By Tom Robinson
SCRANTON – The number of teams increased.
The list of players on each roster decreased.
In a weekend of change on the 17U girls level for NEPA Elite, one thing remained constant for the first-year AAU club.
Following an adjustment in how the top girls basketball players in northeastern Pennsylvania align themselves to compete against others, NEPA Elite 17U girls teams just kept winning.
Sending three teams into competition on that level for the first time, NEPA Elite won all seven games involving those teams to improve the combined season record of its 17U girls teams to 24-3.
Jess Genco joined the coaching mix, taking on a new team as the existing two teams were split into three. The former Scranton Prep and Northeastern University standout was playing professionally in Germany until the coronavirus shut down the league there in March.
Kaci Kranson, an NEPABasketball.com second-team, all-District 2 selection during her sophomore season at Holy Cross, joined the program and was placed on the Genco team.
What had been the NEPA Elite Lewis team was basically split into two, with two players moved from the NEPA Elite Clark team to help balance the rosters.
“Our job is to get these girls on the floor and get them as much exposure as possible,” club founder Kevin Clark said. “We looked at that and tried to split and Kaitlyn (Lewis)’s team right down the middle to keep them as competitive as they were and just get those girls as many minutes as possible.”
With one injury altering weekend plans, the program went from sending teams of 10-11 players into competition to playing with rosters of 7-8 players. The switch increased individual playing time across the board with no drop-off in productivity.
“It helps these girls get up and down the floor more,” Clark said. “There’s more opportunity to make things happen, thus helping them get recruited more.”
Several players made a strong impression, including some who specifically benefitted from those increased opportunities.
The addition of Kranson means the club now features seven of the eight girls who were all-District 2 or NEPABasketball.com divisional Players of the Year as underclassmen in 2019-20.
Kranson was the team scoring leader in her debut and finished in double figures in each game as NEPA Elite Genco went 3-0.
Claire Dougherty, the rising junior forward from Lake-Lehman who was one of two players moved off the Clark roster, grabbed 16 rebounds in her first game with the new Genco team and averaged a double-double for the weekend.
Lauren Casey, a senior forward from Nanticoke, was the other player who moved off the Clark roster. She made an immediate impact with NEPA Elite Lewis, scoring a team-high 15 points in the closest test of the weekend, a come-from-behind, 59-53 victory over the Syracuse Royals 16U team.
Both the Lewis team, which improved to 10-2, and the Clark team won twice.
NEPA Elite Clark was won nine straight to improve to 11-1.
Clair Marion, a senior from Abington Heights, moved into the starting lineup and scored in double figures in both wins.
Maria Belardi, a junior from Scranton Prep, also started and led the team in rebounds in its first win.
Olivia Ciullo, an Old Forge senior forward, had her first game scoring in double figures during the team’s second win.
Three players produced more than a dozen points per game for NEPA Elite Genco.
Carena Colo, a senior guard/forward from North Pocono, scored 39 points in the 3 games while Kranson had 38 and Dougherty had 37.
Dougherty grabbed 31 rebounds. She led the team in defensive and total rebounds and shared the offensive rebounds lead of 14 with Colo.
Kranson was 7-for-8 from the line.
Mia Blume, a junior guard from Dunmore, was the team’s most accurate shooter. She had a team-high seven 3-pointers on just 11 attempts and also matched Dunmore teammate Anna Talutto in shooting 50 percent overall from the floor.
Blume was also the team assist leader with 12.
Talutto, a senior guard, led the team in 12 steals, while Wyoming Valley West junior center/forward Trinity Johnson led in blocks with 3.
Ciera Toomey, the only sophomore playing on the 17U teams, had a big weekend.
Toomey, the all-state forward/guard from Dunmore, shot 84.6 percent from the floor. She was 11-for-13 along with going 3-for-4 from the line while scoring 25 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, dishing out 7 assists and blocking 4 shots in 2 games for the Clark team.
A look back at the weekend games for all three teams:
NEPA Elite Clark 71, Syracuse Royals 17U 46
The Clark team played in Friday’s first set of games and got the weekend started with 14 straight points for a 19-2 lead less than 4½ minutes into the High School Division game.
Toomey went 3-for-3, Marion had four points and three assists and Belardi, Rachael Rose and Moriah Murray all hit 3-pointers in the opening burst.
Marion scored a game-high 16 points. Toomey made all seven of her shots while finishing with 14 points and 7 rebounds.
Kaeli Romanowski was 4-for-5 while scoring 11 points. She joined Marion and Murray with two steals each.
Belardi and Rose, her high school teammate at Scranton Prep, each had four assists. Belardi grabbed eight rebounds.
The team shot 53.8 percent for the game.
NEPA Elite Clark 78, Elmira Fusion 17U 33
The Clark team finished up for the weekend as the other two 17U squads were getting started, with each simultaneously winning Friday night High School Division games.
Murray hit her last five 3-point shots to lead five players in double figures with 20 points.
The first-team Class 3A all-state guard as both a freshman and sophomore at Dunmore, hit 4 of the 3-pointers in a span of 3:11 during the second half as NEPA Elite needed less than 9 minutes to run off 30 unanswered points.
