First-year WHS girls coach Cieniewicz stressing consistency

By on December 12, 2018
Warwick senior Abby Rodgers (11) shoots over Cocalico senior guard Hanah Greenly (5) in last Friday’s action. Photo by Denise Mitchell

Warwick senior Abby Rodgers (11) shoots over Cocalico senior guard Hanah Greenly (5) in last Friday’s action. Photo by Denise Mitchell

Every day at practice, Warwick’s first-year girls basketball coach Danny Cieniewicz preaches the same message to his players.

Don’t take any possessions off.

Stay locked in, from start to finish.

“We’re not good enough yet where we can coast at any point throughout the season, and that includes us as a coaching staff,” Cieniewicz said. “We’re going to have to put our heart and soul into each and every practice, each and every game. Frankly, we need to set the tone and set the example for the girls. If we do that, we expect to see success.”

The Lady Warriors are coming off a season in which they finished 3-11 Section One, 4-17 overall, leaving them home from the post-season for the sixth straight year.

But with no seniors on that squad, the Warwick girls bring back a full complement of players, including junior Leilani Batty (7.6 ppg, 18 treys) and sophomore Lauren Pyle (7.3 ppg, 22 treys), who finished 1-2 in scoring in 2017-18.

And although Cieniewicz understands there will be a transition period as a new system gets installed, he is encouraged by the foundation already in place.

“They’re familiar with each other,” Cieniewicz said, “they’re familiar with each other’s game, and we want to build upon that as a strength.”

The question is, can Warwick capitalize on enough of its strengths, while fixing some other issues — such as turnovers — to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12?

Cieniewicz isn’t ruling it out.

“I judge a successful season as you win the games that you should and a couple that you shouldn’t,” he said. “Obviously, that’s subjective as you’re looking at it, but I think this is a group that can make the playoffs. It’s not a crazy thing to say, especially with who we have coming back and the talent we have, but that said, if we do make it or we don’t make it, I don’t know if it necessarily tells the whole story. I think it’s winning the games we should and then a couple even that we shouldn’t, and if we can do that, we’ll look back this year as a success, I’d say.”

In the early going, the work ethic has been true and Warwick’s skipper believes his team is taking steps in the right direction.

The half-court defense, in particular, is showing positive signs. In their scrimmage against Reading, Cieniewicz thought his players limited the Knights’ drives in the paint, contested shots, and rebounded.

There’s no shortage of athleticism on the roster, so the Lady Warriors will get some points in transition.

But that’s not where their defensive focus will be.

“We’re more trying to force teams into difficult shots than force turnovers, so much,” Cieniewicz said. “It’s not like we’re going to say, ‘Don’t push the pace.’ We want to still push it, if it’s there. I think it’s just making the right read and taking the right shot.”

Seniors Julia Forsythe and Sydney Weismandel will shoulder a lot of the rebounding duties, along with defending against opponents’ bigs.

“Having them as veteran seniors that can help understand how to play defense post-wise, that’s big to have that there,” Cieniewicz said.

Others such as senior Abby Rodgers and sophomores Tanner Armstrong and Elise Balmer are showing the abilities to match up against either a guard or a big.

“There’s some versatility there with the three of them,” Cieniewicz said. “I think it allows us to play with rotations a little bit more than some other teams we’ll see. We can go 10, 11 deep realistically. Defensively, we’ve seen some very good things from Tanner Armstrong and Elise Balmer and the two of them have really stepped up and shown a lot of promise there. It’s just a matter of having intensity on the offensive and defensive ends and doing it consistently.”

Offensively, the Lady Warriors averaged 31.7 points per game in 2017-18. Batty and Pyle are both back, of course, and will be counted on to create again this winter.

“From a scoring perspective, they have a nose for the basket,” Cieniewicz said. “Seeing them continue to drive and attack the basket isn’t just going to help their scoring, it’s going to help everybody’s scoring. I think from there, somebody else is going to have to step up in the scoring department too because we recognize that we can’t just rely on two players. Good teams will be able to shut down two players. I think we have good balance, but we need a couple of girls who can show they can consistently put the ball in the hole too.”

In Warwick’s first win of the season last Saturday in the consolation game of the Cocalico Tip-Off Tournament, Rodgers led the team with 12 points and Forsythe chipped in with nine in a 47-33 victory over Conrad Weiser.

Rodgers also led the way with eight in a opening-round 42-26 loss to the host Lady Eagles.

“Abby Rodgers (3.8 ppg in 2017-18) has played well and she’s been able to put the ball in the hole a fair bit,” Cieniewicz said. “And then even from the outside, we’ve got Syd (3.5 ppg), who’s been able to shoot the ball. I think we can see things from Reagan Longridge (2.2 ppg). She has shown flashes as well.”

Protecting the ball is an area of emphasis that Cieniewicz is stressing with his players. After being hired as the Lady Warriors’ coach in June, he watched a lot of film from last year’s games and noticed turnovers as a factor which contributed to opponents averaging 45.1 ppg against Warwick.

Cieniewicz is hopeful that if his team plays better offense, it will cut down on the number of points being scored against them. And Warwick’s skipper is confident that they have solid ball-handlers.

“We can put four or five on the floor at the same time, not necessarily guards,” Cieniewicz said. “The Williamson sisters (Emily and Jessica) have done a good job. Lani’s done a good job handling the ball and beating the press, and (Abbey) Finkill’s the same type of role.”

Finkill, Forsythe, Rodgers, Weismandel and Emily Williamson are Warwick’s five seniors.

“I think it’s going to start a lot with the senior class in terms of leadership,” Cieniewicz said. “We expect them to set the tone at practice and within games because we’re still young and some of these girls saw some time, but they’re going to be expected to take bigger roles.”

That experience could help them as they bump down to Section Two this winter. Although Elizabethtown figures to be the favorite while bringing back Marena Lonardi (15.8 ppg) and Sydney Pierson (7.6 ppg). But Cieniewicz believes it could also be an open Section race.

“The fact that (E-town) made the run they did last year, they’re bringing back two of their best players, and I know they’ve got a good program and a good coach (John Myers),” Cieniewicz said, “we understand that they’re the team everyone is going to be gunning for. Ephrata’s got a first-year coach too (Brian Cerullo), but they’re bringing back plenty of talent and we know they’re going to be a good team. Conestoga Valley lost some, but they’re still bringing back enough that they’re going to be tough. And even Lebanon, regardless of their record or where they were at, it’s a new year and anything can happen. We can get beat very easily, and I think we can beat teams too.”

For Cieniewicz and the Lady Warriors, it’s all about finding consistency and not taking plays off.

And if that happens, the post-season might not be out of the picture.

“Absolutely not,” Cieniewicz said. “We understand it hasn’t happened in awhile, but again, we’re not concerned about what has happened or hasn’t happened. We’re just focused on the next game, the next play, the next practice. That’s what we have to focus on. If we want to do it right, that’s where we’re going to have to keep our focus.”

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