The incredible fast starts may be what jumps out first from the NEPA Elite Clark 17U girls team’s weekend competing at Spooky Nook Sports.
Just as important to the overall development of the first-year team, however, is what came next.
Bench production increased significantly. That was particularly significant in the two more competitive games against Hoop Group Showcase League opponents when the early work of a potent starting lineup did not do quite as much damage to the opposition.
“They came in and kept the same energy as the first group,” head coach Kevin Clark said. “Ultimately, they stepped up defensively and they were able to convert offensively.
“It’s nice when you’re able to look down on your bench and feel comfortable putting anybody in because you know they’re going to be able to make an impact. That’s exactly what those girls did.”
Combining the fast starts with an improving rotation added up to a 4-0 record for the team from Riverfront Sports in Scranton Friday through Sunday in the Hoop Group’s Summer Jam Fest. After its first two events, the NEPA Elite team has won eight of nine games.
At times, the team was nothing short of dominant.
NEPA Elite scored the first 18 points of both of its Saturday games. In the second, it followed up by opening the second half with the first 22 points.
“We’re a quick team,” Clark said. “Our entire roster can get out and run the floor and that’s exactly what we wanted at the beginning of the game.
“With the playmakers we have, they all just see each other so well. They’re so unselfish. That allowed us to build a nice comfortable lead.”
In the four games, NEPA Elite outscored the opposition by an average of 53.8-34.3.
Playing at Spooky Nook in the Summer Tip Off two weeks earlier, the bench struggled to produce at times.
That was not a problem the second time around.
“I think in basketball, like most sports, everybody kind of knows their role,” Clark said. “Defensively, we were able to really hammer down our fundamentals and our systems.
“Top to bottom, everybody is making a turn on that, understanding what I want them to do. That’s allowing for everybody to be on the floor.”
Compared to their first event, the players coming off the NEPA Elite bench hit more than three times as many 3-pointers and well more than twice as many free throws while producing 41 percent more assists, 19 percent more points and 17 percent more rebounds.
Claire Dougherty, a rising junior forward from Lake-Lehman, was the team’s leader in offensive (9) and total rebounds (19) during the Summer Jam Fest.
Kaeli Romanowski, a junior point guard from Western Wayne, led in free throws made and attempted, going 13-for-16 (81.3 percent).
Romanowski led the team’s reserves with 19 points on the weekend, two more than Clair Marion.
Marion, a senior from Abington Heights, was third overall on the team in steals and fourth in assists at the event. Through nine total games, she is tied for second on the team in steals.
Moriah Murray is the only player on the team with more steals. She had a team-high 10 in the Summer Jam Fest.
The team’s three established National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I recruits led the offense.
Bucknell University scholarship commit Cecelia Collins made six 3-pointers, hit 61.8 percent from the floor and led the way, averaging 12 points per game.
Murray and Rose, who have each received Division I scholarship offers, provided more than eight points per game each.
Rose led the team in assists.
All three are also all-state high school players. Collins and Rose are teammates going into their senior year at Scranton Prep while Murray, a junior, plays at Dunmore.
Another Dunmore player, Ciera Toomey, blocked a team-high six shots. Toomey was already an all-state player as a freshman in 2019-20.
A look back at the team’s games in the Summer Jam Fest:
NEPA Elite 58, New Jersey Shoreshots-Sabino HGSL 50
Playing a team that then went on to win four straight games the rest of the weekend, NEPA Elite opened with a Friday victory over one of its HGSL opponents.
Collins was 6-for-9 from the floor while leading the win with 14 points and 6 steals.
Rose had 11 points and 5 assists. She was 5-for-6 from the line, including securing the victory by making four straight free throws for the game’s final points.
Murray had nine points and Maria Belardi, a junior guard from Scranton Prep, came off the bench to add eight points, three assists and two steals.
The bench strength was vital in a game that featured 10 lead changes and 8 ties.
Marion’s 3-pointer broke the last tie.
The last two New Jersey leads were erased by a Belardi 3-pointer, then a reverse layup by Old Forge all-stater Olivia Ciullo that began a game-ending, 14-5 run.
NEPA Elite 50, Team Miller HGSL 28
NEPA Elite held Team Miller, an Under Armour-sponsored team from Bound Brook, N.J., scoreless for the first 7:09 and without a field goal for another 46 seconds.
During that time, Collins and Murray scored seven points each to send the team on its way to the victory in the first of two Saturday games.
Marion followed up the 18-point streak with a 3-pointer from the right corner to make it 21-2 midway through the first half.
Collins finished with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range.
Murray added nine points while leading the team in rebounds (seven) and steals (two). She had seven points, six rebounds, two steals and two assists during the opening streak.
Collins, Dougherty, Ciullo and Skylar Bianchi all added five rebounds for a 44-21 advantage on the boards.
NEPA Elite 57, Fairfax Stars 20
NEPA Elite topped its game-opening streaks with an even bigger streak to start the second half.
After scoring the first 18 points again against the northern Virginia team, NEPA Elite opened the second half with 22 straight points for a 52-15 lead.
Fairfax made just one basket inside the arc during the game. That came with 3:23 left to end a 14-minute scoreless stretch and represented the only points of the second half until a 3-pointer at the final buzzer.
Murray led the way with 14 points, 4 assists and 4 steals. She made her first five shots, four of them 3-pointers, before missing her final attempt.
Rose added 11 points.
Bianchi, a rising senior at Valley View, led with seven rebounds and was one of three players to add seven points. Dougherty and Collins were the others.
NEPA Elite 50, Central Pennsylvania Dynamite HGSL 39
After trailing in the final minute of the first half against an opponent that came in 3-0 at the Summer Jam Fest, NEPA Elite broke away from a halftime tie by shooting 57.9 percent (11-for-19) from the floor in the second half.
The team finished better than 50 percent for the game, with the top five scorers combining to go 16-for-22 from the floor and 7-for-8 from the line.
Collins was 6-for-8 for 12 points to go along with her team-highs of 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
Toomey was 5-for-7 while scoring 10 points and blocking a pair of shots.
Rose went 3-for-4 from the floor and made both her free throws to add nine points.
Marion, who hit a 3-pointer while making two of her three shots, and Romanowski, who was 5-for-6 from the line, added five points each.