Trib Cup: Laurel girls heading to 1st playoff berth in 15 seasons

| Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 10:27 p.m.

The Laurel girls basketball team doesn't have a single player among the top scorers in the WPIAL, but that is hardly a setback for how the program has fared this season.

Actually, it's notable according to coach Jessica Shevitz, because it is one of the reasons the Spartans have been a dynamic team.

“It takes five people to win a game,” she said. “We don't want to be a team of individuals. In other circumstances, teams can sometimes focus on one player, but you can't do that with us.

“One night somebody has 20 points and the next game has two. Me, as the coach, can't tell you who it'll be on a given night until a few minutes in.”

The Spartans are on pace to make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years thanks to their 11-6 overall record and 6-2 mark in Section 2-AA, trailing on Neshannock for the top spot. Laurel ended the 2013 calendar year with a win in the Union Holiday Tournament and has mustered a pair of four-game winning streaks.

The Spartans are highlighted as this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and they are a primary reason why Laurel is in 10th place in the Class AA standings.

Shevitz deploys a six-player rotation that she describes as a veteran bunch, mainly because the Spartans didn't lose any players to graduation. Seniors Jessica Conrad, Rachel Baker and Brooke Dicks are the elders of the bunch that have helped improve the quality of the Laurel program during their tenure.

Conrad is averaging 13 points per game and, Shevitz said, is the team's emotional leader. Baker has been battling the change from forward to guard while also still dealing with the daily discomfort of a torn ACL suffered two years ago. Dicks' main responsibility is being the quarterback of the offense.

Junior center Ellen Shaffer is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per game and has done a good job cleaning up messes in the paint. Sophomore Kristen Dicks is a tenacious defensive player who will take over the point guard reigns next year. Junior Maddison Deinert is the first player off the bench with the ability to fill the guard and forward positions.

Shevitz has been a member of the Laurel coaching staff for 13 years and has served as its head coach for four. She said there's a different feel to this year's roster than in the past.

“We've been pushing the defense this year and we're still averaging more points per game,” she said. “I think we do a great job letting our defense dictate our offense.

“We play a lot of full court man to man. We'll get after you from baseline to baseline.”

Talent and schematics aside, Shevitz said there's another underlying reason for the turnaround.

“I would just attribute it to their desire … These girls just flat out want it,” she said. “There are some things that I believe you can't coach. You can coach offense, defense and shooting habits, but you can't coach desire.

“Sometimes the team that wants it the most wins. It's that sheer desire with some obvious basketball talent.”

The Spartans have four section games left and if they win all four, they'll earn at least a share of the section crown. For Shevitz, the long journey with the program is poised for its most gratifying success story when the playoffs begin.

“We just want to see our name on the board,” she said. “It's going to be crucial to not get caught up in the emotion of the game and handle ourselves on the court and handle the shock and awe of getting there.

“We want to take care of our business and we want a piece of the pie at the end.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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