Over the last four years, Schuylkill Valley seniors Abby Rea and Cassidy Rittenhouse have played hundreds of games together in the off-season, but most importantly have developed a very special friendship. The girls have played on the same team since 6th grade, and they have become the heart and soul of a basketball program that was struggling, prior to and early in their arrival to high school. As freshmen, the varsity team was 2-20. This year, the team is 14-9, finishing in a three-way tie for the division title and qualifying for district playoffs for the first time since the 2009-2010 season. The senior duo is a key to the resurgence.
Anyone who has been around the SV basketball program can immediately see the impressive bond between Rea and Rittenhouse, and the excellent chemistry on the court. “You know how the other person plays, so it makes it easier,“ says Rea. “You know their tendencies and it makes it a lot more fun playing. You feel confident with a good friend out there.” Rittenhouse adds: “we pass to each other well, because we know where the other one will be.“
Their head coach, Jason Bagenstose, knows what Rea and Rittenhouse have meant to his team: “these are two very special student-athletes. They value their academics and they truly cherish being on a team. Their friendship just makes it even better. Cass and Abby are always positive with each other and with their teammates. They have really helped turn around the attitude and culture of the basketball program.” Off the court, both girls realize how special their friendship is: “It’s great knowing you have a constant teammate, someone you can always trust,” adds Rittenhouse. “It’s nice having someone who understands you as a player and as a person, in school and around friends.” Rea agrees with those sentiments: "it's great having someone to laugh with or talk to during tough times."
Rittenhouse moved to the Schuylkill Valley School District in fifth grade, while Rea has attended SV since kindergarten. Rea remembers Rittenhouse, the "new girl," being in her fifth grade math class, but Rittenhouse has no recollection of it. When it came up in conversation, they both handled it with their normal smiles and laughs. Their sense of humor and cheerful personality have been infectious on a team that gets along very well, on and off the court. Coach Bagenstose is very proud of their leadership and dedication: “These two girls have attended four team camps over the last four off-seasons. Last summer, at University of North Carolina, they had all the players together playing card games in our free time. It was nice to see. The entire team was laughing and having a great time. It put a smile on my face.” This team camaraderie has led to success on the court, and both girls were recently recognized for their strong senior season.
Rea was selected for the All-County Team, after averaging 10.7 points and 9.7 rebounds a game, while playing both in the post and handling the ball. Rittenhouse was named to the All-Division 2 team, after averaging 8.6 points and hitting 32 three-pointers. Both girls said their favorite moments of this season were beating Berks Catholic twice. Rittenhouse loves the moment when her team wins an important game: “The best part is the excitement after big wins, when everyone comes together and is happy for each other.”
When asked about their best individual moment, in typical fashion, instead of giving her own response, Rea actually answered the question for Rittenhouse, drawing a funny look from her teammate: “For Cass, it has to be the dramatic win over Conrad Weiser.” This was the nail-biter win at the end of the season where Rittenhouse nailed a three pointer to tie the game with 4 seconds left and then hit another big three in overtime to secure the win. Coach Bagenstose still beams when thinking about that thrilling game: “A lot of players and coaches don’t get a game like this in their careers; it was such an awesome moment for a great player and a great person.” In typical, humble Rittenhouse fashion, her response was, “Abby, you passed me the ball on that tying shot.” This drew a trademark shrug from Rea and a laugh from Coach Bagenstose: “This is their friendship. They are like two peas in a pod, always laughing and smiling together. Both girls are very laid-back and down-to-earth. They don’t like too much of the individual attention but they are both intense competitors and they are great to all their teammates. It has been so much fun coaching them.”
When asked about their favorite memory off the court, as expected, their response was exactly the same: "hanging out in Coach’s room this season after school on game nights, playing board games and card games with our teammates." This perfectly illustrates how much they love their teammates and cherish being on the basketball team. Coach Bagenstose said their impact has been felt this year but will also be felt for years to come: “Their positive attitudes and warm, caring personalities have been a huge boost to everyone. It has been such a fun season, with those two leading the way.”
