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Meredith Cox, right, yells out encouragement in the huddle while Delone Catholic head coach Gerry Eckenrode looks on during the final moments of a PIAA Class AA semifinal against Trinity in 2005.
From 2002 until 2006, the Delone Catholic girls' basketball team was the dominant force in Class AA; winning three consecutive state titles during that span.

Taking state gold three straight years certainly can't be easy.

So we recently caught up with coach Gerry Eckenrode for his take and to reflect on the Squirettes success.

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Delone Catholic’s Jana Zinn puts up a shot during 2004’s championship game. Zinn led all scorers with 22 points.
Delone Catholic's Jana Zinn puts up a shot during 2004's championship game. Zinn led all scorers with 22 points. (Daily Record/Sunday News - file)

What about that title run are you the most proud of?

That's a hard a question. I'm not exactly sure how to answer that question. To win a state championship is very special, to do it three times in a row is extremely special.

The obvious thing is winning a state championship. But I'd say putting Delone Catholic basketball on the map and getting the word out about our program. It's nice to hear people say "Delone Catholic basketball, yeah I've heard of them" and have our success be the reason.

You always hear about schools like Allentown Central Catholic and others, so I'd say making Delone Catholic into a name is definitely something I'm proud of.

In your mind, what one thing do you think was key to maintaining success from year to year?

The most consistent part was that there were no egos involved. Obviously Meredith Cox was the driving force of the entire situation. The other kids bought into the system, they didn't worry about who scored what or what kind of minutes they were getting. They all bought into the whole 'all for one, one for all' situation. That was the force behind the whole run.

Is there a particular moment or game that comes to mind when you look back on it all?

Winning the first one was very special. The thing I remember most about the whole thing is that I didn't enjoy the first one as much as I probably should have. You're so consumed by getting there and getting the whole way through and then when it's suddenly over you say 'Hey maybe I should enjoy this a little more.'

I tried, during the next two, to soak up the moment and enjoy it because you never know when it's going to happen to you again; or if it's going to happen to you again.

The games that strike me the most are the eastern finals. The state Championship game is the easiest game because win or lose you are done, but you always want to get there. The eastern final is tough because it takes so much to win it, and then you realize you have one more game left.

We beat Catasauqua pretty handily the first year, then we handled Wyomissing the next. But our most dramatic eastern final was when we beat Trinity down at Dallastown; that was a nip-and-tuck game right down to the very end the outcome was decided in the last minute. That was probably the most memorable of all the eastern finals.

Which is harder, winning the initial championship or defending a championship?

Oh I'd say staying there. There's no question staying there is a lot harder than first getting there. Because of the expectations; you have kids saying at school that they want that Friday in late March off again, that's pressure on the kids.

Delone’s Krystal Holzer knocks the ball away from Girard’s Carrie Nolan in the 2003 title game.
Delone's Krystal Holzer knocks the ball away from Girard's Carrie Nolan in the 2003 title game. (Daily Record/Sunday News - file)

Obviously the expectations the kids put on themselves as well, add to that the community wanting to see the kids on the fire truck after the state championship game; that's a lot of pressure.

The expectations of your family, friends and even your opponents; that next year you have a big target on your back as a team. That's the biggest thing, everyone's out to beat you, even more than usual.

When you won your first state title in 2003, the YAIAA had not produced a state champion in 13 years and hadn't seen a girls' champion in 24. Did that add to the meaning of that first title for you?

No not really, winning was good enough. At that point I didn't even know that, it was just my third year at Delone, and I was just excited to win. I would have thought Red Lion or William Penn had one in between there, but it didn't really add anything to it. I guess it adds something later on, looking back on it some day.

It's said great players make those around them better. But in being a great player, who did Meredith Cox benefit most from having around her?

Well when she first got there she had a very strong senior class. We had Krystal Holzer, Rachel Briggs and Steph Vial, those were three girls who had lettered since sophomore year. Plus, she had another strong player there in Jana Zinn. She didn't have to worry about leadership at that time, she could just go play, and those girls provided the leadership.

