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Class AA girls basketball preview: Paced by 3 Pitt recruits, Seton-La Salle again the favorite

| Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Seton-La Salle's Naje Gibson (left) works out with Nicolete Newman and Cassidy Walsh during practice Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Seton-La Salle's Naje Gibson drives to the basket during practice Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Seton-La Salle's Naje Gibson is a member of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 2013 Terrific 10.

Significant changes usually come after disappointing seasons, but the Seton-La Salle girls basketball team will have a different look after quite a successful year.

After cruising to a 27-3 record, including deep runs in the WPIAL and state playoffs, the Rebels hired a new coach and will feature a new player, who transferred from Virginia's Oak Hill Academy last year.

“I got all the support in the world so there hasn't been much of an adjustment,” said coach Spencer Stefko, who guided Chartiers Valley to a 137-51 record the past seven seasons. “There certainly hasn't been challenges.”

Stefko replaces John Ashaolu, who is the Seton-La Salle athletic director and served as interim coach last year after Dennis Squeglia resigned.

“Between the two coaches, I would say they both know a couple things about basketball,” said senior Naje Gibson, referring to Stefko and Ashaolu's resumes.

The Rebels have been receiving praise, too. Three players have committed to Pitt, including senior guard/forward Yacine Diop, who sat out her junior year after transferring to Seton-La Salle and has played internationally for her home country of Senegal.

“The kids are a lot more hungry than you would imagine a stereotypical talented kid,” Stefko said. “They really want to learn. You don't necessarily expect that mindset from a kid that's talented or already has a scholarship. It's just a great feeling to be a part of.”

The 6-foot Gibson, also headed to Pitt, is the spark of the offense, leading the Rebels in scoring (13 ppg), rebounds (165) and steals (81) last season. But the 5-foot 10 Diop will complement Gibson's generous game.

“She is one of the most unselfish players,” Stefko said. “Sometimes we need to tell her to shoot.”

Gibson added: “I try to get better for my teammates and be a good teammate and leader and play hard.”

Though much of the focus will be on Gibson, Diop and junior Pitt commit Cassidy Walsh, Stefko said the team's depth will be key.

“It gives me the feeling we can be pretty good because we got some depth,” Stefko said. “By the end of the year we can be a tough out.”

Junior Nicolete Newman and sophomore Shaunay Edmonds will round out the starting five. A trio of juniors highlight a talented bench — guards Giavanna Facchiano and Julie DeKlaven and forward Morgan Henderson.

Practices have been competitive, and it's no secret what Seton's plans are for the end of the year.

“Win WPIALs again and win another state (title),” Gibson said.

Justin Criado is a freelance writer.

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