Abby Rea and Cassidy Rittenhouse will move on to college next fall. They will no longer see each other every day, but there is no doubt their strong friendship will remain. When they do hang out, they will certainly reminisce about all the amazing memories and relationships they formed in high school. The Schuylkill Valley basketball program is in a much better place, thanks to their special bond and all the laughs and smiles it brought.
This season, the Brandywine girls' basketball team has a unique team member on their roster: a foreign exchange student. Chloe Dekens is from Clermont-Ferrand, France, which is about five hours from Paris. She has played in five varsity games this season, scoring two points on foul shots. Most importantly, she has made new friends and new memories that will last a lifetime and she has provided a new perspective for her American teammates.
Brandywine coach Don Vinciguerra speaks glowingly about Chloe and what she has meant to his team: "Her attitude has been wonderful. She has taught us so much about ourselves. The attitude towards sports in America is so different than other countries. Chloe often reminds us about what is really important. Relationships are more important than a record. She competes as hard as anyone else but realizes that at the end of the day, it's a game."
We asked Chloe a few questions about her experience.
Best Experience So Far: Going to an American high school and experiencing their culture
Hardest Part of the Move: Going to a place where, at first, I didn't know anyone.
Biggest Adjustment You Needed to Make: Forget about my French breakfast!
Future Plans: Go back to France to study medicine
Advice to Other Students Considering an Exchange Program: An exchange program is amazing. You're just so special and everyone loves you for that. You get to see and learn so much. It's also changing yourself. You'll be way more confident, social, and outgoing. It's going to help you so much for your future. So just do it
We sent the same questions to the county head coach/daughter combos. We did this without knowing the newspaper had planned a similar story. This gives a unique perspective from both sides of it.
1) Coach Truckermiller and daughter Morgan Exeter
Positives of the situation:
COACH: The amount of time we get to spend together building our relationship and sharing in the great moments together has been the rewarding part of coaching her. The successes and failures create a connection and bond between us. She knows that I am her biggest fan and hardest critic, but in the end I am always in her corner and have her back no matter what.
MORGAN: Spending every day with him by my side in the gym and him helping me to become a better player, as well as, a better person. Ever since I was little and watching him coach I always knew I wanted to get the chance to play for him. I never really thought I would be able to, but when he told me this job was available I told him to take it. I honestly didn’t think he would take the job because it had been such a long time since he coached girls and girls are a lot different than boys so I didn’t think he would actually do it, but am beyond happy that he did.
Negatives of the situation:
COACH: There are times where the stress in the gym can make it difficult to separate the basketball player from my daughter. Being able to isolate those two lives can sometimes put a strain on the relationship. The expectations on her are greater than on others. She is always the coaches daughter. Being able to just be a member of the team is hard to achieve.
MORGAN: I feel like I always have to be perfect. I feel as the coaches daughter, everyone expects me to be perfect. If I have a bad game then I feel it will reflect bad on him. There are days where the stress of games and bad practices can put him in a bad mood, but the fact that there are times that it will come home.
Best experience/memory of the situation:
COACH: I have a hard time choosing 1 memory. If I must, her 1st game starting varsity. Hearing her name being announced right before mine and then going out and performing and showing she could handle the pressure of expectations. She played well that day. There is great satisfaction is seeing her achieve success knowing all the hard work she has put in to get there.
MORGAN: When I was in 7th grade and he first took the job I mentioned being able to go to Florida and play in the tournament like he had done with the boys one year. I never in a million years thought that we would actually do it. I was so excited when he told me that he was starting to look into it because when I first said it, I said it as kind of a joke. My whole family, mom, dad and brother, put many hours of working the concession stand for basketball tournaments to fundraise for the trip, but those hours were all worth it. Playing in Florida was such great experience.
How you handle the situation within your team:
COACH: When we walk into that gym, she is just another player. If anything, the expectations on her are higher than they are on others.