NEPA Elite, which again shot better than 50 percent, led by as many as 52 points. The team shot 66.7 percent (16-for-24) from the floor in the second half and was perfect for the game in 13 attempts from the line.
Skylar Bianchi, a senior forward from Valley View, scored 14 points. Toomey provided 11 while Ciullo and Marion added 10 each.
Toomey did more than score. She led the team in rebounds (seven) and blocked shots (three) while dishing out five assists.
Rose had six assists while Romanowski, a junior guard from Western Wayne, made five steals and dished out four assists.
NEPA Elite Lewis 59, Syracuse Royals 16U 53
The Lewis team scored the game’s final nine points and closed with a 14-2 run to pull out the closest game of the weekend.
Anna Scoblick and Jenna Beach led the big finish.
With Syracuse leading, 51-45, Beach grabbed an offensive rebound and set up an Alexis Chapman 3-pointer with 3:35 remaining.
Scoblick went coast-to-coast with a defensive rebound to set up two free throws that made it a one-point game with 2:37 left.
After the Royals beat the NEPA Elite press for their final basket, Beach nailed a long 3-pointer, off a Scoblick pass, to tie the game.
Scoblick drove for the go-ahead basket with 1:45 left, then assisted a Casey basket.
Casey drew a charge in the final minute and NEPA Elite held the ball until Beach hit both ends of a one-and-one with 12.2 seconds left.
The inside play of Casey and Kayla Rose, a Riverside senior, led the way as NEPA Elite fought back from a 13-point, first-half deficit.
Casey went 6-for-9 from the floor while leading the team with 15 points.
Rose grabbed 12 rebounds, including 8 on the offensive end, while scoring 6 points.
Scoblick, an Abington Heights junior, finished with 10 points and a team-high 4 assists.
Chapman made two steals while Avery McNulty blocked two shots.
NEPA Elite Genco 72, Elmira Fusion 16U 36
Kranson and the team as a whole made successful debuts.
NEPA Elite took control late in the half when Kranson hit a pair of 3-pointers while scoring eight of the points in a 12-0 run to a 36-16 lead.
Kranson finished with 17 points and 4 steals.
Johnson scored 12 of her 16 points in the second half as NEPA Elite blew the game open.
Dougherty had a double-double of 11 points and 16 rebounds. She grabbed half of her rebounds on the offensive end and also produced four assists and two steals.
Talutto had 10 points and 4 steals.
Colo had all eight of her points in the second half and also grabbed seven rebounds.
Blume had six points, eight assists and a team-high five steals.
Blume was 2-for-3 on 3-pointers while Talutto and Kranson were 2-for-4.
NEPA Elite Genco 71, Syracuse Royals 15U 28
Colo went 7-for-13 while scoring 17 points, grabbing 6 rebounds, handing out 4 assists and making 3 steals as the Genco team added a second High School Division win Friday night.
Dougherty added 12 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Kranson, who also pulled down 7 rebounds, and Blume had 11 points each.
Talutto led the defense with seven steals while Kranson had four and Blume and Colo three.
Johnson finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
Talutto also had five assists.
Similar to the opener, NEPA Elite more than doubled its lead with a big run late in the first half.
Johnson did all of her scoring in a 16-2 outburst over the final three minutes for a 39-17 halftime lead.
After Syracuse scored the first four points of the second half, NEPA Elite ran off 16 straight.
Colo had eight points in what became a 20-1 run to a 59-22 lead with 6:47 left. Color drained two 3-pointers in the streak while Kranson and Blume each hit one.
NEPA Elite Lewis 49, Unatego Spartans 25
Rachel McDonald had 11 points in the game-opening, 15-0 run that carried the Lewis team to a comfortable win in an 11th Grade Division game Saturday night.
NEPA Elite held Unatego without a field goal for the first 11:52.
McDonald, an Abington Heights senior guard, went 5-for-6 from 3-point range while scoring all 17 of her points in the first half.
Beach, a senior guard from North Pocono, took it from there. She scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half.
Chapman, a Dunmore senior, added nine points while Rose had nine rebounds and four assists.
McDonald and Scranton Prep’s Avery McNulty each made four steals.
NEPA Elite Genco 50, Unatego Spartans 38
The Genco team completed the unbeaten weekend for the 17U girls in its 11th Grade Division game Saturday night when Colo scored 12 points in the final five minutes.
After the Spartans cut the deficit to single digits for the last time at 33-25, Colo scored all 14 of her points in the last 8:55. She hit two 3-pointers and converted an offensive rebound into a three-point play.
The offensive rebound was one of five by Colo, who finished with nine total rebounds.
Dougherty also scored 14 points and had 8 rebounds. She stepped outside on offense to go 3-for-6 on 3-pointers and controlled the inside on defense with six rebounds on that end.
Kranson had 10 points, 5 assists and 3 steals. Riverside’s Emily Taylor matched Kranson for the team lead in steals.
Blume was 2-for-3 on 3-pointers to finish with six points, six rebounds and four assists.