HONESDALE — On a snowy Saturday morning here in the Maple City, Honesdale's girls varsity basketball team began the long journey toward what local fans hope will be a successful defense of their 2011'-12 championship.
Last winter, the Lady Hornets surprised many with a late-season surge that ended with victory over perennial powerhouse Nanticoke in the District 2 Class AAA title tilt.
Using relentless pressure defense, balanced scoring and clutch free throw shooting, Honesdale closed out the campaign with an overall record of 22-5.
Coach Tracy Ludwig's squad advanced to the PIAA state tournament, but was eliminated in the first round by Southern Lehigh.
Twelve months later, the memories of that electrifying post season are still fresh in the minds of players and fans alike. It's now up to Honesdale's young staff to re-focus this new group of girls.
"The first thing we had to get through to them is that they aren't last year's team," Coach Ludwig said. "We haven't won anything yet.
"Am I optimistic that we're going to have a great year? Absolutely. But, we have a ton of hard work to do before we can even start thinking about playoffs and championships."
On Saturday morning in the HHS gym, Honesdale took a few tentative steps in the right direction.
The Red & Black hosted Hanover Area in the first of several exhibition games.
"We were a little bit rusty the first 20 minutes or so, but we got it going after that," Coach Ludwig said of her team's play against the Hawkeyes. "I'm pretty pleased overall, but we still have a long way to go."
The Lady Hornets are breaking with tradition this coming weekend by eschewing the Hawley Rotary Tournament in favor of a trip to the Wyoming Valley.
Honesdale will take on Valley West in the opening round of that school's Tip-Off Tournament Saturday night. They'll then return Tuesday evening for a battle with either West Scranton or Dallas Area.
Page 2 of 3 - Opening Night of the 2012-'13 Lackawanna League season is set for Thursday, Jan 3 at home versus Scranton High.
The Lackawanna League will look slightly different this winter after yet another realignment.
In an effort to maintain a competitive balance and equalize travel times, officials have juggled the circuit into four divisions.
Honesdale will compete in Division 2 against the likes of Delaware Valley, Wallenpaupack Area, North Pocono and Western Wayne.
The Lady Hornets will play each of those teams twice and every member of Division 1 once (Abington Heights, Scranton, Valley View, Scranton Prep, West Scranton) for a total of 13 Lackawanna League games.
"We're very familiar with the teams in our division, so it should be an interesting year," Coach Ludwig said. "I can't wait to get out there and see what we have."
What Honesdale should have is another exciting squad ready to challenge for league and D-2 laurels for a second straight year.
The Lady Hornets return the nucleus of last winter's championship team intact and also welcome several talented youngsters.
Coach Ludwig will look to Mary Martin and Kacie Johannes for leadership on and off the floor. Both are seniors and each brings an unique skill set to the table.
Martin is a returning all star who, when healthy, is one of the most feared players in the entire league.
She's a triple threat on offense and fearless at the defensive end. Martin will run the floor from end-to-end all game long and never wear down.
"Mary is the heart and soul of this team," she said. "She sets the pace and the tone for everyone else. Mary is a born leader who not only knows her role, but knows everyone else's, too."
Page 3 of 3 - Johannes has struggled with injuries in the past but appears to be ready for a breakout senior season.
Kacie is a nightmare match-up problem for opposition coaches because she can bang in the low post or step outside and bury a trey. She also runs the court well in transition and plays solid defense.
"I think that Kacie has proven she's one of the best shooters in the league," said Coach Ludwig. "She can just light it up from the 3-point line and she has the green light from me to put it up when she's open."
Also returning to the line-up are Katie Miller and Morgan Birmelin, a pair of sophomores without whom Honesdale could never have approached such lofty heights last season.
"Both of those girls are a huge part of this team," said Coach Ludwig. "They're very talented players who make everyone around them better."
Other key players back in action include: Stacey Hart (Soph), Kate Pfeil (Sr), Sydney Goyette (Sr), Kristen Schmale (Jr), Taylor Parenti (Soph), Natasha Hessling (Soph).
Jess Carney and Jackie Gallik are freshmen who could also see significant time at the varsity level.