2) Coach Morrow and daughter Ava Twin Valley
Positives of the situation:
COACH: Feeling like we are getting a whole different set of experiences in our life that we will have after it is all over that many father daughters don’t get. I am fortunate that both of my daughters, along with my wife, are huge basketball fans and that is something we all enjoy together.
AVA: Making a connection with my dad. Also being able to talk about the games afterwards and going through what we did good and not so good. Also my dad really knows me as a player and it helps on the court.
Negatives of the situation:
COACH: In many cases, it is the pressure that you put on your daughter more than other players because you feel you have to be tougher on her so that you don’t show favoritism. I really struggled with this in her freshman year with starting her and a good friend of mine who is also a coach said to me “you shouldn’t punish her just because she is your daughter”. That just cleared a lot of things for me in my head. Also the seniors at that time had pulled Ava aside and told her that she should be starting. To me, that was the permission from the team and that was all I was really looking for. I knew she had the talent to start, but when the seniors confirmed it, it just took a lot of pressure off of the situation and I think off of her as well. I have always told the girls that this is their program. Not mine, not the school's or anyone else. When they took the lead on that, it was their confirmation of what they wanted for the team.
AVA: When I know he is about to get mad but the other girls don’t!
Best experience/memory of the situation:
COACH: Not one individual moment, but just seeing her enjoying what she loves and that is playing the game. When she was in middle school, I asked her if this is what she wanted to do and she said “absolutely”. We then talked about how it was going to be very hard at times between the two of us and she really stepped up. Now, when I get a chance to slow down and see how much she is enjoying playing, the relationships she has with her teammates, the new relationships she gained in AAU, it feels great not only as a coach, but as her dad as well.
AVA: We have a ritual after practice where I take 80 shots and my dad rebounds for me
How you handle the situation within your team:
COACH: In all honesty, I don’t have to handle the situation with the team at all. Her teammates have all been great with knowing she is my daughter and understanding there could be some times where that comes through and they have been awesome with it. We will all have some fun with it as well. When Ava makes a mistake in practice or says or does something really weird (which happens quite often), I will yell out “who the hell parented this kid!”. The team has been great. All the way from the first group of seniors making her feel comfortable as just a player her freshman year, to also seeing the entire group just mature in front of me with the whole process.
AVA: I don’t really feel like there is a difference between me and the other girls on the team. We try and keep it coach and player during basketball time. I won’t call him dad during practice or games so it feels like he is just my coach.
3) Ann Birmingham Berks Catholic
Positives of playing for your dad: One positive is that I got to grow up around the Holy Name and Berks Catholic teams. I was able to experience high school basketball and the familial relationship of it all of more than just my four years of high school. Growing up on a basketball court or in the gym has definitely shaped my life and the person I am today.
Negatives: There aren’t too many negatives but it can be difficult being a coach’s daughter. For example, whenever we lose or have a bad game and my dad is upset about it, the other girls get to leave, but he just leaves with me. There was definitely a bonus to getting my license and driving myself home after these games.
Best memory playing for your dad: My favorite memory was during my junior year and my dad was coaching for his 30th season. I was so honored to be on his 30th team as a high school coach. I remember standing in the center of the court posing for pictures when all of a sudden, the rest of the team was rushing onto the court to hug us all. It is definitely a moment that I will hold onto forever.
Differences from the other girls on the team with this situation: I honestly don’t think there are many differences from me and the other girls. I think the main difference is that I was always at practice or games really early and stayed late afterwards. But really he treats this team as an extension of our family so it’s hard to pinpoint any differences. Another difference is I always get asked about practices, games, etc. because I can ask him directly if I don’t know the answer. It works the other way as well, my dad often will have me text a person or our team group chat.
