Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)
Kylie Lavelle and Moriah Murray have been sharing the same basketball court since elementary school; the situation determines if they are playing as opponents or teammates.
Lavelle is from Moosic, Murray from Dunmore; both towns are located in Lackawanna County, just outside Scranton. When the high school season rolls around, they suit up as crosstown foes.
“Since we were little we’ve been playing against each other,” Lavelle said about Murray. “Our towns are really close. We always played each other.”
Moriah 'Mo' Murray has developed a reputation as a high-scoring guard. (Photo: Neil Rinaldi/CoBL)
“I go to Dunmore, she goes to Riverside — that’s our rival school, basically,” Murray said. “Every year it is such a big game going at it with her.”
On the grassroots circuit, the close friends have played on the same NEPA Elite team most of their basketball lives. They’re looking forward to no longer being foes, which will happen at the college level as Lavelle and Murray have both committed to Drexel.
Murray has been playing basketball since she was two or three, always looking up to her two older sisters, Ashley and Courtney, who played at D-III Marywood. The younger “Mo” was exposed to the game she loves early.
Kylie Lavelle played both basketball and softball as a kid and by the sixth grade, softball was out of the picture; it was all hardwood from that point on.
Both mentioned the sound infrastructure of basketball in the Lackawanna County area even before junior high. Murray said they started “going at each other” in Small Fry and then Biddy leagues in the area for young basketball players to join before the junior high and varsity levels.
The 6-foot-2 Lavelle has developed into a jack-of-all-trades forward, possessing the ability to do pretty much anything on the court. Seemingly never noticing pressure, Lavelle can pass, dribble and shoot. She doesn’t force anything and is tenacious on the boards and defensively, notably blocking shots and clogging passing lanes. The rising senior can seal her defender in the post and has good footwork to score after she gathers the entry pass.
During the high school season, Lavelle occasionally plays point guard and switches over to the ‘3’ or ‘4’ when playing AAU. Overall, winning is her main objective, not statistics.
“I only take open shots and drive to open things up for my teammates,” Lavelle said. “I focus on trying to get my team to score, not just myself. I can do pretty much anything, it depends what team I’m on. Whatever players we have on the team I’ll play to their strengths.”
The 5-9 Murray is a sharpshooting combo guard who made her presence known on the state level as an underclassman. As a freshman, she and the Lady Bucks upset four-time defending PIAA Class 3A champions Neumann-Goretti and junior Diamond Johnson (now at NC State) 54-47 in the quarterfinals. Murray had 27 points, including six 3’s. Her reputation as a sniper had begun.
“[Shooting] definitely is my best asset,” Murray said. “Growing up all of my siblings were good shooters so I took after them. Also Steph Curry out there, I used to watch videos of him all of the time. He’s my favorite player.”
Drexel had seen enough and offered her after her freshman season.
As a sophomore, Murray and the Lady Bucks ran into Johnson and the Saints in the state tournament once again, this time in the second round. An epic battle between Murray and Johnson concluded with Dunmore winning 65-51. Murray made her first six 3-point attempts and finished with 33 points, six rebounds and three assists; Johnson had 35 points, five rebounds and seven steals.
Dunmore — with Murray and current Rider center Victoria Toomey leading the way — won the district title in 2019. Mo and Ciera won it again in 2020 before the season was cut short due to COVID.
Across town, Lavelle was doing her own thing with Riverside, scoring 40 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in a district semifinal loss to Holy Redeemer.
With the pandemic running rampant before their junior seasons, Lavelle and Murray were unsure what the recruiting process would look like. They didn’t know if coaches would be able to come to games and how much more exposure they would get. Lavelle took her only college visit to Drexel in fall 2020.
“When she went down on her first visit, right when she got home she texted me ‘I think I’m about to commit to Drexel,’” Murray said. “Knowing Ky was going was another big part of why I committed.”
Lavelle committed November 8, 2020; five days later, Murray followed suit. Murray also had offers from Binghamton, Northeastern and St. Joe’s. Lavelle had an offer from Lafayette and was in talks with Boston University, Columbia, Delaware, Fordham and Penn.
The proximity to home and ability for family to come watch them play, fit into the system, relationships with coaches and early offers all played a role in their decisions. As did having each other, as the two good friends will room together.
They will play under second-year head coach Amy Mallon, who led the Dragons to a Colonial Athletic Association title and first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009, the program’s second in its history, in her first season as head coach.
A versatile 6-2 forward, Kylie Lavelle (above) has led Riverside to a District 2 3A title. (Photo: Neil Rinaldi/CoBL)
With the commitment out of the way, Murray averaged 16.5 points per game with six assists, five rebounds and three steals as a junior. Dunmore sat out of the 2021 playoffs due to COVID.
Fittingly, Lavelle scored 30 points to lead Riverside to the District 2 Class 3A title in 2021. The Lackawanna Division 3 Player of the Year averaged 22.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 2.0 assists while shooting 56.7 percent from the floor, 36.8 percent on 3-pointers and 83.0 percent from the line at Riverside.
Lavelle garnered first-team All-state selections as a sophomore and junior; Murray could become a four-time, first-team all-state selection after this upcoming season.
The girls touched on the rare amount of talent coming out of Lackawanna County. Seven girls from the Lackawanna League made All-state last season.
“That usually doesn’t happen,” Lavelle said. “It’s just a bunch of small towns.”
The five players alongside Lavelle and Murray from PIAA District 2’s Lackawanna League to be selected first-team All-state were: Scranton Prep seniors Rachael Rose (USC Upstate) and Cecilia Collins (Bucknell), Holy Cross junior Kaci Kranson, Old Forge senior Olivia Ciullo (Susquehanna) and aforementioned sophomore and prized recruit Ciera Toomey.
All seven of the girls have played for the NEPA Elite team that went 4-1 in the Select Events Summer Championships July 20-22 at Manheim’s Spooky Nook.
On Tuesday against Loudon Flight Showcase (Leesburg, Va.), NEPA Elite was down 12 points on two different occasions before they came back and won 48-45 in overtime. Lavelle led the way with 12 points, two blocks and two clutch free throws to tie it with 2:02 left. She almost hit the game-winner at the end of regulation, then scored the go-ahead basket in OT.
Murray did not play in Tuesday’s game as she was dealing with back spasms; she played in Wednesday’s 53-48 victory over Example Sports Wolfpack ( Ill.). Murray had six points, seven rebounds and four assists; Lavelle had 11 points and seven rebounds.
People from Drexel and Scranton aren’t the only ones recognizing the talent coming from Lackawanna County. UConn head coach Geno Auriemma was present at Wednesday’s game, as were eyes from Georgia, Pitt, South Carolina and Villanova, amongst others.
Likely because Murray’s Dunmore teammate Toomey, who leads NEPA Elite in scoring and rebounding, has picked up offers from Baylor, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin in June and July.
“That’s awesome,” Murray said about the represented schools in attendance. “Knowing the coach of UConn was here just blows my mind. Then again you can’t think about who’s at these games when you’re playing because it’ll just make you think more. You just have to go out and play your game.”
Murray leads the team in assists, 3-pointers and is second in scoring. Lavelle is the team’s second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer.
The friends grew their respect for each other through going head-to-head in high school. Their relationship grew through playing together in AAU. Now they will grow together as college roommates and teammates.
“That was never the plan originally,” Lavelle said. “It just happened to work out that way.”