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Tyrone Lady Eagles accomplish more with less during 2005-06 basketball season

If there was a way in girls basketball to earn points for being in position to win, the Tyrone Lady Eagles of 2005-2006 might have found their way to Loretto last weekend for a shot at a District 6 championship.
And if there were prizes handed out for accomplishing more with less, or a lot with little help, coach Jim Swaney would be the Coach of the Year, and Emily McKenna would be MVP.
But that’s not the way basketball works. Instead, it’s governed by a very cut-and-dry system of justice: score more points, win the games. Moral victories and ifs have never had much effect on win-loss records.
And that’s why the story of the Lady Eagles of 2005-2006 feels more like an unfinished symphony than the great American novel. For all of the competitive fire, the magic milestones and close-but-no-cigars, the Lady Eagles finished the season in the same way they ended the year before – bowing out of the District playoffs in the first round with an 11-13 record after a season of missing by an inch.
“I don’t think we ever really accomplished what we could have,” said Swaney. “In that way, the season was disappointing. It’s hard for me to separate this year from last year. It’s similar in a lot of ways. Against the better teams, we could never get over the hump.”
That was a theme that resonated time and again this season, as Tyrone hung close with some of the best teams in Central Pennsylvania, only to come up short late, never for a lack of effort but a lack of offense. Over 24 games, the Lady Eagles mustered only 42 points per game, and in 13 contests against playoff teams they failed to reach 40 five times.
All of that while Tyrone was defending as well as the best Class AA teams in the District, and while McKenna was bulldozing her way to a 1,000-point career and one of the more remarkable senior seasons in the last nine years. It begs the question How good could the Lady Eagles have been with one or two more consistent scorers?
“We’ve got to be able to count on more than one or two people late in games,” Swaney said. “I think it’s a safe estimate that we let five or six games slip away.”
It’s a very safe estimate that stands up to the scrutiny of the numbers. Throw out losses to powers like Bishop Guilfoyle, Bellefonte and Lewistown, teams that went deep into the postseason or are still alive, and what prevented Tyrone from having a more successful season in terms of wins and losses were games they dropped to Central Mountain (43-46), Richland (41-42), Indian Valley (51-56), Marion Center (43-52) and Southern Huntingdon (53-60).
Those were five tightly contested games that saw Tyrone flounder offensively in crucial situations – 1-for-6 to start the fourth quarter against Valley, 2-for-9 to start the third quarter against Marion Center, scoreless in overtime against Southern Huntingdon. As Swaney noted following his teams loss to the Lady Stingers, “You can only defend for so long.”
“When the season ended in 2005, and we were sitting in the locker room at Hollidaysburg after losing to Bishop McCort, I told the kids that all that was holding us back was our offensive production,” said Swaney. “We had toughness, we could defend, we had the intangibles, we rebounded well. We just never improved enough offensively.”
That made the end especially bitter for the Lady Eagles and their coach, who said that while the season never lived up to what it could have been record-wise, it was made better by the kinds of players he was coaching.
“From the aspect of working with young people and the type of kids we had come through the program, it was not disappointing at all,” Swaney said. “They were great kids and they all did just about everything they were ever asked to do.”
Seniors Emily Ingle and Emily Lloyd earned some of the strongest praise from Swaney during the regular season when he lauded them as two of the best defenders the program has ever seen. Tiffany Bradford (6.0 ppg.), who did not move up to varsity her freshman year and who never cracked the lineup until her junior season, came on to become one of the Lady Eagles’ top offensive weapons. “She improved as much as anyone and we’ll miss her toughness,” said Swaney.
Marissa Hoover was again one of Tyrone’s top rebounders, while Katie Walker and Sharon Long earned Swaney’s praise for making everyone on the team better.
But the showpiece of the group was McKenna, who will soon decide which Division III program will earn her services next season in college. She’s being courted by many, including Juniata and Pitt-Greensburg, and that should be expected after a senior season like hers.
On most nights, she was options 1 and 2 for the Lady Eagles, and every team knew it. Still, with even the most causal basketball fans understanding she would take the majority of Tyrone’s shots, she managed to score over 16 points per game and reach double figures in all but five outings.
She finished No. 9 on Tyrone’s all-time scoring list with 1,070 points, averaging double-figures in three of her four seasons as a starter.
“We’re going to miss her ball handling, her leadership and certainly her offensive production,” Swaney said.
But there is a silver lining. Tyrone returns several players with strong upsides next season, most notably in the area where the Lady Eagles need the biggest boost: scoring.
Five-foot-10 post Liz Tepsic (8.2 ppg.) will lead the way, following a junior season in which she emerged as a potential No. 1 scoring option for 2006-2007. She had seven double-figure scoring games, including a high of 19, and held her own against some of the Mountain Athletic Conference’s top posts, like BG’s Mary Forr and Bellefonte’s Missy Clouser.
Classmate Stefani Bryan (3.5 ppg.), a two-time letter-winner, has also shown the ability to put the ball in the basket, although she lacked the consistency last season that she demonstrated as a sophomore. She and sophomore Kayla Corle, who began to emerge with varsity minutes towards the end of the season, along with sophomore guard Brooke Garbinsky, are three players who could benefit greatly next season from the addition of current eighth grader Rachel Emigh, a point guard who can penetrate and find open shooters, and who could make an immediate impact her freshman season.
Megan Turiano and Lindsay Christine are two more letter-winners from this past season who, along with providing extra scoring options, will be looked upon to add defensive intensity and toughness.
“I think next season Liz and Stefani especially will have a chance to be among the best players at their positions in the league,” said Swaney. “Megan has a chance to do what Tiffany Bradford did for us this year. But they’ve got to get out and work to make that happen.”
Off-season training habits were a popular theme in Swaney’s final meeting with his team in the day’s following its exit from the playoffs. With strong commitment over the spring, summer and fall, he said, the Lady Eagles could easily become one of the teams to beat in the MAC in 2006-2007. Without it, there’s every reason to believe they’ll be 11-13 again in 365 days.
“I will be interested in seeing who steps up as leaders,” he said. “I’ll be interested in seeing who the players are who go to the others and get them to come in and shoot in the off-season, even if they are playing another sport. We want them to play other sports, but girls basketball has become so competitive that I don’t think we can win in our league or our District without a strong commitment in the off-season.”