SEASON PREVIEW: SHARON
After the heated and much talked-about race for the top spot in girls AAA basketball finally ended, the team left on the outside looking in was the Sharon Lady Tigers, who rung up an outstanding 20-4 record, but could not outlast strong home stretches by both Grove City and Hickory, which consumed the pair of playoff spots and left Sharon in the cold.
The bitter taste that was undoubtedly left in the mouths of coach Mary Jo Staunch (121-76) and her team will undoubtedly serve as the main motivator this year. And Staunch does not deny it.
"We're trying to use that as an incentive, definitely," she said. "Last year, as good as we were, we still sat at home. Those six (AAA) games are really important. We've stressed that these last six weeks. So our goal now is to not only be good, but get there. We've got a year in now and we've got to use that to our advantage, and not make some of those mistakes this year."
Back in the fold to help make another run will be a pair of strong forwards in senior Angela Dolci (5-8) and junior Julie Bell (5-10). Also back from last year's team are starters Ashley Palmer (6-0 senior 3-guard), junior guard Erin Leyde and sophomore guard Nicole Valentino.
Off the bench, Staunch said junior forward Megan Gill and sophomore guard Gina Fragle will log a good deal of minutes, and should be joined by reserves Ashley Kluse and Lakesha Phillips.
"Right now, we have some different people in there," said Staunch of her current lineup. "Our leader, Trisha Sinkuc, is gone now. Defensively, she had a spark that got us going when we needed it. But this year, Fragle, Leyde and Valentino give us some of that back.
"Again, I think AAA will be real strong," she said. "It's up for grabs."
Also gone from last year's roster is Ajaya Harrison, another player that Staunch said she could rely on to come in and deliver for the Lady Tigers.
But with the emotional leaders and a clutch shooter gone, Staunch said her team needs to play with more of a sense of urgency this year, to eliminate the small mistakes that may well have translated into one loss too many for Sharon last year.
"We need to have girls step into that role," Staunch said. "The kids are pushing each other. We know we don't want it to come down to that one game or one point."
Bell led the 1999-2000 Tigers in scoring with her 330 points, including a pair of 23-point outings against Meadville and West Middlesex. -- By Herald sports writer Nate Summers
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