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Area not short on talented post players

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 6:44 p.m.
Kiski Area senior forward Maddie Antone (right) dribbles upcourt as teammate Taylor Muffie runs nearby during a practice. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Kehley Shank, contributing photographer
Fox Chapel's Erin Mathias passes the ball during a practice. Kehley Shank, contributing photographer, Valley News Dispatch
St. Joseph junior forward Mallory Heinle defends the ball during a practice.

The holidays notwithstanding, there's a long line at the A-K Valley post office.

The area has a collection of tall, multi-talented girls basketball players who can do a lot more than put stars on top of Christmas trees. Versatile frontcourt players are set to guide teams from the paint to the playoffs beginning Friday in their season-opening tournaments.

“Being tall is a privilege,” Kiski Area 5-foot-10 senior forward Maddie Antone said. “But a lot of us want to show what we can do away from the basket, too.”

Antone has been a model of consistency on the low block. Just 21 points away from 1,000 for her career, she averaged 16.7 points and 11 rebounds per game as a junior. She was the A-K Valley's player of the year as a sophomore.

But she is not alone. Other local bigs looking to have strong seasons include Fox Chapel junior Erin Mathias, St. Joseph junior Mallory Heinle and Burrell freshman Natalie Myers.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the group is the 6-3 Mathias, who verbally committed to Duke when she was a freshman. Mathias finally appears to be healthy and ready to show why Blue Devils coaches believe she can play in the ACC. She missed her entire sophomore season after having surgery on her right knee.

“Knee's great; I can't wait to get out and play,” said Mathias, who averaged a double-double and had a 32-rebound game as a freshman.

Like the boys game, traditional post players are fading. Don't expect players like Antone and Mathias to do all of their damage with their backs to the basket. Seemingly natural fits to play power forward or center, these girls have the go-ahead — and talent — to roam the floor.

“Maddie is going to surprise some people,” Kiski Area first-year coach Nick Ionadi said. “She has the ability to do a lot of things, she just hasn't had the freedom. She's been getting hammered in the post. She has range, and she has the green light to shoot from the outside.”

Antone can't wait to explore the court.

“Finally,” she said. “I was always told not to shoot before, so I am looking forward to it. My shot is crispy and nice, so I can't wait to put it up.”

Mathias, Heinle and Myers have shown they also can play on the perimeter, in a similar role to former Ford City standout Marisa Wolfe, now a senior on the Penn State women's team.

At 6-3, Wolfe was an imposing presence inside, yet was given freedom to roam on the outside and even run the point later in her prep career.

“Coach (Meagan Meabon) has allowed me to expand my game,” Mathias said. “I have played the five (center) spot but also have been at the three (small forward).

“I love to shoot and be able to show my outside skill.”

Myers has yet to play a game but already is receiving praise from coaches and teammates. Expected to start right away, Myers handled the basketball in various scenarios for the Bucs in fall leagues.

“We can play her everywhere,” Burrell coach Meghan Ziemianski said.

Kiski Area has another post threat in 6-3 Channing James. Ionadi sees raw talent in the rising center. James is a sophomore who transferred from Highlands.

“She's young, but she can be disruptive,” Ionadi said. “She has a lot to learn, but she's worked her butt off. You can see her getting better.”

Antone thinks her team will benefit from her modified position.

“It's nice to have options,” Antone said. “Me shooting from the outside helps everybody out. I'm not the only one who can score.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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