Andrew Robinson (@ADrobinson3)
FRANCONIA — Teya McConnaha is here to help.
Souderton's center helps out defensively, helps out on the glass, helps out scoring and in total, helps her team win by doing all of that. She's done plenty to help herself by not being afraid to get uncomfortable, learn some new skills, play other sports and not settle on limiting what she can do to be a better helper.
Teya McConnaha (above) led Souderton on both ends of the floor in a key Suburban One win over Pennsbury. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)
McConnaha's strong third quarter helped out plenty as Souderton handed Pennsbury its first loss with a 40-34 victory Thursday night in a duel of SOL conference leaders.
"Help defense is my main role," McConnaha said. "If I have to go play a guard, I definitely feel out of position but I'll still do it and play as hard as I can. I just feel a need to be in there helping out as much as I can and I've grown so much as a center to where I'm able to dribble up the floor and shoot 3-pointers, I've never done that before so it's definitely been a crazy year for me."
The 5-foot-11 junior is a three-year varsity player and a two-year full-time starter and in many ways is the keystone to Souderton's rigid defensive structure. Yes, the team has some excellent perimeter defenders, but without a structure of help defense supporting them, it would only go so far.
That's where McConnaha comes in.
Logically, a team's starting center is among their tallest players and usually has the most height among the first five on the floor. McConnaha certainly doesn't tower over any of Souderton's other starters but that actually helps her out because she can stay a step closer to her player on defense while still being in the right spot to serve as the help defender on a drive.
The junior bristled a bit at the notion she might actually be the team's shortest starting player, defiantly stating "I'm taller than Casey [Harter]," but did agree Souderton's collective wingspan and height allows things to work as efficiently as they do on the defensive end.
"With our length, we can do so much more with it," McConnaha said. "We can put our hands out much farther, we can take a step off and still keep our hand up and if we're in help, we can take a step back because our length still allows us to close that space."
In an era where specialization is becoming more prevalent in athletes, McConnaha proudly plays three sports for Souderton and even more, has directly seen each of them positively impact the other two. This past fall, the junior was a stat-stuffing hitter for Souderton's volleyball team and in the spring, she is a pitcher for the softball team.
Basketball is her No. 1 sport and the one she pursues over the summer, playing for the Comets AAU program, but mixing things up with two other sports has unlocked some new tricks on the basketball court.
"This year, I probably put an inch on my vertical just from playing volleyball, and softball, it makes my shoulders stronger and I think playing year-round, I'm just tougher all-around," McConnaha said.
Stepping out of her comfort zone has also paid dividends. While she, Harter and Mikayla McGillian play for the Comets program, all three are on different teams so McConnaha had to find her niche with a group of players she had no previous experience with.
She also didn't want to just be the team's post-up center and asserted herself a little more, even if it felt weird the first couple times she attempted a 3-pointer in a game or took the ball up the floor herself. There was a lot of trial-and-error, with some early air-balls helping to get the right shooting form down and a lot of bouncing the ball in her driveway at home leading to McConnaha being able to have the confidence to dribble in the open floor or help break a press.
"I had the mentality of 'I want to be the guard, I want to play the four,' I tried to get out of the middle but I also still wanted to battle out there," McConnaha said. "I think I can go anywhere I want now. I feel comfortable shooting a three just the same as I do going down low and making a post move.
"I had to learn how other people play but that really helped me too."
Thursday, even with a size advantage against the Falcons, McConnaha needed a little time to get going. The center had just three points at half and while she was rebounding the ball, knew she could be helping more on the offensive end.
She took over for a stretch in the third quarter, scoring on a putback, assisting a 3-pointer then hitting one of her own to lead an 8-0 run that turned a 22-19 halftime lead into a 30-19 Souderton advantage. McConnha ended the quarter with seven points, with her last hoop of the frame helping the hosts to a 10-point lead and wrapped up the game with a team-high 12 points and 11 rebounds.
"I sat there, closed my eyes and imagined the ball going into the basket," McConnaha said. "I think that's what I needed to motivate myself that the ball was going in and to have the confidence to put it in. I couldn't stand there like 'oh, it missed, well it doesn't matter.' It does matter. That could have changed the whole game so that's my mindset."
McConnaha thinks she caught the coaching staff a little bit by surprise when she started making threes when she came back to the team this fall, mostly because she had never done it before, but appreciates the way the coaches have worked her emerging new skills into the fabric of the offense and beyond.
It's also given her something else to help with. Now, if McConnaha sees a teammate down because they missed a shot or tried something new that didn't work, she makes a point to encourage them to keep working at it and to be confident in their ability to play.
"It makes me feel so good about myself and so confident in myself as a player," McConnaha said. "Last year, I was down on myself like 'I can never hit a three, I can't dribble,' so I would never do it. I think they thought I couldn't do it because I would never do it, but now that they've seen me play and go at it, they let me do it and I feel so free and able to go play the way I want."
SOUDERTON 40, PENNSBURY 34
Souderton coach Lynn Carroll had a plan for Thursday's game, but in her eyes, it wasn't so much that plan but her players committing themselves to executing it.
"You can not defend Ava Sciolla one-on-one and we didn't," Carroll said. "You can not say enough about Casey Harter and what she's able to do, but her teammates were also there to help. That was team defense from start to finish."
The SOL Colonial leaders got just enough of everything to withstand a Sciolla-led fourth quarter charge. That included 10 crucial points from sophomore Brooke Fenchel in the first half in a bit of a breakout performance for the first-year varsity player.
During an early stoppage, Carroll told her players they needed to prove it's not only Harter and McConnaha opponents have to worry about, something Fenchel took to heart.
"I've been really struggling to get things off offensively," Fenchel said. "I wanted to come into this game with confidence and make big plays because this was one of our biggest games this season. I wanted to have an impact on the game, defensively too, trying to shut down my player but also help out on Sciolla."
Sciolla battled all game and nearly willed the Falcons back when she went on a personal 8-2 run to open the fourth quarter that whittled Souderton's lead to 36-32 with 3:24 to play. The University of Maryland recruit ended with a game-high 18 points and 12 rebounds and several times scored through quite a bit of contact on difficult shots.
"She played a great game tonight, she battled, she hustled, I was very impressed," McConnaha said of Sciolla. "My mindset is just helping anybody and everybody I can and if they shot a three over me, so what. It was either take away that one three or I helped so much that I could stop so much more."
Souderton has won seven in a row and picked up its 10th win of the season Thursday night. Despite that, Carroll still thinks her team has yet to play its best game.
"Team defense is one of the biggest things in our program and one of the main things we practice," Fenchel said. "We strive and push for that so much, if there's no help defense, you're not going to win the game. As teammates, we're there to help each other and be there when we need backup."
Souderton: 12 | 10 | 12 | 6 || 40
Pennsbury: 8 | 11 | 5 | 10 || 34
S: Teya McConnaha 12, Brooke Fenchel 10, Grace McDonough 6, Casey Harter 5, Erin Bohmueller 5, Mikayla McGillian 2
P: Ava Sciolla 18, Nicole Pompili 8, Layla Matthias 3, Daniella McDonald 3