Breaking down the WPIAL girls basketball playoffs
Here's a breakdown of the WPIAL girls basketball playoffs.
Favorites: Ranked No. 1 and No. 2 all season, North Allegheny and Pine-Richland are difficult to separate. The northern rivals each finished 21-1 overall and tied for the Section 1 title with 9-1 records. North Allegheny has the No. 1 defense in Class 6A (38.5 ppg), while Pine-Richland is second (39.9). Their only loss was to one another. Pine-Richland defeated NA, 50-47, on Jan. 5. NA won the rematch 55-49 on Jan. 26. One small distinction is offense, where Duquesne recruit Amanda Kalin averages 24.2 points for Pine-Richland's top-scoring offense (63.3 ppg). NA, which features Stony Brook recruit Hailey Zeise, averages about 10 points less.
Challengers: Penn Hills won Section 2 behind senior point guard Desiree Oliver, a 17-point scorer committed to Temple. The Indians lost to NA, 67-38, in their season opener. As a sophomore, Oliver was WPIAL runner-up in Class 4A. Mt. Lebanon with Stony Brook commit Kenzie Bushee (15.7) won the Section 3 title over Peters Township and sophomore Makenna Marisa (16.9), another D-I recruit.
Don't overlook: Norwin finished second in Section 2, but the Knights won the WPIAL Class 4A title in 2015 and '16. A year ago, they defeated North Allegheny in the final.
Prediction: North Allegheny over Pine-Richland
Favorite: Former Trinity star center Mary Dunn is a freshman at Youngstown State, but the team hasn't slowed since last season's WPIAL runner-up finish. Now, it's senior guard Sierra Kotchman, a 19-point scorer committed to Fairmont State, who leads the team. Trinity ran through its section undefeated and knocked off Class 5A contenders Chartiers Valley and South Fayette in nonsection wins. The matchup with South Fayette was a WPIAL final rematch.
Contenders: Hampton won the Section 4 title with two 16-point scorers in senior guard Jenna Lafko and junior guard Ali Collins. The Talbots' nonsection schedule included a close five-point loss to Class 6A contender Pine-Richland. Mars and junior Lauren Wasylson (16.5) finished second in Section 4, but the Planets split with section rival Hampton. Wasylson, a 5-11 guard, has scholarship offers from Duquesne, RMU and Richmond, among others. Oakland Catholic won Section 2 with a defense that allowed 33.5 ppg, best in Class 5A. In Section 1, defending champion South Fayette finished a game ahead of Chartiers Valley and 15-point sophomore scorer Mackenzie Wagner.
Don't overlook: McKeesport finished 11-11 but has a 19-point scorer in 6-2 forward Johnasia Cash, a Southern Methodist recruit.
Prediction: Hampton over Trinity
Favorite: Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic star Sam Breen celebrated a state Class A championship last season, but Breen and her teammates could add their first WPIAL title. CWNC, the WPIAL runner-up in 2015 and '16, has dominated Class 3A with the classification's best offense (65.4 ppg) and defense (37.4), statistically. Breen, a 6-2 forward committed to Dayton, averages 23 points. The team's only WPIAL loss was to Class 6A contender Penn Hills, 51-48.
Challengers: Blackhawk, the WPIAL 3A champ in 2014 and '15, won Section 2 behind three double-digit scorers. Sophomore guard Mady Aulbach leads at 14.9 points, and senior Madison Amalia and freshman Mackenzie Amalia are 13-point scorers. The Cougars lost eight times but had a tough nonsection schedule. Keystone Oaks won its first section title with a defense that allowed just 39 ppg under second-year coach Ron Muszynski. Sophomores Gillian Piccolino (14 ppg) and Jaylen Hoffman (10) lead KO. Second-place finishers South Park and Ambridge reached the WPIAL quarterfinals last year and have playoff experience.
Don't overlook: Beaver finished third in Section 2, but the Bobcats knocked off Blackhawk in the season finale behind junior Bella Posset (20.8), a Robert Morris recruit.
