Diop's athleticism, energy provided Seton-La Salle girls a season-long spark

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Before Seton-La Salle even took the court this season, there were expectations.

With three Division I prospects, the Lady Rebels were the favorites to win the WPIAL and PIAA crowns.

No player may have made more difference than Yacine Diop, a 5-foot-10 senior guard/forward.

After sitting out her junior year after transfering from Virginia's Oak Hill Academy, Diop managed to provide that extra spark the Seton girls' team needed.

“She plays so darn hard that it demands that you also play hard,” said Spencer Stefko, the Lady Rebels' first-year head coach.

“It's just infectious because she puts in such energy.”

The Lady Rebels (27-4) finished off a remarkable season on Friday with a stirring 58-50 victory over Neumann-Goretti in the PIAA Class AA championship game at Hershey's Giant Center.

“I was just happy,” Diop said of the moment the clock struck zero. “That was unbelievable actually. I kept saying, ‘Man, we really won the championship game.' That was unbelievable.”

Stefko has seen Diop grow tremendously since the beginning of the season when she fouled out in the first two games, and Seton started out 2-3.

“She played 12 minutes in one game and 14 minutes in the other, and fouled out of both of them,” Stefko said. “Barely scored in either of those games, and was completely out of sync with us defensively, but you would expect that from a kid that never played with these kids before.

“She slowly got to the point where her abilities were able to fit in with the other four kids on the floor. When that took hold, it was just really fun to watch.”

A Senegal native, Diop has played internationally with much success, and didn't expect anything less for her senior season. Diop made it no secret that the team wanted to win every championship possible, but she knew it would take much more than just stating it.

“Those goals were just like a dream, but we worked hard for it, and that's how the dream comes true,” she said.

En route to the WPIAL Class AA championship, Diop continued to elevate her game, averaging a double-double throughout the postseason.

“I was kind of like in a zone,” Diop said. “The more I played, the more comfortable I was.”

A zone that was the catalyst to the Lady Rebels' championship run.

“Every coach that I talk to after the game talks about (Diop's) energy and how that sets the tone for us,” Stefko said.

Diop and fellow senior Naje Gibson both are heading to Pitt next year to play for Seton-La Salle legend Suzie McConnell-Serio, which will be another challenge in its own right.

“That's motivation,” Diop said of McConnell-Serio's highly successful and highly documented basketball career. “I want to win everything she won.”

Justin Criado is a freelance writer.

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