North Xtra: A strong returning nucleus has Deer Lakes optimistic

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What the Deer Lakes girls basketball team lacks in size, it also lacks in depth.

But the Lancers are hoping they can more than make up for both perceived disadvantages with the experience they return in the trio of seniors, guard Rebecca Babincak and twin sisters, Nichole Kearns, a point guard, and guard/forward Danielle Kearns.

The trio has been integral parts of the past two seasons when Deer Lakes is a combined 38-9 with back-to-back WPIAL playoff appearances.

Babincak is a returning all-section player. She is one of the top scorers in Class AA with the ability to score from the outside or by driving to the basket.

"She has the quickest first step [of any player] I have had the opportunity to coach," Deer Lakes coach Dana Petruska said. "She can hit the 3 or she can take you to the hole, slashing to the basket. You can't just sit inside and take away her driving game because she will make that jumper. And you can't pressure her too much because she has that quick first step."

The Lancers will need all the scoring they can get from Babincak and the Kearns twins.

As Petruska puts it, "We are thin in numbers and short in stature. We only have 13 total players [varsity and JV] and my tallest players are 5-8 or 5-9, depending on what shoes they are wearing."

At 5 feet 8 Danielle Kearns will play a guard/forward position while 5-8 senior Hope Schreiber will start at the other forward position.

Despite the low numbers, Petruska is pleased with the quality.

"We only have 13 girls but all of them can play, which is nice," Petruska said. "The problem is a lack of experience, that is going to hurt."

Deer Lakes opens its regular season in the Springdale Tip-off Tournament on Dec. 7 when it faces section rival Apollo-Ridge. The game will not count as a section game. Along with the host team, Knoch is the fourth team at the tournament. The championship and consolation games will be played the following day.

Deer Lakes will open section play on Dec. 17 at Ford City. Over the past two seasons Deer Lakes is 26-2 in section play. Its only two section losses during the past two years came against Elderton, a school that is no longer open. The Elderton players are now split between Ford City and West Shamokin.

"Our Elderton losses were wakeup calls," Petruska said. "We are looking forward to the [West Shamokin and Ford City] games, but I can honestly say they get ready for every game. It doesn't matter who they are playing."

Babincak and the Kearns twins have been playing together since the third grade at East Union Intermediate School. They are as experienced as they are versatile.

Babincak won a WPIAL title with the Deer Lakes softball team in the spring. She is being recruited to play both basketball and softball at college. On a recent college visit to Point Park University she had a chance to visit with the softball and basketball coach.

The Kearns twins played soccer in the fall for Deer Lakes. Nichole plans on playing basketball in college while Danielle is looking to play soccer at that level.

"We have played together since the third grade and honestly we have never been tall," Babincak said. "We kind of just rely on our speed."

Junior guard Christine Grzybek will also start for Deer Lakes this season.

"This is a pretty talented group," Petruska said. "It is a pretty athletic group, too, and they are pretty tough kids. Our section I categorize as blue-collar kids, kids in our section are hard workers and tough-nosed kids. I have been really blessed to have those kids on my team."

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