The Old Forge combination of Lindsey Welsh and Olivia Ciullo joined Susquehanna’s Taylor Huyck as players who spent 2019 with JB Hoops AAU teams out of Backcourt Hoops in Scranton claimed the last three PNC Bank District 2 Girls Basketball Player of the Week awards.
The weekly awards are selected and announced throughout the season by NEPABasketball.com.
Welsh and Huyck were teammates on the JB Hoops Bucci National team.
Ciullo, who earned the last award of the season, and Dunmore’s Ciera Toomey, who was picked late in the season, were JB Hoops Regional teammates.
As seniors, Welsh and Huyck have completed their AAU careers and are alumni of the JB Hoops program. Ciullo and Toomey remain in Backcourt Hoops’ NEPA Elite program, which is on standby because of the stoppage of athletic activities during the coronavirus outbreak.
Their late-season selections gave 2019 JB Hoops players 9 of the 15 PNC Bank District 2 Player of the Week awards for the 2019-20 high school season.
The award-winning efforts of Scranton Prep’s Rachael Rose and Cecelia Collins, Western Wayne’s Kaeli Romanowski, Dunmore’s Moriah Murray and Dallas’ Lauren Charlton were reported on in JB Hoops Blog postings earlier in the season.
Toomey joined Murray, her Dunmore teammate, on the list for her efforts Feb. 10-16 when she helped the Lady Bucks complete their second straight unbeaten league season and seventh straight Lackawanna League Division 3 championship.
The only freshman to receive the award this season, Toomey was recognized for her ability to score baskets and protect the basket.
Dunmore clinched its division title with a 52-40 road win over second-place Riverside when Toomey scored 15 points, grabbed 12 rebound and blocked 6 shots.
“She’s getting better every game,” Dunmore coach Ben O’Brien said. “Each facet of her game keeps improving, whether it be shot blocking, whether it be shooting or taking the ball to the basket.
“She does a great job of controlling the rim.”
Rival Holy Cross was next in a battle of defending district champions. Playing without injured all-state guard Murray, who is just ahead of Toomey for the team season scoring lead, Toomey made sure there was still plenty of offense.
Toomey had 20 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocked shots in the 49-23 victory.
The 6-foot-2 freshman handles the center’s responsibilities on defense and although she does post up more than her teammates, she can be found just about anywhere on the floor on offense. She described her defensive responsibilities as being similar to playing “goaltender”.
“I have long arms and I feel like I can jump pretty high, so that helps,” Toomey said. “I’ve been blocking shots all season, but (against Riverside) it was a big thing because they’re pretty tall.”
Even with many early exits from games as Dunmore routed opponents, Toomey averaged 16 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocked shots and 3 assists.
“She’s an incredible talent,” O’Brien said. “She plays with great poise and confidence.
“She’s just somebody who is going to be, and already is, a very special player.”
The District 2 champion Lady Bucks were 26-1 and preparing for a Class 3A quarterfinal when the state tournament was suspended because of the coronavirus.
Ciera, who was also a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association East Regional qualifier in golf, is the daughter of Pat and Carrie Toomey of Dunmore. She has often been coached by her mother and has followed her mother (Carrie Bowen) and older sister, Victoria, into the successful high school program. Victoria plays on the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I level as a freshman at Rider University.
Welsh was selected for the week of Feb. 24-March 1 for her two-way effort in the District 2 Class 2A championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza when she scored 12 points, dished out 4 assists, made 4 steals and grabbed 3 rebounds in a 55-33 victory over Holy Cross. She ran the Old Forge offense that committed just four turnovers through three quarters while building a 41-26 lead.
“From last year, I was not under control at all and that was a big lesson for me,” said Welsh, who helped Old Forge avenge a loss in the same game a year ago. “Just coming in here calm, cool and collected was the biggest thing for me.
“ … I had a lot of turnovers and I wanted to make sure I cut that down to slim to none and make sure I did that for my team.”
As Old Forge coach Ron Stachiotti sees it, that is what Welsh does consistently for the team.
“She controls the whole floor for us,” he said. “She’s smart. She knows the game.
“She controls everything for us.”
On defense, Welsh played a major role in the team holding the Lady Crusaders to just one field goal for 14:21 of the second half when Old Forge put the game away with a 27-7 scoring margin.
Welsh helped control Kaci Kranson in that time. Kranson had 15 points less than 30 seconds into the second half, but just 3 the rest of the way.
