JENKINTOWN >> The style is the same, but the participants are different this winter for Jenkintown girls’ basketball.
The Drakes returned two starters and just two other players with significant varsity experience off last year’s Class A state championship team. It hasn’t stopped the results from coming in, as Jenkintown ends the 2018 portion of its schedule without a loss, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Jenkintown took positive steps on Saturday, edging out an upset-minded Sacred Heart 40-32 to win their own Robert Hopf Holiday Tournament title.
“Last year, it was tough to get off the bench with the crew I had,” Jenkintown coach Jim Romano said. “Right now, our fifth starter depends who we’re playing. It’s different mix of girls but they play with the same energy and the same grit and they’re really, really fun to coach.”
There were times last year were Romano, who’s chalked up more than 600 wins at the small school nestled between Abington and Cheltenham, didn’t even have to give his team instructions. A veteran core that had been together for three years just knew what it had to do and how to do it and it translated into a 30-1 campaign and the program’s first state title in Hershey.
This year’s team is different. Seniors Natalie and Mia Kolb are back, but there’s no juniors on the roster and everyone behind the twins are sophomores or freshmen. Romano has just 11 players this winter, but a couple of them – Molly Walsh and Carly Mulvaney – did get to play last year so they’re completely new to it.
Natalie Kolb, who tied her sister with nine points on Saturday said it’s been an adjustment, but nothing the now 9-0 Drakes haven’t been able to handle so far.
“We have a really young team, so valuing every possession and taking our time passing and making sure it’s the right pass has been really important,” Kolb, who had 10 rebounds, said. “We did a really good job with that tonight.”
Even with last year’s newly unveiled state title banner hanging behind the bleachers the Drakes use as the home team bench making it hard to do, last year is in the past for this group. No matter who’s made up the roster, Jenkintown has always led with its defense and let the offense find its way.
Kolb noted that last year’s team was well-balanced and while certain players filled certain roles, they could all interchange as they needed to. Without that same kind of continuity, which again took them three years to develop, the roles are a little more defined at this point.
“Last year we had six girls who could play any position and this year it’s been different,” Kolb said. “We have players of different sizes and different speeds, so we’re learning new positions and things like that. I like that every game is different, certain girls will step up and make shots they’ve been working on.”
Romano doesn’t typically call many timeouts, opting to let his players work through it on the court when things don’t go their way. That was his mentality in the second half on Saturday, even as Sacred Heart cut a 25-10 halftime lead down to just four points in the fourth quarter.
After getting into foul trouble in the first half, Sacred Heart’s Kyra Quigley came back strong in the second half, scoring all 10 of her points after halftime. The senior forward also had 10 rebounds and four assists.
“(Zach Shuler) does such a great job of coaching those girls, they’re scrappy and we knew it was going to take 32 minutes of play,” Romano said. “Fortunately in the first half we were able to get to the foul line. Quigley is their heart and soul, and she’s really a very good player.”
Jenkintown never really got into an offensive rhythm, making just nine shots, but they rebounded tenaciously and made enough effort plays late to keep Sacred Heart from ever getting closer than four points.
Kolb said she and her sister, along with the coaches, don’t mind the rest of the players making mistakes on the court and have encouraged them to look for and take their shots. Cady Westkaemper’s had some good outings against guard-heavy teams while Lauren Brockwell hit four 3-pointers in Friday’s opening round win, so the ability is there.
The Drakes are just working out how to make it a constant from night to night.
“Our communication on the court has gotten a lot better,” Kolb said. “A lot of the girls individually have improved, so we’re really excited for what the second half of the season holds for us. It makes it fun and interesting. Every game is a different test for us and that’s exciting.”
Mia Kolb has committed to Dickinson, following Jen Kremp from last year’s team while Natalie Kolb hasn’t decided yet but is drawing interest from some Division III schools. Romano has been very pleased with the way the twins have embraced being the veterans and helping the nine freshmen and sophomores below them on the roster.
“We worry about the quality, not the quantity,” Romano said. “Fortunately for me, they come ready and love the game of basketball so it’s easy for me. Their parents are a big part of the program too, getting them into AAU and exposing them to different things early.
“It’s a big sacrifice, and we treat this program, even though we’re single-A, the same as any program in any other class.”
Last year’s trophy haul, which included a third straight District I title, a BAL tournament title and the state championship, was a very impressive one. The Hopf tournament trophy Romano held as he talked about this year’s team isn’t as big as those, but it is still a championship.
The Drakes will get some time off, then they’ll be back ready to keep working and keep getting better. They’re off to a good start, but they know they can bring even more to the table this season.
“We need all 11 of them, whatever they can help us out with, we want them to be able to give that to us,” Romano said. “I’m always telling them to think more offensively and be comfortable making mistakes. They can cover up a lot of mistakes, which I appreciate, so I want them to be comfortable when they’re out there.”
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