Prediction: CWNC over Blackhawk
Favorite: Bishop Canevin seeks its third WPIAL title in five seasons and has reached at least the semifinals six years in a row. The Crusaders, who won the Class 2A title last year, are guided by junior guard Brionna Allen (14.4 ppg) and sophomore guard Shamyjha Price (12.9). Canevin went unbeaten in Section 3 but lost eight times against the toughest nonsection schedule in Class 3A.
Challengers: For two reasons, East Allegheny could be considered a favorite. First, it's the only undefeated girls team in the WPIAL. And second, 5-foot-5 junior Amani Johnson is a 30-point scorer who leads the WPIAL. But there are questions about its section strength and playoff history. A year ago, East Allegheny lost a preliminary- round game by 11 points. Section 1 champion Neshannock's defense paced the WPIAL by allowing just 27.9 ppg. Led by sophomore Bella Burrelli (13.8) and junior Carmie Matarazzo (13.5), the Lancers' only nonsection loss was to Class A contender Cornell, 35-32.
Don't overlook: Carlynton finished second in Section 3 behind Canevin, but the team reached the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals last season. Senior guards Ashleigh Wilson (14.5 ppg) and Diamond Thomas (12.9 ppg) and freshman Jada Lee (11.2) could spark another run.
Prediction: Bishop Canevin over East Allegheny
Favorite: Vincentian Academy has won five consecutive WPIAL Class A titles and six in the past seven seasons. But the Royals returned just one starter from last season, junior guard Caroline Elliott (15.1 ppg). Now in Class 2A, they still ran through Section 2 undefeated with an offense that averaged 62.2 points. Junior guard Madison Very (12.2) also scores in double figures for the Royals, who own a nonsection win over Class 3A favorite Canevin, 47-42.
Challengers: Chartiers-Houston has a 22-point scorer in 6-1 junior forward Alexa Williamson, but the team also wins with defense. C-H led all Class 2A teams by allowing 29.1 ppg. C-H was a WPIAL quarterfinalist last season. Greensburg Central Catholic leaned on seniors Britney Stawovy (18.0) and Haley Moore (16.0) to win the Section 3 title. GCC, which seeks its first WPIAL title since 2007, was Class 2A runner-up last season. OLSH was third in the WPIAL and reached the state quarterfinals. Senior forward Stephanie Thomas (12 ppg) leads Brentwood.
Don't overlook: Leechburg was third in Section 2, but junior Mikayla Lovelace averages 24.3 points. The Blue Devils captured some momentum with a victory over Brentwood in the regular-season finale.
Prediction: Vincentian Academy over Chartiers-Houston
Favorite: Winchester Thurston was undefeated until a loss to Class 5A contender Oakland Catholic in the regular-season finale. The team has one of the best defenses in Class A (32.9 points allowed) and two top scorers in junior guard Gia Thorpe (20.2) and junior Ayanna Townsend (19.1), a 6-2 forward with D-I options. Winchester Thurston reached the WPIAL quarterfinals last season but owns a win this season over Class 2A favorite Vincentian Academy.
Challengers: Cornell reached the WPIAL semifinals last season but could go farther this time with guard Daeja Quick, a senior who averages 22.3 points. The Raiders allow the fewest points in Class A at 32.1. Quigley Catholic, which shared the Section 1 title with Cornell, also reached the Class A semifinals in 2016. Section 2 champion West Greene has Class A's top offense at 65.4 points per game, and sophomore guards McKenna and Madison Lampe combine to average 35.5. West Greene lost to Winchester Thurston, 58-42, on Jan. 20.
Don't overlook: St. Joseph was overshadowed by Winchester Thurston but finished second in Section 3. Led by senior guard Lizzy Celko (16.5), St. Joseph challenged the section champion better than most others in 55-44 and 60-45 losses.
Prediction: Winchester Thurston over Cornell