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A year ago Maisie Neuber was a good player, on a good Northeast Bradford team.

This year, Neuber has taken things to a different level.

The junior has exploded on the scene, leading the NTL at 18.9 points a game, more than a point a contest more than anyone else in the NTL.

“This season has been amazing so far,” Neuber said. “My team and my coaches are incredible. It’s fun to go out every game with my teammates with the intensity that we all bring along with the support of my coaches. It’s also been fun for me to watch my teammates, especially Kayleigh (Thoman) and Alena (Beebe), to gain more and more confidence each game.”

For Neuber she attributes a lot of her improvement this year to her dad.

“Honestly, I am surprised,” Neuber said by the steps she’s taken this year. “I have been much more confident with my shooting this year, and that has helped me tremendously. I have also been rebounding more to get those second chance points. Our team this year has been more fast paced, and this has helped me create more opportunities as well.

“My dad has been the main influence in my confidence this year. He has helped push me out of my comfort zone and helped me realize the kind of player that I am. He is my biggest supporter on and off the court.”

NEB coach Ben Beebe has seen how far Neuber has come this season.

“Maisie has really developed this year,” he said. “She was very good last year and has turned it up this year. WE are running offensively more her style of play this year, which is bringing out her athletic ability even more.

“Maisie is a very smooth player. I, as a coach, don’t even realize how many points she has at the end of the night until I look. It looks effortless sometimes.”

Beebe has seen that new confidence in Neuber’s shooting.

“She has more confidence in her outside shot this year,” Beebe said. “Which is really making her a much more dynamic player. Last year she was more of a drive only kid, and this year if you leave her open she will hit the outside shot.”

That improved confidence in her outside shot has helped Neuber hit 13 threes for the Panthers this season.

“I have definitely worked more on my outside shooting,” Neuber said. “With our team being more guard oriented, I’ve had to play as a post and a guard. With that being said, I’ve also been focusing more on my post moves and rebounding.”

While she has worked on improving her shooting, Neuber has also relied a lot on her athleticism this seaon.

“It has helped me a great amount,” Neuber said. “I’ve been trying to use my size to my advantage. Granted, I am not the tallest. I have been blessed to learn how to be a guard, as well as a post player. Not only me, but my team has been learning to play all five spots on the court, which will help with everyone’s offensive and player development.”

While Neuber has taken her offensive game to another level, it’s the play of some of her teammates as well that has helped the Panthers win their second straight NTL small-school crown.

“My offensive game is definitely stronger than last year,” Neuber said. “But, I have just been doing what I need to do to help my team the best I can. We have been playing more unselfish basketball this year, and that has helped not just me, but my entire team to create more opportunities on the offensive end. When we have an open drive or an open shot, we take it.”

That confidence in her teammates is one of the things that Beebe thinks is really helping Neuber grow as a player. And, the play of her teammates, makes Neuber that much harder to defend.

“She has a lot of confidence in her teammates, so that takes some pressure off,” he said. “She doesn’t feel that she needs to score every time, so that helps her offensively. She is a mismatch for anyone, big or small. You can’t take a play off if you are guarding her. It’s her energy that is the mismatch for people, she never stops.”

That energy and effort is something that Neuber tries to bring every time she takes the court.

“We have been stressing this year that everyone needs to give 100% every game,” Neuber said. “Coach Ben says, ‘you don’t quit when you are tired, you quit when you are done.’ This has been our team’s motto. Day in and day out we give our best effort.

“Kayleigh (Thoman) has really stepped up and has been playing incredible defense. Lauryn (Jones) and Alena (Beebe) are incredible shooters and passers. Julia (Brown) and Kate (O’Connor) are big roles in rebounding. Even our freshmen have stepped up and shown they belong on the court in varsity games. I wouldn’t be the player I am today without my teammates.”

Beebe doesn’t see a limit on how good Neuber can get before she finishes high school.

