The 2017-18 season was the first losing season for Cumberland Valley girls basketball since the first year head coach Bill Wolf took over in 2010-11.
Between those two years, the Eagles ripped off a record of 151-35, winning three straight state titles and dominating central Pennsylvania and national competition along the way.
While it’s far too early to declare the 2018-19 Eagles at that same level, it is very clear CV is once again a serious threat in District 3 Class 6A and perhaps beyond.
At 14-1 (12-0 Commonwealth), the Eagles are one of just three Mid-Penn teams with two losses or less, joining Keystone leader Bishop McDevitt (18-0, 11-0) and Capital frontrunner Trinity (16-2, 10-0).
For Wolf, a turnaround was expected after last season’s 8-14 finish, but to what degree was uncertain.
“To be [14-1], from 8-14, that’s a big step. I was thinking we were gonna have a pretty good year,” Wolf said Thursday in a phone call. “You couldn’t really predict this [last year] because we were 8-14 and we never really had a chance to see what we [could be].”
That’s because Kennedy Kuffa was lost for much of her junior year. Wolf said he thinks the Eagles could’ve been a few wins better and made the playoffs if she had played all year. Instead, all he can look at now is the improvements the team has made with her back in the picture full-time and a young roster that gained valuable experience a year ago, making the necessary strides in the offseason to lead to this.
As is typical for a Wolf-led squad, the Eagles are a nightmare to score against, allowing less than 35 points a game.
“Kennedy Kuffa is really our best defensive player. And the thing is, she can match up on so many different people depending on the position they play because of her size,” said Wolf, who has Linda Leitzel to slow point guards and Hannah Sauve to send against an opponent’s big.
“[Defense is] a skill, like shooting or any other skill. The more you practice it, the better you get at it.”
They win low-scoring games with an offense that doesn’t have a double-digit scorer. Sophomore Julie Jekot averages 9.6 points at guard, Kylie Holcomb (junior) averages 8.6, Abbie Miller (sophomore) is at 7.4, Kuffa contributes 6.9 and Sauve (junior) checks in with 5.9.
Recent CV juggernauts had Katie and Kelly Jekot, who are both excelling in Philadelphia at St. Joseph’s and Villanova, respectively. Different players, but both were more than capable scorers.
The Eagles don’t have a dominant player quite like that at present. Julie is neither of those players — at least not yet — a sophomore with her own unique skill set. She is not the take-over-a-game scorer Kelly was, but she can run the offense well. It has only helped having years to watch her older sisters in the same system.
“She’s different than Kelly, she’s different than Katie,” Wolf said. “The thing is with Julie, she’s a heck of a worker [in the gym and in the weight room].
“She’s not riding on the coattails of her sisters, she is forging her own path. … She’s not cutting corners at all, so you gotta really respect her for that.”
She also doesn’t have to be the centerpiece. That is Kuffa, a leader who provides scoring, rebounding and all the on-court intangibles Wolf loves.
Wolf enjoys the process of a season as much as the result. Right now he’s having fun coaching this current group, a defensive-minded, hard-working bunch.
But it has become clear, at No. 1 in the District 3 Class 6A power rankings entering Monday, the Eagles are looking like a legitimate threat in the postseason once they wrap up the Commonwealth — CV holds a three-game lead over Altoona (11-5, 10-3) with four division games left.
They have the collegiate talent similar to those state championship squads of recent history. Julie Jekot has an offer from Fordham, and Wolf expects more to come. Miller is being courted by Lehigh and Lafayette, Sam Murphy is a verbal commit to St. Francis field hockey, and Holcomb is getting interest from all three NCAA divisions, including St. Francis. Kuffa is eyeing Elizabethtown or Lebanon Valley College, and Sauve and Leitzel have received looks, Wolf said.
But the time is coming to turn the building hype into playoff success.
“I think we definitely are right there in the mix,” Wolf said. “If you take a look at the top teams in the district … maybe you could go further than the Top 8, but I think any of the Top 8 teams are pretty balanced and have a legitimate shot.
“I think it’s wide open, but the way we’re playing right now, we have to be included in the mix.”
Where they rank
A quick look at playoff-contending area teams in the District 3 power rankings as of Monday afternoon:
- Class 6A (12 teams qualify): Cumberland Valley (No. 1), Cedar Cliff (3).
- 5A (16): Mechanicsburg (9), Shippensburg (18).
- 4A (10): Big Spring (7).
- 3A (6): Trinity (2), Camp Hill (7).
- 1A (10): Harrisburg Academy (14).
Games to check out
Here are some upcoming battles the next two weeks worth watching if you can:
- Tuesday: Central Dauphin at Cumberland Valley, 7:30; Bishop McDevitt at Mechanicsburg, 7:30; Big Spring at Northern, 7.
- Friday: Big Spring at Boiling Springs, 7:30; Bishop McDevitt at Cedar Cliff, 7:30; Steel-High at Trinity, 7:30.
- Saturday: Parkland at Cumberland Valley, 3.
- Feb. 5: Northern at Boiling Springs, 7:30; West Perry at Camp Hill, 7:30; Mechanicsburg at Cedar Cliff, 7:30.
- Feb. 6: Chambersburg at Shippensburg, 7:30.
- Feb. 8: Cumberland Valley at Altoona, 7:30.