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Senior class gets ready to take control for Tyrone Girls basketball team

Alanna Daniels scored 1,039 points for the Tyrone Lady Eagles, made it onto the All-Mountain League first team as a senior and earned a scholarship to a top NAIA college last spring following her senior season.
And that doesn’t begin to explain all they ways Tyrone will miss her this season.
Despite all of her basketball attributes, what Daniels brought to the Lady Eagles more than anything was an attitude – an edge that was sorely missing in the two years following the graduation of Sarah Grazier and Meagan DelBaggio in 1997 when the one-time District power bottomed out with a 6-17 season in 1999.
Daniels and her grit and drive to win helped to change that and it was a big reason why Tyrone finished last season 18-8, with a loss in the District 6-AAA consolation game after making the District semi-finals for the second straight season.
But it wasn’t the only reason. Players like Marie DelBaggio, Amber DelBaggio, Joanna Turner and Lauren Haag had a lot to do with it, as well. Coach Jim Swaney, now in his 15th season, is hoping that they’ll pick up the leadership role where Daniels left off.
“They’re not sophomores anymore,” said Swaney. “It’s time for them to step up and take control of the situation. It’s time to lead. I don’t think that I’ve misread this group and I believe they will rise to the challenge.”
In its projected starting five, Tyrone will be as experienced and talented as anyteam in the Mountain League. Turner (5-10, Sr.) and Marie DelBaggio (6-0, Sr.) are four-year starters and Amber DelBaggio (5-6, Sr.) has been a big contributor for the last two seasons, both as a starter and a reserve. Haag (5-9, Sr.) is another three-year letter-winner who has started a lot.
The one projected starter who hasn’t played significant varsity minutes is Hilary McNelis, but through junior high, junior varsity, summer leagues and two pre-season games, she’s shown she has a knack for scoring and rebounding.
Their experience at four of five positions makes the Lady Eagles serious contenders for a run at a Mountain League championship, and it’s given Tyrone’s senior class, which has nothing to show for three years of serious varsity playing time but two holiday tournament championships, a sense of urgency.
“This is their last go-round and there is a sense of urgency,” Swaney said. “I think their mistake as juniors was they put too much pressure on themselves. We want to go out now and just play. If we play hard every night, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
The major concern for the Lady Eagles will be their bench, because while their starting five looks like an all-star team, their reserves are relatively anonymous.
“”Is the bench a concern – yes,” said Swaney. “But Amanda Bryan (5-6, Sr.) has been around the program for a while now and she’s solid. Kylie Wallace (5-5, Jr.) has really worked hard to have an opportunity to play some varsity minutes and I think Emily McKenna (5-8, Fr.) can help us. She’s has the physical size and she’s not afraid of the situation.”
Bryan has had trouble through the preseason staying healthy after suffering an ankle injury and did not participate in either of the Lady Eagles’ practice games. Wallace and McKenna have pleasantly surprised Swaney with their poise and solid play.
Another pleasant surprise for the 46-year old coach has been the development of his bottom two classes.
McNelis is the gem of the group, a 5-10 post who knows how to score and is relentless on the glass. She’ll play opposite Turner in the post, giving Tyrone a formidable threat close to the basket.
Heather Staton (5-5, Soph.) could see action in the post if fouls become a problem, Tania Lewis (5-3, Soph.) and has made things happen on the defensive end with her hustle. Classmate Chrstine Taylor (5-10) has been slowed by a broken thumb and the athleticism of Jessica Hoover (5-6, Soph.) make her a promising prospect for the future.
The Lady Eagles’ freshman class may be the program’s strongest since 1999, when this year’s seniors made the jump from junior high. While McKenna is the one immediately ready for the varsity game, all have been quick studies and have made a big impression on Swaney.
Ashley Roth (5-9, Fr.) and Marissa Hoover (5-9, Fr.) will collect a good portion of the junior varsity minutes at the post positions, while Emily Lloyd (5-5, Fr.), Emily Ingle (5-3, Fr.) and Sarah Russell (5-5, Fr.) will fill help to fill out the guard rotation.
But without question, the key to the Lady Eagles’ varsity season, especially in the early-going, early will be the performance oftheir four money players.
It starts with Amber DelBaggio, who will have the ball in her hands most of the time as the point guard. She showed an ability to shoot the ball throughout her junior season, like in the Holy Name Christmas Tournament when her 18 points led Tyrone to a tournament title and placed her on the all-tournament team.
She also played with reluctance at times and her confidence appeared to wane as the season progressed.
“I’ve talked to her about it a lot,” said Swaney. “We’ve had a lot of good point guards come through our system, and now it’s her time. As she goes, we’ll go. She has a year of maturity under her belt and she’s ready. There are a lot of good guards in the Mountain League and she’ll be pressed and pressured every night.”
Turner and Marie DelBaggio each come into the season with over 600 career points and legitimate chances to become the ninth and tenth 1,000-point scorers under Swaney’s watch. Swaney has called Turner the best post in Blair County, and Marie DelBaggio has shown since her freshman season that when she comes committed to playing hard, she next to unstoppable. Few guards on the Lady Eagles’ schedule can match up with her in terms of size and her ability to take the ball off the dribble can create serious problems for opposing defenses.
Their ability to get the ball inside, through post-ups and penetration, will be the keys to Haag’s success on the offensive end. Haag has never been a driving guard, but her ability to spot up and hit the open three has Swaney counting on major production from her this season.
Defensively, the Lady Eagles won’t be the quickest team in the Mountain League, but their size and experience playing Swaney’s man defense could alleviate that problem. If their scorers score up to the level they’re capable of, that alone may be ease the problems presented by their lack of team speed.
Swaney said he and the team are anxious to see where they stand tonight against Bellwood-Antis. He’s also anxious to see how his team’s more inexperienced players will perform on the road, in a rivalry game, in a hostile environment.
“It’s going to be a big night,” he said. “I’m anxious to see how some of the kids respond. Bellwood-Antis is a good team and they definitely present us with some problems. But we think we have enough scorers to put pressure on them, as well.”