“Next year will be even more growth because of the younger players around her are going to get that much better as well,” Beebe said. “She is such a team player when your team is doing well, that helps her. Teams can’t only just concentrate on her because the other players on the team will burn you. Hopefully, we will get an offseason this year. Looking forward to a great end of the year, there is no limit to how good she will get, she is a worker and makes everyone around her better.”

The future is kind of scary for Neuber, as she knows she has just one more year left after this with the Panthers. However, she is excited to see what the team can do the rest of next year, and through next season.

“I only have one more season of high school basketball, and it is definitely scary to think of the future,” Neuber said. “I don’t know what the future holds for me as a player, however I do know that valuable lessons I have learned about communication and teammork will stay with me my entire life. With that being said, I am excited to see what the future holds for me and my teammates.

“I believe that we will have a good program for the next several years. Everyone on the team this year is an incredibly hard worker. Granted, there is always room for improvement for everyone. As long as everyone stays focused and keeps playing unselfishly, I think that our team will be a lot of fun to watch in the next several years. As for the players this year, especially Kayleigh and Alena, I am excited to see what they can do in the future. They have incredible potential and they get better every single game.”

A FORCE IN THE PAINT

When you have one of the most gifted players in the NTL in Paige Manchester. And you have Porschia Bennett, who may be the most athletic player in the league. It’s easy to get overlooked.

Erin Barrett isn’t Towanda’s leading scorer.

She isn’t necessarily the player that teams focus their entire defense to stop.

What Barrett has been is as valuable as any player on Towanda’s team.

When the Black Knights beat Athens in a key NTL showdown, it was Barrett who dominated the game inside.

In the win over Athens Barrett had a double-double and led all scorers with 19 points. She had 11 of those points in the final quarter of the win.

It was hardly the only time Barrett took over a game this year.

Barrett had a double-double in the win over NP-Liberty and she averages nearly 10 points a game, while leading the Black Knights in rebounds.

“ We are extremely proud of how Erin has just stayed the course in what we are trying to do as a team and as a program,” Towanda coach Rob Gentile said. “She often times gets overlooked at how dominant she can be and as the season is starting to wind down and each game gets more and more important for us, she is reasserting herself as the great player we all know she is. I think we all saw that particularly in the last Athens game. Coach (Brian) Miller (of Athens) said it best, ‘she took over in the 4th quarter and just refused to lose and was the difference for us in that game.’ She is a very physical athlete that always gives everything she has and is also a very emotional player. Erin is her toughest critic and we have worked really hard at getting her to focus on what’s ahead and not the play before, the quarter before, or the game before. She has done a great job of focusing on the little things that helps us win games. She is really a centerpiece of what we try to do offensively and defensively.”

While she has really shined on the court, it’s how she has stepped up as a leader that stands out to Gentile.

“Her biggest improvement has definitely been becoming much more of a vocal leader,” Gentile said. “It was hard for any of them early on, having new coaches with new expectation, and we have been stressing the communication part of the game. Erin has really taken it to heart recently and has really tried to make a concerted effort to always encourage her teammates in any circumstance. She really gives so much to her team each and every day.”

As the coaching staff has seen more and more what Barrett can do, she is starting to take on a bigger role for the Black Knights.

“Her recent effectiveness really stems from one thing, her coaches finally started to get a little smarter and realized they have a great player that they weren’t using effectively,” Gentile said. “There has been a very large effort in the limited practices we have of starting to run our offense through her, especially against a zone. She has the unique ability to spin and get to the rim and finish plays!. Early on we were settling and taking quick shots. Her teammates are really focusing on moving the ball and being a little more patient in an effort to take advantage of her abilities. She’s also a very good passer out of the post, so it creates some better looks and easier opportunities for outside shots.

