Area girls hoops teams prepare for first season in new sections
When it comes to the Signal Item area girls basketball teams, it is all about settling into new homes.
Each squad has moved into a new section — two squads moved into new classifications — that will be sure to provide exciting action for basketball fans from across the area.
Below is a look at the local teams in 2012.
Last season: 22-6 (10-2)
Returning starters: guard Erin Waskowiak, forward Carly Forse
Key losses: guard Becca Olkosky
Lady Crusaders coach Tim Joyce had a simple way to describe his squad for this season — pretty good.
That might be a bit of an understatement.
Bishop Canevin returns four of the starters from last season's team that reached the WPIAL Class AA title game.
“We have some really good players,” Joyce said. “We knew that coming into the year. They are improved and motivated.”
Duquesne commit Erin Waskowiak leads the charge. The senior guard averaged 20.4 points last season and was named the Tribune-Review's “preseason player of the year.”
Forward Carly Forse will give the Lady Crusaders a strong post presence. The 5-foot-10 senior enters her second season as a starter. Senior guard Celina DiPietro returns and gives Bishop Canevin a strong shooting presence.
Junior guard Johnie Olkosky gained valuable playing time last season as a starter and should expect to be a bigger presence on the court.
Finding the player to fill in at the fifth spot has been the challenge for Joyce. He said juniors Caroline DeFrank and Alaina McGuire are the likely options.
“I can't say one would start every game,” Joyce said. “It may change game to game.”
After competing in Section 5-AA the past two seasons, Bishop Canevin has moved to Section 4-AA.
It will be joined by former Section 5-AA rivals Seton-La Salle and Steel Valley and face off against new opponents in Brentwood, Chartiers-Houston, Fort Cherry and Wilkinsburg.
One opponent no longer on the Bishop Canevin schedule that bothers Joyce is Carlynton.
The Lady Cougars made the move to Section 6-AA from 5-AA.
“It is sad to me that Carlynton is not there,” Joyce said. “It was always a rivalry game. It was kind of nostalgic for us.
“I am a Carlynton grad. My two assistants are Carlynton grads. My wife is a graduate. I'm sad to see the change.
“How we wound up where we did, I don't know. That is for smarter people than me to figure out.”
In addition to the new conference, Bishop Canevin has several tough nonsection opponents to contend with. These include Gateway and Franklin Regional from Class AAAA and South Fayette from Class AAAA.
The Lady Crusaders also will face Villa Maria Academy — a Class AAA team from Erie that eliminated Bishop Canevin from the past three PIAA tournaments — and Damascus from Maryland.
After reaching the WPIAL Class semifinals in 2010-11 and the championship game last season, the Lady Crusaders have their eyes set on the next step.
“We want to go further,” Joyce said. “We want to win the championship.”
Bishop Canevin gets its season underway tomorrow, Friday, at the Oakland Catholic tournament. It faces the Eagles at 7:30 p.m.
The Lady Crusaders will play their second game of the tournament Saturday as they take on North Catholic at 1 p.m.
Last season: 12-10 (4-8)
Returning starters: guard Conor Richardson, forward Amanda Dodd
Key losses: guard Sierra Conley, guard Andrea Trombetta
Tim Bonner said his first season leading the Lady Cougars isn't about winning the section or the team playing its way to Palumbo Center or making a deep run into the PIAA tournament.
It is about building stability.
Since the 2006-07 campaign, Carlynton has had six girls basketball coaches. Last season's coach, Rich Griffin, resigned after feeling he couldn't take the program in the direction he had hoped.
“I don't want the team to think this is another guy coming in one year, and then he is going to be gone,” Bonner said. “I want the program to get back to its roots and have the players trust we care and will be here.”
Bonner coached the team from 2004-06 and compiled a 22-27 record, leading the Lady Cougars to their most recent WPIAL playoff appearance in 2004-05. He also served as an assistant to Cayll Smith during the coach's lone season in 2010-11.
Bonner's newest team will be filled with youth. Out of 18 players, the team has three seniors and two juniors.
The three senior leaders are Amanda Dodd, Rose Doyle and Lejla Isak. Dodd and Doyle are returning players, and Isak returns after not playing last season.
Bonner praised Dodd's ability as a guard and her long armspan. Doyle will fill in as the team's center, and Bonner is impressed by her work ethic.
“(Doyle) earned her starting role,” Bonner said. “She came into the program when I was an assistant, and she was so raw. She has improved so much.”
Junior guard Hannah Murray will see an increased role as she takes over the point guard position. Junior forward Jazz Meredith will play a big role despite suffering an injury during the offseason that kept her out of summer ball.
Sophomore Jordan Melko will start after seeing a lot of minutes as a freshman.
The Lady Cougars took a blow when Conor Richardson was sidelined after tweaking her knee. The 5-foot-9 sophomore guard had a strong freshman campaign and is expected to make a return by late December or early January.
The Lady Cougars will compete in a new section after struggling to contend with teams such as Bishop Canevin, Seton-La Salle and Steel Valley in Section 5-AA.
Carlynton now plays in Section 6-AA against Avonworth, Beaver, Freedom, Northgate, OLSH and Sto-Rox.
“The final four teams in Class AA last year came out of the old section,” Bonner said. “Overall, I am happy with the new section. OLSH still gives us a Catholic school that reloads every year, and Beaver dropped down from Class AAA.
“It is a challenge, but we still have the ability to compete.”
The Lady Cougars will get their season underway tomorrow, Friday, at the South Side Beaver tournament. They will face Ellwood City at 3:30 p.m.
