LORETTO - On paper, this was hardly a sure thing, but, if you talked to any of the Hollidaysburg Lady Tigers since last year, you could have seen Wednesday night's convincing 71-53 District 6 Class AAAA championship game victory coming from a mile away.
This was a terrific team, a two-time district champion already, but one that had an edge to it. The Lady Tigers played Altoona at DeGol Arena with something to prove and one massive chip on their shoulders.
"We had people saying, 'You're a quad-A team playing in triple-A. You should win it,'" Lady Tiger guard Hannah Mercer said. "I was so happy when I found out that in my senior year we were moving to quad-A, because I just wanted to prove those people wrong. We belonged at the top. That's what we showed."
Anyone that hasn't received that message loud and clear by now needs to visit a hearing specialist. Hollidaysburg did just about everything right in beating an Altoona team that starts three eventual Division I college players for the third time this year - it had balance, shot 56 percent from the floor, outrebounded a much taller team by 19 and came up with 12 steals.
Earlier this season, the Lady Tigers knocked off perennial PIAA Class A championship contender Bishop Guilfoyle and its two Division I recruits at the Pleasant Valley gym. Eighteen of their 22 wins are by at least a dozen points.
Of course, that wouldn't have mattered much if the Lady Tigers didn't bring home a district title.
"We've never felt this way about districts before. It's just a whole other feeling now that we're quad-A," said 6-foot post player Morgan Griffith, who leads the Lady Tigers in scoring for the season but was fourth on the team in point production on Wednesday night. "I think we just wanted to go out and show everybody that didn't think we could do it."
In doing that, capturing the program's fifth district title and first in Class AAAA since 1991, this year's Hollidaysburg team built a place for itself among the greatest Lady Tiger squads of all-time. It merits inclusion with the names like Colabrese, Webber and Heinbaugh that stood out on the 1989 and '91 6-AAAA champion teams.
But, where those teams had future Division I college players, this team has a couple of Division II signees - Griffith and point guard Alexia Servello - and another senior in Susie Ellis who might play at that level as well. Mercer is going to college to play softball.
It's definitely a group with some talented individuals, but the whole looks even better than the sum of its parts.
"The togetherness of the team factored in a whole lot," Griffith said. "I've never been closer to a team in my whole entire life. I think that's what it comes down to."
It all was woven together by Deanna Jubeck and her coaching staff. Jubeck is an Altoona product, but she said that didn't give her any added motivation to beat her alma mater to win the district title.
"I'm the Hollidaysburg coach. That's what I was hired to do," Jubeck said. "We were hired to take our kids as far as we could take them. When we took over three years ago, we decided this is what we were going to make a precedent: to make it to the district championship game and give it all we've got."
Jubeck had to find a way to mesh transfers Servello and Morgan Jennings in with an otherwise proven nucleus this season. Servello was in a very unusual situation on Wednesday, having won 6-AAAA championships the last two years with Altoona.
Although she often heard it from the Lady Lion fans, she said she didn't have any special motivation to beat her old team, either.
"It's just like playing any other team. No big deal. I had fun," Servello said.
Servello did admit, though, that winning the championship was a great feeling. Of course, that's to be expected. But the Lady Tigers not only won the trophy, they managed to do it against the program that so often has kept them in the shadows, and, in the process, they managed to prove something.
"This victory is sweeter than anything I have felt in my entire life," Mercer said.
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.