Western Wayne girls win their first tournament title since 2009

Just moments after Western Wayne defeated Paupack in the semifinals of this year's Jaycees Tournament, Natalie Winters stood outside the lockerroom beaming from ear-to-ear.

The Lady 'Cats overcame a five-point deficit late in regulation to deal the Buckhorns a 44-40 loss and punch their ticket to the championship game.

This electrifying victory set up what promised to be season-defining showdown with archrival Honesdale … and Coach Winters was excited for the challenge.

“I think it's going to be a great game,” she said, her voice raw with emotion. “Honesdale has a great program and they're well-coached. It's probably going right down to the wire.”

As it turned out, she was right. The title tilt between the Lady 'Cats and Hornets did indeed go right down to the wire, but once again Western Wayne found a way to win.

Gracie Guarino and Kaeli Romanowski led the way.

This dynamic hoops duo combined for 26 points in leading their team to a wild 40-36 triumph … and with it the Lady 'Cats first title since back in 2009.

“I'm so happy for the girls,” Coach Winters said.

“They've worked so hard for this. It's been a long time since we won here and it means a lot to beat our two biggest local rivals. I just can't say enough about our girls.”

With these two victories, Western Wayne improved its overall record to a sparkling 8-1 on the year.

Weather permitting, the local lasses will open up their Lackawanna League schedule Thursday on the road at Valley View.

Opening tip is slated for 7:15 p.m. in Archbald.

Slow Start

Western Wayne got off to a sluggish start offensively, scoring just nine points in the entire first period.

However, the Lady 'Cats got going in the second, clawing their way to a 23-21 lead at halftime with a potent combination of stifling defense and balanced offense.

The two teams then played to a 6-6 stalemate in the third quarter, setting the stage for a wild finish.

Guarino continued her stellar all-round play, rattling the rims for 12 points including four crucial free throws. She was named Most Valuable Player of the 2018 tournament.

“Gracie's intensity rubs off on everyone,” Coach Winters said. “She is a great leader on and off the court. Pretty much everything we do begins with Gracie.”

Romanowski was every bit as impressive. Kaeli tallied a game-high 14 in the finals, going 4-for-7 at the charity stripe and earning All-Tournament accolades for her team.

“It's pretty amazing what she's accomplishing as a freshman,” Coach Winters said. “The leap from junior high to varsity is a really big one, but she's handling it with incredible poise and maturity.”

Kathy Shepherd chipped in with six points and Sam Collins added three.

Rounding out the Lady 'Cat offensive attack were: Paige Barillo (2 pts), Coral Swoyer (2 pts), Sinaea Buford (1 pt).

Red & Black

Honesdale was led by senior Camden Bannan and junior Taylor Maxson.

Bannan has been the Lady Hornets' most consistent offensive threat so far this season. She leads the team in scoring, foul shooting and three-pointers.

Camden scored a team-best 12 points on Friday versus Western Wayne and was rewarded with a berth on the All-Tourney Team.

“Camden did a great job in both games,” said Head Coach Pilar Beam. “She was our high scorer against Forest City and again in the Western Wayne game even though we also asked her to guard their best player.

“The best thing about Camden is that she gives you 100 percent all the time at both ends of the floor.”

Maxson also earned high marks from her mentor. Taylor tickled the twine for 11 points in the final.

“She's really starting to come into her own,” Coach Beam said. “Taylor is getting better everyday. She works very hard and I think she's just going to keep turning heads as the season progresses.”

Nicole Longman contributed seven points to the Red & Black cause, while Sophia Goyette, Alexa Jones and Lily Fries rounded out the scoring with a bucket each.

Looking Ahead

Western Wayne heads into Lackawanna League action with a great deal of momentum.

The only blemish on the Lady 'Cats resume to date is a loss to Holy Cross. Since then, Coach Winters' squad has reeled off six straight wins including the Jaycees Tournament title.

Meanwhile, Valley View is also off to a stellar start. The Cougars are 7-2 are coming off back-to-back double digit wins over Mid Valley and Lakeland.

“They're a good team,” Coach Winters said.

“Valley View is always tough and well-coached. I think we match up pretty well, though. I think we're all pretty excited and really looking forward to seeing what we can do this year.”