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Penn-Trafford looks back on championship season

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 4:04 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
North Allegheny's Danielle Wall and Penn-Trafford's Casey Aunkst battle for possession during the PIAA Class AAAA girls basketball game at Baldwin High School on Friday, March 7, 2014. North Allegheny won the game 64-39.

Penn-Trafford girls basketball coach John Giannikas knows many people will consider winning the first WPIAL basketball championship in school history as the Warriors' crowning achievement during the 2013-14 season.

He, however, will take his greatest satisfaction not from that title, or from the team's third section championship in four seasons, but instead from his players' growth over the five-month season.

“The championships are great, no doubt, and it hasn't really sunk in, to be honest,” Giannikas said. “But seeing them grow as a team and as people and seeing what they did to this community (and) the support we got, that's something I'll never forget.”

The Warriors' championship season ended last week with a 64-39 loss to North Allegheny in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs at Baldwin High School. Devvin LaBarge scored 22 points for the Tigers, connecting on six 3-pointers, as North Allegheny pulled away after halftime. Maria Palarino scored 11 points, and Casey Aunkst added 10 for Penn-Trafford (20-7).

“I thought we did the best we could to defend them,” Giannikas said. “They're a very balanced team. I thought we did a good job on the inside game, but they beat us a little bit on the perimeter and we lost a couple of their (shooters), especially LaBarge in transition with some 3s. I give them credit (because) they knocked down some shots, and defensively I thought they did a good job of making us earn everything we got.”

While Penn-Trafford's season ended with a loss, the Warriors won a lot during the season.

Despite beginning the year with just two returning players from the 2012-13 team, Penn-Trafford finished with its third state playoff appearance in four seasons. The Warriors overcame a 4-4 start by winning their next 12 games to earn a share of the section championship, and they beat Plum, Mt. Lebanon, Fox Chapel and Hempfield in succession to win the Class AAAA WPIAL title.

“I'm proud of those guys and what they've done for the community and the atmosphere and the positive vibe they brought to the school,” Giannikas said. “You saw that (against North Allegheny) with the students — 250 students coming out here on a Friday night (to watch the game). Those kids did that. I wouldn't trade any one of them for anybody.

“We'll take some time off and get ready for next year. It's hard right now, but when you take a couple days off and look back at the season, we'll take a section championship and WPIAL championship and be proud of that.”

Penn-Trafford played several memorable games during the 2013-14 season, including a three-game sweep of section rival Hempfield, including a buzzer-beater in the first game and a 15-point comeback in the WPIAL championship game; a 13-point comeback against Plum in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs; and a one-point overtime victory over Fox Chapel in the WPIAL semifinals.

“Every game that we've played has been a fourth quarter, nip-and-tuck kind of game,” Giannikas said. “So there's so many games throughout the season you can think of. ... The common theme is just how they never quit and the way they were so resilient.”

The Warriors will lose one senior from the 2013-14 team: guard Kaila Simcoviak, who averaged 5.6 points per game and led the squad in 3-pointers made.

“She came back from an injury last year and really made some humongous (plays),” Giannikas said. “She was our shooter. She was one of our main shooters, and she made big 3s for us all year long. Without her shooting, we probably aren't where we are today. We're going to miss that shooting; someone's going to have to step up and take that responsibility.”

Four starters and some key reserves will return next season, but Giannikas knows that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

“I love what I'm bringing back next year, but you can't go by that,” he said. “I think we proved that you can't go by who's going to be (good) by who they bring back. It all starts over. They've all got things they need to improve on, and I know they'll work at it.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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