BOYERTOWN >> It wasn’t supposed to be easy.
Replacing multiple starters and numerous other contributors from last year’s PIAA-6A state championship squad was Boyertown coach Jason Bieber’s challenge this season, but he surely wasn’t blindsided.
As the New Year approaches, the Lady Bears are making undeniable progress, as evidenced by Thursday night’s 46-39 win over Pope John Paul II in the opening round of the Boyertown Holiday Tournament.
The Bears (2-5) will battle Delone Catholic Friday night for the tournament title, while the Golden Panthers (4-3) take on Coatesville.
“We’re getting better every game,” the coach confirmed. “We’ve got a lot of young players… freshmen, sophomores, and we’re improving all the time.”
Thursday night saw perhaps the most consistent effort to date from the Bears, whose tenacious defense harassed PJP into 20 turnovers. Jen O’Connor’s play on the interior (five points, 13 rebounds) kept numerous possessions alive, limiting the Panthers’ chances to cut into the lead Boyertown held throughout the contest.
“I’m more of a defensive player, but I’m playing somewhat out of position this year,” said O’Connor. “Getting rebounds, that’s what I want to do. That’s my main role.
“We’re adjusting well. The beginning of the season has been a little rough, but we’re getting more consistent and starting to figure out where different contributions are coming from on this team.”
Senior leadership was key, as O’Connor was joined by Kylie Webb (11 points) and Tori Boalton (10 points) in leading the Bears’ attack. Webb’s driving layup and three-point basket on consecutive possessions staked the Bears to an early 9-3 lead they would never relinquish, while Boalton helped manage the offense capably in building a 26-18 halftime lead.
A rejuvenated PJP defense held the Bears to four third-quarter points to cut the margin to three, but Boyertown’s Julia Smith opened the final period with a pair of 3-pointers to widen the gap to nine.
“We got away from ourselves a bit in that third quarter,” said Bieber, “but getting Julia to hit those two 3’s at the start of the fourth was pivotal. We changed up some of what we did against their defense… but we know as long as our defense is there, the shots will start falling.”
While Bieber admitted that a 2-5 record wasn’t what he foresaw for this team, he also alluded to a challenging schedule that has included a tough season-opening tournament in Washington D.C., plus a one-point overtime loss.
“Every team we’ve played has had a winning record… we thought we’d grab a couple more, but we only played five or six kids last year, so even though we returned a number of players, we didn’t return a lot of experience.”
Kayla Mesaros led the way for PJP with a game-high 12 points, while Kallan Bustynowicz added seven.
“We’re 4-3 right now, so we’re making good progress,” said first-year PJP coach Stacey Hutchinson. “We’ll just keep putting our nose to the grindstone.”
After their rough 0-5 start, Bieber encouraged the Lady Bears to mentally “re-start” the season all over again.
“And now,” he summarized, “we’re 2-0 in our new season.”
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