KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Emma Johns remembers those dark days not so long ago for the Karns City girls basketball team.
The senior recalls the lopsided losses, the nighty struggles, the optimism dashed in the first quarter of games.
(Above, Karns City senior forward Brooke Manuel is introduced before a game)
The leanest of lean years.
“Thinking back to the ninth- and 10th-grade year, it was definitely hard getting smacked mostly every single game,” Johns said. “We took the brunt of a lot of losses that weren’t very fun at all.
“It was definitely hard to stay up,” the guard added. “I mean, every game it was kind of like, ‘Oh, the same thing is happening again.’ We go in thinking we can win this one and we’re down by 30 points again. Trying to get out of that was hard. But we all knew there would be a light at the end of the tunnel and if we keep working, we would be on the other end of it.”
That time is now.
This year, Johns and the Gremlins are the team that wants to do the smacking. So far, they have — Karns City is off to a promising start with a slew of experienced players, who took their fair share of lumps, and a crop of younger players who are supremely talented.
It has the Gremlins excited about basketball again.
“Those seniors got thrown into the fire when they were freshmen,” said Karns City coach Steve Andreassi. “They’re now providing the leadership we need.”
Karns City was 4-16 three years ago when Johns and fellow seniors Julia Andreassi, Abby Callihan, Brooke Manuel and Rossi McMillen were freshmen. The Gremlins were 8-15 the following campaign and 7-8 last year — making strides.
Through it all, the numbers have swelled. This season, the Gremlins have a roster of 14 — all who can play.
It has provided Andreassi with quite the conundrum.
He and his coaching staff have put a great deal of thought into starting lineups, rotations and who will come off the bench in certain situations.
Most coaching staffs experiment with that during the early part of a season — in Karns City that process has been turbocharged.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Andreassi said. “I can tell you there are 14 girls who want to play vital roles in both JV and varsity.”
It has also juiced up practices.
“Our practices are intense,” Andreassi said. “We get after it. All 14 can play and they all push each other.”
Johns said she has to get pumped up for practices as much as she does for games. She knows those two hours will be grueling ones.
“It’s definitely different than my ninth- and 10th-grade years, for sure,” Johns said. “It’s nice having young girls there, too. We all work together. We all encourage them to do better and give them tips and little tricks that we know from when we were younger. It’s really fun to work with them and there’s insane competition.”
Johns has played well so far this season. She scored 23 points in a close loss to Redbank Valley, a team that also has District 9 championship aspirations.
Junior Emma Dailey has also provided a spark off the bench. She scored 17 points in a win over A-C Valley and scored 19 in the next game against Keystone.
“I went into the season thinking I could be a pivotal player this year,” Dailey said. “I just knew whatever Steve asked me to do, I was going to do it. I’ve been getting a lot of playing time, which is good, because that means I’m doing something right. Scoring points on top of that has been awesome.”
Dailey’s main sport is soccer and several of her basketball teammates were also on the pitch with her this fall when the Gremlins reclaimed the district title.
She wants nothing more than to win a basketball district title, too.
Dailey said Karns City girls basketball is still somewhat overlooked because of the down seasons of the past few years.
That’s about to change.
“It’s kind of like we’re the underdogs,” Dailey said. “Two years ago — it was rough. We had a lot of bumps in the road, but now we’re looking at a smooth run.”
Andreassi came up with the team’s motto for the season: “Not me, but we.”
He also set some high expectations.
“Our whole team, one through 14, are hard working, skilled and talented,” Andreassi said. “Our goal isn’t to just compete with teams like Redbank Valley. Our goal is to put medals around our necks.”