High school athletes will often hear advice from coaches, teachers, and parents to truly embrace and cherish their time playing sports for their school, because the four years go by quickly. Sometimes, it takes an injury or another setback to put things in perspective. If anyone needs a firsthand account, just find Fleetwood’s Emma Crissman. Emma’s soccer resume is what athletes dream of, both individually and as a team. Freshman year: All-Division midfielder and Berks County champions. Sophomore year: 2nd Team All-County and District 3 champs. Junior year: All-State and All-County forward. In addition, Crissman was a starter on the basketball team in her sophomore and junior seasons, where she played a major role as a great defensive player and solid, steady guard. Unfortunately, during her junior basketball season, she was forced to sit out due to an injury, and she has not been on a soccer field or basketball court since.
Crissman had to face the reality she would not play again with her Fleetwood teammates: “It was very difficult, especially since I have been playing with some of these girls my whole life and had Coach Boyer since I was a freshman. At times it was much more difficult than others. When they were in close games or the county final, I wanted nothing more than to go out there and play since I missed that feeling more than anything. With basketball, I have essentially the same feeling as I did with soccer. When I go to my team's games, I miss being able to just play and doing one of the things I love.” For some athletes, it would be too difficult to be around the team at practices and games, but Crissman stayed on both teams, and continued to cheer on her teammates. This says a lot about her mental toughness and her positive attitude. When you have a player with her talent, experience, and knowledge, coaches can turn to her almost like another assistant coach. “I tried to give my teammates and my coaches advice or recommend adjustments during the games that I could see beneficial to the team. I also remained as positive as I could at all times and always give encouragement while on the sidelines. This experience has allowed me to view sports from a different perspective and be a different type of asset to my teams.”
This has been a great learning experience for Crissman, as she fought through this adversity. It has undoubtedly made her stronger for the future, but this mindset is not always easy to adopt in the present. “I became a better leader because I had to learn to advise my teammates off the field versus on the field, which I never had to experience before.” She can also help other student-athletes who may be in similar situations. “If I could give advice to someone, I would tell them to make the most of every second of your high school sports experience, both on and off the field. I have amazing memories just spending time with my teammates as well as winning championships with them on the field. I would also say that having a season-ending injury does not define you and that you need to make the most of it and still bring positive energy to the team.”
When you are a star athlete, who loves to play and compete, it’s never easy to hear that you won’t be able to take the field or court anymore with your teammates and friends. Crissman is very grateful for her strong support system. “My parents have definitely been my biggest support system and have helped me remain sane and positive during my entire injury. Also, my coaches, teammates, and friends have been amazing during this entire journey and process. I think my biggest influence as an overall student-athlete would be the amazing coaches that have shown me to appreciate the sports I play and have the love for the game that I do today. I would be nowhere near the athlete or person I am today without the coaches who taught me how to play the sports I love.” In talking to both her soccer coach, Mike Boyer, and her basketball coach, Matt Kellett, it is clear how much she has meant to her team over the course of her career.
Coach Kellett is effusive in his praise for Crissman: “Emma is a one-of-a-kind player that doesn't come around too often. As a coach, it is extremely comforting to know that one of your players will, consistently, give you everything she has during practices and games. Her style of play and her ultimate desire to win is something any team would miss. It has been a pleasure to coach her, watch her play and see her grow as an individual (and an athlete) during her time at Fleetwood. Even without a senior year of play, Emma will easily take her place on my "all-timer" list of players coached.”
Next fall, Crissman plans to attend Penn State University (Main Campus) to major in Information Science and Technology and possibly minor or double major in marketing. As of now, she is not sure what the future holds regarding her injury, but if all goes well over the next few months, she is hoping to play club and/or intramural soccer in college. She has been a great role model for her teammates, and for all student-athletes. In both the fall and winter, Crissman has been right there on the sidelines, with her team. Instead of feeling bad for herself and staying away, she became an even stronger leader. For athletes everywhere, the message is clear: don’t take things for granted. Continue to work hard and enjoy every moment of your athletic career. You never know what might happen. If you need some perspective, just find Emma Crissman. She will be happy to share her story.