SHILLINGTON — One could've easily excused coach Dave Schreiner and the Susquehannock girls’ basketball team if they had worn crestfallen looks Tuesday evening at Governor Mifflin Intermediate School.
After all, the Warriors had just watched the most successful season in school history come to a close with a 56-41 loss to Archbishop Wood in the PIAA Class 5-A semifinals.
There was little time for that, however.
Susquehannock emerged from its locker room with only a scattering of bleary-eyed faces ready to greet an adoring throng of friends and family who only wanted to focus on the finer points of the year.
Besides, taking on an air of pity isn’t the type of attitude that got the Warriors this far in the first place.
Instead, learning from adversity and using it to fuel future success is one of the many priceless intangibles that were on display during their storybook run — and that’s just what Schreiner and his crew plan to do with the latest defeat.
“Hopefully this will help build our program,” Schreiner said, adding that the notoriety of a season that produced a 26-5 record and the deepest PIAA run the program has ever produced should have a positive trickle-down effect on players at various youth levels. “I think that’s what it’s all about, building from the ground up.”
Of the area teams that advanced the furthest this season, Susquehannock’s squad wasn’t your classic semifinalist story.
It wasn’t one littered with high-prized, major-college recruits leading the way. And the Warriors roster wasn’t one of those senior-laden squads-of-destiny finally realizing its potential.
Susquehannock’s successful season was instead predicated on the many characteristics that can sometimes prove more pivotal than pure talent.
Loss to Colonials: The fire for the Warriors’ playoff run admittedly came from a loss to New Oxford during the York-Adams League semifinals. Prior to Tuesday, it was the Warriors' last defeat.
“That might have been a blessing,” Schreiner said of the defeat. “We got some time off and learned some things about our team. It gave us a chance to refocus, and I know the kids were very hungry when they found out they’d play New Oxford again.”
The young Warriors were able to showcase an ability to learn from prior pitfalls when they met the Colonials in the second round of the state playoffs. Susquehannock was able to show its moxie in its ability to completely adjust their defensive scheme in order to defeat New Oxford.
Fittingly, it was that victory that cemented this season as the most accomplished in school history. The previous school-best record was 24-4 set during the 1990-91 season.
Mature play: A young Warriors side was able to display a maturity beyond its years when it came to handling pressure this season. Susquehannock was seldom intimidated by having to face powerhouse programs when it mattered most.
For instance, the moment could have easily gotten the better of sophomore Jaden Walker in the closing moments of the Warriors’ District 3 title win vs. Harrisburg. Walker calmly converted a pair of free throws with 1.9 seconds left and the Warriors tied with the tournament’s top seed at 42-42.
It was also a game where the Warriors played from behind throughout much of the contest, a game where lesser youthful teams might have crumbled. Instead, in a bit of role reversal, it was the Warriors' players who proved the calming influence at halftime — assuring their coach they were confident in their ability to prevail.
“There’s a lot of basketball played in the offseason now. So even though they’re young in terms of age and grade, they were pretty mature, they had a lot of game experience. And that made a really big difference,” Schreiner said.
The task of taking on Wood for a spot in a state final could have caused lesser young teams to crumble before the opening whistle. Wood entered play ranked No. 1 in the latest 5-A state rankings and had won the 3-A state title a season ago.
Instead, the Warriors roared out to a 12-3 lead at one point in the first quarter. They were also far more game of an opponent for the Vikings than the final score indicated.
Susquehannock’s signature style of play throughout the season was a further reflection of that maturity — a tenacious defense, coupled with a balanced scoring attack.
“Playing together, understanding that the game is bigger than yourself. Understanding that individually, we can’t accomplish much; but as a group we can accomplish a lot. And I really think them buying into that, especially heading into the district tournament, was a really big reason why we were a success,” Schreiner said.
Quick look ahead: While lone senior Tyler Williams proved the offensive anchor at 13.4 points per game (she had six Tuesday), the Warriors got significant contributions from a pair of sophomores in Jaden Walker (10.3 ppg, 12 vs. Wood) and Jayla Galbreath (9.7 ppg, 10 vs. Wood). Junior Ana Mahan (7 ppg) returns next season, as does fellow junior starter Taylor Tannura.
Before any of those returning players turn their focus to the future, however, Schreiner hopes they hang on to the lasting satisfaction they earned during a remarkable run.
“Five years from now, 10 years from now, when they see each other, they’ll know they were part of the best Susquehannock team in school history,” Schreiner said.
Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org.