Before Scott Wisner returned as the head coach of the Central York girls’ basketball team in 2013, the Panther program wasn't in the same shape it is today.
Fresh off a York-Adams League title, the first since Wisner coached Central to its only other league crown back in 1999, the Panthers are one of the better programs year in and year out throughout the league right now.
While the District 3 tournament this year didn’t turn out exactly as he would have liked — Central finished fourth — Wisner has his squad back in the PIAA tournament for the first time since winning the District 3 championship back in 1999.
So how has Wisner been able to create this turnaround?
“It certainly is a process,” he said. “Our first year back we were 10-12. So just to come in and make it happen is really hard. We were really trying to compete hard in practice and get that to transition into the games.”
Balanced roster: Back in 1999, Wisner had arguably the best starting lineup in school, if not league, history. Amongst the five starters, four of them — Steph Frysinger (Drexel), Liz Rojahn (Lafeyette), Kim McGhee (Wagner) and Kris McGhee (St. Bonaventure) — were NCAA Division I recruits.
While this year’s squad pales in comparison in that regard, they certainly are high-caliber in their own right. The trio of Emma Saxton (14.6 ppg), Nikson Valencik (14.1 ppg) and Teirra Preston (11.0 ppg) account for nearly 65 percent of the team’s scoring output this season.
Add in 3-point specialist Sarah Sepic (5.8 ppg), who leads the team with 31 3-pointers this season, and guard Katie Fabbri (3.4 ppg, 18 3’s) and the Panthers have a starting lineup that creates nightmares for opposing defenses.
“We have a lot of kids that are very multi-skilled,” he said. “We don’t have a tremendous amount of height and that (1999) team didn’t either. So we rely a lot on good team defense, good team chemistry and very balanced scoring. So in that regard these two teams are quite similar.”
Culture change: Players, however, are only part of the answer. Before Wisner came back to coach the team in 2013, the Panthers finished with a combined 32-73 record over the five prior campaigns.
Those, perhaps coincidentally, were the years Wisner was away from the program after leading the team to a winning record after the 2008 season.
Since his return, Wisner’s squads have gone 72-28 during that span, including an impressive 65-16 mark over the past three seasons. For his career, Wisner’s record stands at 282-168.
“We had to change the culture,” said Central York assistant coach Sean Potts. “Players thought they were owed a position. Wiz brings a competitive tone and pushes the players to be better. He is open to ideas and will do whatever it takes. He knows the game and is fantastic at dissecting a team’s strengths and weaknesses.”
There’s also a personal element to coaching that is often underrated.
“The key is he teaches the players how to play the game, not just run plays like robots,” Potts said.
Wisner insists that he can’t do it all himself. He heaped praise on his assistants Potts and Randy Mumford.
“I think with the assistants that I have that we’re all able to get a lot out of the kids in different areas,” Wisner said. “Coach Mumford is really good at working with the kids in their mental approach to the game and Potts’ emphasis is mostly on the defense and I’m mostly on the offense. Obviously we don’t stay completely in those areas, but that’s generally how we divide up the different aspects of the game and focus on our areas of strength.”
Perhaps Potts, who joined Wisner’s staff back in 2013, summed it up best about the Panthers' head coach.
“I wouldn’t coach with anyone else,” he said.
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org