They came up through their respective prep pipelines with plenty of fanfare. And when Ephrata’s Jasmine Griffin and Manheim Central’s Maddie Knier hit the court sprinting in their ninth-grade basketball seasons last winter, they lived up to the hype.
And then some.
They both had fantastic freshman seasons; Griffin and Knier immediately carved out starting spots for their respective squads, and their coaches — Brian Cerullo at Ephrata and Tyson Hayes at Central — couldn’t pry them off the floor.
Griffin, a smooth lefty, ran the point for the Mountaineers, popping in 11.8 points a game with 15 3-pointers. More importantly, Griffin helped Ephrata go 11-2 in league games, as the Mounts won their first Section Two title since 2016, and went to the league and District Three Class 6A playoffs.
Griffin was a second-team all-star choice for her breakout season.
“There were some games early on where I surprised myself, yes,” Griffin said. “Starting at point guard as a freshman can carry a lot of weight, so I was pretty nervous going into the season. But I thought I was able to play with a lot of confidence.”
Knier, a graceful but powerful player on the wing, the baseline, and in the paint, scored at a 16.8 clip with 22 3-pointers. She helped the Barons to a runner-up finish in the Section Three race and into the league and District Three Class 5A playoffs. Knier — a double-double machine — capped her eye-popping ninth-grade season in style, earning Section Three MVP honors, plus a first-team all-star nod.
Not many ninth-graders around here earn MVP awards, so it was quite the hello-world debut season for Ms. Knier.
“I wanted to contribute immediately,” Knier said, “but I didn’t think I’d make that kind of an impact. I just wanted to blend in and not be a weak link. Confidence was a big thing for me. Once I built up that confidence, I was able to perform even better.”
Here’s one more thing Griffin and Knier brought to the table for their respective squads last winter: The will to win.
In the 2018-19 campaign, Ephrata won nine games and Central picked up four wins for a combined 13 victories between the Mounts and the Barons.
Last winter, Ephrata went 17-7 and Central went 13-11. That’s a combined 30 wins — a plus-17 in the W department — between the Mounts and the Barons with Griffin and Knier helping to steer the ship. And both teams put their playoff dancing sneakers on.
That’s called making an immediate impact.
“I thought the coolest aspect about last year,” Knier noted, “was having success, and seeing that transformation in our program from being just kind of OK, to being a team to watch. That brought out so much energy in our team.”
Griffin and Knier, who have become fast friends, have been on the same AAU team the last two years, suiting up for the Lancaster Wave along with several other L-L League sophomore standouts, like Hempfield teammates Autumn Cook and Lauren Moffatt and Cocalico sharpshooter Kiersten Shipton.
The Wave — with Griffin running the point and Knier doing damage — went undefeated this past summer, winning four tournaments along the way.
“We’ve all grown up playing basketball,” Griffin said of the league’s talented sophomore class. “We all play year-round. We’ll play against the guys. We’ll play outside. We all just love basketball.”
Griffin picked up her love of the game from her dad, Kevin, who served as Eastern Mennonite University’s women’s coach for 13 seasons in Harrisonburg, Virginia. His teams won 230 games, and Griffin was a four-time Old Dominion Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.
He recently stepped down to become the connections minister of the Philadelphia District Church of the Nazarene, and the family moved back to the area three years ago. Jasmine was a regular at her dad’s summer camps in Harrisonburg, and she got an early start on her hoops IQ by running the clock at practices, sitting in on film study and traveling with the team on the bus to away games.
“I watched everything,” she said. “I loved it.”
Griffin is a self-described gym rat. Show up early for an Ephrata game — 30 minutes before the JV game even — and she’ll be the first kid out shooting jumpers in an empty, half-lit arena.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Knier said, smiling. “Her work ethic is top notch. She just wants to get better, and I respect that so much. There’s definitely that respect there with us, but we also challenge each other — in a good way. Even if we’re just watching each other play, like in school ball, I always watch what she’s doing because I want to do what she’s doing, only I want to do it better. There’s some competition there, yes. But it’s respect, and we each grow from it, and that’s a great thing.”
“Maddie is one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever played with or against,” she said. “Playing with her in AAU makes my job way easier as a point guard. She can pretty much do everything: She can shoot the 3. She can finish with both hands. She has a pretty nice handle. She’s a great defender. She makes free throws. She’s a good passer. And she scores a ton.”
“We respect each other very highly,” Griffin added. “I’ll watch Maddie play and I’m always learning something. Like how she plays defense and how she can command the ball. And how she rebounds. I’d say she’s one of the best rebounding kids in the league.”
After a four-week layoff, Griffin and Knier will get back to rebounding and shooting jumpers and making crisp passes this week, when L-L League teams can return to the court to restart preseason practice after a government-imposed coronavirus shutdown. Teams can start playing games Jan. 8.
Griffin and Knier can’t wait. And local girls basketball fans can’t wait to see what that dynamic duo does next.