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Experienced, deep Penn-Trafford girls basketball team seeking 3rd straight section title

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 11:34 p.m.
(c) 2012 Aaron Loughner
Penn-Trafford's Maria Palarino defends against Plum during a season-opening win on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Aaron Loughner | For the Tribune-Review

Experience goes a long way in winning Quad-A basketball games. Just ask Penn-Trafford girls basketball coach John Giannikas.

His Warriors (2-0, 5-0), with eight seniors, are cruising. Through its first five games, Penn-Trafford's narrowest margin of victory was a 55-44 win against Shaler — the same team that's been a thorn in the Warriors' side the past few years.

Giannikas' team lost a heartbreaker to the Titans in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs a year ago, 42-41, and two years ago was defeated by Shaler in the WPIAL quarterfinals, and then later in the PIAA tournament.

But times have changed. Penn-Trafford won back-to-back section titles with relatively younger teams the past two seasons. This year, Giannikas feels his squad has the potential to advance even further, even without four graduates.

“We have some of the core back from those section title teams,” he said. “We also have some younger talent mixed into the rotation to push the older girls. A lot of these seniors have played a lot of minutes (in big games) in the past, and they are definitely up to the challenge ahead of them.”

Seniors Taylor Cortazzo (guard), Nicole Hyland (guard) and Cassie Patterson (forward) were starters last season, and seniors Maddie Mossellem, Mia Barchetti, Jackie Bevilacqua, Morgan Rector and Chelsia Poole also play key roles.

The Warriors won a tough, 55-44, road contest at Gateway and had a surprisingly easy blowout win, 74-37, over Plum. Penn-Trafford has outscored opponents by an average of 66-31.

“Shaler and Gateway were big wins for us,” Giannikas said. “In the Plum game, we shot really well and caught them on an off night. Those are three very good teams. It's early, and we still need to mesh together a bit better but overall I'm happy so far. This offseason we really worked on our ability to score points. We really need to stay consistent with it — especially as the section games are ahead of us.”

The Warriors started section play with two easy victories over Laurel Highlands, 85-21, and Connellsville, 65-17.

Penn-Trafford also has a deep bench. The Warriors feature a rotation of nine to 10 players without missing a beat. Along with his host of upperclassmen, Giannikas has received quality minutes from sophomores Maria Palarino, a forward, and guard Casey Aunkst.

“They (sophomores) have stepped up,” Giannikas said. “Maria (Palarino) has been shooting the ball out of this world so far.”

Giannikas knows, however, things are about to get a little harder. The Warriors host a tough Kiski Area team Thursday night, play in the North Allegheny Tournament and then have their first section showdown with Hempfield on Jan. 3.

“I know it's kind of boring to say but we're really just taking this one day at a time,” he said. “Anybody can take this section right now. We're trying to improve every day. But I do know this: These next two weeks are going to tell us a lot about our team. I can't say I'm surprised (by the start). These are humble players. We just have to keep it going now.”

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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