NTL GIRLS' BASKETBALL: TOWANDA EYES STRONG TITLE DEFENSE THIS SEASON
(2021-01-09)BY CHRIS MANNINGNorthern Tier Sports Report
The Towanda Lady Knights are coming off one of their best seasons in recent memory, ultimately taking the NTL Division-I title in 2020.
This year they look to repeat as they return four out of five starters from last season’s group - and they aren’t shy about being the team to beat.
“I’d say it’s kind of nice to have a target on you,” said senior center Erin Barrett. “You know everybody’s watching you so it just makes you perform better. You just want to be at the top of your game.”
They were a defense first team a year ago - using their quickness and length to force turnovers and spark fast breaks - and expect more of that this season.
“It’s going to be hard to get past us,” said returning swing player Porschia Bennett.
They are unique in that they have size up and down the line-up, size that is rare for girls’ teams in the NTL.
“Not too many high school girls’ coaches get to coach this amount of size and athletic ability,” said new coach Rob Gentile. “When you’ve got two 6-footers that can play the one and the two there’s’ a lot of different things we can do, but we have to maximize that and use it in the right way. If you don’t use your athletes the way they’re supposed to be used it’s not real effective.”
Sophomore Paige Manchester is the point guard, or the one, that Gentile is talking about. She took the league by storm last year with her ability to handle the ball and see the court while having the size of a center, putting up 11 points per game as a freshman.
And this year Manchester is even more prepared after a season under her belt.
“Things are a lot different,” she said. “I was a little bit scared my freshman year, but this year I feel a lot better.”
She’s excited to see what she and Bennett, another six footer who happens to be a district high jump champion, can do in the backcourt. Bennett was last year’s leading scorer at 13 points per game.
“I’m pretty much focusing on defense this year,” said Bennett. “I’m getting better at it.”
That’s a scary thought considering how good she was at smothering ball handlers in the open court and picking off passes.
“It definitely gives us an advantage on the court against other teams and gives us versatility, which really helps,” said Manchester about their size and quickness in the backcourt.
Anchoring that defense is Barrett, who is one of the better rebounders and shot blockers in the league. She also has a good post game, averaging just under 10 points per game a year ago.
“We have a lot more defensive plays that we’re incorporating than we did last year,” said Barrett. “We’re a pretty good team, it’s a lot of our length that helps us. I’m pretty sure we’re the biggest line-up in the league, for height at least.”
Despite all three of them being in different classes Barrett feels they have a good connection.
“Even the younger girls, I’ve been playing with a lot of them for a long time,” she said. “So it’s not really new, we’re kind of all familiar with each other, which makes it easier.”
Despite this being his first year Gentile knows what this team can do.
“We do want to play fast,” he said. “That’s what they’re good at. They’ve done that for a long time. I think, obviously, when we get after it defensively, you get a lot of easy opportunities to score.”
However, they won’t be able to hound every team into submission. Athens, who they went 1-2 against a year ago, has solid guard play and knows how to execute a press break. They lost to NEB last year, too, who look to be even more guard oriented this year.
“When you face really good coaches and well coached teams, and they take that away from you, you’ve got to be able to play the game, too,” Gentile said. “So we’re trying to be a little bit more controlled and disciplined in our transition when things aren’t available.”
He noted that they work on running lanes and finding post players during the secondary break.
“We’ve got some work to do,” said Gentile. “We’re not the greatest shooting team at this point, but a lot of it is confidence.”
He comes into a unique situation at Towanda. The Lady Knights and Athens expect to be battling for the NTL Division-I title again, along with Wyalusing. The girls all know each other from a year ago, and they’re definitely is a rivalry feel between the two teams.
Gentile is also friends with Athens’ coach Brian Miller as they were teammates on the court at Athens years ago.
“We’ve coached together at a lot of camps,” said Gentile. “He’s a great coach. Their strength is discipline and playing their system and understanding their system.”
The two teams split a year ago during the regular season but Athens’ late season loss to Wyalusing, followed by the Knights beating the Rams in the final game of the regular season, gave Towanda the division title.
“I would understand why they would feel like they have some unfinished business,” said Gentile.
His girls are confident, though, in that they can handle what Athens has for them.
“I think that we’re going to put a good fight up against them,” said Bennett.
In fact, they’re not afraid of expectations.
“Our expectations, at least team wise, are pretty high,” said Barrett. “We want to stay at the same level and build the program up a lot and continue doing what we’re doing.”
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