Signal Item-area girls teams ready for return to hardwood
By Nathan Smith
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
It was a prime season for the area girls basketball teams in 2012-13 – all four made it into the WPIAL playoffs, two reached the A.J. Palumbo center to play for a District 7 title and one walked away as a PIAA champion.
While each team has some major holes to fill, each returns plenty of experience and exciting new talent to continue the success from 2012-13.
Below is a look at what the Signal Item area girls basketball teams can expect this season.
Last season's record: 27-4 (10-2).
Key returns: guard Johnie Olkosky, forward Gina Vallecorsa.
Lost starters: guard Erin Waskowiak, forward Carly Forse.
The defending WPIAL and PIAA Class AA champion will need to find a way to replace three multi-year starters who moved onto the college ranks– Erin Waskowiak (Duquesne) and Carly Force and Celina Dipietro (Point Park).
The team will be able to look to two returning starters in senior Johnie Olkosky and sophomore Gina Vallecorsa.
“(Olkosky) is a tremendous leader,” Bishop Canevin coach Tim Joyce said. “(Vallecorsa) gained some valuable experience last season.”
The team will dive into last season's bench to fill out its starting five. Senior guard Caroline Defrank gained valuable experience as the team's No. 6 last season and Joyce's daughter Erin, a sophomore guard, will be thrust into a starting spot.
The team also will have 6-foot-3 Rebecca Turney, a transfer from Seton-La Salle.
While Seton-La Salle is the favorite in Section 4-AA – not to mention the WPIAL and maybe the PIAA – Joyce said the Crusaders aren't lowering their expectations.
“I would like to win another championship,” Joyce said. “It won't be an easy thing but that is the expectation we have established for ourselves. We don't want to set it any lower.”
The Crusaders get their season underway this weekend at the Oakland Catholic Tip Off Tournament.
They will face North Catholic at 6 p.m. Friday before taking on Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Saturday at 1 p.m.
Last season's record: 13-11 (7-5).
Key returns: guard Conor Richardson, guard Hannah Murray.
Lost starters: guard Amanda Dodd, forward Lejla Isak.
In Tim Bonner's return as the Cougars coach, he led the squad to its first playoff game since 2004-05.
This year, he expects to go further.
“We did lose some great senior leadership,” Bonner said. “But the coaching staff has been on board since last season so we are ahead of where we were last season.
“The kids are working hard. We have the ingredients for this to be a special season.”
All eyes will be on the return of junior Conor Richardson. The 5-foot-9 guard missed last season with an injury but is still receiving looks from multiple Division I basketball programs.
“She is blending in really well with the rest of the team,” Bonner said. “They have a good chemistry from playing together in younger grades. She is very team oriented.”
Her addition will compliment an already loaded lineup. Returning will be all-section selections senior guard Hannah Murray and junior guard Jordan Melko.
“Jazz Meredith will be starting for her fourth straight year,” Bonner said. “She is a hard worker. She had some health issues heading into last season so she was a late developer.”
The Cougars could even expect to see minutes from junior guard Lexus and Lyric Woods as well as sophomores such as forward Abby Diulus and guard Amanda Martin.
“We have high expectations,” Bonner said. “We have a lot of players back with some major contributors from last season's playoff run.
“If we play well and stay healthy, we should contend for a section title. We want to get into the playoffs and hang around for a couple of rounds.”
The Cougars will start their season tomorrow, Friday, at the South Side Beaver Tip Off Tournament against Ellwood City at 3:30 p.m.
Last season's record: 22-8 (8-4).
Key returns: center Kristin McGeough, guard Jenna Devinney.
Lost starters: guard Mariah Wells, guard Kassidy O'Keefe.
A lot of things will be different for the Colts after finishing as WPIAL Class AAAA runners-ups a season ago: Spencer Stefko won't be leading the team from the sideline, three starting seniors from last season have graduated and the top returning player – junior guard Alexa Golden – will miss the season because of an ACL injury.
“We have high expectations,” first-year coach Ashley Battle said. “This isn't a rebuilding year. We understand we had success last season and we're going to try and build upon that.”
Battle – a former player at UConn and in the WNBA – will have senior guard Jenna Devinney – who offers the team a talented outside shooter – and 6-foot-3 forward Kristin McGeough will provide the team size.
Junior guard Karley O'Keefe got time off the bench last season.
“It is a learning process for everyone,” Battle said. “It is a new system with new kids getting mixed in with new coaches.”
The Colts will kick off their season at the North Allegheny Tip Off Tournament this weekend.
They will face North Allegheny Friday at 8 p.m. and Altoona Saturday at noon.
Last season's record: 14-9 (6-6).
Key returns: guard Maryssa Agurs, guard Kayla Brownlee.
Lost starters: forward Holly Kendall.
Heading into Nikki Presto's third season as coach, the feeling around the program is that this is the season the team could take a big step forward.
“This is a hard working group of kids,” Presto said. “It is time for them to show the progress they have made over the last two or three years.
“They understand they have a big opportunity this season.”
Leading the Golden Eagles will be senior guard Maryssa Agurs, a three-year starter who recently committed to Mercyhurst.
“We have talked to the seniors about leaving an impact on the program and leaving their stamp,” Presto said. “We get big scoring from her. She will be a leader on defense. She is a very cerebral player.”
Kayle Brownlee, a junior guard entering her third year as a starter, will run the point for Keystone Oaks this season.
Junior guard Lexy Mercuri will transition into a bigger role as returns to action after a six month hiatus after tearing her ACL.
Jillian Welch, a 5-foot-10 forward will provide the team size in her second year as a starter.
The team will also be able to look to seniors forward Kylie Brinning and guard Mariah Berman as well as sophomores guard Alexa Valforte and forward Maryah Agurs.
Junior 5-foot-9 forward Jaci Mangold transferred from West Allegheny and will look for minutes in her first year with the team.
“We have been preaching full court press and trapping,” Presto said. “We want to creature offense from our defense. We have even focusing in on it in practice and in the scrimmages.
Section 5-AAA will be a test for Keystone Oaks as it will feature defending WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA champion South Park as well as Quaker Valley, South Park, Moon and Montour.
“Every section game will be a battle,” Presto said. “Last year we had to grab three of the last four games to make the playoffs. We don't want that to happen this year. We are expecting to win big games.”
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.
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