The Central York girls' basketball program has been building toward a special season in 2016-17. The Panthers saw some of their core players contributing two years ago, but the team has only improved since then. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com
Emma Saxton needed to add one final piece to the puzzle in order to become the most well-rounded player in York County.
The Central York girls' basketball senior already had specific trademarks to her game: She worked on both ends of the floor; was a good rebounder; handled the ball well as a dribbler and passer; played with energy and constant motion; and drove to the basket with relative ease.
So what would she add to her offensive arsenal? In her estimation, it had to be a more consistent jump shot. So she and her father, Scott, got to work.
“It was a hard transition," Emma said. "But I think it paid off.”
Saxton said the two hit the practice court this summer to find a better stroke from long range. Specifically, the goal was to change Emma's release point. Originally, she shot the ball from chest-high level, and they wanted to raise her release point to just above her head.
Saxton said she took 200 shots a day, twice a week. During that time, she worked strictly on her form, adding she took 10 shots from different areas near the basket, then would take a step back and attempt 10 more shots. This process would continue, as she moved farther and farther away from the basket.
Saxton also said she worked on her shot during practices and games with her AAU team Central PA Elite.
For the Saxtons, basketball has long been a family affair.
Scott Saxton was a former player at York Suburban High School who went on to play college basketball at Carnegie Mellon.
Emma's brother, Sam, was a standout at Central York as well and is currently in his redshirt freshman season at Bloomsburg University.
And Emma said her younger brother, Mitchell, is a member of the freshman team at Central York.
Saxton said that growing up, the family had three basketball hoops at their house in Manchester Township.
“One for each kid,” she said. “We all hoop in the driveway together.”
Central York head coach Scott Wisner said leading up to this season, Saxton hit no more than 10 3-pointers combined in her high school career. During her senior campaign, however, Saxton has hit 22 3-pointers and is shooting nearly 40 percent from long range.
She's also averaging 14.7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals per contest for the Panthers (20-2), who are seeded No. 1 in this weekend's YAIAA tournament.
"She developed that area to make her game that much more diverse," Wisner said.
Wisner also pointed out that Saxton often guards the opposing team's best player, and can act as the Panthers' primary ball handler when faced with a fierce full-court press.
“That’s what makes her super valuable to us. She does everything very well,” Wisner said.
Saxton is also a respected player who is spoken highly of throughout league circles as a soft-spoken leader who lets her game do the talking.
During a recent interview, Saxton — the lone captain on this year's Panthers' team — had to be prodded to speak about herself.
"She's one of the most humble people I've ever met," said teammate Katie Fabbri. "You ask her about the game she's had or the points she scored, and she makes a joke about it. It's all about other people, it's all about the team. And that makes the team better."
Saxton credited that mindset from her upbringing.
Dallastown head coach Jay Rexroth has been a head coach in York County for 18 years, and said he's known Scott Saxton from playing in local adult rec leagues. He said Emma Saxton models her on-court demeanor after her father and brother.
"She doesn't say much. Just great sportsmanship. Nothing but class," Rexroth said.
The siblings will have a reunion of sorts next year, when Emma joins Sam at Bloomsburg.
Emma said she hit it off with Bloomsburg head coach Alison Tagliaferri, and pointed out that former Eastern York player Leah Myers is a redshirt freshman in the Huskies' program.
Saxton added that the Bloomsburg men's and women's teams play doubleheaders, instead of having one team hit the road while the other plays at home. They also ride the bus together for road games. In turn, Saxton said she's excited about spending more time with Sam.
"There's a little bit of home at Bloomsburg," Emma said.
"It's kind of like high school all over again, but I get to watch my brother play this time."
First thing's first, though. The Panthers begin the postseason on Friday, and the District 3 tournament awaits in late February. Central York — which reached the county championship last year — has the talent to make a run. And the team will undoubtedly rely on their do-it-all player to lead the way.
"She handles it, she shoots it, she drives it. She guards multiple positions," Rexroth said. "Sure, some kids might score more on any given night. But she's the most complete player in the league. The complete package."