Delone Catholic girls' basketball team will test itself in elite national tournament
Gerry Eckenrode doesn’t have too many regrets about his long career as the Delone Catholic High School girls’ basketball program.
Turning down an invitation to play in a top-flight national summer tournament, however, is one of them.
In the days earlier this century when his Squirettes ruled the state in Class 2-A under standouts such as Meredith Cox and Jana Zinn, Eckenrode was asked if he wanted to take part in the Best of Maryland event.
Not knowing what it was, Eckenrode declined the offer back then, a decision he does regret to this day.
“During the Meredith Cox years (2003-2006) the guy that runs it, Steve Pisarski, called me up and asked if I would be interested in playing in it,” Eckenrode said. “And I didn’t really know anything about it, so I just told him ‘not really.’”
After learning more about it years later, the legendary coach tried hard to get invited again when Sierra Moore was on the squad. Despite boasting an NCAA Division I-caliber star such as Moore on his squad, Eckenrode’s requests were turned aside.
“Once I talked with Bill Wolf from Cumberland Valley and he told me it’s a really good thing to get into,” Eckenrode said. “And I tried and tried to get us into that tournament when Sierra was playing for me, but we didn’t have the championship pedigree to play in the thing.”
Eckenrode again leads a program that is among the best in the state — Delone won the Class 3-A title in 2019, was on-track to repeat in 2020 before COVID-19 ended the tournament. Delone made the semifinals in Class 4-A this past spring.
All five starters from last year's Delone team are expected to return next season.
As a result, Eckenrode is finally pleased to take his team down to Hood College in Frederick later this month as one of 20 teams from around North America in the event.
“I’m excited,” the normally reserved Eckenrode said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
The tournament, which takes place July 24-26, features three other Pennsylvania squads, all of whom should be contenders to win a state title next year. That list includes Class 6-A Central Dauphin, as well as this year’s 4-A champion and runner-up in Archbishop Wood and Villa Maria, the team that ended Delone’s season in the semifinals.
A rematch with the Victors, however, would only take place if both teams advance to the single-elimination, eight-team playoff. Delone is expected to be paired with teams from Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Canada. The Canadian team is the defending champion.
“We would not be matched up with any of the Pennsylvania teams in the different pools,” Eckenrode said of the five-team, four-pool qualifying round. “So, we wouldn’t see them or any of the other Pa. teams until the final day.”
Size a concern for Delone: While Eckenrode’s squad is inarguably one of the best in the state, he is not under any illusion that his team would be anything but a prohibitive underdog in each contest. Delone’s top players are Giana Hoddinott, a two-time all-state honoree, and Makenna Mummert, both of whom are listed at 5-foot-9.
“I’m pretty sure that when we go down there that we will probably be one of the smallest teams there,” Eckenrode said. “And that’s a concern for me. If I have one concern, it’s just our general lack of size. And while we have a lot of speed, I’m sure that all of those teams there will have plenty of speed too.”
Perhaps one of the most attractive things about the event is in its rules about player eligibility. Only players on the high school team are eligible, so the fear of squads adding “ringers” to their rosters is moot.
“It’s going to be a good opportunity,” Eckenrode said. “I know the girls are really looking forward to it. They’re excited.”
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