Penn-Trafford girls athlete of the year: Maria Palarino
Maria Palarino helped bring the Penn-Trafford girls basketball team to new heights in 2013-14.
Behind Palarino's big-time WPIAL playoff performance — the junior guard/forward averaged 18.5 points in four contests — the Warriors claimed the first WPIAL championship in school history, beating rival Hempfield in the title game at the A.J. Palumbo Center.
Palarino led the team in scoring from the first game of the season. She finished with a per-game average of 17.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.4 steals and became the first player in program history to be named to the all-state team.
“From day one, she led the team in every which way possible,” Penn-Trafford coach John Giannikas said. “She knew when to talk to a kid to motivate them. At the same time, she was very unselfish, a very humble kid. She brought a confidence to our whole entire team, and the confidence she brought led us all the way to a WPIAL championship.”
Palarino was also named all-section in volleyball after helping to lead Penn-Trafford to the WPIAL quarterfinals.
For her overall performance this season, Palarino was named the Penn-Trafford Star's girls athlete of the year. Below is the transcript of an interview conducted with Palarino on May 29.
Q: Congratulations on a great season in both volleyball and basketball. What are your biggest memories of the school year?
A: For both sports, I just loved both of my teams so much. We were all really close and really good friends, so it's always a really fun time to be with them and play with all the girls. That's really enjoyable. Also, both teams this year were really competitive. Moreso in basketball because we obviously went farther, but in volleyball, too, we still made it pretty far in the playoffs. So it was just a great run for both seasons.
Q: Let's start with basketball. What does it mean to have been a part of that team, to have done so much and accomplished so much?
A: To be on the first-ever WPIAL championship girls basketball team from our school, it's amazing. All the support that we got from the community and my friends and the families out there at Penn-Trafford, seeing them all come together to root for us in that game was so much fun to have everyone there.
Q: What was that playoff run like? The team was involved in so many close games and comebacks.
A: We didn't have an easy game in the playoffs, and we didn't expect to. Our team was just so relentless. In a lot of the games, we were down by a big amount, and we still managed to come back and win. It just showed how much we wanted it.
Q: Penn-Trafford has been on the rise in recent years, but this season took it that furthest step. Was there something different about this year's team?
A: I think for all the sports, every sport did well this year. I think to watch the softball team now, how deep they went in the playoffs, you just want them to do good. And I know they felt the same way about us when we were in the playoffs. All of our teams are just so close in our school, and we all just really support each other.
Q: You became Penn-Trafford's first all-state player this season. What was it about your own game that grew?
A: I think that my versatility kind of grew this year. Last year, we had a lot of girls, so we had set guards and set forwards. This year, wherever I needed to be to help the team, that's where I was, whether I was under the hoop or out bringing the ball up the court. Whatever coach needed me to do, I was willing to do it.
Q: Are there any games that specifically stick out to you from this season?
A: Obviously the Palumbo. That was probably my favorite game of the year for obvious reasons. But I really enjoyed the Fox Chapel game, too. (Note: P-T beat Fox Chapel, 44-43, in the WPIAL semifinals. Palarino scored 28 points in the victory.)
It came down to the last second, and we knew we were going to the Palumbo. It was just so exciting.
Q: Like you said, the volleyball team went pretty far as well. What was it like being a part of that team?
A: For volleyball, we obviously didn't go as far as we would have liked to. But I think we went farther than we were expected to, and that's still an accomplishment. I still remember being so excited at that first (playoff) game, when we upset (Canon-McMillan). It was so much fun. Just the team in general is a fun group of girls to be with, and we always have fun.
Q: Is there a more satisfying feeling than getting a kill in volleyball?
A: That's my favorite part of volleyball, getting those kills. It's just really satisfying whenever I do, and to know I couldn't have done it without the rest of my teammates. Taylor (Solo) would give me some perfect sets sometimes. I couldn't thank her more for helping me get a perfect kill.
Q: When did you start playing your sports?
A: I started basketball in third grade. I did (volleyball) camps and stuff, but you couldn't play on an official team for school until seventh grade.
Q: How much have you grown, skillwise, since then?
A: I definitely focused more on basketball because that's what I want to pursue in college. But still with both, I'm always working to get better in both sports.
Q: Did you play any other sports growing up?
A: When I was younger, I was into soccer, gymnastics and that stuff. Softball was big. But I stuck with basketball and volleyball.
Q: Has basketball always been your favorite?
A: Yeah, it has been. I really like volleyball, too. I like that I have both.
Q: What is it about basketball that makes it your favorite?
A: I think it's because I grew up with it. I've been playing it longer.
Q: You mentioned playing basketball in college. Do you have any plans as far as that goes? Are you starting to hear from colleges?
A: I've been talking to a few coaches, and I still don't know where I want to go, but I have a couple ideas.
Q: How far do you want to go with basketball? Have you thought about going into coaching when you're done playing?
A: I definitely want to play in college. After that, I'm not sure what I want to do careerwise, but I definitely still want to have it in my life. I can guarantee you my kids will be playing basketball.
Q: Heading into your senior year, what are your goals for the volleyball and basketball teams at Penn-Trafford?
A: Another WPIAL championship wouldn't be bad. Maybe even going a lot farther to states this year would be awesome. Hopefully, we can accomplish that again in either sport. It would be awesome.
Q: Do you think you have a pretty good chance at that? I know the basketball team is returning a lot.
A: It's hard to say if it will be easy or not. The year before this, we lost eight seniors, and we (won the championship). It seems like it could be easy, but we don't want to overlook anything.