Settlement documents recount harrowing Vicosa murders and law enforcement errors

Susquehannock girls' basketball rides roller coaster to state tournament

The Warriors had missed the playoffs for three straight seasons, but a loose, upbeat group has brought them back to states.

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch

With the Susquehannock girls’ basketball team trailing by 12 points at halftime against Lampeter-Strasburg in a District 3 Class 5A first-round playoff game Feb. 21 — the first postseason contest any of the Warriors’ players had been a part of — head coach Alex Fancher told his team to “remember why we’re here.”

“We’re not here to be stressed out and to worry about how well we’re playing,” he said. “It’s (to) enjoy the experience, and we didn’t enjoy the experience in the first half. … When we get to the locker room at the end of the game, we need to know that we enjoyed this playoff game.”

That’s been the Warriors’ overarching theme all season. Susquehannock’s core players have been together for years and are all naturally loose personalities. Rather than tighten the screws when they step on the court, they’ve played their best basketball when playing free. And Fancher, a second-year head coach who’s been part of the program for seven years, knows how to bring that out of them.

Susquehannock roared back from a 25-13 halftime deficit that night to force overtime and eventually knock off the Pioneers, 51-48, to reach the district quarterfinals and secure a spot in the PIAA state tournament. It was an exclamation point on a breakthrough season for the program, which had posted losing records the three years prior.

Evelyn Weldon at the Susquehannock girls basketball practice in Glen Rock on March 8, 2023.

More:Matchups set for local teams in state basketball tournaments

College sports:What's next for Levi Haines after winning Big Ten wrestling title for Penn State

York College:Men's lacrosse looking strong despite early losses

The Warriors (now 14-12) were taken out of district contention by No. 1-seed and eventual champion Greencastle-Antrim, then dropped a consolation game to Lower Dauphin before beating York-Adams Division II rival West York for seventh place in the tournament. They’ll visit District 1 champion West Chester Rustin at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“Seeing all of them have this opportunity to extend the season the way they did because of all the hard work they put in … I’m just really happy and excited for them that they’ve gotten this chance and that it’s still going,” Fancher said.

Fancher, who also teaches at Susquehannock, brings a relentless energy and positivity to the job. He’s upbeat at 8 a.m. practices and jokes about being too excited to sleep before games. But his genuine passion for the team and its players has shined through since he took over the program in 2021.

Susquehannock girls basketball in Glen Rock on March 8, 2023.

“Sometimes it can be overwhelming — like, morning practices, it’s just too much,” senior point guard Kenni Galbreath said with a laugh, “but honestly, it’s good to have someone like that that’s always going to lift you up and get you excited for the game because he’s always excited.”

Galbreath is one of the Warriors’ four captains, joining Dylan Elliott, Georgie Snyder and Evelyn Weldon. The three seniors, plus a junior in Snyder, all started for last year’s squad that went 8-14 overall and 2-10 in a challenging division. When they spoke at local media day in November, they expressed a desire to snap their three-year playoff drought, and they achieved that and more.

“This is a fantastic group. It’s one of the best groups of girls I’ve ever coached,” Fancher said. “We tried to get them to buy in and they did. … They bought into it. Positive attitudes, great leadership from our four captains — and all four of them, they all bring a different dynamic to it and have made the rest of the team feel welcome and feel confident.”

[l-r] Captains: Kenni Galbreath, Dylan Elliott, Georgie Snyder, and Evelyn Weldon at the Susquehannock girls basketball practice in Glen Rock on March 8, 2023.

The season started with four home victories in five days, including a 53-52 thriller against reigning York-Adams League champion Bermudian Springs. After a 54-38 loss at West York on Dec. 16, Susquehannock pulled out a 38-36 win over eventual district finalist York Suburban on Dec. 20. A victory against Dover on Jan. 6 brought the Warriors to 7-2 overall and 3-1 in the division. But they had to weather the storm that came next.

Fancher’s team dropped five of its next seven games, a stretch that started with a 56-20 loss to Class 3A powerhouse Lancaster Catholic and included narrow D-II defeats that took the Warriors out of the division hunt. On Jan. 24, they trailed Eastern York 26-3 after the first half at home (eventually losing 43-23). Susquehannock finished fifth in the division with a 5-7 record, but its 12-10 overall mark was good enough for the No. 9 seed in the district playoffs.

Much like the Warriors in the men’s pro game, Susky leans heavily on 3-pointers. The group has knocked down 166 triples in 26 games, 39 more than anyone else in the YAIAA. After a cold shooting first half against L-S, Fancher told his team to keep shooting, and the Warriors had tied the score by the end of the third period. Freshman Elana Snyder then scored 12 of her team-high 14 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to lift Susquehannock over the top.

“Alex talked to us in the locker room and was like, ‘Hey, we play our best when we’re loose — don’t worry about those mistakes,’” Elliott said. “He always says in practice (when you make a mistake), ‘Get the next one,’ which is nice.”

Susquehannock girls basketball in Glen Rock on March 8, 2023.

Elliott — who at 5-foot-9 is actually tied for the tallest player on the team — missed the Warriors’ ensuing district games, and the team struggled to overcome slow starts against Greencastle and Lower Dauphin. On the surface, there was even less to play for in the seventh-place game against West York, with only state tournament seedings at stake.

But Fancher knew it was a measuring stick, as Warriors fell by 16 points in the same building when the teams first met in December, and he wanted his squad to treat it like a championship game. They certainly celebrated after a 37-34 victory in which Georgie Snyder blocked a Bulldog 3-point shot at the buzzer.

“When you make every game mean something and you don’t just define it by the labels, you get to see a lot of good things from your players,” Fancher said. “And that’s what we’ve gotten this year, and I’m really proud of them for that.”

Kenni Galbreath at theSusquehannock girls basketball practice in Glen Rock on March 8, 2023.

In preparation for West Chester Rustin (24-3), the Warriors have practiced against a “superteam” of boys’ players and former girls’ standouts. The players called it a “fun challenge” to scrimmage against a bigger, more physical group; among the alumni competing was Jayla Galbreath, Kenni’s older sister and a senior guard for Penn State Harrisburg. Elliott said the competition has helped as she ramps back up to game form.

From the group effort in practice to friendly halfcourt shot competitions, Fancher has helped cultivate a tight-knit program. Expect plenty of Warrior fans to make the two-hour trip for Saturday’s game. And if Susquehannock plays loose and knocks down shots, perhaps the roller coaster ride can continue.

“This state game, it’s not just our team playing — it’s like our whole program is a part of it,” Fancher said. “It’s like a family environment. This community is absolutely fantastic, it’s been nothing but a pleasure, and I know everybody’s excited about what we’re going to be able to play for on Saturday.”