By Joe Guistina
For The Daily Item
---- — WILLIAMSPORT -- In December, when former Mifflinburg star Katy Fogel, now at Elizabethtown College, met up on the court with Shikellamy's Rachael Scheller and Milton's Ali Derr, both key members of Lycoming College's women's basketball team, all three were trying to help their teams ignite after slow starts.
When they met again on Saturday, there were few hotter teams in the Commonwealth Conference and the game took on a playoff atmosphere inside Lamade Gym, as both teams were in the thick of a seven-team race for five conference playoff spots as the second half of the conference schedule commenced.
Predictably, the game came down to the final moments, with Elizabethtown holding off a charging Lycoming, 52-49, and as could be expected, all three former District 4 stars made their impact known in the game.
Fogel, a starting shooting guard, factored into several categories on the stat sheet, posting four points, five assists and three steals, proving particularly effective during the Blue Jays' opening 15-1 run.
"We came out really intense on defense," Fogel said. "We forced some turnovers and then in the second half, I don't know if the break affected us, but Lycoming came out and played really tough."
Derr, a starting forward, posted eight points, seven rebounds and three steals for the Warriors, as she tied the game at 43 with 3:07 left with two free throws. Scheller, the Warriors' starting point guard, added six points and five rebounds, scoring four points in the final 10 seconds to try and lead the Warriors to the comeback win.
However, Elizabethtown stayed red hot, as it has been since the first meeting with Lycoming, a 70-62 loss, turning a 1-6 start around by winning eight of its last nine to move into fourth in the Commonwealth with a 6-4 record, two games ahead of fifth-place Lycoming.
Fogel helped spark the Blue Jays' turnaround, scoring 15 points in the first run during the run against Hood and adding 16 in a victory over Albright. Her versatility is evident, as she is third on the team in scoring (7.1), leads the team in assists (2.5) and is second with 12 blocks.
"I've been playing against Katy since the seventh grade," Scheller said. "She's an all-around player. She's taller but can handle like a guard. She's got a nice shot. All the way up from middle school to college, there's always been a big competition between us."
Fogel also acknowledges that decade of competition against each other has led to a deeper knowledge of how each other play.
"Obviously, I've been playing against her a long time," Fogel said of Scheller. "At this point, I'm sure when we play, she tells her team a bit about me and I tell my team a little about her."
For Lycoming, the slow start this season could be attributed to a youth movement. While both Scheller, who leads the Commonwealth Conference in steals and is in the top 10 in assists, and Derr have played large roles in the Warriors' offense this season, 40 percent of the team's scoring has come from a group of five freshmen.
That youth movement started to play dividends last week, when the Warriors posted two-point wins over Stevenson and Albright, propelling the team into fifth-place in the conference standings despite a 4-11 overall mark.
"We're excited to be in the mix," Derr said. "We just need to keep our heads to get that fifth spot. We have a chance, and if we work hard against the other teams we have to play, we'll have it no problem."
Scheller, a team captain, has become a key component in the team's resurgence during conference play, and her leadership has also contributed to the freshmen's rapid development. Scheller is fourth on the squad with 5.9 points per game and she entered Saturday's play the league leader in steals (3.1).
"Rachael, in high school, was always a 3-point shooter and penetrator," Derr said. "She created plays and she continues to do that with us."
Derr had an auspicious start to her sophomore year, as an ankle sprain kept her from the rotation for the season's first three games. She returned to the lineup against Alvernia with an 8-point game and has since entrenched herself in the starting lineup. She is fifth on the team in scoring (5.7) and third in rebounding (3.9), while her eight blocks are second on the squad.
"Her rebounding is very important to our team," Scheller said of Derr. "She brings a lot of energy to the court. I tell you what — she is a forward, but she has the shot of a guard. That helps us sometimes because she has more range than most forwards do."
Now, as both teams head into the final eight games of the conference slate, it's still anyone's game. At the end of league play on Saturday, four teams are within three games of the fourth and fifth playoff slots. Of course, that means you can't rule out another showdown between the District 4 stars during the first round playoff game on Monday, Feb. 18, and that's OK with Scheller.
"If we can finish out some more games," Scheller said, "and win by two points instead of lose by three like we did the last two, it'd be nice to pull off fifth-place and go down to Elizabethtown and play them a third time."