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Defending WPIAL champion Hopewell chasing elusive state title banner

| Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Hopewell's Cassidy Rizzo practices on Nov. 27, 2012. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Hopewell's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough practices on Nov. 27, 2012. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Hopewell's MacKenzie Biggs practices on Nov. 27, 2012. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Hopewell's Raquel Farris practices on Nov. 27, 2012. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Hopewell's Shaniya Rivers practices on Nov. 27, 2012. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough - 2012 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Girls Athlete of the Year Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough gets motivation just by looking up during practice.

Banners on the walls of Hopewell's gymnasium do more than just commemorate the Vikings' back-to-back state championships in 2006 and 2007 — they also remind Walker-Kimbrough of the one accomplishment that has eluded her.

“Hopewell has a legacy with back-to-back states,” said Walker-Kimbrough, the 2011-12 Tribune-Review Player of the Year. “I just want to look up and say I was a part of that my senior year.”

The Vikings added another chapter to their lore in 2011-12 by winning the WPIAL Class AAA championship, but their state title hopes came to a quick end when section rival Blackhawk beat them in the second round of the PIAA playoffs.

“It's definitely a motivation just like the loss in 2010 in the WPIAL championship,” Hopewell coach Jeff Homziak said. “Those things are what drive me to be more creative offensively or (find) things we can get better at as a team. We did things defensively to win, (but) we weren't good enough on the offensive side.”

Hopewell and Blackhawk again figure to be among the top teams in the WPIAL after splitting the Section 2-AAA crown a year ago. Though the Vikings might not be counting down the days until their first meeting with Blackhawk (Dec. 20), they certainly know when it is.

“We're really looking forward to getting back at them for that one,” senior forward Raquel Farris said.

Walker-Kimbrough, who committed to play basketball at Maryland over the summer, will again provide the biggest scoring punch for Hopewell. The senior guard averaged 25.6 points and more than 10 rebounds last season.

But she'll be joined by an experienced crew. The Vikings will return three other full-time and one part-time starter from last season. Senior Shaniya Rivers, a starting shooting guard last season, will take over for the graduated Jharrin Gill at point guard.

“Shatori has her role — she's a player,” senior forward Cassidy Rizzo said. “But we need to help her. She can't do it all on her own.”

For her part, Walker-Kimbrough said her biggest improvement this season might come in mental toughness on the court.

While the Vikings and Walker-Kimbrough will have a target on their back, the Hopewell star has a simple message: “Last year is done.”

“People are going to want to beat us, but we're going to have to walk on the floor ready to compete,” she said. “We're not backing down to anyone.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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