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St. Joseph girls team preparing for tough section slate

Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch - Saint Joseph High School's girls basketball head coach Dan Slain instructs his players during practice on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Erica Hilliard  |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Saint Joseph High School's girls basketball head coach Dan Slain instructs his players during practice on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012.
- St. Joseph junior forward Mallory Heinle defends the ball during a practice.
St. Joseph junior forward Mallory Heinle defends the ball during a practice.

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By Paul Kogut
Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 12:11 a.m.
 

When St. Joseph girls basketball coach Dan Slain labels his team's section the most difficult in Class A “hands down,” he can present a strong case.

But Slain takes his statement a step further.

“It's probably tougher than some double-A sections,” he said.

Slain still has a good argument. St. Joseph competes in Section 2-A with defending WPIAL champion Vincentian Academy and runner-up North Catholic.

Those perennial powerhouses have accounted for five of the last six Class A crowns. Both also have captured at least one WPIAL championship in a larger classification in the last 11 seasons and regularly beat bigger schools.

Slain believes playing in Section 2-A will make St. Joseph a better team in the long run.

“What helps us is, once we get in the playoffs, no one is better than North Catholic or Vincentian, so we're ready,” Slain said.

Slain, 61, has guided St. Joseph to the playoffs in all three of his seasons, including quarterfinal appearances in the last two. With an experienced trio to build around, he hopes to lead the Spartans at least a step further in the playoffs this year.

“Our goal now is to get past the quarters,” Slain said.

St. Joseph returns three starters from a team that finished 14-9 overall and 7-5 in section.

The Spartans will revolve around 6-foot-1 junior forward Mallory Heinle, who averaged 13.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game last season. In two years as a starter, Heinle already has collected 517 career points.

“She'll be a go-to player,” Slain said. “Other teams will know that as well. I see her scoring but also setting up other scoring opportunities. She's versatile. We'll take what the defense gives us. She has 3-point range, but she can also post you up inside.”

The other returning starters are junior guard Amanda Klawinski and junior forward Nikki Mielecki.

Klawinski, who has started since she was a freshman, will take over the point guard duties this season. Mielecki was the sixth man as a freshman and became a starter last year.

Others who could earn a starting role or be a key reserve include senior guard/forward Heather Schrecengost, junior guards Brooke Arabia and Erica Mendel, junior forward Maria Castello, and sophomore guards Mallory Boggess and Julie Hetu.

Schrecengost is the lone senior on the roster.

Arabia and Boggess transferred from Evangel Heights Christian Academy and Riverview, respectively.

St. Joseph graduated two starters who will be missed. Point guard Shayna Panchik averaged 10.1 points and 3.8 assists, while shooting guard Rachel Edwards was the team's primary 3-point specialist.

Riverview, one of St. Joseph's top rivals, was realigned into Class AA. Meanwhile, Imani Christian, a first-year program, was added to Section 2-A.

Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at pkogut@tribweb.com or 724-224-2696.

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