Juniata girls finish season with all-star accolades

The Juniata girls basketball team had a little bit of everything this season – a multi-threat offense, a stifling defense and mental edge which refused to lose. The Indians were a tough matchup for other Tri-Valley League teams because if they managed to shut one Indian down, another would step up to take her place.

They played like all-stars, and now that the TVL all-star teams have been announced, three Indians – Victoria Varner, Carly Burns and Maddie Zendt – can take that title home.

Leading the way for Juniata, which finished in the TVL with a perfect 16-0 record, is MVP Victoria Varner.

A sophomore, Varner made herself known on the court for her ability to hit shots from outside. If Varner got open outside the arc – even if she was a few steps out – it was only a matter of time before fans would hear the crisp snap of a Varner 3-pointer passing through the net.

Averaging15.63 points per game (all statistics provided by the TVL website), Varner easily topped the league in scoring with 250 points. This put Varner ahead of Line Mountain’s Sarah Lahr – whose 180 points put here second in scoring – by 70 points. And of these 250 points Varner scored, 111 were made off 3-point goals, making it obvious why she was to be feared from beyond the arc.

“She just really came into her own offensively this year,” Juniata coach Meghan Geedey said. “She’s always been a good outside shooter, but she became even more consistent this year with multiple games with four or more threes.”

This was Varner’s second year playing varsity – last year she started as a freshman when Juniata played in the Mountain League – and Geedey noted a level of maturity in Varner’s second-year performance.

“I could see her confidence grow leaps and bounds this year,” Geedey said.

“I thought she handled herself very well as a freshman in the Mountain league, but this year I’ve seen her play with more confidence than I’ve ever seen.”

Geedey credits much of Varner’s improvement to her dedication to improvement during the off-season.

“Obviously she is very skilled offensively, and that’s all to her credit because she does so much more…she works so hard. She basically works year round on her game. She’s that skilled for a reason,” Geedey said.

Another Indian to improve her game, and to receive first-team honors for her efforts, is junior Carly Burns.

Where Varner typically shot from the outside, Burns was especially dangerous when she drove to the basket, and this resulted in her 149 total league points.

“Her strength has always been getting to the basket, and now she’s driving to the basket, getting fouled and converting the points from the foul line,” Geedey said, explaining Burns’ improvement from the charity stripe this year.

Geedey said that last year Burns shot around 50 percent from the free throw line but this year, including non-league games, she improved to around 73 percent. In the league specifically, Burns shot 66.67 percent from the line.

“She had some games where she finished in double figures, and only had one or two field goals,” Geedey said.

And it was this ability to drive and score – and also to finish from the line – which made Burns part of Juniata’s multi threat offense because when a team would watch the perimeter to prevent Varner from scoring, Burns would be a strong reminder why the inside defense had to stay strong, too.

But the Indians weren’t just about offense, and second-team selection Maddie Zendt made it clear Juniata had a strong defensive game as well.

A junior, Zendt led the team with 26 blocks – a number which placed her third in the TVL – and she was also strong on the boards, pulling down 54 offensive boards and 74 defensive ones for a total of 128.

“Maddie contributed in many different ways this year,” Geedey said, explaining that Zendt had several games where she notched double-doubles in shooting and rebounding.

Geedey also mentioned that Zendt’s height and all around athleticism made her a good defensive matchup, because even when she didn’t get an outright block, she was able to alter shots to misses with her strong defense.

Of course, Zendt also had an offensive element to her game, finishing with a 9.6 game average for 144 total points.

“She has a nice outside shot, but she can also score inside as well. She’s an inside-outside player, so she’s a tough matchup for a lot of forwards,” Geedey said.

Varner, Burns and Zendt will all be eligible for participation next year, and Geedey is excited to see what this strong core, along with the other strong players Juniata boasts, will be able to accomplish in the future.

Geedey said next year’s senior class – of which Burns and Zendt will be a part – should provide strong leadership and will help drive the team toward reaching its goals.

“They have been playing some varsity since they’ve been freshmen, so they’re very experienced, they’re great kids, they have great attitude and they want what’s best for the team,” Geedey said.

“I think we’ll have some goals, and they’ll be great at keeping everybody on track and working to achieve those goals.”