Lady Rebels gearing for dominating postseason run
The Seton-La Salle girls' basketball team has won 47 of 48 games over the past two years, including its 17-1 overall record in 2012-13.
The Lady Rebels were perfect last season, finishing with a 30-0 record and winning the WPIAL and PIAA Class AA championships in impressive fashion.
Seton-La Salle won its first seven games this season before suffering a three-point loss to Ohio's Centerville in the Pickerington North (Ohio) holiday tournament.
Since then, the Lady Rebels have reeled off 10 consecutive victories, including a nonsection victory at Class AAAA Upper St. Clair earlier this week.
“The team has really responded after losing their first game in two years,” John Ashaolu, Seton-La Salle's first-year head coach, said. “We have used that loss as a motivating factor going forward.
“Our defense has really improved in the past couple of weeks, and the team has started to buy into our defensive philosophies and concepts. We pride ourselves on defense and keeping opposing team point totals in the 30s. Our defensive rebounding has also improved, but we still have a long ways to go to keeping teams from gaining offensive rebounds against us.”
Defensive stalwarts for the Lady Rebels, on the boards in particular, are 6-foot junior forward Naje Gibson and seniors Natalie Piaggesi, a 6-2 center, and Katherine Hart, a 6-foot forward.
Gibson, a 1,000-point career scorer, Piaggesi and Hart have taken turns leading Seton-La Salle in scoring this season, sharing that role with backcourt teammates Angela Heintz, a 5-10 senior and also a 1,000-point career scorer, Nicolette Newman, a 5-6 sophomore, and Cassidy Walsh, a 5-7 sophomore.
Also seeing a healthy dose of playing time have been freshman guard Shaunay Edmonds, sophomore center Morgan Henderson, sophomore forward Bridget Sigg and freshman guard/forward Madalena Psillidis, among others.
The Lady Rebels are averaging a Class AA-best 71.0 points per game, while allowing only 35.6 points per game.
But the talented Seton girls aren't interested in individual accolades.
Focusing on section contests, the Lady Rebels' leading scorers have included the likes of Piaggesi, with 16 points against Fort Cherry; Newman, who netted 21 versus Steel Valley; Hart, with 17 against Chartiers-Houston; and Gibson, who scored 22 versus Fort Cherry.
That's just a few examples. Against Villa Maria Academy in a recent nonsection game, Walsh netted a team-high 15 points for the local squad, and shared scoring honors with Gibson against Hollidaysburg with 14 points.
Four girls — Gibson (13.2), Walsh (12.1), Newman (12) and Piaggesi (11.1) — average double figures offensively, while Heintz, a Duquesne University recruit, leads the team in assists with 88 through 17 contests.
Gibson is the team's leading rebounder with 106, while Newman leads in 3-point field goals with 38.
“Our goal is to win another state championship and to be playing our best basketball in March,” Ashaolu said. “We have to work on being patient on offense, and going through all our options on our offensive sets. Sometimes we tend to want to try to get the ‘home run' play on our first option, instead of letting the plays develop.”
With one of the deepest and most-talented rosters in the state, practices end up being more competitive for the Seton girls than most of their regular-season games.
Practice is a place where Ashaolu and his staff are able to fine-tune the players' skills. As they prepare for the WPIAL playoffs, they are focused on improving their defensive performance.
“We have to work on boxing out and limiting our opponents to one shot,” Ashaolu said. “We have to pay attention to finishing our defensive possession by boxing out and rebounding and starting our fast break.
“We have to pay attention to our full-court press and half-court zone presses. We have to be able to make the right reads and either get steals or make the opposing team play faster than they want. We are working on individual skills so that each player is more versatile, which makes us a harder team to defend.”
Seton-La Salle has four regular-season games remaining, including Wilkinsburg at home tonight, Thursday, and Steel Valley on the road on Monday.
The Lady Rebels not only are the favorites to capture their third straight WPIAL title, they are considered by many to be the best team in the Western Pennsylvania regardless of classification.
Seton has prepared for the playoffs by breezing through its section undefeated, and via a rigorous nonsection schedule.
The Lady Rebels have defeated Class AAAA foes Mt. Lebanon, Oakland Catholic and USC, along with other top squads such as North Catholic, Hollidaysburg, Villa Maria Academy and, in section play, rival Bishop Canevin.
The local squad is slated to play Bishop Canevin at home on Monday, and Oakland Catholic at home on Feb. 11.
Seton-La Salle has defeated the Lady Crusaders seven consecutive times.
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.