| | 9/14/2008
Nanticokes fab five reminisce
about storybook season
Holly Kozlowski Uzdella can rattle off memories of
her high school basketball career like it was just yesterday.
Uzdella can rattle off memories of her high school basketball career like it was
There are reminders, of course, to help jog her memory, such
as the display of photos and trophies that decorate her fathers barbershop.
Her scrapbooks are also close at hand, should she ever want to reminisce. Or she
could easily go back by popping in the video of Nanticoke Areas state title
Eighteen years have passed, but the memories from 1990, the sights,
the sounds of playing on the greatest girls basketball team from the Wyoming Valley
Conference are still vivid for Uzdella.
One of my favorite memories
is from the Eastern final at Pottsvilles Martz Hall, Uzdella said.
We were playing North Schuylkill and when our names were being announced
for the starting line-up we couldnt hear a thing because the fans were going
crazy. Our coach had to point to us when it was our turn to go out on the court.
It was so amazing how many people were there for us. Its things like that
that will forever be etched in my mind.
Uzdella and fellow senior stars
Ellen Bartuska, Casey Comoroski, Holly Ryncavage and Lori Scally Zaleski, capped
their tremendous undefeated season by winning the 1990 state championship. Along
the way they captured interest from college coaches, bitterness from opponents
and support from basketball fans throughout the Wyoming Valley.
youre young like that you dont realize how big (Nanticoke girls basketball)
was at the time, but Ill never forget the amount of support we had,
Zaleski said. And it wasnt only people from Nanticoke. But the
residents of Nanticoke certainly led the caravan of fans. And, rightfully so.
For four years the Trojanettes dominated the Wyoming Valley Conference and District
2. It wasnt until 1990, however, that Nanticoke finally made it to the big
dance at Hersheypark Arena.
As sophomores, the fab five were eliminated in
the Eastern semifinals by Lancaster Catholic. As juniors, they were sent home
in the same round once again by Lancaster Catholic. As seniors, they made a pact
that the only thing that would bring them home from the state playoffs would be
a victory parade.
There was no way we were going to lose again,
Uzdella said. Coach (Rose) Volpicelli put it in our minds that we were going
to win and she executed the game-plan to get us there. It wasnt a matter
of how we were going to win, it was a matter of how many we would win by.
The Trojanettes storybook season had its fill of villains. Lopsided victories
in favor of Nanticoke angered coaches, opponents and opposing fans. Volpicelli
and her talented group of seniors were often accused of running up the score and
embarrassing their conference foes.
Its so hard when youre
that young because youre always told to do your best, and we were just out
there to play a game the best we knew how, Ryncavage said. We didnt
want to run up the score and we didnt want to embarrass anyone, Comoroski
added. But what do you do when you are trying to get to that (state championship)
Each of the five starters had a scoring cap. As soon as she scored
18 points, whether it was in the first or fourth quarter, she was finished playing
for the night. That was Volpicellis attempt at preventing a rout, but in
most cases Nanticoke came away with a convincing victory.
One of Nanticokes
romps took an interesting turn late in the fourth quarter and woke up an otherwise
quiet crowd. With 99 points on the scoreboard and 38 seconds left on the clock
in a game against Tunkhannock, Nanticokes efforts to keep the game under
100 points were denied thanks to the Tigers.
Tunkhannocks coach at the
time, the late Norm Sisle, called time-out. He waved his players to the bench
and even got parents in on his master scheme. The Tigers had possession when they
returned to the court and, instead of working an offense, their ball handler raced
down to Nanticokes basket and gave the Trojanettes 101 points.
to add insult to injury, the plan didnt run as smooth as the Tigers had
hoped. I remember the girl just took off towards our basket. Uzdella
said. She was all alone but she actually missed the lay-up. She had to get
her own rebound and put it back.
Oh, Ill never forget that
game, added Zaleski. I guess there was some bitterness there. But
the crowd started to cheer. It was kind of funny.
road to gold
continued in the state playoffs. The teams scoring cap was lifted and sitting
out a quarter, or two or three, because of the score was in the past. Finally,
the Trojanettes were putting their hours of intense practices to good use.
Against Strath Haven in the Eastern quarterfinals at Martz
Hall, the Trojanettes poured in 41 points in the first quarter. It was a 41-13
lead that was never threatened.
In the semifinals they
once again met the team that decided their fate the previous two seasons
Lancaster Catholic. I actually think the loss to Lancaster Catholic our
junior year prepared us for what we wanted to do as seniors, Comoroski said.
We were so determined as seniors. There was no way we were going to be stopped
our senior year.
And so the Trojanettes eliminated
their biggest nemesis, and in typical Nanticoke fashion a 45-point victory.
North Schuylkill was Nanticokes next victim. The
result was an 80-60 win which put the Trojanettes one victory away from their
ultimate goal of winning a state title.
unbelievably exciting, Zaleski said. When youre young like that
I dont think you realize how big something like (going to the state final)
really is. I wish I would have taken more time to stop and take it all in.
In the biggest game of their high school careers, against
Beaver Falls, the Trojanettes withstood adversity they rarely had to face over
four years. With just four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Uzdella fouled
out for the first time in her career. Bartuska was playing cautiously as well
with four fouls. And the score was much closer than the Trojanettes were used
But they found a way to prevail.
Renee Pointkowski and Teri Glazin filled in perfectly, while the 5-foot-1 Comoroski
put on a show. She nailed a remarkable 23-of-35 free throws and finished with
The heartbreak from being eliminated in
years past, the negativity that often surrounded the Nanticoke squad, the chemistry
that was built from seventh grade, all came down to this, a 77-67 victory and
a state championship. The Trojanettes smallest margin of victory also served
as their biggest win.
Always a champion
and her fiance Jim Saba recently dusted off the videotape of Nanticokes
championship game. Its been nearly 15 years since Ryncavage watched the
tape, but she doesnt need to see it to remember the excitement that surrounded
that season. She has photos, her gold medal and her varsity jacket. But most importantly,
she has her teammates.
Each of the girls went on to
be successful, and they continue to stay connected through visits, phone calls,
e-mails and, of course, basketball.
at St. Bonaventure, was recently inducted into the colleges hall of fame
and now serves as associate athletic director and senior woman administrator at
Missouri State University. Bartuska starred at the University of Richmond and
earned a degree in biology. She is living in Delaware and has been a zookeeper
at the Philadelphia Zoo for the last 11 years.
was a standout at Lock Haven University. She is married eight years to Chris Uzdella,
has a stepdaughter, Natashja, and works at InterMetro Industries in Wilkes-Barre,
where she is a senior accountant. Zaleski, who was also a state champion in javelin
for Nanticoke, played one season at West Chester University, one season with Luzerne
County Community College and graduated from Temple University. She is married
11 years to Matthew and they have 5-year-old twin boys, Michael and Jacob. She
is a regional director of CareSite Pharmacies and oversees 10 pharmacies in Pennsylvania.
Ryncavage played for a season at LCCC and works for CVS Caremark as a supervisor
of pharmacy technicians.
We definitely still
keep in touch, Zaleski said. And basketball and that season is something
that always comes up.
Were all bonded
by being apart of that team, Uzdella said. Looking back, I think being
on that team helped define me as a person. It helped me set goals, accept adversity
and embrace good times and I think that spills into my life now.
the fab five have moved on from basketball, one question will always remain
will there ever be another team like Nanticoke?
hard to say, Ryncavage said. You have to have five people who are
really committed, really talented and have the same goal in mind.
was such an awesome experience, Uzdella. You can only hope to see
a team like ours again.