We had three senior classes around her that wanted to win but didn't have the ego to stand in the way of a great younger player. That's what made that whole scenario very special, as great as Meredith was she had a lot of good players around her each year.

How has a successful run like that changed the way you coach?

Once you reach that pinnacle, your expectations change. And every year you're consumed with winning a state championship. A lot of schools would just be satisfied with winning the league championship and doing a nice job in districts and maybe, hopefully get into states.

In our program right now, much like York Catholic's program right now, that's just not good enough. The expectation is that we are going to be playing on the final day of the season, we need to get to the Bryce Jordan Center.

Some schools have a winning record and they are happy with that. From a coaching standpoint, you have a different perspective, that's not being egotistical -- that's just the way it is once you win.

What do you take from the run that you've think will translate to success going forward?

Our coaching staff is intact, and that helps because we know how to approach the season.

We segment our season into four compartments: regular season, counties, districts and states. During the course of the season, if we lose some games we shouldn't, we don't get too high or low there because we know the bulk of the season is coming towards the end.

So you try to devise your practice schedule and playing time during the season for the postseason run.

The biggest thing we have to do is convince this group to buy into the team atmosphere. Show them what the groups before did and make them realize they have to also check their egos at the door if they want to do well. That's the biggest challenge as a coaching staff.

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A LOOK BACK

Claim to fame


   The Squirettes won three consecutive PIAA Class AA girls' basketball championships from 2002-03 through 2004-05 and reached the state semifinals in 2005-06, falling to eventual champion York Catholic.

During its three-year state reign, Delone posted a combined record of 95-10 (a .905 winning percentage).
  

All-stars


   Player of the Year -- Meredith Cox (2004-05, 2003-04 co-POY), Jana Zinn (2003-04 co-POY), Krystal Holzer (2002-03).
   First team selections -- Meredith Cox (2004-05, 2003-04), Jana Zinn (2003-04, 2002-03).
   Second team selection -- Marisa Elliott (2004-05), Meredith Cox (2002-03), Steph Vial (2002-03).
   Coach of the Year -- Gerry Eckenrode (2004-05).
  

Postseason


   2002-03 -- YAIAA tournament: Beat South Western, 53-43; beat Spring Grove, 35-30 (OT); lost to Red Lion, 42-41; District 3 Class AA tournament: Beat Fairfield, 66-14; beat East Juniata, 59-32; beat Biglerville, 57-35; beat Steelton-Highspire, 48-30; PIAA Class AA tournament: Beat Loyalsock Township, 63-26; beat St. Pius X, 44-37; beat Wilkes-Barre Meyers, 60-33; beat Catasauqua, 45-28; beat Girard, 50-41.
   2003-04 -- YAIAA tournament: Beat South Western, 48-39; beat York Catholic, 58-21; lost to Red Lion, 50-44 (OT); District 3 Class AA tournament: Beat Biglerville, 59-19; beat Fairfield, 49-32; beat Schuylkill Valley, 62-42; beat Wyomissing, 55-40; PIAA Class AA tournament: Beat Wyalusing Valley, 63-24; beat St. Pius X, 53-46; beat Wilkes-Barre Meyers, 51-40; beat Wyomissing, 57-44; beat Bishop Guilfoyle, 46-33.
   2004-05 -- YAIAA tournament: Beat Central York, 43-24; beat Dallastown, 45-35; lost to Red Lion, 62-42; District 3 Class AA tournament: Beat Newport, 77-31; beat Wyomissing, 68-41; beat Reading Holy Name, 60-37; lost to Trinity, 43-40; PIAA Class AA tournament: Beat Line Mountain, 72-52; beat North Schuylkill, 67-53; beat Schuylkill Valley, 44-42 (OT); beat Trinity, 43-39; beat Westmont Hilltop, 47-43.
  

Notable


   Point guard Meredith Cox was the unquestioned leader of the Squirettes. She set a school scoring record with 2,097 points during her four-year career, which featured a 117-21 record (an .848 winning percentage). She made the AP's Class AA all-state team four times and won state player of the year honors twice (2004-05, 2005-06). Cox accepted a scholarship to play collegiately at Georgetown.

