Juniors Alyssa Austin and Ariel Jones return as the Falcons' only starters from last year's league championship campaign
It took Cedar Crest girls basketball coach Jim Donmoyer until the holidays last season to settle on an optimal rotation.
After naming then sophomore Ariel Jones and since graduated senior Alex Rich as starters, the coach gave himself the best gift of all with an ensuing stretch of 17 wins in the Falcons' next 18 games en route to a league championship. Looking ahead to his 2015-16 year, Donmoyer expects his in-season roster shuffling will follow a similar timeline.
With one key exception—he'll have many more names to sift through before gifting himself anything this winter.
Having graduated six seniors from last year's title team, Cedar Crest will be powered by its junior AA battery of Ariel Jones and center Alyssa Austin. The duo stands as the Falcons only returning starters, though they became much more down the stretch, serving as the program's clear go-to scoring options. Through early preseason practices, Cedar Crest's focus has been honed to finding third, fourth and fifth options, while also meshing as a single unit.
"It's about finding those pieces and having everyone buy into what their role is," Donmoyer said. "We've got two go-to people, and everybody else I want to try to blend in. Those two will be keyed on, so it will be on everyone else to step up."
Easing the Falcons' process is old friend and senior forward Caitlyn Albright, who took last year off after earning a starting role in her sophomore season. Described as a player willing to "do the dirty work," Albright will be counted on to defend and rebound alongside Austin in the post. Austin, of course, projects to continue pouring points in, having averaged nearly 15 per game as a sophomore.
In Jones, the other half of the team's star battery, Cedar Crest boasts another near unstoppable talent on the perimeter. Fresh off an All-County season on the soccer pitch, Jones should earn such honors on the court with her blazing speed and quick-twitch change of direction. She figures to be accompanied by senior Skyanne Yancey and/or a handful of upcoming sophomores in the backcourt.
Who slides permanently into that second and/or third guard spot currently is in the hands of those bringing the ball up.
"It's wide open," Donmoyer said. "It'll be up to the kids. Who performs will play and who doesn't won't."
Moving from the wide open to the non-negotiable, the expectations for this year's greener group of Falcons are essentially set in stone. While living up to the accomplishments of 2014-15 would be a tall task for any team, Donmoyer is unwavering in his approach.
"Four years ago it was just getting Cedar Crest back to where it normally was. It really turned around starting two years ago and last year was where we were trying to get to," Donmoyer said "This year it's now we're there, and now we need to stay there.
"We always want to play for the section and the league. If we do those two things, I think districts take care of themselves. And as long as I'm here, those will always be the goals."
Elsewhere in Section One, the Falcons figure to face their greatest challenge in McCaskey, which returns four starters after finishing second in the league year ago. Manheim Twp. figures to enjoy marked improvement after a growing year, while Hempfield and Penn Manor should experience those pains this winter.
CEDAR CREST GIRLS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Jim Donmoyer, fifth season, 57-43 (.570)
Last year: 24-7, Lancaster-Lebanon League champions, PIAA Class AAAA state tournament second round
Returning starters: Alyssa Austin (Jr., C), Ariel Jones (Jr., G)
Other top players: Caitlynn Albright (Sr., F), Alaze Merkey (Sr., G/F), Skyanne Yancey (Sr., G), Kelsey Guth (Jr., F), Sage Bartal (Jr., C), Gracen Donmoyer (So., G), Jade Rolon (So., G), Rachel Witherwrite (So., G), Raven Morgan (Fr., F)
Season opener: Dec. 4 vs. Reading, at Muhlenberg Tip-off tournament