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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2014:03:23 09:51:55

The OLP Falcons eighth-grade girls basketball team takes a break before one of the playoff games this past weekend in Altoona. From left: Emmy Bormes, Katherine Dzwonczyk, Allison Marquardt, Sharon Houlihan, Julia Burke, Maria Terrinoni, Sarah Murray, Ellie Wright, Mary Comerford, Trish Caucci and Meghan Marion.

It is easy to know what the motto for the Our Lady of Peace eighth-grade girls basketball team is— all you have to do is listen to the team when they break for a huddle.

“Five as one,” OLP head coach Phil Odom said. “We can’t play as five individuals to succeed; we have to play as one.”

Odom believes that following that principle helped the Lady Falcons qualify for the state diocesan championships that were held in Altoona over the weekend. Our Lady of Peace placed sixth in the eight-team field, beating the Allentown entry on Saturday after losing to Philadelphia on Friday and before Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh.

The Lady Falcons tasted much more success locally, rolling to an 18-0 record to win the 10-team Scranton Wilkes-Barre Diocesan League and took a 23-2 record into the state championships.

“We take them one at a time,” Odom said. “We wanted to stay healthy, go out and be competitive.”

The road to defending their league title was not as easy as an undefeated record would lead one to believe.

“It was a surprise to me,” Odom said. “We played All Saints Academy five times, and won both times in the league but lost twice to them in tournaments. If we didn’t play like we can, it would have been competitive.”

A two-point overtime win over All Saints sealed their ticket to Altoona, a goal that had been set after placing seventh in it last year.

But there was a little more pressure this year as Odom had a veteran cast to coach, unlike last year’s team.

“We had only three seniors [eighth graders] last year,” Odom said. “[Having all those players back] was a huge advantage. They knew what to expect.”

Instead of being overwhelmed by what they were seeing on the court, the players could just relax, knowing they were prepared to handle just about anything any opponent could do to them.

“The girls went undefeated last year in JV [seventh-grade] and in varsity,” Odom said. “They know how to find ways to win. Somebody always steps up.”

A balanced offense puts pressure on opposing defenses, preventing teams from loading up on stopping one or two players.

“In seventh grade, you’re lucky to have two players, and you can stop two,” Odom said. “But with us, we’re so diverse, it’s hard to guard all five.”

Sharon Houlihan, who leads the Lady Falcons in scoring, assists and steals, and Julia Burke, who snapped a tie in overtime of the Scranton diocesan championship with the go-ahead free throw against All Saints Academy, are the starting forwards.

“She does a little bit of everything,” Odom said of Houlihan, who averages 9.2 points, 3.1 steals and 2.5 assists per game. “She has length, she’s lanky and long, and has a good IQ for the game.”

Mary Comerford is the shooting guard, joined by point guard Ellie Wright in the backcourt.

“Mary is coming off an ankle injury. She’s gritty, she’s tough,” Odom said. “You won’t find a tougher kid. She has improved her shooting.”

Maria Terrinoni is the starting center, who averages four points a game along with Wright and Burke.

Another integral part of the Lady Falcons’ success is their depth as Odom has confidence in each player in his nine-person rotation.

“Katherine Dzwonczyk comes off the bench and finishes games. She’s far more mature for her age,” Odom said. “Taylor Florey is 5-foot, 11 inches and takes up a lot of space. Kids in eighth grade can’t guard her. Trish Caucci and Sarah Murray are both shooters, able to knock down outside shots.”

Florey has delivered all year, leading the team in rebounding and blocked shots, and scoring nearly seven points a game to rank second on the team.

Odom praised his coaching staff for their role in the outstanding season.

“We couldn’t have done this without my assistant coaches,” Odom said. “Laura Marion, Lenny Burke and Kevin Wright have done a tremendous job, and they have helped make the last two years incredible.”

Houlihan led the Lady Falcons in scoring in two of the three games of the state event, getting 13 in a 39-31 loss to Philadelphia and 9 in a 44-40 loss to Pittsburgh. Comerford had 11 and Dzwonczyk 10 in the victory over Allentown.

“They were all close games,” Marion said. “We competed at a high level, and we’re very proud of them.”

Winning back-to-back diocesan titles makes for a lot of happy memories, and all involved in the success will certainly remember the team’s motto.

“Five as one” not only includes every player on the court, but also all the bench players and coaches.