Derry girls basketball ends 7-year postseason drought
Derry girls basketball coach Rich Zemba said he told his players at the start of the year that he thought they could make the playoffs, and they looked at him like he had two heads.
It was an understandable reaction, given the team won just two section games last year and four games overall.
“I just said that with our experience, we could upset some teams,” said Zemba, now in his third season.
He was right.
The Trojans (8-12, 7-6) are in fourth place in Section 3-AAA and have clinched a WPIAL playoff berth, ending a seven-year postseason drought.
“I’m not sure it’s really hit me,” junior Rachel Garris said. “It doesn’t seem real that we’re going to the playoffs.”
Despite a 4-15 overall record last season, Zemba said they lost a handful of games that could have gone either way. Derry lost to Uniontown twice, once by seven points and the other by just four. The Trojans were leading by one point at Mt. Pleasant late in the fourth quarter only to have the Vikings go on a run and win the game 55-46.
“We didn’t know how to win last year,” Zemba said. “They were young. We still have three sophomores in the starting lineup, but they got a lot of playing time last year as freshmen.”
This season, the experience paid off when they went to Uniontown on Dec. 15 and beat the Red Raiders, 54-52, at the buzzer.
After they built up a 4-2 section record, Zemba said he knew they had a shot at the postseason.
“I told them if you win the same four games and we can go 8-4, you have a chance at getting in,” he said.
On Jan. 15, the team suffered a big loss when senior forward Katerina Hamerski endured a season-ending knee injury in a 56-34 loss to Mt. Pleasant. Instead of letting that be a negative, however, the team has used it as motivation.
“From here on out, it’s for Kat,” senior Madison DeLuca said.
The Trojans won their next three games, including a 55-45 win Jan. 26 over Greensburg Salem, which beat Derry by 41 points when they first met Dec. 22.
“After that they weren’t cocky, but they were just like, ‘Wow, we can do this,’ ” Zemba said. “Now we’re officially in and just getting in is where we wanted to be. We know the first-round game will be tough.”
Derry still is focused on the remainder of the regular season, although Tuesday’s loss to Latrobe was its third in a row. The thrill of making the playoffs is undeniable, however, and so is the hope to prove themselves on a bigger stage.
“Everybody takes us kind of lightly, you kind of feel like Derry is known as a joke and it’s been like that for a while,” DeLuca said. “It’s kind of aggravating and frustrating. But there’s something different about this year. It’s exciting. It’s something new.”
Karen Price is a former freelancer.