York, PA -
Morgan Klunk paused for a moment after winning another district championship two weeks ago. This was the third District 3 gold around Klunk's neck in three years at York Catholic, but it was so different.
Not just because Klunk was a senior, but because this team was different.
She arrived at York Catholic as a sophomore when Kady Schrann was a four-year starring point guard. Klunk's junior season was a bit of a transition -- one in which the Fighting Irish still got to the PIAA Class AA championship game.
Now, York Catholic (28-2) is in position to get back to that title game with a semifinal victory Tuesday against Saint Basil Academy (20-8).
The difference is Klunk sees so many more teammates who stand out.
Besides Klunk, the Irish's leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, so many others have had key moments in this run.
Start with 6-foot-2 center Hannah Laslo, who coach Kevin Bankos has admitted after districts "at times, she kind of hides." But after all, she is a sophomore with basketball second to soccer. And Laslo wasn't hard to find Friday in York Catholic's 49-44 PIAA quarterfinal win against Pine Grove, when she had 16 rebounds, 14 points and three blocked shots.
"She never takes a play off," Klunk said, "and she's becoming such a good rebounder. She jumps -- and not a lot of girls jump -- and she's like 6-foot already."
Then there's Klunk's teammates on the perimeter, namely juniors Zaenna Echevarria and Deanna Chesko. Like Laslo, they all played significant roles last season but have only improved with another year of experience.
Chesko missed time in January when she had pneumonia and bronchitis. At the time, following a win against division-rival Delone Catholic, Klunk said not having Chesko hurt, but added the extra time handling the basketball could help her and Echevarria.
Between the three of them, Bankos has options if one is out because of illness or -- like Friday -- because of fouls, as was the case with Klunk.
Bankos spoke volumes about Chesko's reliability as the point guard Friday, saying, "She does all the gritty stuff, all the little stuff. To have that at a point guard position makes everything easier. It frees up Morgan, it frees up Zaenna."
"She's more of an offensive threat now, which is what we need," Klunk said.
They will need it going forward this season and next season, after Klunk graduates. That gets to a key ingredient in York Catholic's success.
The Irish aren't laden with seniors. They usually are not.
"We're constantly trying to get younger kids in these games," Bankos said, "because it's the only way you keep this alive. It's Nos. 6, 7, 8, 9. It's not your first five."
Early as a freshman, Laslo contributed off the bench. This season, 5-9 sophomore forward Marissa Ressler has filled that role of providing a spark off the bench. Well, she's the first one, at least.
Ressler could start. She has started, as Bankos used her early in the season and in the district title game. She wants to start, too, but admitted she knows that's not her best role with this team.
When Ressler began the season and was in the starting lineup, she wasn't the player she's become. To Ressler, it was shaking the nerves that come with playing varsity games for the first time. It made her hesitant. But now, she said she attacks the basket for rebounds or when the opportunity arises to score. Four times in the third quarter against Pine Grove, Ressler did just that.
She scored eight points in that game, all in the third quarter as the first and only bench player to contribute in that facet. Her play helped York Catholic pad its lead to 15, points that were needed to hold off Pine Grove.
"When you have all those mixes," Bankos said, "I keep saying it -- seven or eight deep is pretty hard to defend."
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York Catholic (28-2) vs. St. Basil Academy (20-8)
6 p.m. today at the Geigle Complex, Reading High School
How the Irish got here: Beat Pine Grove, 49-44.
How the Panthers got here: Beat Notre Dame-Green Pond, 45-42.
Scouting the Panthers: Throughout their journey to this game, coach Terry Mancini has cited a tough schedule in the Catholic Academies league. He referenced his District 1 champions beat Delone Catholic in the second round and again in after Friday's quarterfinal win. The Panthers were third in that league, finishing behind Mount St. Joseph and Villa Maria, the Class AAA school that eliminated West York. Saint Basil, like its two YAIAA opponents during this tournament, can press and will do so. Kalee Fuegel has been the Panthers' leading scorer throughout the state tournament and has averaged 14 points in her last three games.
Up next: District 7 champion Bishop Canevin and runner-up Seton LaSalle, the defending state champion, will play in the other semifinal. The winners will meet at noon Friday inside Giant Center