FALLS TWP. – While the Pennsbury girls basketball team won their last two games of the season, getting past Catholic Academies rival Villa Joseph Marie and Suburban One National League (SONL) rival Bensalem for a second time this year, it was a tough season for the Lady Falcons.
The nine wins posted by Pennsbury was twice as many as the Falcons had last year, but it was a far cry from say, where the team stood with 2006 alum Dana Mitchell positioned on the wing. Truth be told, Pennsbury has had a tough time competing in the sport ever since Mitchell’s departure.
Of course, Mitchell – who went on to score over 2,000 points at Saint Bonaventure – was one of those players that comes along maybe only once during a coach’s career, with 1,757 points at Pennsbury, ranking her third all-time in Lower Bucks County. But something else has happened in this part of the county to the sport and the girls that play it.
The level of play has simply fallen off. A lot of that has to do with the fact that basketball is just not a sport that girls in these parts play year-round.
“Basketball is a skill game,” said Lady Falcons head coach Frank Sciolla. “It’s not one of those games where you can just go out – if you’re an athlete – and pick up.”
Sciolla should know. He’s been around the game his whole life, playing high school hoops at St. Joseph’s Prep and college basketball at Cabrini. He’s had boys coaching stints at Pennsbury, Bristol and Conwell-Egan where he led the Eagles to a state title in 2015.
Guiding the Falcon boys, he registered a 280-136 record and won seven Suburban One League (SOL) titles, five in undefeated fashion.
Coaching the Pennsbury girls team is a whole different ballgame.
Sciolla took the job when former Falcon coach Keith Gabor resigned at the end of the 2015-16 school year. The Pennsbury girls had just nine league wins in the previous three seasons, so the current coach was well aware of what he was getting into.
“At that point, we were so far behind the eight ball that I had to jump in quickly and do as many workouts as we could,” he said.
“We’re at ground-zero in terms of what we have to do. We’ve got to engage in a massive building project.”
“And we’ve got to get some of these girls playing (AAU and summer ball).”
The only current AAU players at Pennsbury are sophomore Kate Mix (Rebels B.A.) and freshman Mary Miller (Philadelphia Belles). And the others are willing to learn.
“We’re lucky to have the right types of kids who are eager and receptive to it,” said Sciolla.
Of course, some other coaches have their own ideas about what’s happened to girls hoops in Lower Bucks. Andy Krasna, former Director of Travel Basketball for the Pennsbury Regional Basketball League and the current coach of the girls varsity team at state qualifier New Hope-Solebury, says lacrosse and girls soccer present more convenient options for both parents and their girls who want to play sports.
“Basketball just has too many other sports competing for girls’ interest,” says Krasna. “What you have is less girls playing basketball year-round.”
Not having either the time or the means to drive their kids all over, together with the expense of the program, is enough to convince both parents and daughters to pick another sport.
The demise of the Lower Bucks Lightning and the Bucks County Wildcats, where girls from Newtown and Yardley once played, have also contributed to the dip in girls basketball in the area. The Newtown Shamrocks, where Mitchell played, is now defunct. The Wildcats – who produced the likes of Julie Sailor, a Council Rock alum who went on to play at the University of Delaware – was the last local girls program that developed high-level players.
“There were all these programs that used to be right here in Lower Bucks that simply do not exist anymore,” said Krasna.
The coach experienced the phenomena as a parent. Years ago, he used to drive his daughter Lindsay to Fencor AAU in Fort Washington to play hoops. Lindsay registered over 1,300 points at Pennsbury, played four years at Cornell then played pro ball in Israel for one season.
And her father was an AAU coach and still, she had to commute to play basketball in the summer.
“If you want your daughter to compete at a high level in the offseason, you have to go to Upper Bucks, Central Bucks or Northeast Philadelphia,” said Krasna. “There’s really nothing around here anymore for girls to play at a high level.”
While CR North was the only squad in Lower Bucks to make states this time around, teams at CB South, CB East and CB West all made states this season. The reason for the strength there is that the CBs draw a slew of year-round talent from the Central Bucks Renegades, which is based in Hatboro-Horsham.
“All three of those teams were at one point ranked in the top 10 in the state,” stated Krasna. “That’s three schools from one district; it’s no accident.”
In Delaware County, there’s the AAU Comets, a nationally recognized girls basketball program which boasts WNBA product Elena Delle Donne among its alumni. Established in the 1980s, the club captured an AAU national championship in 1997 that thrust it into the spotlight.
“They start the kids early and they are very good at skill development,” said Krasna, of the Comets. “Lower Bucks has kind of struggled with that over the last 10 years.”
While Krasna admits the sport has taken a dip in Lower Bucks, he actually believes it’s on its way back up here. There are a few newcomers on the scene, he says, that are developing players you’ll start to see at the high school level the next few years.
“I think it goes in waves so I think what you are going to see is a resurgence of some of the stronger teams in lower Bucks,” the coach said.
One of the newcomers is the Upper Makefield AAU Heat.
“They are just loaded with eighth-grade players who are going to help feed that program (at CR North),” stated Krasna. “They have girls there now who are playing at a varsity level.”
And in Levittown, you now have Lady Falcons Elite (LFE) Hoops.
“Their middle school and travel programs are light years away from where they were just five years ago,” said Krasna.
The recent resurgence at North, which opened with a win in states over District 11 rival Nazareth, can also be traced to a local AAU team.
Junior Becca Margolis along with sophomores Dana Bandurick and Camryn Polinsky are all members of the Newtown AAU Rebels.
Over at Neshaminy, which made it to states last season, the Lady Skins’ resurgence can also be traced to some AAU teams. Freshmen Kristin Curley and Meghan Ansel along with sophomore Allison Harvey are members of the Mid-Atlantic Magic while sophomore Brooke Mullin plays for the Northeast Rockers.
Just remember, those teams are all based in Northeast Philadelphia.