Girls hoops team chasing playoff return
Norwin, Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional's girls basketball teams all grabbed playoff spots in 2012, and for all three, a return trip is the No. 1 goal.
The Warriors, last year's champ, and the Knights again will battle this year in Section 1-AAAA, while Franklin Regional remains in Section 2-AAAA and will try to improve on last year's fourth-place finish.
Section 1 grew by one team with the addition of Laurel Highlands, and the Knights and Warriors also will face Albert Gallatin, Connellsville, Hempfield, Kiski Area and Latrobe in section play this year. Section 2 is identical for Franklin Regional, as it will face Fox Chapel, Gateway, McKeesport, Penn Hills, Plum and Woodland Hills for its 12 section games.
Below is a look at how each team stacks up for the 2012-13 season:
The Knights were a team beset by injuries last season, but still battled through to finish with a winning record and a playoff berth. Many of the players that held key roles last season return to Norwin's lineup this year, the second season under head coach Brian Brozeski.
“We're into the second year, and the girls have a better idea of our system and a better understanding of each other,” Brozeski said. “It's shown that we're a little further along in practice than we were last year.”
Four of this year's seniors were full-time or part-time starters last year — guards Nikki Ingle and Rachel DelleFemine and forwards Madi Guffey and Rachel Keto. All of them are likely to hold down starting spots this season, but Brozeski said a permanent starting five might be something the Knights don't have this season.
“Our lineup is going to be fluid this year, depending on the matchups we're facing,” Brozeski said. “The girls are going to be able to compete in practice each week for starts, and a finite starting lineup is something we won't have.”
Two other seniors that will be in the lineup mix are point guard Brittany Lojas, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, and forward Allison Mariana, who brings size and versatility to the lineup.
Juniors Julia Carter, Olivia DeBerardinis and Natalie Ditting and sophomores Laura Buchanan and Amanda Batey are among the other players that will see varsity minutes for a Norwin team that will try to utilize its depth.
“It's been a very competitive offseason, and at the end of each week, the coaches are going through our rankings and things keep changing,” Brozeski said. “One of our staples is that we want to be fundamentally sound, and if we can increase the tempo but be disciplined, it will let us eat into the other team's bench.”
The Knights open their season with two games at the Penn-Trafford Tipoff Tournament. The team faces Shaler at 7 p.m. on Friday and Plum at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
The two-time defending section champions graduated four seniors from last year's team, but that still leaves P-T, a team that routinely uses 10 or more players in games, with good experience coming back.
Senior guard Taylor Cortazzo is the Warriors' top scorer coming back, and with fellow senior guard Nicole Hyland and senior forward Cassie Patterson joining her, the Warriors have three players who are accustomed to being in the starting lineup.
“We have seven or eight girls that saw playing time last year, and I think the kids are ready for the challenge,” Penn-Trafford coach John Giannikas said. “We've won two (section titles) in a row, but it's a new season, and nothing is going to be handed to us.”
Senior forward Maddie Mossellem is the team's fourth captain with Cortazzo, Patterson and Hyland, and along with seniors Mia Barchetti, Jackie Bevilacqua, Morgan Rector and Chelsia Poole, the Warriors have no shortage of upperclassmen.
Sophomore forward Maria Palarino and sophomore guard Casey Aunkst also will get time in the rotation, as Giannikas intends to again employ a deep bench.
“We've been like that for a couple years now,” Giannikas said. “I'm sure a lot of them would like to play more, but we're lucky to have unselfish kids that are willing to sacrifice to get wins rather than individual stats.”
With all their depth, one might think the Warriors would play at a fast pace all the time. One of the things their coach stresses, however, is being able to adapt to any style of game, something P-T has done successfully in the last two seasons.
“We'll give (pushing the tempo) a shot, but we have to be aware of how other teams play,” he said. “We want to find ways to win against different teams, and we have to be able to win playing good half-court defense and running our sets.”
Penn-Trafford begins its season by playing the first game in the school's new gym at 4 p.m. Friday against Plum. P-T then plays Shaler at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The Panthers got back to the playoffs last year with a fast-paced, 3-point-oriented attack, and this year should be much of the same from Franklin Regional.
“We have a lot of players coming back with two or three years of varsity experience,” Franklin Regional coach Rick Klimchock said. “They're used to our style of play, our terminology and our expectations.”
Senior guards Maggie Kimmich, Hanna Wagner and senior forward Erin DiFalco all return to the starting lineup, while junior forward Baylee Buleca, the Panthers' only 6-footer, is on pace to be back in the lineup after recovering from knee surgery in May.
Kimmich, who averaged 14.7 points per game as a junior, is a player that can score in multiple ways, Wagner is a skilled ballhandler, and DiFalco is a 3-point sharpshooter. But having Buleca in the middle helps make FR tick, as her size enables the team to gamble on both ends of the court.
“The big key for us is the health of Baylee,” Klimchock said. “We've had Division I coaches on campus to visit her, and she's a very strong player. Our full-court press is big for us, and having her guard the basket for us allows us to do a lot of things.”
Junior guard Mary Komandt is likely to be the fifth starter for Franklin Regional, while senior guard Dana Eastman will be looked to for more 3-point shooting, whether as a starter or sixth man. Junior guard Natalie Tedesco also saw minutes for FR last season, and she again will provide a spark off the bench for the Panthers.
Among players new to the varsity lineup are sophomore forwards Sarah Stephens, Nikki Wesolowski, and Brooke Conroy, all of whom will be relied upon to spell Buleca on the inside, while sophomore guard Maddie Pulaski and freshman point guard Natalie Palmer also are part of Klimchock's varsity plans this year.
The team also has sophomore guard Gillian Kane on the roster, but like Buleca, Kane is recovering from knee surgery and will not be ready to play at the start of the season.
With defending champ Gateway losing Baylor recruit Destiny Brown from last year, Section 2 has no clear favorite entering the season, and FR should be one of the teams in the mix for the top spots.
“The beauty of our section is that it's completely wide open,” Klimchock said. “We want to be close to winning a section title. It's been a long time since Franklin Regional won one, and the section is very balanced. But the biggest goal is really just to make the playoffs.”
The Panthers open their season by hosting their own tipoff tournament and a 7:30 p.m. Friday matchup with Jeannette. Franklin Regional will play again Saturday against North Hills or Mt. Pleasant, with the opponent and time to be determined.
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or email@example.com.