Last season could be viewed as a “down” year for the York College women’s basketball team when compared with its recent history.
The 12-15 mark was its worst since 2009-10, and only the third time since 2000 the Spartans failed to finish above .500.
However, an influx of players from area high schools has helped the program stave off a long-term slide, and keep its familiar place among the Capital Athletic Conference’s best.
This season’s team will take on top-seeded Marymount (Va.) at 6 p.m. Thursday in the CAC semifinals. The No. 4 Spartans reached this round of the tournament in 2015 before falling to eventual-champion Salisbury, 76-61.
Reloading a program after graduation is far from uncommon in collegiate basketball. However, it isn’t every day that a team also needs to replace its most successful class. Such was the case for York after the 2013-14 season.
That campaign saw the departure of Brittany Hicks, a York Catholic graduate, who finished her career fourth in Spartans scoring history with 1,589 points. Kristen Haley, the school’s sixth-leading scorer at 1,584 points, also graduated that year. York also saw key role players leave, such as Kelsey Murphy, York’s career leader in 3-pointers (193), and Jess Selby.
That group was able to secure a pair of CAC championships in three trips to the title game. During that period, the Spartans also appeared in the NCAA Division III tournament three times, with a third-round exit in 2011-12 standing as their deepest run. They capped a four-year run with a combined overall record of 86-29 — 46-14 in CAC play.
Restocking with area talent: The annual task of restocking the roster falls on the coaching staff — in this case, Betsy Witman and her crew. The way she went about solving that challenge has extra meaning for the coach, who is herself an area graduate. Witman was a member of the Class of 1983 at Hanover High School.
“I think York County has a lot of talent, and we like to keep them here if we can. It’s not always the case,” Witman said. “And a couple years ago, when we got Katie (Wagner) and Morgan Kuehne, I thought those were two really good local recruits we were able to pick up.”
The 2015-16 edition of the Spartans (20-6 overall, 13-5 CAC) features three York-Adams products in its starting lineup.
Leading the way is Kuehne, a Red Lion grad. The sophomore is averaging a team-best 10.8 points per game. West York’s Sarah Shearer, a junior, is a well-rounded contributor, adding 6.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game to the winning formula.
Wagner, a Susquehannock grad, completes that trio, averaging 9.5 points per game. She is also shooting a solid 38.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Young leader: Wagner has become a young leader for the Spartans, as evidenced by her ability to aptly handle a shift in positions this season. After starting point guard Brianna Bisci went down with an injury earlier in the year, Witman asked Wagner to switch from her normal two-guard position to run the point in place of Bisci.
“She has had a fantastic year,” Witman said. “I think she’s done a tremendous job. The only tough thing about moving her to that position is that Katie runs the floor so well. So having her at the off guard position allows her to get down the floor, fill the lane and get a lot of layups. But she’s just as fast with the ball in her hands.”
The sophomore isn’t without her fair share of signature games this year, either. Most recently, it was her closing-seconds drive to the basket that capped a game-high 17-point performance Tuesday in a CAC first-round win against Salisbury.
“She comes up with big plays and that’s exciting for our future,” Witman said.
The coach also recalled a late steal and subsequent layup by Wagner to help seal a January victory against Frostburg State.
Wagner’s whatever-it-takes attitude was something that made her an important recruit for Witman.
“Brittany wasn’t the star of her team (in high school), and neither was Katie Wagner,” Witman said. “But to me, I always thought Brittany was the most important member of those York Catholic teams. Same thing with Katie, her teams had a lot of success. We knew how lucky we were when we got Katie Wagner to come to York.”
Familiarity helps: One of the main benefits of harvesting local talent is the familiarity they have with each other. It provides a sense of community and helps the group coalesce.
“I used to play AAU with Mogran Kuehne and I grew up playing all of them; and I know what they’re good at. I think it definitely helps when we play together,” Wagner said.
“They’re all really good friends,” Witman said. “Our team chemistry is, I think, at its highest right now. I think this team is playing with a lot of confidence.”
That familiarity has helped this group avoid some of the early growing pains that Witman acknowledge plagued Hicks’ group before their run.
“It takes a couple of years,” Witman said. “When those girls were freshmen (Hicks’ class), we took our lumps. We went down to Florida for a tournament and got clobbered, and we ended up winning a conference championship that year. It took a while for it to come together. It’s very similar.”
While the story of this group’s cumulative success is far from complete, they’re laying the groundwork to compete with some of the school’s best. Their two-year record stands at 32-21 overall and 21-16 in the conference going into play Thursday.
According to Witman, this bunch already has a lot similar intangible qualities.
“Just like (Hicks), just hard-nosed, competitive," Witman said. "Katie and Kuehne are just so tough and they know how to win. Just players that are passionate about the game, work hard and are team oriented. There’s not a selfish bone in their bodies. There’s no reason that this team cannot win a championship."
York pipeline to continue: The York-Adams pipeline to York doesn’t dry up after those already mentioned. In fact, the Spartans look to cement the "York" in their name for years to come.
“We’ve got (freshman) Katie McGowan (Dallastown), we got (freshman) Debria Hendricks (Dallastown), who are going to be good players down the road for us. I think they’re going to have a good future here,” Witman said.
The roster also currently includes freshman Logynn Fuller (York Country Day) and senior transfer Karli McFatridge (York Catholic, 5.1 ppg). Witman also noted that York Suburban’s Molly Day will be wearing the Green and White next year.
“We definitely like that local flavor. So, yeah, just keep them coming,” she said.
Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org.