Souderton's Ascent to District Title an Incredible Journey

The Souderton girls’ basketball team had a remarkable journey from a team that won just eight games two years ago to one that captured both the SOL Continental Conference and District One 6A titles.

The conversation is light and easy as Souderton’s four seniors head to a film session three days before their team’s opening round PIAA 6A state playoff game. Their biggest concern is the surprise they heard is awaiting them.

“Pizza,” one of them suggests.

“Maybe Bo brought gifts today.”

“No - he said that’s tomorrow.”

Their questions are answered when they enter the classroom to find coach Lynn Carroll with a VHS tape in her hand.

“Is it your birth video?” a player asks.

Laughter fills the room, and Carroll – who gave birth to a son, Jack Henry Drury, on Jan. 23 – quickly assures her players that it’s not. It is, in fact, a video of Fox Philadelphia’s High School Sports Show that featured Cheltenham’s journey to the District One title in 1996. Carroll was a junior on a Lady Panther squad that won 26 games in a row and was ranked 22nd nationally.

There are squeals and cheers when Carroll – wearing number 33 – shows up on the screen. The Cheltenham alum scored 16 points in the Lady Panthers’ 64-55 win over then four-time district champion Downingtown East.

For both Carroll’s 1995-96 Cheltenham squad and this year’s Souderton team, it was the program’s first ever district title, but that’s just about all they two programs had in common. That Cheltenham squad had captured its 10th consecutive conference titles and boasted a tradition of excellence. The Lady Panthers were used to life at the top. Souderton was not.

“When we were freshman, winning a game was something special because we never won freshman and sophomore years,” senior Alana Cardona said. “Last year we could see what this team is capable of, and going into this year it was just really exciting to see what we could do.”


Souderton was 14 years removed from its last championship until this season’s SOL Continental Conference title. A district title was never part of the conversation until last season’s successful postseason run that saw the Indians ride District One’s 11th seed to the state semifinals where they fell to North Allegheny.

They might have been playing for a state title had they not been whistled for a controversial foul just over midcourt with .9 seconds remaining in regulation. Rachel Martindale sank one of two foul shots to give North Allegheny a 32-31 win that left a bad taste in the mouths of players and coaches alike.

To a player, they remember the long bus ride home from Chambersburg after that loss.

“It was quiet,” senior Kate Connolly said.

“A lot of emotions,” Cardona said.  “A lot of different emotions. There were tears, there was anger.”

“Frustration,” senior Sami Falencki said.

There was also a firm resolve that it would make the team stronger. Much stronger.

“We used it as motivation – we’re not going to let this happen again,” Falencki said. “We’re going to put the work in, let the little things slide. Granted, it was a big game, but we couldn’t dwell on it.” 

“We had to cope with it quickly,” Cardona said. “You come to school the next day, and everyone is asking about it. You can’t show the same emotions you showed the night before.”

“We knew everyone was coming back – all our players,” senior Tori Dowd said. “So it can’t get worse than this. It can only get better, so that was really reassuring.”’

“It definitely got us fired up losing in that fashion last year,” Connolly said.

“Knowing we were that close and knowing that we had all our starters back this year was such a good feeling going forward.”

The Indians entered the 2017-18 season as the team to beat in the district, an unfamiliar position for a team that never had a target on its back.

“There was definitely more pressure than last year,” Dowd said. “Last year we were the underdog. This year we were the team people were coming for.”

It was a far cry from three years earlier when this year’s seniors were freshmen and the Indians won nine games. The following year they won eight.

“Our freshman year was pretty rough,” junior Megan Walbrandt said. “To come from winning eight games to only losing two games is just amazing, and it’s so much more fun to be part of a winning program with these girls because we’re all such great friends.

“Sometimes you play a game, and you hear players from the other team yelling at each other. I don’t think that’s ever happened to us.”

“You look at other teams and you have two girls who might be best friends,” junior Megan Bealer said. “They play well together, but the five people on the court need to bond. The friendships definitely matter and help you play a lot better together.”


