2013 champs a tough challenge for the Indians

MIFFLINTOWN – As the famous saying goes, to be the best you have to beat the best.

The Juniata girls basketball team will attempt to begin the PIAA Class AA state tournament by doing just that when the Indians take on defending state champion Bishop Canevin today.

“They are the defending state champion,” Juniata coach Meghan Geedey said. “They certainly aren’t the state champion for this year. They are a very good team and a very good program. It’s a very good opportunity to play a team of that caliber and a very good program that has been there.”

Bishop Canevin (19-6) is the consolation winner of the vaunted Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League and member of the league’s Section 4.

Half of Bishop Canevin’s losses came at the hands of District 7 champion and 2011-2012 Class AA state champion Seton LaSalle.

Two of the remaining three losses were to District 10 runner-up Villa Maria (Erie, Pa.) and WPIAL Class A champion Vincentian Academy.

Bishop Canevin is led by one of two seniors, 5’9 guard Johnie Olkosky, who averaged 14 points, 11 rebounds and three steals per game.

Geedey wasn’t very familiar with Olkosky’s work, but will do the homework and see what course of action will suit her team.

“We’ll watch video and figure out their personnel and see how our personnel matches their personnel and see how we can best take away what they do well,” Geedey said.

Gina Vallecorsa is the best of a group of six sophomores that plays for the Crusaders.

The Indians will counter a team that has just one player over 5-foot-9 with strong interior play.

Geedey is well aware that Bishop Canevin’s one player over 5’9 is 6’3 sophomore center Becca Turney.

“Obviously, they have a 6’3 player inside that could affect our ability to get the ball inside,” Geedey said. “That’s one of the things we’ve been able to do. We’ve been successful because we can go inside and outside.”

Throughout its playoff run, Juniata has been working the ball inside to Joelle Winey and Maddie Zendt.

The two seniors have been responsible for 51 percent of the offense in the Indians’ two playoff wins.

Zendt scored 14 points in the 50-44 win over Marion Center while Winey added 10 points on five field goals.

Winey scored a team-high 13 points in the win over Tyrone with Zendt adding 11 points.

If the Crusaders focus on stopping Zendt and Winey inside, Tri-Valley League first-team selection Victoria Varner and TVL Player of the Year Carly Burns can hurt them from the outside.

“That would be a dream come true if they have to defend them inside and (Victoria) outside,” Geedey said. “If they shut one or two things out, we have other kids that can step up.”

The junior, Varner, led the TVL in scoring and hit eight 3-pointers in a game earlier in the season and has proven to be consistently lethal from beyond the arc all year.

The Indians’ tough road to a state championship begins on today at 6 p.m. at Moon High School in Moon Township just outside of Pittsburgh.