“Any player is going to be much more effective and successful when they are extremely confident and will be even more successful when they know their teammates have confidence in them too. Erin’s confidence right now is through the roof because she knows her teammates and coaches believe in her and I think that is key for her right now. She knows we have to have her at her best if we have any chance to win big games, so it’s great to see her confidence grow at this time of the year because we have some really big games coming up soon that we have no chance of winning without her playing at a very high level.”

Playing on a team that likes to press, and run, it’s easy to overlook a dominant post player. But, Gentile knows how important she is to everything Towanda does.

“Erin has been a consistent player in this league for a long time,” Gentile said. “She sometimes gets overlooked in her team’s success because of the style we often play, and the style they have played for a long time. When we are out pressing and trapping and pushing the pace in transition, she doesn’t get involved in that part of it too much, so she gets overlooked, but people don’t realize how often she is directly involved in some of those plays. A majority of our runouts come off her rebounds, and she is a really good passer up the floor. She never passes the ball behind her and she also has the ability to put the ball on the floor to advance it as well. She is also the anchor in most of those presses and is our last line of defense when things break down. There has to be a lot of trust in that person to do many of the things we like to do defensively, and we have that trust in Erin.”

Barrett becoming more and more off an offensive force the past couple weeks has made the Towanda girls that much harder to plan for and stop.

“I tell the kids all the time if we don’t use everybody than we aren’t that hard to defend regardless of the offense we run,” Gentile said. “Any coach can scheme to stop one or two players, but it’s very difficult when you have five on the floor that can score. We have seen a lot of zone throughout the year, which is the smart play when you are trying to defend two dynamic athletes like Paige and Porschia. In a zone you always have 5 defenders playing the man with the ball and Paige and Porschia have the ball in their hands a lot. Lately we have been much more successful against the zone because we have started to use everybody, especially all of our post players. Gracie Schoonover has had some nice games of late and Kennadie Packard and Ally Hurley have done a really nice job for us inside. Not only has it opened up some driving opportunities for Paige and Porschia but it has also created open looks for Amanda Horton, Ally Hurley and Bella Hurley. Ironically, in the past 2 or 3 games their confidence has grown tremendously and are starting to shoot the ball really well also.”

A DOUBLE-DOUBLE MACHINE

Before the season the Wellsboro Hornets lost their leading scorer from last year as Joe Grab left for prep school.

There were some questions about who would lead Wellsboro this year. Who would take over as that primary scorer.

Those questions have been answered as Liam Manning has established himself as a dominant force for the Hornets.

Manning has nine double-doubles this season and averages 17.5 points a game, while averaging over 10 rebounds a contest.

“The biggest improvement in Liam is understanding game situations and not overthinking a situation,” Wellsboro coach Steve Adams said. “He plays a lot in the summer and has gotten stronger. He’s starting to understand how to use his size and body. He handles the ball well, which allows him to be more versatile.”

While there isn’t one player scoring 20+ every night like there was a year ago, the Hornets have spread the wealth a bit more this year, with Manning leading the way.

“The offense we run seems to fit our personnel, and they feel comfortable in what we do. Our team concept has allowed everyone to excel and they are having fun playing our style.”

While Manning has already developed a lot, he’s still and underclassmen with room to get even better.

“Liam is still improving in areas and has a high ceiling,” Adams said. “He hasn’t reached his full potential yet, but is working hard to get there. He is very coachable and is developing his mental toughness which allows for consistency. He is paying attention to detail.”

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

GIRLS: Sidney Tomasso of Waverly has been over 20 points every game she has played this year. The senior has helped the Wolverines get off to a strong start, splitting with IAC power Newark Valley a week ago.

BOYS: Canton’s Isaiah Niemczyk had a career-high 33 points to help Canton pick up a victory over NP-Mansfield.

TEAMS OF THE WEEK

BOYS: The NEB boys stayed red-hot. They picked up huge wins over Wellsboro and Athens recently and have won four of their past five games.

GIRLS: The NEB girls avenged an early season loss to Athens with a victory over the Wildcats last week.