for the ball to get to them. That made Maynard’s life easier.


“We all went to the pass,” she said. “I always felt I was a good passer, but I also knew that my teammates would do everything they could to get to the pass.”


And they needed to be sharp, because, in the 1990’s, NTL girls’ basketball was a force.


———


“Girls basketball was on it’s way up in the 90’s,” recalled NEB coach Bob Moore. “The league - NTL East and West - was very competitive. You had no easy nights. It was a challenge to coach and compete - Northeast was the Class A school in the East playing 2A and 3A schools.”


A case in point, the Panthers would take a road loss at Williamson 81-71 during the season. Yet, the team wouldn’t have it any other way.


“It was awesome,” Kapr said about playing during that era. “The competitive and rivalry was intense. There was nothing like the excitement of game night, especially if it was against Athens or Wyalusing - you knew it was going to be a packed house. The stands were full of not just family, but the whole school and community would turn out to cheer us on.”


The league did things a little bit differently back then. There were two halves to the season - the East teams would play each other once through during the first half, and there would be a first half champion. Sometimes a playoff game would be needed to decide who the champion was.


Then, the league would play through again, and have a second half champion, and use playoff games, as needed. If the two champions were different teams, they would play in a winner-take-all game at a neutral site to be declared the league champions.


And this year the NTL introduced an overall title game between the East and West champions.


NEB won the first half title, but hit a snag during the second half as they watched Troy rally from a 29-point deficit to pull out the win.


That meant they needed to beat powerhouse Athens in order to have a shot to claim the second half title.


Athens led early, but NEB rallied to take a 30-25 halftime lead. They would build a 7-point fourth quarter lead, only to watch Athens chip away at it, closing it to 59-58.


The Wildcats used a slow down offense, and it produced a short shot, but couldn’t connect. NEB would collect the rebound, and ultimately head to the line where Maynard went 1-of-2 to make it a 2-point game.


NEB’s Karyn Bryden hauled in her free throw miss, and it eventually ended up in the hands of Cathy Allis, who was fouled with two seconds left. She made both, securing the win for NEB to put the league into a 3-way tie for first place - NEB, Athens, and Troy.


That would set up one of the toughest 3-game stretches NEB would ever see - they would need to win two NTL East playoff games to claim the East title, then face West champion Elkland in the cross-over title game.


“We had already played those teams, so preparation wasn’t difficult,” said Moore. “We just went and played our game.”


NEB would pull away from Athens 60-47 in their first playoff, led by 28 points from Gallagher. Athens once again had a better start, with the Wildcats taking a 15-8 lead. The Panthers would out score Athens 18-6 in the second quarter, then used a 19-13 push in the third to go up 45-34. And 8-0 run from the Panthers early in the fourth sealed the win.


“Athens was always our conference rival, and the fans were always really into the games when we played them, so I think once the early game nerves passed, we were able to settle into our game and play our type of game,” remarked Gallagher. 


Then came Troy, and, as Moore said, there would be no miracles for the Trojans. NEB jumped out to a 27-14 halftime lead and never looked back en route to a 69-46 win, and another East league title.


“The loss early in the season to Troy hurt, but our team always felt like it was somewhat of a fluke, and was actually a good thing for us as a team to experience,” said Gallagher. “They were a very good team, and out played us that night, but our team knew we hadn’t played up to our potential. Again, I think that loss was actually good for us, and refocused us as we headed into the end of the season, and into the NTL playoffs, districts, and states.”


Thursday they played Athens, Friday they took on Troy, and on Saturday they got Elkland. This was two years before Elkland would win the Class A state title, and featured future Division-I guard Marlo Egleston.


Elkland beat them in districts the year before, and this was a good chance to get payback.


“Elkland was always a thorn in our side,” Gallagher recalled. “They were a lot like us in many ways - fast, athletic, and great shooters and scorers. Like us, they were also a very small school who were competing against much bigger schools, so we both had to play with a chip on our shoulders. Playing Elkland was like looking in a mirror.”


After falling down 10-9 early due to turnovers they out scored the Rams 20-14 in the second to take a 29-24 lead at the half. The Panthers then found the offense in the second half, amassing 44 points en route to a 73-59 win. 


Gallagher (28) and Kapr (25) combined for 53 of NEB’s points.


“Looking back on that time it really feels like a movie reel, a small town country school keeps pulling off big victories to win the title,” Kapr remarked. “I have such fond memories of that time, we really were just a group of girls working our butts off as a team. It’s not like it is now, where every kid has been playing organized ball since they were five years old. I think that’s why it was special, so pure. Hard work and heart - we were the champs back when an NTL title was a really big deal, and it felt amazing.”


Playing those three games in three days excited the players.


“I certainly don’t remember ever being tired,” Maynard said. “We were hungry to win, and confident, too. We always wanted to beat Athens, I do remember that. I loved how competitive the league was. Fortunately, we ended up on top but it wasn’t easy, and doesn’t it feel better to succeed when you know you had to work hard to earn it? I think being in a 3-way tie to win the NTL proves how strong the league, overall, was.”


“I think we could have played five nights in a row, and won every game,” said Gallagher. “After the season ended and looking back, I also think without those extra games, Sherry may not have got her 1,000th point, and I likely would not have got my 2,000th point.”


However, Elkland would get revenge, beating NEB in the district semifinals that year to prevent them from winning a District IV title.


