Star-studded Seton-La Salle girls look to add more titles
Centerville (Ohio) High School girls basketball coach Adam Priefer can recall some of the details of a game his highly regarded team played almost eight weeks ago.
He can recite some of the runs, the back-and-forth nature of the contest, even the way his players defended the opposing team's stars.
“I thought it was a fantastic game,” Priefer said last week. “It felt like a state playoff game.”
One of those memorable for Centerville but one that its opponent that day in southwest Ohio, Seton-La Salle, won't forget.
That's because it's the only game the Rebels have lost in the past 23 months.
As Seton-La Salle prepares to open its postseason with a first-round WPIAL Class AA playoff game 6:30 p.m. Tuesday against Washington, the Rebels do so having won 51 of the 52 they've played over the past two seasons.
“From time to time, I like to tell them, ‘When you put on that uniform, you know our standards are higher than everybody else,' ” first-year Rebels coach John Ashaolu said. “I told our three seniors, they've left a legacy. When they come back 10 years from now, they'll see — hopefully — back-to-back state titles up as what they've done and what they're still doing right now.”
Seton-La Salle is on one of the most dominant runs of any WPIAL team in recent memory. The Rebels are the No. 1-ranked team in the state, the top seed in the WPIAL playoffs, the defending WPIAL and PIAA champs and they have scored twice as many points as their opponents this season.
To find the most similar team over the past decade, you'd have to go all the way to ... about 3 miles away. Mt. Lebanon has won three of the past four WPIAL titles and three of the past four PIAA championships in Class AAAA.
The Blue Devils went 31-0 in 2008-09 and 29-2 the following season, sweeping the WPIAL and PIAA both times. Just like Seton-La Salle this season, Mt. Lebanon's only defeats over that two-season span were to out-of-state teams at out-of-state tournaments.
Mt. Lebanon has played — and lost to — Seton-La Salle early in each of the past two regular seasons, and the schools scrimmaged each other last week in advance of the playoffs. Blue Devils coach Dori Oldaker can relate to Ashaolu as well as anyone can.
“There is a tremendous amount of pressure when you're an undefeated team or a highly ranked team like Seton-La Salle,” Oldaker said. “That pressure can be pretty tough and all-consuming. But as long as you keep the kids focused and the coaching staff focused on one game at a time, I think that's very helpful. And don't get caught up in rankings or anything the media says or read too much into your own articles.”
Seton-La Salle has been so dominant that only twice all season has it won by fewer than 14 points against a WPIAL team. Those games came against Mt. Lebanon, Class AAAA's No. 1 team, and Bishop Canevin, the Class AA No. 2.
But even if the rival Crusaders kept the Rebels to within a 66-58 defeat Feb. 7, the teams' prior meeting was not nearly as close: 66-35 at Bishop Canevin Jan. 14.
“They have such great size, and when you add that defensive intensity they play with to it, they're just hard to beat,” said Bishop Canevin coach Tim Joyce, whose team has lost five times to Seton-La Salle in the past 14 months and three times to everybody else in that span.
“It's the players. They have players. (Junior guard/forward) Naje Gibson is probably the best player in the state, and on top of Naje, they have other good players: (sophomore guard) Cassidy Walsh and (senior guard) Angela Heintz, (senior center) Natalie Piaggesi, (senior forward) Katherine Hart ...”
Joyce's voice trailed off. The Rebels seemingly have too many college-level players to count. Heintz signed with Duquesne, Gibson is being heavily recruited by many big-time programs, Piaggesi received a scholarship from Division II Mercyhurst, Walsh already has an offer from Duquesne and Hart has multiple opportunities from Division I schools to be a “preferred walk-on.”
Additionally, starting sophomore guard Nicolette Newman has received interest from several Division I programs — as has Shaunay Edmonds, even though she is only a freshman.
“We have a really good team; we have some of the best players around,” Hart said. “But it's more than that. We have become so close as a team over the last few years, and when you have that, it makes you that much better than just any raw skills or any type of pure talent.”