Girls basketball "Fabulous 15"
There were no dominant performers in girls basketball this season, but local players made up for any lack of talent with a unique amount of work ethic and intangibles that made it a terrific season for area players.
One freshman, one sophomore, three juniors and 10 seniors make up a Daily News Fabulous 15 that is loaded with experienced, reliable players who seemingly all have paved the way for the success of their programs in future seasons.
ALEXIS SAYLES, CLAIRTON
Position: F Height: 5-10 Class: Junior
Very possibly the area's most talented female basketball player, Sayles played on one of the WPIAL's youngest teams but still managed to shine on a nightly basis.
Averaging better than 18 points per game, Sayles proved invaluable to head coach Remondo Williams' team. Although Clairton was unable to secure a playoff berth this season, Sayles kept the Lady Bears in every game. A force driving to the basket or shooting from long range, Sayles enjoyed her best season yet and could be in line for a huge senior campaign during the 2010-11 season.
TAYLOR MINKUS, SERRA CATHOLIC
Position: F Height: 5-10 Class: Senior
Serra coach Bill Cleary found this year's group particularly enjoyable to deal with. There was a work ethic and enthusiasm with this squad that he appreciated, and no player illustrated that more than Taylor Minkus.
Among the harder working players Cleary has coached, Minkus was at her best during her senior season. She averaged 13.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game for the Lady Eagles.
Cleary will definitely miss her next season.
"She was such a good defender and such a good rebounder," Cleary said. "There were many nights when she could put the scoring, defense and rebounding all together. She had some really outstanding games for us."
LEAH HURST, EAST ALLEGHENY
Position: F Height: 5-10 Class: Senior
Last season's Daily News Player of the Year, Hurst missed some time with an injury this season but was typically outstanding when her health allowed.
Hurst is the classic example of a player who can score in a variety of ways. She was always capable of beating defenders off the dribble, scoring from the outside or scoring in the post.
She averaged 17 points per game during her senior season as a Lady Wildcat.
JAYLEE PATTERSON, SOUTH ALLEGHENY
Position: G Height: 5-2 Class: Freshman
The only freshman on The Fabulous 15, Patterson helped make South Allegheny's program considerably more respectable during her first season. She averaged 10.6 points per game this season for the Lady Gladiators and figures to only improve in time.
Patterson emerged as one of the area's better 3-point shooters, drilling 36 shots from beyond the 3-point line this season.
Head coach Jake Joyce wasn't necessarily expecting so much from Patterson during her senior campaign but he certainly isn't complaining.
"It was nice just to see how well she performed," Joyce said. "It was surprising, she surprised herself, but it was nice to see her do so well."
LESLIE MCPHERSON, STEEL VALLEY
Position: G Height: 5-6 Class: Senior
Leslie McPherson is a talented basketball player, and her numbers alone are impressive. In her senior season, McPherson averaged 16 points, six steals, five assists and four rebounds per game.
Her leadership and ability to enhance her game in the biggest of games, though, was a true sign of what a terrific senior season she enjoyed. McPherson was the veteran leader on a very young team and helped lead Steel Valley to a respectable season, which included an impressive victory over West Mifflin Area.
"Her work ethic and her leadership has definitely made our team into what it is now," Steel Valley coach Kelly Sabo said. "She showed our girls what hard work can do for your game and your team's game."
ASHLEY STONER, THOMAS JEFFERSON
Position: F Height: 6-0 Class: Junior
In what was a huge season for the Thomas Jefferson basketball team, Ashley Stoner was likely the biggest reason for the team's success.
Stoner was a force inside all season. She could score in the post, was a dynamic rebounder and one of the WPIAL's better shot blockers.
Stoner's numbers speak for themselves. She averaged 15.6 points and 12 rebounds per game as TJ had one of its best seasons in years.
Head coach Jamie Polak appreciated the reliability Stoner brought to the team.
"You always knew what you were going to get out of her," he said. "You were going to get nothing less than 100 percent every night. She was just the kind of player who gave you everything she had in the tank. She's very talented, so good in the low post. She did a lot of good things for us."
JAZMYNE HAYES, WEST MIFFLIN AREA
Position: F Height: 5-7 Class: Junior
One of the WPIAL's best all-around talents, Hayes put all her considerable talents together to have a dynamic junior season. The classic player who is capable of filling up a box score each evening, Hayes is a dynamic defender whose ability to penetrate defenses has become a great weapon for the Lady Titans.
A good shot blocker and an artist at picking off passes, Hayes was arguably West Mifflin's best player during the 2009-10 season and could be poised for a huge senior campaign.
"When she puts it all together," West Mifflin Area coach Mindy McClelland said, "she's capable of being such of an incredible player. You could really see that with some of the things she did this year. She can just take over games. She's awesome."
JAYLA LEFTWICH, WEST MIFFLIN AREA
Position: C Height: 5-10 Class: Sophomore
Colleges are already inquiring about Jayla Leftwich, despite the fact the center still has two years left in high school. A talented post scorer with a delicate touch, Leftwich was very good during her freshman season and was noticeably better in the 2009-10 campaign.