“Unfortunately, they usually got the best of us,” Gallagher said. “But I think when we played each other, both teams elevated their game to another level, and they made us better, and we made them better.”


———


That wasn’t the end of the road, though, as NEB made the Class A tournament. They got to the Sweet 16 again, and once again, they were facing off against Notre Dame Green Pond, who ended their run the previous year.


NDGP came in 26-0 but it didn’t matter to NEB - they could have been 100-0 - the Panthers wanted revenge.


And they got it with a 67-47 victory that saw them out score Notre Dame 27-15 in the final frame to pull away.


“My fondest memory of the game, and one I can still vividly recall, was when the crowded started yelling ’26-and-0…down you go,’” said Maynard. “We had four starters score double digits that game. I believe we are the only NEB girls’ team to advance to the Elite 8, that’s something to be proud of.”


Moore at one point told his team to stop playing not to lose, and to play to win.


“It sounds like it was the turning point for us to take the W,” said Maynard.


Kapr worked especially hard to get ready for this game.


“I know, personally, I worked on developing my 3-point shot; being a post player a lot of girls that would guard me wouldn’t play me much past the foul line,” she explained. “I had a lot of room to work with, so over the next year, I practiced my 3-pointers like crazy. I still remember when Coach Moore gave me the green light to take the shot during the game. That was a game changer, after I sunk the first 3-pointer it really opened up a lot of other options during the game.”


Kapr finished with a team high 21 points, while Gallagher netted 19. It also set up an Eastern semifinal against District IV power Lourdes.


And that’s where the fairy tale ended, as the Panthers fell 52-36. The Red Raiders jumped out to a 28-11 early lead, and never really looked back.


One positive was Gallagher, who netted her 2,000th point on a late 3-ball in the game. Ironically, she scored her 1,000th point on a 3-pointer, as well.


“She deserved it,” said Maynard. “Of course, we wanted to win the game, but her hitting that in her last game of her high school career was well deserved. I’ve had people ask me long since we’ve graduated how someone could score 2000 points, my reply is that ‘she was really that good.’ She was a very versatile player that gave 100-percent every time she stepped on that court. Kelly didn’t’ just wish for it, she worked hard for it.”


Kapr’s game fit well with Gallagher, as the two combined for over 3,000 points in their high school careers.


“Playing with Kelly was like second nature,” Kapr described. “I got to play a game I loved with my best friend. We always knew where the other one was going to be. And you knew she would take care of the ball. She was a master at being able to draw the foul, sink the shot, and then make the foul shot. She was great under pressure, just what you would want in your point guard. It was an honor to play ball with her.”


Gallagher can look back with pride at her accomplishment, but if she could do it over again, she’d rather get the win.


“After a lot of time had passed, and looking back now, it is a very cool thing to be able to say I scored 2000 points, but at the time, I really didn’t care at all,” remarked Gallagher. “I was so disappointed with having lost the game, and being out of the tournament, and my high school career being over, it really was the last thing on my mind. That loss hurt a lot, and only after much time had passed can I appreciate the accomplishment.”


Even though they didn’t get that elusive district title, District IV at the time was quite possibly the toughest bracket in the state for Class A girls.


“Northeast, Elkland, and Lourdes were all in the final eight in the state,” Moore said. “Lourdes had lost the state championship game the previous year. Elkland had the key players that would win a state championship in 1996. It was maybe the toughest Class A district field ever in girls’ basketball. We had beaten Elkland twice, but lost in the district semifinals to them. They beat Lourdes for the District IV title - we lost to Lourdes in the Eastern semifinals, a game that we probably had our worst shooting game of the year. Basically, it boiled down to who had a good night when we all played each other.”


———


The players now have grown, and moved on with their lives. Some of them have children - Tina’s daughter Lillie Maynard is on the basketball team, following in her mother’s footsteps as the Panthers won another NTL title last season.


But the memories remain, and what they remember most changes depending on who you ask.


“Every player’s parents were your parents, too,” remembered Maynard, recalling all those who made it to the games. “In one of our state playoff games I remember scoring all of my 14 points in the third quarter, four being 3-pointers one right after another. After the game my mom said we need to go home and watch the news because the news camera was only there for that quarter, and, sure enough, they highlighted all four of my threes. I never needed to be in the spotlight but I remember how cool it felt to watch it on TV and hear ‘Robinson for another three.’”


For Gallagher, it was the quieter moments - the in between moments that she shared with her teammates - that stand out.


“Some of my favorite memories are the bus rides to the games, playing cards on the bus, pre-game meals, picking out music to come out,” she described. “Everything about that year was fun - from the coaches, to us players, to the fans - it was a year to remember.”


Moore also has plenty of memories - “too many to list” - but he’s glad to see what they’ve done off the basketball court, as well.


“But it was special coaching such an amazing group of players who have all gone on to be successful in life,” he said. “That’s the key, they learned hard work and how to work together. They also learned that you don’t succeed every time. You need to keep working hard to be success in anything you do.”


In fact, it was Moore that gave Maynard one of her favorite memories from that year.


“Once, a junior high player said to coach, ‘you know, it’s not all about winning, it’s about having fun, too,’” she recalled. “Coach Moore replied, ‘well, winning is a lot more fun.’ He was right. We were certainly blessed to play the best sport with our best friends, and be good at it. I can’t thank them all for the countless memories that I have, but that season was hands down, my favorite.”


PHOTO PROVIDED BY TINA MAYNARD



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