The program took an immediate upswing last year with the addition of Drexel-bound Kate Connolly. Suddenly, the expectations were a whole lot higher.

“When we were freshmen, I just hoped we could compete with the teams in our conference,” Dowd said of her goal as rookie.

“I hoped that we would be one of the top teams,” Cardona said. “Freshman and sophomore year it didn’t look good, but last year definitely.”

Last year’s team won 22 games and this year’s squad is 26-2 entering Friday’s opening round game of the PIAA 6A Tournament.

“Their freshman and sophomore year, we did not even make districts, and we were not a good basketball team,” Carroll said. “Where they’ve brought this program over the course of their careers – what a turnaround.

“Obviously, there’s the addition of Kate (Connolly) and the juniors – it’s all big, but they were part of almost the worst two years since we’ve been here and now the best years.”

At the heart and soul of this year’s team are the four senior captains – Cardona, Connolly, Dowd and Falencki.

“They’ve really been bringing their all,” Carroll said. “The level of maturity that they’ve been handling all of this with dating back to our final game last year and how they carried themselves then and through all this and obviously the players they’ve turned themselves into over the course of their careers.

“Their competitiveness, their desire to go out and win – for three of them – after losing a lot of games for two years and not settling for that. They have been great leaders for this program on the court and in the classroom. They’re good kids. They’re the kind of kids a coach dreams of having on their team and you think about a few years down the road that their example is going to leave a lasting impression. They’re just good, fun kids. Their teammates like them. I’m happy for the success they’re a part of.”

In mid-January, Carroll took a three-week maternity leave for the birth of her first child. The Indians didn’t miss a beat, winning seven straight under assistant coach Ben ‘Bo’ Bowman, who took over the helm in her absence.

If there’s been one constant this season, it has been the team’s stifling defense and stellar passing that has taken the team to new heights. Listening to Carroll tell it, they’ve done it without a lot of fanfare.

“They don’t want to talk about themselves,” the Indians’ coach said. “They prefer to deflect. If you were to ask one of them to talk about how she played, she would talk about what her teammates did to allow her to play that way.

“They’re nice kids, they’re humble kids, they’re kids that come from good families. I think that they are extremely likable, whether you’re competing with them or against them.


Carroll reflected on a journey that began with the arrival of Cardona, Dowd and Falencki as freshmen.

“I knew those kids had potential, but I knew they weren’t ready to take over a program,” the Indians’ coach said. “The impressive part was they hung in. It’s hard to lose, it’s hard to not be successful.

“They went from being part of two of the tougher years since I’ve been coaching here in terms of wins and losses to two of the most successful years. It starts with the amount of work those kids put in. The player that Alana has turned herself into over the course of her career is a testament to how hard she works in the offseason. Tori goes to the YMCA to work on stuff during the season. Sami Falencki – the amount of time she puts in on her shot and ball handling.

“Then we get kids the next year like Megan Walbrandt and Megan Bealer. They’ve turned into two kids that are very difficult to defend, they’re good defenders, they do all the little things, and then we get Kate, and then all the hard work those kids put in – well, now they’re better because Kate is on the court with them. What Kate can do on both ends, what Kate can do offensively as a scoring threat and what she does to get her teammates’ shots – all of that has fallen into place. What a difference from then to now. We’ve come a long way.”

From eight wins to district champions, this year’s squad has ensured itself a spot in history.

“It’s always a dream for anyone to win a championship – to think we accomplished it, I’m so glad to be a part of it,” Cardona said.

“Seeing people in school and seeing your friends who don’t even know what basketball is but are congratulating you, it feels so good,” Dowd said. “The whole school was coming together.”

“So many teachers, the principals – it’s just awesome to know the school has our back,” Cardona said. “I went to church and everyone was like, ‘Good job,’ and it just brings the community together.”

“It’s a great group of girls,” Connolly said. “Growing up playing with them, I knew what we could do, and we worked together and we got better. I’m just really glad we were able to do this together.”

Souderton will face Manheim Township in Friday’s PIAA 6A opening round at Council Rock South (7:30 p.m.).