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A YEAR IN THE MAKING: Elk County Catholic Girls Erase Sour Taste of D9 Class A Title Loss Last Year With Sweet Win This Time Around

CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — It’s been a year of waiting. Pining. Striving to get back and win a District 9 Class A championship.

For the Elk County girls basketball team, it was one of the major goals for the season.

And now it’s a reality.

The Crusaders built a 24-12 lead over Ridgway at the half and then sprinted away in the third quarter, outscoring the Elkers, 13-1, on the way to a 42-20 victory to win the district crown at Tippin University on Saturday afternoon.

“The previous year we had a big disappointment in this game down here,” said Elk County Catholic coach Ken Pistner of the 45-40 setback to Otto-Eldred in the title game in 2023. “It’s really difficult to stay focused and not look too far ahead. After we won in the semifinals, we finally were able to say we’ve been waiting for a year to get to this point again. They did a good job. They were really focused.”

That focus was clear against Ridgway, especially on defense.

The plan was also evident: don’t let senior and 1,000-point scorer Jenna Kasmierski get the ball, let alone shoot it.

ECC executed that strategy perfectly, holding Kasmierski scoreless.

“Our whole plan was to play really good defense the whole time, shut her down,” said Crusader senior point guard Sami Straub. “The whole team, we all helped on defense and played really good defense on her.”

It also didn’t help Ridgway that guard Gabby Amacher left the game with a leg injury. She was also held scoreless. Kristen Ellenberger led the Elkers with nine points.

“They did a nice job with (Kasmierski) and a nice job with Gabby,” said Ridgway coach Jason Schreiber. “Those are kind of the two who get us going offensively. Kristen did a really nice job getting some points in transition off steals, but we couldn’t get the ball to (Kasmierski and Amacher). And if those two can’t get going, it makes things a little more difficult.

Meanwhile, Syd Alexander had the hot hand on offense.

(Elk County Catholic’s Syd Alexander was named the Hager Paving Incorporated Player of the Game)

The senior, who went over 1,000 career points earlier in the year, scored a game-high 17 points — 12 coming in the first half. Her 3-pointer in the third quarter gave the Crusaders a 37-12 lead.

“I mean, they all saw me,” Alexander said. “I didn’t drive to get my points. They all saw me. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Emily Mourer added 10 for ECC.

For the Crusaders, though, this is just another step toward the ultimate goal.

A PIAA championship.

That, too, has been difficult to keep from bubbling up in the Crusaders’ minds.

“I definitely would say we kind of put it in the back of our minds,” said senior guard Lucy Klawuhn, who also went over 1,000-career points this season. “We wanted to get our first goals before we even thought about the state championship. That’s what we’re gonna go for now and hopefully get it.”

“We’ve been looking for a state championship,” Straub said. “We’re just gonna keep working hard, keep the foot on the gas, and keep playing the way we’ve been playing.”

That way has been dominant.

It’s been a spillover from the success in the fall at Elk County Catholic.

The Crusaders won both the volleyball and girls cross country state championships. There are athletes from both sports on the girls basketball roster.

“I think it helps a lot being in that environment and playing in that environment,” said senior Tori Newton. “I think it definitely helps us and we all have been playing together for the past four years.”

Now the Crusaders are just a few steps away.

“We didn’t take anything for granted,” Pistner said. “We worked hard all we could in practice and the girls really executed.”