Eckenrode was the AP's choice for Class AA coach of the year after winning the 2002-03 and 2004-05 titles.
  

From the archives


Squirettes take title
(Published March 19, 2005)

In the first 85 years of Pennsylvania scholastic basketball, six schools won three straight PIAA championships: Lower Merion, West Reading, Carlisle, Cranberry Township, North Catholic and Kennedy Christian.

On Friday afternoon, a YAIAA team cracked that exclusive list.

Delone Catholic made it three Class AA girls' titles in a row, as the Squirettes beat Westmont-Hilltop, 47-43, at Hershey's Giant Center.

Coach Gerry Eckenrode's squad joins Cranberry (Class AA, 1992-94) and North Catholic (Class AAA, 1993-95) as the only girls' programs to accomplish the feat.

The Squirettes' history-making three-peat earned the school a permanent place in the state's record book. Eckenrode's players seemed aware of what they had just pulled off, though perhaps they hadn't yet grasped the full scope of the feat.

"Three in a row is a great accomplishment," guard Meredith Cox said. "For me to be able to come in as a freshman and now win it three times, it's just great. That'll be history right there even when I'm old."

Cox finished with a game-high 21 points and five rebounds.

A junior, Cox has the opportunity next year to join Carlisle's Billy Owens and Kennedy Christian's Keenan Christiansen as the only varsity players in PIAA history to win four straight crowns.

"I heard about those guys from Carlisle," Cox said, laughing. "But let's not go there!"
  

Twice as nice
(Published March 20, 2004)

The Delone Catholic girls' basketball team had been here before -- a trip to Giant Center to play for a state title -- but Friday's bus ride to Hershey was still emotional.

Hours before the Squirettes defeated Bishop Guilfoyle, 46-33, for their second-straight PIAA Class AA state championship, the team bus was full of tears as players read a letter from last season's team captain, Steph Vial, encouraging the team to do well in the biggest and final game of the season.

In the days leading up to the game, players also received phone calls of good luck from former teammates Krystal Holzer and Rachel Gates, who are in college at Alvernia and Appalachian State, respectively.

Last year's leaders were gone but not forgotten. The current crop of Squirettes felt the pressure -- the same mounting pressure that existed since Delone Catholic won its first state title last year. All season long, the Squirettes had a bull's-eye on their jerseys. Each team they faced wanted to play its best game against the reigning state champs.

That made the repeat run a test in resilience.

"From our first game of the season, we expected teams to give us their best game," senior Erica Livelsberger said. "But that gave us more incentive. We were like, 'No one is taking this away from us.' . . . Maybe some people thought last year was a fluke. Last year felt great, but this year was better because it was back-to-back."
  

State champions
(Published March 22, 2003)

It is going to take a lot to pry the state basketball trophy out of Steph Vial's hands.

Some 30 minutes after the Squirettes topped Girard in the PIAA Class AA girls' basketball championship Friday afternoon at Hershey's Giant Center, the senior point guard still had a firm grip on the big block of wood and brass.

"It's not that heavy. I'm not letting go," she said with a big smile and misty eyes. "This is the most incredible feeling. This is the perfect way to end it."

Fueled by a 17-0 run that spanned parts of the second, third and fourth quarters, the Delone Catholic girls finished their season with a 50-41 come-from-behind victory over Girard, the top team from the West side of the bracket.

It marked the first time in 13 years that a YAIAA team has won a state basketball title and the first time in 24 years that a YAIAA girls' squad has earned state gold. The York Catholic boys won a Class AAA title in 1990 and the York Catholic girls won a Class A title in 1979.

"It hasn't hit me yet," said Delone Catholic coach Gerry Eckenrode. "I don't know if it'll ever hit me. This is an incredible achievement. I'm so proud of this team and all that they've done."

Delone ended with a 30-5 record, a District 3 title and a YAIAA Division II regular season crown.
-- Elijah Armold and Dave Sottile