Solanco girls basketball coach Chad McDowell, speaking in the preseason: "There is that factor there that we did lose so many players, I think a lot of teams in the league think, well Solanco lost [five seniors, including three starters] and they're not going to be there again. Well I've got news for them. We are going to be there again. We're not rebuilding. We're reloading. We've got the potential here to compete like we have in the other years. I've heard it in distant conversations, 'Well Solanco is not going to be where they were the last two years.' I just sort of smile and say, 'You may be right." But deep down I know we've got the making to have a team just as good as we've had the last two years if we put all the pieces together."
Solanco girls basketball coach Chad McDowell tried to warn the Mules' Section Three opponents.
They finally got the message.
Solanco secured its second straight section title with a 53-46 triumph over host Manheim Central Thursday night, January 30.
"It's awesome," senior guard Jenna Dombach said. "As a starter last year, it re-ignites the feeling that I had then and it's just so much more real now because all the feelings are coming back to me. To be able to win with this group that's just so much different from last year just proves we're a program that can win when we put our minds to it."
In addition to frequently serving as the Mules' primary ball-handler and scoring when needed, Dombach relished the opportunity to take on more of a leadership role this season.
"I think [the section title] means a little bit more [to me] just to know that I was leading this team," said Dombach. "As a captain, as a senior, I loved every one of these girls and I was able to help them and they were able to help me. It was just awesome to be so close with all of them. I really appreciate each one of them."
Dombach delivered eight points and seven assists for the Mules. Jade Eshelman recorded a team-high 14 points to go along with eight rebounds. "We wanted to get Jade touches," McDowell said. "She's been working hard at practice recently with Coach (Kacie) Hershey. She did a nice job being under control. There's been games where she's been a little bit out of control. [Against Manheim Central], she let the emotions settle in and she made some real strong moves to the basket…When it was time to score, she put the ball in the basket. She was key down at the end, even in the press, catching the ball and turning, getting the ball up the court."
Eshelman scored Solanco's first seven points while Barons' sophomore guard Rachel Nolt tallied her team's first nine pointers on three three-pointers.
"I knew it would be physical and they were guarding me up tight so I knew I wasn't going to get a lot of space," Eshelman said. "I kind of took my time. Usually, I'm in a rush. I think I was just in the groove."
Manheim Central led 15-11 at the end of the first quarter. "Nerves, jitters, big game atmosphere," McDowell said of the Mules' somewhat slow start. "But I thought we settled in pretty nicely. We had a couple turnovers. We're known to turn the ball over on the first couple possessions. Then we settle in. [Manheim Central] made a nice run in the beginning. We withstood the run, hung in there, and played good defense."
Nikki Trout spearheaded Solanco's defense by containing Manheim Central freshman sensation Maddie Knier.
"Nikki did an awesome job on Knier, one of the league's leading scorers," said McDowell. "She held her to eight points so that's awesome."
Trout gave credit to her teammates. "It was challenging since she is basically a post player," Trout said. "It was challenging, but Jade and Ilynd [Rapant] and everyone down low helped me. I got around to the front of her and Jade and Ilynd helped me and we knocked her down."
Trailing 16-11, Solanco reeled off eight straight points to take the lead for good. Eshelman and Ilynd Rapant each converted a three-point play sandwiched around a Trout basket.
Solanco freshman Arianna Seiberlich scored her team's last five points of the quarter to give the Mules a 24-21 edge at halftime.
Solanco scored the first six points of the third quarter on baskets by Dombach, Trout, and Eshelman.
"We talked at halftime about the first three minutes of the third quarter," said McDowell. "We knew that was going to be crucial, being up 24-21. We said our goal was to limit their scoring in the first three minutes and get some buckets and we did that. I was very proud of how they responded. We've talked before about the first three minutes and they really stepped up. We stretched the lead to nine and from there we just needed to withstand and push through to the end. Down at the end we were composed at times, but we did have some turnovers. That's part of being the team that we are. We're a young team and there are some people who made mistakes, but we had enough fortitude to hang tight and win the game."
After Manheim Central tallied two straight baskets, Trout hit a couple of free throws and Phillips made a layup following a pass from Dombach to give the Mules a 34-25 edge entering the fourth quarter.
Dombach hit two free throws after a Central technical foul and Rapant added two more to pad the margin to 40-29 with 5:41 remaining. Dombach was 6 for 6 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, 4 for 4 in the final 70 seconds.
Phillips also had a huge fourth quarter for the Mules, scoring seven of her nine points in that period. After the Barons sliced the deficit down to 42-39, Phillips buried a three-pointer with 2:41 left and Eshelman followed with a basket.