The sky appears the limit for Leftwich, who averaged 12 points and eight rebounds per game this season. She came into her own during the second half of the season, becoming a force on both ends of the court.
McClelland can't wait to see how the center improves in each of the next two seasons.
"She's already so good and you know she's only going to get better," McClelland said. "There isn't a whole lot she can't do."
JESSICA PITTS, WEST MIFFLIN AREA
Position: F Height: 5-8 Class: Senior
Few WPIAL players possess more natural talent than Jessica Pitts, an athlete with few peers in Western Pennsylvania. She started her career at Duquesne and was a force there before coming to West Mifflin for her final three years of high school.
Pitts averaged 12 points and nine rebounds this season and was particularly dominant in the big games. Always a terrific performer in the postseason, Pitts was once again excellent in the playoffs.
First-year head coach Mindy McClelland, who also coaches Pitts in track and field at West Mifflin, marvels at the senior's ability.
"You just don't see athletes like her," McClelland said. "She's pretty incredible with the way she can run and the way she can just jump out of the gym."
SARAH SANDIN, YOUGH
Position: G Height: 5-9 Class: Senior
A former Elizabeth Forward player, Sandin became a standout during her senior season at Yough.
The talented guard averaged 18.1 points per game, and, according to head coach Lou Zadecky, could have scored more points if not for her unselfish nature.
Sandin preferred to incorporate her teammates as much as possible, and her methods helped Yough to a solid season.
"She produced big numbers," Zadecky said. "What was really great about her was that she wasn't just worried about herself. She was always looking to set up other kids. We'll definitely miss her."
Sandin will play at Point Park University next season.
NIKKI BILLS, MCKEESPORT AREA
Position: G Height: 5-8 Class: Senior
Bills produced solid numbers, though they weren't spectacular. The senior, however, brought a set of intangibles to the table that was absolutely instrumental in McKeesport Area's success.
Averaging 8.1 points per game, Bills was always at her best at the end of games. McKeesport Area head coach Eric Smith appreciated the feisty way in which Bills played the game.
She hit 35 3-pointers and was McKeesport's best outside shooter.
"She was so good at so many things," Bills said. "She was very misleading in a way. She wasn't very big, but she wasn't afraid to bang her body around out there. She'd bump you and be physical. She was just so clutch."
MEGAN BRINKOS, MCKEESPORT AREA
Position: F Height: 5-10 Class: Senior
On a team with versatile players, no one was more versatile than Brinkos during her senior season with the Lady Tigers.
Brinkos could play guard and forward, was a good passer and an effective scorer from outside and inside. Although she was a very good 3-point shooter, McKeesport's lack of size often forced Brinkos to do battle with bigger players under the basket.
She was always up for the challenge. Brinkos averaged 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds this season.
"She was just so solid," McKeesport coach Eric Smith said. "She could shoot, she could post up. She was a really good outside shooter too. She did a little bit of everything for us and she always did everything very well. Just a solid, solid basketball player."
RYAH GADSON, MCKEESPORT AREA
Position: G Height: 5-10 Class: Senior
One of the area's more talented and intelligent players, her all-around game was on display every night during an excellent senior season. It was always clear that Gadson's dad was a basketball coach, because she showcased an advanced knowledge of every aspect of basketball during her career as a Lady Tiger.
The daughter of McKeesport Area boys coach Corey Gadson produced 13.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists during her final season at McKeesport. She finished only 24 points shy of 1,000 for her career, and likely would have surpassed the milestone had two games not been canceled because of February's snowstorms. Her unselfish nature, though, was always on display.
"She should have had that 1,000," McKeesport coach Eric Smith said. "But I really don't think she cared. She said reaching 1,000 points meant more to her mom than to her. That's just the kind of kid she is."
NIKKI BRENNER, NORWIN
Position: G Height: 5-4 Class: Senior
Always a talented shooter, Brenner sometimes found herself unwilling to become a top-notch scorer for Norwin. In her senior year, she stopped being so timid and become one of Class AAAA's best outside threats.
Brenner carried the Lady Knights when Nicky Costabile missed five games with an injury. She averaged 13.1 points for the season and was Norwin's best outside shooter.
Head coach Bob Shrader was pleased not only with how dramatically Brenner improved in each of her four seasons, but also with what a wonderful defender she became in her final year.
"I don't know what it was, but there was a time she was afraid to shoot a lot during games," Shrader said. "Luckily she wasn't that way in her senior year. She just had a great, great season for us."
NICKY COSTABILE, NORWIN
Position: G Height: 5-3 Class: Senior
The speedy guard finished her career at Norwin with a terrific senior season.
Costabile averaged 13.1 points despite dealing with a multitude of injuries. She was always the player head coach Bob Shrader trusted most with the game on the line, and rarely failed to deliver. Costabile was capable of blazing to the basket or drilling 3-pointers all game. She also become one of Norwin's finest defensive players over her four years as a starter for the Lady Knights.
"She was just the kind of player who could beat you in so many different ways," Shrader said. "She was definitely a special player. When she felt like it, there were times that she could just take over a game."