In her four years at the helm, Abington Heights girls basketball coach Deanna Klingman always comes up with an internal one-word theme for the upcoming season.
“I talked about it throughout the summer and decided that it was going to be ‘family,’” Klingman said.
“A culture where everyone feels comfortable and respected.”
Now, less than two weeks from the end of the regular-season, Klingman has a new word for a team that is, perhaps surprisingly, 16-3 (15-4 if they lost to Scranton on Friday).
“Our word is ‘grinders,’” Klingman said.
“No matter what happens, we’re going to play for 32 minutes, going to compete hard and grind it out for 32 minutes.”
Not that the team isn’t close-knit. They are. But the Lady Comets have also managed to cobble together a team that is close to clinching the top seed for the District 2 Class 5A playoffs, one suddenly favored to win a fourth straight title, all without a star player.
“This is a team with a lot of different players and different roles, all searching for their own identity,” Klingman said. “I think with all our different experiences — we got great experiences in our two tournaments this year — we love being in the gym together and we’re having a lot of fun together because it’s such a long season.”
Captains Arla Davis, Mikayla Kohanski and Erin Albright have provided leadership that Klingman expected from her captains, but the contributions of point guard Maria Tully may be the linchpin that have the team gearing up with eyes on another D-2 crown.
“Maria Tully has done a great job at the point and has taken ownership of that position to calm us down,” Klingman said. “I thought Maria came back this year and was ready to go. Her confidence was very high and what’s really different with this team, everyone appreciates and respects what everybody else brings to the team.
“Late in the game, no matter if she scored two or 20, she is prepared to take the big shot and take the big free throws at the end of the game. She’s really worked hard to let the game come to her. She doesn’t force and that’s important. She distributes, sees the floor and can score when we need her to score.”
Much of Tully’s, and the team’s success, comes from a positive mental outlook, the importance of which Klingman hammers home.
“This year’s team, I think being so young, we’re trying to focus on the mental side of competing, learning to stay positive when things are not going well.
“We call it feeding the good wolf, all our positive self-talk. When faced with a challenge, we go back to that to remain positive about what is going on out on the floor.”
Klingman calls it an all-as-one attitude.
“It’s something we use in the locker room a lot, feeding the good wolf in terms of focusing on the positive talk when you’re facing difficulties on the court,” she said. “Make a bad play, come back with a good defensive play, do something positive for your team.
“I really think growth is a work in progress for us. We evaluate every day where we are at and how can we improve as individuals and as a team. Then no matter what happens on the floor, we’re going to be okay.”
While the district playoffs are drawing near, Klingman and her team will continue to do the one thing that’s helped them be successful.
“We only focus on one game, the game in front of us,” Klingman said. “Do that, things will work out our way.”