Clearview clinches share of Tri-County-Royal Division crown

Pellecchia, Steidle lead the way for the Pioneers

MATTHEW SHINKLE/South Jersey Sports Weekly
Following a 53-46 win over Williamstown in the first round of the Tri-County Conference Bracket A Tournament, Clearview clinched a share of the Tri-County Conference – Royal Division title, alongside Timber Creek.

Before the 2021-’22 season even started, the Clearview girls basketball team already knew what its goals were following the Pioneers’ strong showing the year prior.

“We had high expectations coming in,” coach Casey Heitman said. “I felt like last year was our year to kind of gel together and start getting this core group of girls on the right page with one another, especially with us only having 15 games or so because of the shortened season. So it gave them time to find themselves.

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“Then when this season rolled around, we just couldn’t wait to get it started … We already knew we had some talent and good chemistry, so we were ready to get out there,” Heitman added.

Despite a young and largely inexperienced roster last season, the Pioneers went 11-4  with freshman Ana Pellecchia leading the team in scoring, while sophomores Emma Steidle and Payton Foster weren’t far behind. 

Early court action has already started to pay big dividends for Clearview as evidenced by the team’s recent 53-46 win over Williamstown in the first round of the Tri-County Conference Bracket A Tournament, thus clinching the Pioneers a share for the Tri-County Conference-Royal Division title. 

“Losing just one game in our conference is big: Our girls had the expectation coming into the year that they didn’t want to lose any, so they naturally have big goals for themselves,” Heitman said. 

Once again powering the way for the Pioneers this season are Pellecchia and Steidle, who have averaged 16.7 and 16.5 points per game, respectively, in the team’s first 20 games.

Pellecchia – voted by her teammates to serve as a team captain in her sophomore year  – said the team was committed to clinching a division title after last season’s success, while that shortened year allowed the then-freshman and her teammates to experience high-school level play and gain meaningful confidence.

“We came in knowing that we wanted to win the division; that was the goal in the back of our minds all along,” Pellecchia said. “We knew there would be challenges along the way – it wouldn’t be a perfect story – but we just continued to push, even through the hard times.

“Last year, I just wanted to make sure that I did the best I could and was there for my teammates with the season that we were able to have … “ she added. “And that included building up that chemistry on and off the court to get comfortable working together.”

Pellecchia, her coach said, is tireless about bettering herself in any way possible. After having nearly as many field goals as three-pointers last season, she entered the offseason with the goal of getting more comfortable driving the lane and being aggressive underneath the basket. 

The result has been a stronger all-around player that has helped make the Clearview offense even more dynamic.

“Going into the offseason, I know she plays basketball nonstop, so she worked really hard to better herself,” Heitman said. “I feel like a lot of teams would look at her and assume that she’s a three-point shooter, which she can do well, but she’s worked to expand what she can do and more recently has focused on driving the lane. And she’s been really successful with that.

“She’s become a much more difficult, well-rounded player for other teams to guard,” the coach added.

Meanwhile, Steidle leads the team in three-pointers this season with 64, while primarily running the team’s offense. Her value to the team this year, Heitman said, has been impossible to measure. 

“It was very obvious that when she returned from the offseason that she worked very hard to be even better than she was last season,” Heitman added. “She’s truly a leader out there on the court for us with her bringing the ball up every possession, making play calls and taking charge.”

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