Confident West York girls' team playing with 'house money' entering PIAA quarterfinals
Coaches often have a pretty good idea about the full potential of their teams before the season begins.
In some instances, that potential is never completely realized.
In others, it may have been overestimated a bit.
That brings us to the case of West York girls’ basketball head coach James Kunkle.
Kunkle, who is in his fifth year leading the Bulldog program, had high expectations for his squad heading into the 2021-22 campaign. He believed his team could win a York-Adams League Division II title and contend for the league playoff title and the District 3 Class 5-A crown.
Despite failing to achieve those goals, Kunkle still never doubted the potential he saw in his squad.
That remained the case even after a disappointing showing in the district 5-A draw, when the Bulldogs finished seventh.
Now, nearly two weeks later, Kunkle’s faith is being rewarded. With two victories to begin the PIAA Class 5-A state playoffs, the Bulldogs (18-9) could become the first boys’ or girls’ basketball team from West York to ever make it to the state semifinals.
“We’re the best seven seed from District 3 probably ever,” Kunkle said with a smile. “And it sounds weird saying that out loud, but how many other seven seeds have made it this far?”
Playing with confidence: If Kunkle had to point to one reason behind his team late-season surge it would have to be confidence.
“My main seven girls are playing with confidence right now,” he said. “They’re playing loose and smiling on the court. Everyone is sharing the ball and our defense was good, but now our defense is really good.”
This is all coming after one of West York’s starters – guard Alainna Hopta - made a personal decision to step away from the team. Hopta was one of West York’s leading scorers at 8.7 points per game. She left the squad shortly after a loss in the consolation round of districts to Twin Valley.
Kunkle didn’t want to discuss the situation, saying only: “She made a choice to not be a part of this team anymore.”
Without Hopta, the Bulldogs are playing like the team Kunkle envisioned. They downed Lampeter-Strasburg in the seventh-place game in districts. They followed that with a convincing victory over District 1 champion Villa Maria in the state opener. Then they gained a measure of revenge in the second round of states by defeating a Manheim Central team that sent the Bulldogs to the district consolation bracket a few weeks prior.
“We’re certainly playing with house money,” Kunkle said. “No one expected them to be here.”
Doll, Generett stepping up: Kunkle gave credit to freshman Reagan Doll, who took over at point guard, for giving his team a big lift.
“She’s moving the ball around,” Kunkle said. “It all starts with her. Her IQ on the court is unbelievable. She gets the ball in the hands of the right person at the right time.”
One of the main recipients of that has been senior T’Azjah Generett, who leads the Bulldogs in scoring at 10.1 points per game this year. Generett has increased her offensive output by nearly 50% over the past four games, scoring 59 points in that stretch (14.9 ppg).
“The last three games I’ve seen T smile every game,” Kunkle said. “And I don’t know when the last time I saw that. Certainly not this year.”
Mechanicsburg up next: Now the Bulldogs will get ready for a quarterfinal date with a Mechanicsburg team that entered the District 3 5-A draw as the top seed. That contest is scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday at Central Dauphin East High School in Harrisburg.
Kunkle doesn’t know too much about the District 3 runner-up yet, other than the Wildcats (23-5) are not a run-and-gun-style team.
“I know they have some girls that can shoot the three,” Kunkle said. “And they have a big girl inside that gets touches. But they’re a low-scoring team. I think if we can get to 40 on them, we could win.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ydsports.