More than a month had passed since Dennis Squeglia resigned as Seton-La Salle's girls basketball coach, after an undefeated season capped by a PIAA championship.
The Rebels were sitting in the school library when they were told to look toward the door for Squeglia's successor.
Expecting someone to make a grand entrance, they instead got a smile and a wave from athletic director John Ashalou.
Seton-La Salle returns all but one starter from a team that went 30-0, but the Rebels' biggest challenge might be developing the chemistry to duplicate the feat.
“The change of head coach was definitely a lot for our team to cope with, because (Squeglia) was such a good coach,” said senior guard Angela Heintz, a Duquesne recruit. “(Ashalou's) really knowledgeable about the game and has a lot of basketball experience.”
Ashalou only has himself to blame for an ambitious schedule that has the Rebels playing a pair of PIAA runners-up, North Catholic and Oakland Catholic, followed by WPIAL Class AAAA champion Mt. Lebanon and traditional power Villa Maria Academy in the first week of the season.
“I was just the athletic director when I put it together,” Ashalou said. “Now, as AD and coach, I'm wondering what I was thinking.
“You think, ‘Yeah, we're ready for it.' Now, we've got some new girls in the program. We've got to get them to buy in to fit as a team. It is an arduous schedule, so to say.”
“Dennis did a great job and is a great coach. He went 30-0, and a lot of people ask me, ‘How do you do better than that?' I'd rather coach a team with expectations than not.”
If the Rebels can survive that, they are the odds-on favorite to repeat as WPIAL and PIAA champions, if not break the WPIAL record of 56 consecutive victories set by North Catholic from 1987-89.
Seton-La Salle returns starters in Heintz, 6-2 senior center Natalie Piagessi, 6-foot junior forward Naje Gibson and sophomore point guard Cassidy Walsh, as well as senior forward Katherine Hart and sophomore shooting guard Nicolette Newman. The Rebels added 6-2 sophomore Morgan Henderson, a transfer from Texas, and are awaiting an eligibility ruling on talented 5-9 junior Yacine Diop, a Senegal native who transferred from Oak Hill Academy.
“It's really harder for us this year because there's a lot more pressure on us,” Heintz said.
“Last year, we lost six seniors from the year before and there weren't the expectations. This year, everybody wants to beat us, to be the team that gives us that loss.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7812.
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