HYDE – Clearfield Area High School girls basketball coach Joey Castagnolo enters his milestone 20th season cautiously optimistic about a team boasting five letterwinners.
Lone senior Alayna Ryan, juniors McLain Alt and Tesa Miller and sophomores Megan Durandetta and Paige Rhine are the returnees from last season, which ended with a 46-38 road loss to St. Marys in the District 9 Class AAAA semifinal.
Ryan, a three-year letterwinner who was selected to the 2017-18 All-Mountain League Second Team and D9Sports.com All-District 9 Second Team, is an outstanding point guard with 693 career points.
She excels at both ends of the court and routinely fills up the stat line, finishing her junior season with 333 points, including 24 three-pointers, for a 14.5 average, 140 assists (6.1 apg), 113 rebounds (4.9 rpg) and 79 steals (3.4 spg). She also blocked 18 shots.
Ryan will be joined in the starting lineup by two other returning starters in two-year letterwinner Miller, who will be a force in the low post again after pulling down a team-high 194 rebounds (8.4 rpg) to go with 55 points, and Durandetta, who will provide long-range firepower following a rookie season of 170 points (7.4) with 48 trifectas.
Castagnolo is counting on that trio to lead the way for the Lady Bison, especially in the early going with the first four games on the road as junior wing Faith Ogden, a transfer from New Mexico, and freshman forward/wing Emma Hipps the other probable starters in Friday’s 12:30 p.m. opener against the host team in the Brookville Tip-Off Tournament.
“We’re going to lean heavily on Alayna and Megan, and we’re really working on Tesa’s inside game,” he said. “I do have some question marks about how Ogden and the two freshmen (Hipps and Olivia Bender) are going to blend in.
“I know what the other girls are capable of.”
He can count on Alt to step in on one of the wings, sophomore Kylie Van Tassel to spell Ryan as playmaker and Bender, junior Adrian Rowles and Rhine to be in the mix inside.
Castagnolo did note the starting five could change going forward.
“One thing, Hipps could go outside, so I have some versatility,” he said.
Offensively, the Lady Bison won’t be running as much in transition as in the past, according to Castagnolo, whose record stands at 205-247.
“It might make us better, because we won’t try to force it as much,” he said. “So, it might be a blessing.
“And we’ll be ready for presses this year. We made it like priority number one.”
On defense, the Lady Bison will have somewhat of a new look, too, after playing a match-up zone almost exclusively in recent seasons.
“We’re looking at multiple zone defenses, depending on the opponent,” Castagnolo said. “And it’s not gonna be a surprise if we press.”
With either North Clarion or Clarion-Limestone their opponent on the second day of the Brookville tourney, the Lady Bison will face eight District 9 opponents, Brookville and Curwensville twice, outside of the Mountain League.
“Those District 9 games mean a lot for seeding purposes,” Castagnolo noted.
His goals for the Lady Bison are a winning record, a top-four finish in the always-tough league and a trip to the district finals.
“I really feel we can be in the championship game,” Castagnolo said. “I know we lost to St. Marys twice (last season), but both games were up there. We’ve got the regular season game here this year.”
The Lady Bison play only two of eight December games on their home floor, but starting with the annual Christmas Classic against Curwensville on Dec. 27, they’ll be in Bison Gym for eight of the next nine.
The seniors last season were Brooke Cline (234 points for a career total of 606 with 84 rebounds, 33 assists and 33 steals), Nikki Brossard (166 points and 180 rebounds) and Karlie Gisewhite.
Annie Janocko and Margo Castagnolo are the assistant coaches.
The roster, with (*) denoting letterwinner:
Senior – Alayna Ryan (*), 5-6.
Juniors – McLain Alt (*), 5-5; Tesa Miller (*), 5-9; Faith Ogden, 5-5; Adrian Rowles, 5-6.
Sophomores – Megan Durandetta (*), 5-4; Ally Gaines, 5-6; Faith Hull, 5-5; Paige Rhine (*), 5-11; Kirstie Van Tassel, 4-10; Kylie Van Tassel, 5-2.
Freshmen – Olivia Bender, 5-5; Emma Hipps, 5-7; Lauryn Kitchen, 5-4.
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The schedule, with (ML) denoting Mountain League games and starting times 7:30 unless noted:
7 – Brookville (12:30) at Brookville Tip-Off Tournament; Clarion-Limestone or North Clarion at Brookville Tip-Off Tournament, TBA; 11 – at Bald Eagle Area (ML); 14 – at Huntingdon (ML); 17 – Brookville; 19 – Philipsburg-Osceola (ML); 21 – at Tyrone (ML); 27 – Curwensville.
4 – at Punxsutawney; 8 – Penns Valley (ML); 11 – at Central (ML); 14 – DuBois; 16 – Bellefonte (ML); 18 – Bald Eagle Area (ML); 22 – Huntingdon (ML); 23 – St. Marys; 25 – at Philipsburg-Osceola (ML); 30 – Tyrone (ML).
1 – at Penns Valley (ML); 5 – Central (ML); 8 – at Bellefonte (ML); 12 – at Curwensville.