As competitors, the Dallas girls basketball team did not like to think of it as a “rebuilding year,” when they were in the middle of the 2014-15 season.
Like the term or not, deep down Maddie Kelley knew it fit.
“We didn’t really like to call it a rebuilding year,” said Kelley, a junior guard. “We were still there trying, but it was a rebuilding year. And, we knew it.”
Without a senior on the roster, a program that had produced a Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1 championship just two years earlier, stumbled along to a 4-10 division record and a 5-17 finish overall. Along the way, however, they built the foundation of what is shaping up as a special season.
Five-win basketball seasons are tough to stomach for teams, coaches and players who are accustomed to success.
This year’s Mountaineers will not have to deal with another. They are already assured of that.
Dallas has raced past that win total in a 7-1 start that leaves the team with the best overall record of any WVC team, regardless of division.
“We knew we had the talent,” coach Kelly Johnson said. “We thought it was a matter of just gaining more basketball experience and developing more team chemistry. We knew we had the potential there.”
This year’s version of the team added to its credentials at the Judy Knorr Tournament during the holiday break when Kelley scored 28 points in a 52-46, championship game victory over host Berwick, which had owned the only better non-league record by a WVC team to that point.
Kelley earned Most Valuable Player honors with that effort, then topped it when league play opened Monday. Her 29 points helped knock off defending division champion Hazleton Area, 59-56, in a meeting of the teams that shared the best WVC overall records.
Johnson praised Kelley’s athleticism, work ethic and versatility as well as the way she has improved her game.
“She presents herself as a very good role model to her teammates because of how hard she works,” Johnson said of Kelley, who is also a starter in the spring as a pitcher in softball and fall as an offensive midfielder in field hockey. “She has an inside and outside game.”
Already a strong outside shooter a year ago, Kelley has added to her scoring with strong drives to the basket and her rebounding ability.
Kelley saw a team need for ball-handling and figured it was a way to add to her own game as well.
“Over the summer, I played AAU basketball and one of the things I really focused on was driving to the hoop,” said Kelley, who has increased her scoring average to a team-high 17.3 points per game. “I knew that would be needed in the season.”
Her two big scoring nights led the team to victories, but Dallas has other weapons as well. When Kelley was limited to eight points in the Knorr Tournament opener, Nikki Wren scored 19 and Sara Lojewski added 15 in a 57-52, overtime victory over Emmaus.
“It’s just a total team effort,” Kelley said. “There’s no selfishness on the team. Nobody cares who’s doing the scoring.
“We had a talk where assists are just as good as baskets, if not better. If you’re not scoring, you can at least do well on defense.”
The Mountaineers, with seniors Courtney Hoats and Wren, juniors Kelley and Lojewski and sophomore Kendra Saba forming the starting lineup, are proving they have bought in to that attitude with their play.
“We played some tournaments over summer,” Johnson said. “We played in a fall league. In the fall league, we started to get a pretty good idea of the teamwork, the chemistry, the bonding, the confidence.
“We’re just thrilled right now. We’re absolutely thrilled with the progress.”
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