The Susquehanna Lady Sabers return the top three scorers from the most successful girls' basketball team in program history making them again the most highly regarded Susquehanna County team going into Friday's beginning of the winter sports season.
NEPABasketball.com Lackawanna League Division 4 Player of the Year Taylor Huyck, first-team division all-star Mackenzie Steele and second-team choice Mackenzie Heath all return.
The Lady Sabers reached the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association state quarterfinals for the first time in school history. They were unbeaten in Lackawanna Division 4 at 12-0, won the District 2-11 Class A Subregional title and finished 21-7 overall.
Susquehanna must, however, replace key losses on the defensive end, according to Kirk Fallon, who was named NEPABasketball.com's division Coach of the Year in his debut last season.
"People will look at it and say, we just as good as we were last year," Fallon said. "But, clearly the two pieces we lost were incredibly valuable. There's definitely going to be more depth.
"If we can get two people to make up about 10 points a game, that will help on the offensive end, but the two seniors we lost (Bethany Maby and McKenzie Rhone) were phenomenal defenders."
Steele will be in the post, Heath will be at the point and Huyck could be all over the floor as a guard/forward.
The three returning starters are seniors.
Sophomore Meaghan Kiernan and senior Gina Miller were the top two substitutes at forward last season and have the chance to land a spot in a starting lineup that may change at times depending on the opposition. Amanda Iveson is another senior with experience up front.
Sophomore guards Megan Decker and Mackenzie Decker and junior guard/forward Courtney Bennett are the others with some experience looking to earn starts and/or regular spots in the rotation.
Fallon said he has a promising freshman class, led by 6-foot-2 center Alexandra Iveson.
Montrose, which finished third in the division last season, could be the top threat to the Lady Sabers during league play.
Lackawanna Trail opened and closed the game with impressive drives Friday afternoon, but it was not enough to send the Lions back to the PIAA Class A football championship game.
Bishop Guilfoyle came up with a sack on fourth-and-goal on the game's final play to preserve an 11-7 victory in Danville and prevent the Lions from becoming the first Lackawanna Football Conference team to advance to two straight state title games.
Lackawanna Trail, the District 2 champion, opened the game with an 18-play scoring drive that took more than 10 minutes off the clock.
Ray Melnikoff completed the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, but the Lions did not score again.
Lackawanna Trail held a 7-6 lead at halftime and carried it into the fourth quarter.
The Marauders, who have won three state titles, moved in front, 9-7, on a field goal with 10:44 remaining.
Bishop Guilfoyle added a safety with 3:05 left on a sack and got the ball back on the free kick.
The Lions held, used the last of their timeouts and got the ball back at their 27 with 1:55 left.
Nico Berrios led the two-minute drill, hitting passes to three different receivers and running for a first down on the first four plays to cover 45 yards.
The Lions got as close as the 7, lost five yards on a penalty, and after consecutive incompletions, had the game end on the sack.
Lackawanna Trail is an LFC Division 4 rival of both Susquehanna and Montrose.
District 2 is sending two teams on the state finals.
Unbeaten Dallas, in Class 4A, and Wyoming Area, in Class 3A, each advanced with wins Friday night.
Lenny Kelley ran for five touchdowns and more than 200 yards to lead Dallas to a 56-28 romp over Jersey Shore in Danville.
The Mountaineers overcame turning the ball over on their first two offensive plays and having a touchdown called back on their third. They play 7pm Thursday night at Hersheypark Stadium against Thomas Jefferson.
Jake Williams had three of the five interceptions that Wyoming Area used to shut out Tamaqua, 21-0, at Wyoming Valley West's Spartan Stadium in Kingston.
Williams intercepted in the end zone in the final two minutes of the first half to protect a 14-0 lead and picked off another pass at the 1 in the final two minutes of the game to secure the win.
Wyoming Area will play Central Valley from Beaver County, near Pittsburgh, Saturday at noon for the state title.
Lebanon Valley's Keri Jones finished 46th out of 277 entries at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Cross Country Championships Nov. 23 in Louisville.
Jones ran the muddy 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) course in 22:19.2, coming up just short of the top 40 national finish needed to earn All-American honors. It was the second-best finish in school history.
The junior from Elk Lake qualified for nationals by finishing fifth out of 349 competitors at the NCAA Division III Mideast Regional in Bethlehem a week earlier.
Jones has continued her upward progression in college cross country. She was a third-team Middle Atlantic Conference all-star as a freshman and a second-team choice as a sophomore.
The winter high school sports season begins in Pennsylvania Friday, including the 43nd annual Mike "Red" Wallace Memorial Scholarship Game, the traditional opener for the Elk Lake and Carbondale boys' basketball teams.
Elk Lake hosts this year's meeting.
The game honors the memory of Wallace, who played at Fell Township, which is now part of the Carbondale Area School District, and coached at Elk Lake. A member of the original Boston Celtics NBA team, Wallace led the Warriors to two state championships, the second of which came less than four months before his death from cancer in 1977.
Opening night also includes a doubleheader at Blue Ridge to begin the Susquehanna-Bradford County Challenge.
Susquehanna plays Wyalusing Valley and Blue Ridge meets Sayre Friday. Saturday, action begins at 3:30pm with Wyalusing Valley playing Blue Ridge before Susquehanna takes on Sayre at 5pm.
Mountain View is at Holy Cross and Montrose is at Mid Valley in Friday games.
Forest City's originally scheduled opener with Wyoming Area has been postponed, leaving the Forester to open their season Monday and Tuesday, December 9-10 in the FInan Tournament at Carbondale. The Foresters play Carbondale in first round Dec. 9 at 8pm.
In girls' basketball, Blue Ridge plays Sayre Friday in the first day of a two-day event at Towanda.
Montrose also opens Friday, at home against Valley View.
Elk Lake is home against Tunkhannock and Mountain View is at Old Forge Saturday.
Susquehanna was scheduled to open with Wyoming Area Friday, but that has been postponed. The Lady Sabers will play their first game Tuesday, Dec. 10 at Northeast Bradford.
Forest City opens the same night, at home against Lakeland.
In wrestling, Blue Ridge is in the Gary Woodruff Duals at Wyalusing Valley, beginning Saturday at 9am.
In high school football, with Lackawanna Trail's loss last week, the season has ended for Lackawanna Football Conference members.
Our predictions that appeared in this space each week were 1-0 last week, 16-6 (72.7 percent) for the playoffs and 103-33 (75.7 percent) overall.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @tomjrobinson.