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Hempfield girls to rely on scoring of senior guard Burns

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 8:30 p.m.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Michelle Burns poses for a photo on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, at Hempfield High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Allison Podkul poses for a photo on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, at Hempfield High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Head coach Aaron Epps poses for a photo with returning starters Allison Podkul (left), Michelle Burns (right), and Ali Belgiovane on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, at Hempfield High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Sarah Golden shoots a jump shot during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Allison Podkul prepares to run a play during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Ali Belgiovane shoots a free throw during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Kayla Barrientos-Collins takes a shot during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Ali Belgiovane shoots a jump shot during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Head coach Aaron Epps watches his team run drills during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Sarah Liberatore looks to pass during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Head coach Aaron Epps emphasizes a point during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Sarah Golden goes in for a layup during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Kayla Barrientos-Collins looks to pass during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Michelle Burns looks to pass during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Head coach Aaron Epps speaks with his team during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Michelle Burns drives the the basket during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Allison Podkul takes a shot during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Sarah Liberatore takes a shot during practice at Hempfield High School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Teammates Michelle Burns (left) and Allison Podkul pose for a photo on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, at Hempfield High School.

Michelle Burns is one of those high school basketball players who seems to never leave a program.

She has been a starter since her freshman year at Hempfield and returns as a senior this season.

“I think she's started more games than anyone in Hempfield history,” Spartans coach Aaron Epps said. “She's been here four years, but it seems like 20.”

Hempfield doesn't want Burns to go anywhere.

As the program makes the jump to Class 6A, which has only 18 teams in three sections, the Spartans could be in the mix behind the standout guard. Burns will pilot a team that went 15-8 and finished second in Section 1-AAAA to WPIAL champion and PIAA quarterfinalist Norwin (27-1).

Burns scored 28 points in a 62-56 first-round upset of No. 4 seed Peters Township. The Spartans lost to Pine-Richland in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

Burns, who averaged 17 points, missed several games with a leg injury but came back strong and has worked to extend the reach of her game.

“Michelle is one of the best competitors I have ever had,” Epps said. “She has improved so much, and she has added a mid-range game, and she can go with both hands. She's taken on a big leadership role for us.

“She'll be one of the top players in the WPIAL, and we'll lean on her a lot.”

Epps is looking to get Burns some offensive help.

Aubree Halusic graduated after making 103 3-pointers, and shooting guard Alexa Pastor also is gone.

“It's a weird team because we have some big losses, but we bring back five girls with a lot of varsity experience,” said Epps, who is in his fifth season, with three of the first four ending in the postseason. “Those girls who were the fifth- and sixth-best players now need to be the second- and third-best players.”

Halusic often drew the top defenders, but that attention likely will shift to Burns. That will put more chances in the hands of returning starters Allison Podkul, a junior guard, and senior forward Ali Belgiovane.

Sophomore Sarah Golden can provide a spark in the backcourt, Kayla Barrientos-Collins is a key returning small forward and Epps also expects valuable minutes from sophomore Jessica Persin and freshman Sarah Liberatore.

Senior forward Kaitlin Hoffner returns from a knee injury.

“We're hoping to go about seven or eight deep,” Epps said. “When you lose the type of players we lost, we could be one of the most challenged offensive teams we've had here.

“There will be nights where we struggle offensively. That's inevitable. But we can lay our hat on the defensive end. I just hope we get someone besides Michelle to step up and score.”

Hempfield's section opponents include Fox Chapel, Latrobe, Norwin, No. 3-ranked Penn Hills and Penn-Trafford.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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