READING — What could Cumberland Valley be?
That was the question at the beginning of the 2018-19 girls basketball season. Coming off an 8-14 campaign but flush with budding talent, the Eagles’ destiny this season was far from known.
Now it is.
Cumberland Valley is once again a District 3 champ.
The Eagles won their fourth title in program history Friday night, beating Dallastown 33-27 in an entertaining defensive slugfest at Reading’s Santander Arena.
The gold medals are the first an Eagles team has worn since 2015, the Katie and Kelly Jekot years. No player on this year’s roster had won a district or state title after winning five of them during a three-year stretch that ended in 2016.
“This feels great,” said senior co-captain Linda Leitzel, who had two points and two rebounds. “I feel like [Kennedy Kuffa and I] really led this team, and getting the gold really feels good.”
“It feels awesome knowing that [all the work] paid off, because we’ve been working both in the gym and outside the gym on our team chemistry,” said fellow senior captain Kuffa, who had 10 points and three boards.
It’s now the third title the Jekot family owns, this one belonging exclusively to third child Julie. The sophomore, who grew up watching big sisters Katie (St. Joseph's) and Kelly (Villanova), scored five points, including two crucial free throws in the fourth quarter minutes after she twisted her ankle.
“It’s honestly an amazing feeling,” said Julie, who said she believed Katie came to Reading to watch. “And I never experienced this before, so now I understand what they went through, and I can relate to them.”
She said both sisters sent encouraging messages this week and reminded her “I know how to play basketball, so just do what I gotta do.”
Head coach Bill Wolf has helmed the last three of CV’s four championships — the first was in 2002.
All year he hoped his charges could get to this point, but he was as curious as the rest of the outside world to see if things would play out this way. Unlike his previous two titles at CV, this one came after an 8-14 season with little to no outside expectations.
“I was saying to Coach [Phil Gillis] at the end of the game during the medal ceremony, ‘You know what? They’re all so special, and you hate to say this one was more meaningful,’” Wolf said. “But I said, ‘This one is pretty special.’”
— Jake Adams (@jakeadams520) March 2, 2019
The top-seeded Eagles (22-4) rode the backs of their two senior leaders Kuffa and Leitzel, a pair of goofy friends who mesh well together, and the defense the program prides itself so much on.
To hear Linda Leitzel tell it, Kennedy Kuffa has a propensity for bad sports clichés.
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The Wildcats (No. 2, 24-3) were held to 12-of-32 shooting, only managing double-digit shot attempts in a quarter in the final frame when things got desperate.
Against the lightning fast D’Shantae Edwards and the long Aniya Matthews and Samantha Miller, the Eagles impressed.
Edwards led the game with 11 points, but she was silenced for nearly 15 minutes straight, including the entire second quarter. And while Matthews and Miller combined for five blocks, on offense they were limited to just four points apiece.
“That’s kind of what the program is all about,” Wolf said. “We’ve had some really good offensive players, but the core is the defense — it’s what we practice most in practice. We believe that’s what’s gonna win these games.”
Wolf originally tasked Leitzel with defending Edwards, with the plan to switch to Kuffa when Leitzel needed a breather. But that was quickly scrapped when Leitzel picked up two early fouls and had to sit.
Great move by Leitzel, breaking down Teyral off the dribble before slicing to the rim. Gives @CVSDeagles a 15-11 halftime lead here at Santander.— Jake Adams (@jakeadams520) March 1, 2019
Those are Leitzel's first points tonight. pic.twitter.com/ViPyIYB6Ei
Kuffa switched over and impressed over the next few minutes, enough so that Wolf stayed with the matchup for longer than he anticipated. In the second half, the pair took turns guarding Edwards, who did more of her damage in transition rather than in half-court sets.
“She’s really fast,” Leitzel said. “Our plan was just lay back off of her.”
“Trust with everybody else, trust with communication,” Kuffa said.
Edwards opened the game with a close-up bucket, but CV responded with a Jekot 3 and a Hannah Sauve bucket in close. The Eagles never trailed after that, although D-town did tie it later in the first.
Sauve was steady on both ends of the court, scoring 10 points and gathering nine rebounds.
CV steadily built a lead in the second quarter as it held the Wildcats to just five field goals in the opening half. The 15-11 halftime lead felt like a 10-point lead.
That stretched out to 23-13 after three quarters as that defensive effort steadily picked up.
.@KylieHolcomb22 scoops it up lefty style and @CVSDeagles heads into the fourth up 23-13. Defense has gotten better with each quarter.— Jake Adams (@jakeadams520) March 2, 2019
Dtown didn't get a shot off in the final second. pic.twitter.com/PMt71wAKSn
To D-town’s credit, its defense was nearly as good. The Wildcats held CV to 12-of-38 shooting and didn’t allow a single offensive rebound in the first quarter.
The Eagles now have a week to prepare for the PIAA Class 6A tournament, against an as-yet-determined opponent. According to CV athletic director Mike Craig, the game will be at Mechanicsburg High School.
Notes: According to CV’s coaching staff, the Eagles opened the season with a tri-scrimmage with Palmyra and Lancaster Catholic. All three teams won District 3 titles this week. … Both teams had nearly identical stats: 28-23 D-town won on rebounds, CV had six assists to the ‘Cats five and had two steals to their three. And both teams had 12 turnovers. Neither team had a steal until the second half. … Dallastown went 0-for-4 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, finishing just 1-for-7 on the game.
Correction: Due to an editorial error, it was incorrectly stated in a previous version of this story that Katie Jekot is attending Villanova and Kelly Jekot is at St. Joseph's. It is the opposite. The Sentinel regrets this mistake.
Email Jake Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jakeadams520
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