Lindsey is the daughter of Paula Welsh of Old Forge.
Huyck also played well at the arena, scoring 18 points and becoming Susquehanna’s all-time leading career scorer during a 49-28 victory over MMI Prep in the District 2 Class A championship game.
A week later, she opened the state tournament with an even bigger effort to earn the selection for the award from March 2-8. The senior guard scored 28 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and dished out 5 assists in a 48-44 victory over Chester Charter Scholars Academy.
“She didn’t slow down,” Susquehanna coach Kirk Fallon said. “She was steady throughout the game. Whenever we needed it, she was there.
“There were several big runs throughout the game.”
The last of those came in an 8-0 finish by the Lady Sabers. Huyck scored six of those points, including the game-winning drive in the final minute and two clinching free throws.
The Lady Sabers were in a “semi-stall” considering waiting for the final shot when Huyck spotted an opening.
“She saw the lane open up, made a tough finish with her left hand and it wound up being the game-winner,” Fallon said.
After the winning basket with 38 seconds left, Huyck also hit the two clinching free throws that closed the scoring.
Susquehanna had zero Lackawanna League division titles, zero District 2 championships and zero state tournament wins when Huyck landed in the starting lineup as a freshman.
Now, as Huyck waits to finish her career, either deep in the state tournament or with the possible cancellation of the remainder of the event, the Lady Sabers collect all three.
Susquehanna won a half-season title in 2017, but lost the Lackawanna League Division 4 all-season playoff game. The Lady Sabers have not only won three straight titles since, but they have done so by winning 36 straight division games.
The Lady Sabers have also won four straight District 2 Class A championships.
The win over Chester Charter was the fourth state tournament victory in school history and the Lady Sabers have since added a fifth to make their second straight Class A quarterfinal appearance.
A third-team, Class A all-state selection by Pennsylvania sports writers as a junior when she was also named Lackawanna Division 4 Player of the Year by NEPABasketball.com and surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career, Huyck has added to those accomplishments as a senior.
Huyck came out of the first-round state tournament game averaging 15.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.8 steals, 2.4 assists and 0.8 blocked shots.
Since earning the award, Huyck has added to her school scoring record, which now stands at 1,505 points.
Taylor is the daughter of Wayne and Stacy Huyck of Susquehanna.
Ciullo wound up landing the final award of the season.
As the stakes grew larger, so did Ciullo’s scoring totals.
Ciullo scored a career-high 35 points in a 67-51 PIAA Class 2A playoff victory over Steelton-Highspire to return Old Forge to the quarterfinal round where the state tournament was suspended.
The junior forward’s effort covered the week ending March 15.
Ciullo made at least three baskets in each quarter, including an 11-point first quarter to get the Lady Devils out to a 23-13 lead in the second-round game at Shamokin.
“That has really been our thing in the last three games,” Ciullo said. “We got off to a real hot start in the first quarter.”
District 2 champion Old Forge has outscored opponents, 74-38, in the first quarter of its four playoff games.
“My team played really well, moving the ball, hitting shots,” Ciullo said. “Defense was the main thing. Our defense led to our offense, which was a big thing for us.
“I think it all started from our defense.”
When Old Forge needed to run half-court sets, the combination of 1,000-point scorers Welsh and Ciullo, who have worked together for the past three years, broke down the Steelton-Highspire defense.
“I hit some jumpers and Lindsey and I had a lot of pick-and-rolls where she gave me a lot of nice passes and I finished with layups,” Ciullo said. “When we watched film, we saw that, in their man, they really overplay.
“We knew the pick-and-roll would work. We knew back cuts would work. They all worked during the game.”
Following the win, Old Forge’s season was placed on hold along with all other high schools in Pennsylvania preparing for the spring or still active in the winter title chase. Whether they ever get to try to take the last three steps on the state tournament trail remains to be determined.
“I try to keep as positive as possible,” Ciullo said. “I try to keep as ready as I can.
“ … I’m just praying and hoping that we’ll play.”
Staying ready includes shooting baskets in her driveway, something she has done since kindergarten.
Olivia is the daughter of Mike Ciullo and Rose Ungaro of Old Forge.
Find information on NEPABasketball.com about all this season’s PNC Bank District 2 Girls Basketball Players of the Week. https://nepabasketball.prestosports.com/2019-20/Articles/PlayersWeekSeasonList.