Ford City girls team full of veterans
The Ford City girls' basketball team returns the majority of last year's playoff team.
But the Lady Sabers are going to have a hard time replacing one of the players they lost to graduation.
"Heather Abate is a big loss," Ford City head coach Al Davis said. "This is the first year I've been coach where we don't have an experienced point guard."
But Davis does have plenty of things to smile about. And it starts with sophomore Lizzie Suwala, who averaged over 20 points per game last year.
"She's a scorer," Davis said. "She had a good summer. She'll do fine this year."
Ford City also boasts depth, size and experience.
"We have some strengths," Davis said. "We'll play 11-12 deep, we have experience and we have a couple of girls over 5-foot-10."
Back from last year's starting lineup, in addition to Suwala, are forward Melissa Schrecengost and guard Kara Grafton.
Janelle Sanders, Sarah Smolen, Angela Scopel and Mary Hahn all saw significant playing time a year ago.
"We have a lot of height. We're loaded at the post," Davis said.
But Davis still isn't sure what he's going to do at point guard.
Freshmen Katie Zambotti and Kayli Beck may contribute at the position.
"We're going to try a little bit of everything," he said. "We don't want to play Suwala at point guard, but she might bring the ball up. (Grafton and Schrecengost) can also play there if we need them to. If we can find a point guard, we'll be very competitive. Hopefully it's settled by the start of section play."
Ford City has made the playoffs seven straight seasons and Davis expects that trend to continue.
"We're going to try," he said. "It isn't going to be easy, though."
Greensburg Central Catholic is a favorite to win the WPIAL, newcomer East Allegheny is always strong and Freeport returns a strong team.
"We'll be fighting for second or third," Davis said. "Our whole team needs to work on defense. A lot of the girls are in good condition from volleyball. We'll be alright."
Another team in Section 1-AA that should be alright this year is Freeport. The Lady Yellowjackets return all five starters and nine lettermen from last year's playoff team.
"It makes it easy in a way," said Freeport's first-year head coach Kirk Lorigan. "But it also makes it more difficult because everybody in the section knows we return everybody. We know we have to prepare more and work harder."
Lorigan, who was an assistant at Freeport for five years, takes over for longtime coach Tom Saulle.
"I'm excited," Lorigan said. "It helps that I know the program. I understand the girls' personalities and they understand mine."
Lorigan considers himself a defensive coach and that's exactly what Freeport will be.
"We preach defense first," he said. "We try to create offense through our defense."
Freeport's starting lineup, when healthy, will consist of point guard Nicole Beggs, guard Autumn Hawk, guard Maria Lutz and forwards Julie McCorkle and Michelle Vascik. Both Vascik and McCorkle are nursing injuries and are questionable for the start of the season.
"We're hurting up front right now," Lorigan said.
But Freeport has the luxury of a deep bench, and will go 10-11 players deep.
Courtney Callas, Bethany Almquist, Lacey Cochran and Shannon Reesman will all see significant playing time.
Lorigan expects to get balanced scoring throughout his lineup.
"Vascik is a pure scorer, but after her no one player will stand out," he said. "Just about all of our players will score 10 points in a game at one point this season."
The Lady Yellowjackets raised the bar when they made the playoffs last year, and Lorigan knows it isn't going to be easy to repeat.
"I think the section is wide open after Greensburg Central Catholic," he said. "The girls motivated this year. They demand perfection. All the things we didn't do well last year we're working on improving. I think we have the potential to make some things happen this year."
There will be a new face at the end of West Shamokin's bench this year as Cheryl Barnett replaces longtime coach Bob Alexander. Barnett served as an assistant under Alexander at West Shamokin and was the junior varsity coach for 10 years at Dayton.
"I'm very excited," Barnett said of her head coaching gig. "It's nice to be rewarded for all the time you put in."
Barnett inherits a team that lost four starters from last year and lacks varsity experience.
"We're young and pretty inexperienced," Barnett said. "We're rebuilding."
West Shamokin's starting lineup isn't set in stone, but expect to see Jamie Carson, Janel Goldinger, Kate McCullough, Nicole Rearick, Natalie Marken and Jessica Cox to see a lot of playing time. Gina Rearick will also be in the mix.
"We're going to work on the fundamentals," Barnett said. "I'd like us to be a better defensive team."
Barnett is fairly optimistic about her squad's chances this year.
"We have a lot of good athletes," she said. "I like the makeup of our team but it's a very tough section. If we give 110 percent on a consistent basis we'll be competitive."
Apollo-Ridge head coach Ray Bartha feels Barnett's pain. The Lady Vikings return only one full-time starter from last year's team, which failed to make the postseason.
"We're fairly young and inexperienced," Bartha said. "There's a lot of holes to fill."
Bartha does welcome back Noelle Tresco and Lauren Reilly. Tresco started last year and Reilly was the first player off the bench as a freshman.
"They are the heart of the team," Bartha said. "They're both good athletes and good inside players. They'll be our strength."
Tina Girdano and Kayla Stewart will start at guard, and things are up in the air after that.
"We're trying to figure out a fifth starter and who the backups are," Bartha said. "We're trying to fill in the pieces as we go."
Kristy Gray, Bethany Cole, Shannon Guthrie and Ashley Ambroffi will all contribute this year. Freshman Katie McLay will also play, but not until January as she sits out with an injury.
"We're searching for an identity," Bartha said. "We don't know if we're going to be an offensive-minded team or a defensive-minded team."
Apollo-Ridge better find out before it starts section play.
"Our section is brutal. There are no easy games," Bartha said. "We're hoping to surprise some people."