SEASON PREVIEW: HICKORY
Hornettes coach Jeannette Whitehead is cautiously optimistic heading into the new season, despite having lost her two marquee players to graduation.
The Hickory Hornettes (18-9) became one of the prizes of MCAC girls basketball in the spring of 2000, and were a win away from the PIAA Class AAA playoffs before falling in the District 10 consolation round to Ft. LeBeouf, 58-35. Although the Hornettes' stellar play late in the season gave them some breathing room, by season's end it was anyone's guess who was coming out of AAA.
Hickory found itself battling for the AAA top spot all season with Grove City and Sharon. The Hornettes edged the Lady Eagles 38-35 in a season-ending tiebreaker, earning them the No. 1 seed for the D-10 postseason. Hickory carried that momentum with them to a 46-40 defeat of General McLane in their D-10 opener, but then ran into a tough Villa Maria squad, which the Hornettes had beaten 41-40 during the regular season, and Villa got its revenge in a 57-50 win.
The battle could be much tougher this year.
The main void in the Hornettes' lineup is the one left by Cristy Gustas, The Herald's 2000 Player of the Year, and All-MCAC selection April Deitsch. They finished their scholastic careers as Hickory's third and 10th all-time scorers, respectively. Gustas poured in 409 points in her senior campaign, while Deitsch had 364.
"Our focus is on improving on the floor every game," said Whitehead, who joined her guard by not only earning Herald Coach of the Year honors, but also helping the Hornettes earn Team of the Year honors.
"We're going to miss them," Whitehead said of her departed stars, but quickly added, "the kids are working very hard right now, I think that we'll be able to match what we did last year."
Senior post player Rachel Gilliland emerges (5-10) as the strongest candidate to carry on the tradition, coming off a big junior season, banging home 204 points inside to lead all underclassmen, and that could serve as a catalyst for this season, according to Whitehead.
Whitehead also returns a pair of seniors that both started as juniors in Brianne Kornbau (5-8 swing) and Melissa Comninos (5-6 guard). Classmate Colleen Gottuso (5-8 forward), who finished her junior year with 109 points, returns along with senior Shayna Marks (5-4 guard), both regulars in Whitehead's rotation last season.
Also at guard is returning junior Jayne Antel (5-6)
"Gilliland is the most experienced," Whitehead said. "But Brianne Kornbau can go inside and out for me, so they will both be important to us."
Also likely to log minutes for the Hornettes are sophomores Laura Herman and Cassie Pyle.
"We just have to work out some kinks," Whitehead said, "and the season will help us to that right away."
This year's race for the AAA crown could be even tighter and Whitehead said she expects her team to again be one of the teams trying to squeeze in at the top.
"I think it's going to be very interesting. Grove City and Sharon are both back with experience. I think that it will come down to the wire again," she said. "I just hope that as we grow and mature, that we can stay as competitive as we were last year." -- By Herald sports writer Nate Summers
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