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After long layoff, Frazier, Mt. Pleasant girls set for PIAA tournament

| Thursday, March 6, 2014, 10:54 p.m.
Lori Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Mt. Pleasant's Alexa Szelong (21) and Elaina Fearer (3) will try to lead the Vikings to a first-round victory in the PIAA Class AAA tournament Saturday at Hollidaysburg.

By the time the Mt. Pleasant and Frazier girls basketball teams take the court Saturday for PIAA first-round games, a full two weeks will have passed since the Vikings and Commodores saw actual game competition.

But because it's the state tournament, keeping the girls motivated during the seemingly unending down time hasn't been a problem.

“Making it to states definitely is huge for our girls and it's kind of like icing on the cake,” Frazier girls coach Shara Zupanc said as her team readies itself for a Class A first-round game against District 9 champion Clarion (20-5) at 5:30 p.m. at Clarion University. “I thought it would be a problem to continue to motivate (during the long stretch without a game), but the girls have practiced hard and it has been business as usual.”

Mt. Pleasant (15-9), like Frazier (16-6), enters the state tournament as a fifth seed from the WPIAL. The Vikings will battle District 6 champion Huntingdon (20-5) in a Class AAA game at 4 p.m. at Hollidaysburg Area High School.

The Vikings have done their best to combat the lull in action.

“We had a scrimmage (against Blairsville) and it was nice to validate what we have been working on during the time off,” Mt. Pleasant coach Scott Giacobbi said.

“You fight a lot of distractions with the start of spring sports. But for the most part, the girls understand that this is a culmination of an entire year's worth of work, and they value that.”

While the Vikings and Commodores will have 14 days between games, the layoff will only be one week for their opponents. Clarion enters the tournament confident after beating Elk County Catholic, Port Allegany and Keystone to win District 9. Huntingdon should also be flying high after wins over Ligonier Valley and Greater Johnstown to claim the District 6 title. Each team won their respective district championship last Saturday.

But despite the long layoff and playing district champs, both local clubs appear confident.

“We definitely feel like we can be successful,” Zupanc said. “We are pumped to drive three hours on Saturday and cause an upset. As long as we play strong defense and we are aggressive offensively, I think we can pull out a win.”

The key to much of Frazier's success this season has been strong defense. The Commodores used a great defensive effort to beat Sewickley Academy, 29-14, in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs. However, Frazier has capable scorers as well. Cassidy Guiser (13.7 points per game), Hannah Kline (13.5), Emily Marshall (13), Lauren Timko (11) and Kaley Barota (11) give the Commodores some balance.

For Mt. Pleasant, being strong in all areas will be critical. Mt. Pleasant has a featured scorer in Alexa Szelong, who is averaging 18.5 points per game. Elaina Fearer (11.6) and Morgan Barlock (10.6) also provide steady offense. The Vikings beat Belle Vernon in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs before falling to WPIAL Class AAA champion Blackhawk in the quarterfinals. Giacobbi would like to see an effort similar to the one his team turned in against Belle Vernon.

“We have to go out and execute on offense,” Giacobbi said. “Huntingdon is a really good defensive team, so we have to take advantage of the offensive looks we hope to generate.”

The winner of these first-round games will play in the second round on March 12. The losers will be done until next year.

“We know we are headed in the right direction and to have made it this far is just rewarding,” Zupanc said. “It's been a great season and hopefully it will continue.”

The Uniontown boys team will also try to make a run toward a state title. The Red Raiders (21-2) are the WPIAL's fourth seed in Class AAA and they will take on District 9 champion Punxsutawney (14-9) at 7 p.m. Friday at Dubois Area Middle School.

Jason Black is the Local Sports Editor of the Daily Courier. He can be reached at jblack@tribweb.com.

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