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After reaching WPIAL finals, PIAA semifinals, Burrell girls program reaches new heights

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:57 p.m.
Burrell's Natalie Myers has her shot disrupted by Bellwood-Antis' Bailey Swogger during their PIAA playoff game Tuesday, March 11, 2014.
Patrick Waksmunski | Altoona Mirror
Burrell's Natalie Myers has her shot disrupted by Bellwood-Antis' Bailey Swogger during their PIAA playoff game Tuesday, March 11, 2014.
Burrell's Jaila Manga gets around Bellwood-Antis' Kelly Leamer during their PIAA playoff game Tuesday, March 11, 2014.
Patrick Waksmunski | Altoona Mirror
Burrell's Jaila Manga gets around Bellwood-Antis' Kelly Leamer during their PIAA playoff game Tuesday, March 11, 2014.

Their eyes swimming in tears as they filed out of the locker room, Burrell's girls basketball players were confronted with finality on Tuesday night at North Allegheny.

It was obvious they weren't ready to leave. All this talk about slow and fast starts, and the team took forever to get back to the bus after a 48-37 PIAA semifinal loss to Seton-La Salle, the only team to solve them this season, doing so twice.

The best season in program history didn't end with the punctuation of a championship, either in the WPIAL or PIAA playoffs, but Burrell (28-2) took solace in the fact that its accomplishments had taken the program to another level.

“I can't imagine ever coaching a group as close-knit as this one,” Burrell coach Meghan Ziemianski said. “You take a step back and it's like, man, what we did was phenomenal.”

Burrell had the best season in A-K Valley girls basketball since Ford City in 1998. The Sabers also reached the state semis and lost there to finish 28-2.

Deer Lakes remains the only A-K team to win a state title in girls hoops, doing so in 1985.

Ziemianski said her team gave other Class AA public-school teams hope to compete with private and parochial teams that continually dominate postseason brackets, their rosters dotted with players that can't walk to school together.

“My girls are all from Burrell and have the same zip code,” Ziemianski said. “There's something to be said about that. We were the best public-school team in the state.”

Burrell should have plenty more to offer next season. The Bucs will lose three seniors in center Jessica Cercone and guards Kelsey Oddis and Jaila Manga, a trio that gave four good years, providing quiet leadership and accepted roles.

“They built the foundation; they were the core of the group,” Ziemianski said.

“They are three of my best friends; they're like sisters to me,” junior point guard Sydney Bordonaro said. “It's tough to think I'll never get to play with them again.”

Still, Bordonaro has another year and junior-to-be Natalie Myers also will return. The duo formed one of the top one-two scoring punches in the state.

Myers is developing into an all-around force, doing much more than just score inside.

Positions might be shifted with the loss of the 6-1 Cercone; the possibility of Bordonaro moving from point guard to shooting guard has been discussed.

The goal-oriented Bordonaro won't alter her plans. She already is looking to another extended stay in the postseason.

“We have the same goals, nothing will change there,” said Bordonaro, who broke Burrell's career scoring record and verbally committed to play at Pepperdine. “We'll be a much different type of team but we don't think we'll drop off. We're still thinking state title.”

Burrell went from not having a junior varsity team last year to having girls line up out of the gym for signups. That led to six freshmen joining the varsity, and several of them seeing playing time.

One was Eliza Oswalt, who played in the WPIAL championship game when Manga left with a head injury.

Nicole Kristof and Liz Weimer also garnered minutes at various times. Oswalt and Kristof helped fill the void left by junior Erika Finn's injured ankle. Finn, who Ziemianski called one of her “six starters,” missed all but one state playoff game.

Finn, Bordonaro and Abby Nitowski are slated to be the team's only seniors next year, Myers its lone junior.

“(Oswalt) is going to be so good for us,” Bordonaro said. “I can't wait to play with her next year. I love her game.”

Ziemianski said the into-the-fire moments, especially in the playoffs, will help the wide-eyed ninth-graders in the future.

“Them getting to see this type of experience is priceless,” Ziemianski said. “I mean, if they don't want to experience the same thing as these other players and join that bandwagon, they're not human and don't have feelings.”

Ziemianski isn't quite finished with senior players. She, along with her coaching staff — her father, Mark, her brother, Zach, and first-year assistant Courtney Kordes — will coach the girls in the Cager Classic on Saturday night at Highlands.

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