Several area girls basketball teams enjoying sudden success
Laura McGowan has scanned the stands at the Brentwood girls basketball team's games this season and noticed a few unfamiliar faces, mainly opposing coaches videotaping and scribbling notes for scouting purposes.
Trinity girls basketball coach Bob Miles has had to talk to his players about what to do if a reporter is waiting outside the team's locker room to talk to them following a win.
What's the link? Neither instance, although seemingly routine, was not that much of a concern last season, as Brentwood and Trinity stumbled to losing records.
But this winter, which has shaped up by having a couple teams turn things upside down, anything is possible.
Brentwood won its first 10 games for the first time since … well, anyone can remember.
Trinity — which hired Miles, the former Fort Cherry coach, in May 2012 — is 8-3 and contending with South Park, Moon and South Fayette atop Section 5-AAA.
Despite having three impact players suffer offseason knee injuries, including Drexel-bound guard Megan Marecic, Bethel Park hasn't missed a beat, winning its first nine games while averaging nearly 60 points per contest.
“We had a pretty solid team,” said McGowan, who leads the Spartans with 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. “I knew we were going to have a good season, but this good of a season? I didn't see that coming.”
Neither did Trinity sophomore Mary Dunn, who leads the Hillers at 13.6 points and eight rebounds per game.
“I didn't even realize we could do this until we started doing it,” Dunn said.
Junior Rachel Phillis (11.4 ppg) has teamed with Dunn and freshman Sierra Kotchman (11.3 ppg) to formulate a young nucleus for Trinity; six of the top nine contributors are underclassmen.
“I think last year we laid the ground work, and this season is that first step up the ladder,” Miles said. “It might be, in some regards, a breakthrough season because the kids are learning how to win. That's a big step.”
Brentwood coach Rachel Thomas played at her alma mater and enjoyed a 25-4 season in 1986. Yet that Spartans team lost its first game.
Thomas credits the reversal — Brentwood was 9-13 last year — to team chemistry and hard work. Besides McGowan, sophomore Alecia Folino is contributing 12.0 points and a team-high 3.2 assists. Folino and senior Sydney Bauer are tops at 3.1 steals per game.
“It's fun to watch,” Thomas said. “It's fun to be a part of this team.”
Thomas, like Miles, welcomed the chance to coach one of her players through how to handle an interview with a newspaper reporter. After all, this was a foreign concept only a year ago.
“Oh no,” McGowan responded when asked whether she had noticed anyone scouting Brentwood's games before. “People definitely did not scout us. We were never considered a threat.”
Bethel Park was — and won the WPIAL Class AAAA title last season. But few knew how to peg the Black Hawks during the preseason when Marecic, Laura Page and Alexis Taylor all suffered injuries.
Marecic's 14.9 points per game last season have been accounted for by a group of players that includes senior Harper Zimmer (10.4 ppg) and freshman Justina Mascaro (10 ppg). Junior Mia Mates has shifted into the starting lineup and is contributing a team-high 4.5 assists per game.
Five players are averaging at least seven points per game.
“We're pretty balanced offensively, which is really nice,” Bethel Park coach Jonna Burke said. “We have a handful of kids capable of scoring, so it's helped us on nights when maybe our leading scorer isn't on.”
Though it's not quite as dramatic a turnaround, Neshannock has gone from 12-12 fourth-place team to one that's 13-0, atop Section 2-AA at 5-0 and ranked No. 7 in the state.
The Lancers have done it by cutting down their points allowed per game from 47.4 to 29.8, a 37-percent reduction.
Junior guard Madison McHale has taken advantage and averages 20.4 points per game, fourth-most in Class AA.
“It's been a good start,” Neshannock coach Luann Grybowski said. “I'm not so sure we're one of the best in Class AA, but we've improved. The kids are working hard. I'm proud of the improvements that we've made.”
Other notable turnarounds include Pine-Richland (5-17 to 7-4), Laurel (6-14 to 7-4), Shenango (7-14 to 6-6), Aliquippa (3-18 to 8-5) and Sewickley Academy (6-14 to 6-4).
Led by Class AA's No. 3 scorer, Conor Richardson, Carlynton has gone from a 13-11, middle-of-the-pack team to one that's 10-2, 5-0 and alone atop Section 6-AA.
What's one thing all involved can agree on?
It's far better on this side of the world than that other place. And nobody's in too much of a hurry to go back.
“Once we started winning, every win just makes you want to do more,” Trinity's Dunn said. “I don't want to have to go back to there with all the disappointment. This is a much better feeling.”