Last season: 25-4 (10-0)
Returning starters: forward Kristina Coyne, guard Mariah Wells
Key losses: guard Morgan Figura, guard Kristen Castello
There is a lot of hype around the Lady Colts as they enter the season as several Pittsburgh media outlets have the team ranked high in the Class AAAA rankings, including the Tribune-Review ranking Chartiers Valley No. 2.
One person not buying into the hype is coach Spencer Stefko.
“I'll tell you the same thing as I told them — whoever thinks we should be No. 2 should be fired immediately, because they know nothing about basketball,” Stefko said. “I can easily name five teams better than us.”
The opinion isn't a knock on his team but more of praise of the Lady Colts' new home in Class AAAA. Chartiers Valley makes the jump into the classification after competing in Class AAA last season and reaching the WPIAL and PIAA semifinals.
Chartiers Valley will compete in Section 4-AAAA against Baldwin, Bethel Park, Canon McMillan, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair.
“We realize we won't be getting any housewarming gifts,” Stefko said. “These are really good teams. I believe it makes for the most competitive section in western Pennsylvania. And being part of that is certainly something we don't mind.”
The Lady Colts will be led by three seniors in guards Mariah Wells and Kassidy O'Keefe and forward Kristina Coyne.
All three started for Chartiers Valley last season, and Wells led the team in scoring with 11.7 ppg.
Stefko praised the senior athletes and said their leadership will give the Lady Colts an instant boost.
“Those kids only worry about the name on the front of the jersey and not themselves,” Stefko said. “They are great examples for the program on and off the court. Having such unselfish kids at top filters down.
“There are points where I am yelling at them to stop being so unselfish.”
The team will have two experienced juniors to call on in 6-foot forward Kristin McGeough and guard Jenna Devinney.
Sophomore guard Alexa Golden was a starter last season and will continue to be a major part of the team. Stefko said sophomore Melissa Rickens will see her role grow.
“(Rickens) will be the first one off the bench,” Stefko said. “She had a great summer and is a much better player. Amanda Mazzarini and Carly O'Keefe will be significant for us, as well.”
While the team returns its starting five and has added some depth, Stefko said there are no expectations being set. The Lady Colts are more concerned with improving than thinking about what could happen.
“We don't come into the season saying we want to win this or win that,” Stefko said. “We just want to get better each practice and each game.
“We are not worried about our record, just how we are going to beat Canon-McMillan, Baldwin and Upper St. Clair in those first few games.”
Chartiers Valley faces Pine-Richland on the road Monday in its first game of the season. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Last season: 20-8 (7-5)
Returning starters: guard Maryssa Agurs, guard Kayla Brownlee
Key losses: guard Alexa Xenakis, guard Taylor Brownlee
Nikki Presto set some high expectations after her first season leading the Lady Golden Eagles.
In addition to the 20-8 record, Keystone Oaks reached the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA second round for the program's best season in recent memory.
Presto now is trying to make sure her team continues to look forward and not back.
“We are trying to instill that this is not last year's team,” Presto said. “We lost five seniors. But we have about five returning players that were part of it.
“Those players have confidence after last year, but we cannot rest our hats on last season.”
Keystone Oaks has jumped from Class AA to AAA. The Lady Golden Eagles' new home in Section 5-AAA will feature Montour, Moon, Quaker Valley, South Fayette, South Park and Trinity.
Presto said the new section will be a challenge, but the squad is used to playing in a top Class AA section. Last season, Keystone Oaks was part of Section 5-AA, home to the final four teams of the WPIAL Class AA tournament.
“We are coming out of the best section in Class AA,” Presto said. “We need to do the same thing as last season and just battle everyone on the court. South Park will be the team with a target on its back after reaching the WPIAL title game.”
The team will be led by a trio of returning players in guards junior Maryssa Agurs and sophomores Kayla Brownlee and Lexy Mercuri.
“They are the big three,” Presto said. “We tell them, and they understand they will need to carry us with their experience.”
Agurs played forward last season but will be moved to her more natural guard position in 2012-13.
She was a breakout performer during the postseason run last season, and the coaching staff is expecting to see the same intensity all season this year.
“The playoff Maryssa that showed up in February and March needs to show up in November and December,” Presto said. “She showed such poise down the stretch. She has high expectations for herself this season and the coaching staff does, as well.”
Brownlee and Mercuri saw meaningful minutes as freshmen. Brownlee will be the squad's point guard and is expected to be a major contributor to the team's success.
“I treat her like a senior,” Presto said. “I treat her like an 18-year-old and not a 15-year-old.
“A lot is expected of her this season, and she is stepping up as a leader.”
Mercuri was a post player last season but will be moved into a guard position. The sophomore will see her role extended after a strong offseason.
“She has made leaps and bounds,” Presto said. “Her ball handling has improved. We should see her scoring increase.”
Junior Jillian Welch also returns and will give the team a strong forward presence. Senior Holly Kendell will complete the starting five.
The team has added some depth with several newcomers. Sarah Abbott Mariah Berman will add depth to the guard spot, and Maryssa Agurs' younger sister, Maryah, is expected to see time.
While the team returns plenty of experience with several new faces, Presto said it is taking a simple view of the season.
The Lady Golden Eagles are focused on the task at hand and have only a pair of goals.
“We are taking things on practice at a time,” Presto said. “The goals heading into the season are to compete in a tough section and expect to make the postseason. If we can do that, we will take it from there.”
Keystone Oaks kicks off its season tomorrow, Friday, at the Indiana tournament. It will face Baldwin at 3:30 p.m.
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-388-5813.