"Paige came up big for us in the fourth quarter," McDowell said. "Paige made a huge three from the corner to extend our lead back up after Manheim cut into the lead. Then she had a big breakaway layup against the Manheim press. After having a rough first half with foul trouble and missed shots she stepped up big time in the final five minutes of the game. She is a competitor and never stops competing."
Manheim Central narrowed the gap to three with 1:25 to go and Solanco committed a turnover on the ensuing possession. But Trout knocked the ball away from Knier and Dombach knocked down two free throws. The Mules led by at least five the rest of the way.
Trout collected eight points and four rebounds. Rapant recorded seven points and six rebounds. Alana Yoder chipped in two points and two rebounds and took a couple of turns guarding Knier.
Eshelman, a starter last season, said the experience of playing in big games paid dividends. "Last year, all the seniors knew how to take control," Solanco's junior center said. "I feel like I've learned from that so I could put it toward this game. I knew what it meant to our team, what it meant to our seniors and I felt like we needed it so I just put my all into it…It feels great. I'm really enjoying it. It means a lot to the seniors, which means a lot to me."
Like her coach, Eshelman wasn't surprised the Mules repeated. "I knew it was going to be a different atmosphere this year because of the seniors we lost," said Eshelman. "But I knew that our team would pull together and this was the game that we peaked."
On Saturday, February 8 at 7 p.m., Solanco will host a Lancaster-Lebanon League Tournament quarterfinal contest.
"It means a lot to the school and the program," McDowell said. "A lot of people had us under the radar this year. They said, 'Solanco's going to be down' and I told them, 'No, we're not going to be down and this just proves with heart and a little belief in themselves, these girls could pull through. They did an awesome job this year. It means a lot to me. It means a lot to these seniors. It means a lot to this team. Back-to-back doesn't happen very often in a lot of sports. Section titles are big and we get to play a home game in the first round of the league playoffs so that's even bigger."
Solanco won the JV game 39-24. Kendal Janssen led the Mules with 13 points and Meg Bailey and Jenna Ehlers each supplied six.
Solanco 51, Daniel Boone 19
The Mules breezed in a non-league game Saturday, February 1.
"This was a game where we traveled to Daniel Boone and got the result we expected," Solanco coach Chad McDowell said. "Our goal was to work on some things offensively and defensively and we were able to accomplish just that. We got everyone into the game which provides some good varsity experience for our younger players. Everyone contributed and played well, top to bottom. We got exactly what we wanted out of this game."
Jenna Dombach led the Mules with 11 points (three three-pointers). Paige Phillips registered nine points and two steals. Jade Eshelman collected six points and eight rebounds. Piper Graham contributed five points. Hannah Wood added four points and four rebounds. Angela Cylc had four points, three rebounds, and two assists. Sammi Jackson provided four points and five rebounds. Kendal Janssen supplied three points and three rebounds. Nikki Trout posted two points, seven steals, and three assists.
Solanco won the JV game 43-11.
Meg Bailey led the way with eight points and Piper Graham added six. Arianna Seiberlich and Carely Rose each recorded five.
Solanco 33, Cocalico 24
The Mules remained in first place with a win over visiting Cocalico Tuesday, January 28.
All of Jenna Dombach's 11 points came at critical junctures. Solanco trailed 9-8 before the senior guard scored the last six points of the first quarter on a three-point play followed by a three-point jumper.
"That was a big jump-start," Solanco coach Chad McDowell said. "Jenna really gave us some momentum. [Cocalico] is a scrappy team. They played hard. They play good defense. They scrap. They get loose balls. It was a typical Cocalico-Solanco game. We've been playing like that the last five or six years. We battle, grind it out. That's just the style we play with them."
The Mules led 23-13 at halftime and Dombach scored the first basket of the third quarter. After Cocalico tallied six straight to narrow the gap to 25-19, Dombach drilled a three-pointer to pad Solanco's advantage to nine entering the fourth quarter.
Cocalico playing without its leading scorer, guard Hannah Custer, who injured a knee the previous weekend, was unable to continue its early hot shooting.
"We knew they wouldn't be able to shoot that way especially with Custer, their best player, being out," said McDowell. "Without her there, We knew they only had limited scoring…I thought we played some really good defense giving up only 24 points. That's been our staple all year. Defense, defense, defense. When we play defense, good things happen. Our offense was a little sluggish. We never found the flow, couldn't get anything going, and the defense stepped up and kept us in the game."
Solanco won the JV game 27-23.
Meg Bailey supplied six points to pace the Mules and Kendal Janssen and Arianna Seiberlcih each added three.
Solanco girls basketball JV and varsity vs. Cocalico