Bishop Canevin girls basketball reflects on remarkable run
When basketball teams across Pennsylvania hit the court, they know only one team will be able to hold a PIAA title at the end of the season.
Unfortunately for the Bishop Canevin girls squad, they came just short of being that team. Despite building an early lead, the Crusaders were unable to top Philadelphia's Neumann-Goretti in a 62-56 loss in the Class 3A title game.
Bishop Canevin led by as much as 16-4 in the first quarter. But the Neumann-Goretti defense started using a trap that allowed it to get back in the game. In the final two minutes of the first half, Chyna Nixon and Ashley Jones scored on layups off of steals to take a three-point lead.
The Saints forced 16 first-half turnovers and built a 30-28 lead by halftime.
“I think the turning point was in the first quarter, and they were down 18-8,” Bishop Canevin coach Tim Joyce said. “We were holding the ball for the final shot, and one of our girls traveled with 3.8 seconds left. They got the ball into Jones, and she split two kids and hit a 30-foot 3-pointer. That was a momentum shift.”
Bishop Canevin was led by sophomore Shamyjha Price's 21 points and junior Brionna Allen's 15 points. The Saints' defense gave the Crusaders fits as it forced 26 turnovers.
While the loss to Neumann-Goretti stings, it doesn't take away from an impressive season for the Crusaders. The team finished with a 23-6 record that included going 12-0 in Section 3 play. Bishop Canevin reached its fifth WPIAL title game since 2011-12 and defeated Neshannock, 65-36, for the program's third District 7 title.
The season was capped by the Crusaders' second appearance in a PIAA title game in Hershey. Bishop Canevin topped York Catholic, 45-38, for a Class AA title in 2013.
“We thought we could get here all along,” Joyce said. “The season went the way the coaches hoped it would. We were playing our best at the end. What really helped us was the development of Gillan Gustine and Diasha Allen. That gave us two players off the bench.”
The added depth helped the team's pressing defense. The move to a full-court defense was made to help the Crusaders score some easy points after some early offensive struggles.
But the defense was effective as the team held opponents to 32 points per game on average.
“We switched to a man-to-man, full court press with some trapping,” Joyce said. “The kids took to it. It was a key to getting easy baskets.”
The offense averaged 52.6 points, thanks in part to the strong play of Allen and Price. But one of the best additions was Gustine, who had a knack for coming off the bench and burning opponents with 3-pointers.
“She became a real 3-point threat,” Joyce said. “(Zoe Woods) hit some 3-pointers. We were a difficult team to guard. When we got into the half court, few teams could guard us man-to-man.”
Bishop Canevin cut its teeth with a difficult schedule that featured games against top teams from across the WPIAL including Class 5A champion Chartiers Valley, Class 2A runner-up Vincentian Academy and PIAA qualifier South Fayette. The Crusaders also played competition from across the country in tournaments held in Florida and Washington, D.C.
“That is a big reason for why we did so well,” Joyce said. “You start to play better when you play really good teams.”
The team will be losing a pair of senior starters to graduation in Sarah Green and Woods. Joyce praised their dedication to the program, especially Green, who battled back from a lower-body injury.
“Sarah was a bit of an inspiration to the team from how hard she worked,” Joyce said. “We are going to miss their talent and leadership. We have tried to build a program where the older kids pass on what they learned to the younger ones. They were great kids to have around and did a really good job for us.”
While the season just ended, it is hard for the Crusaders to not look ahead to next year. The program could be one of the best in the WPIAL. Brionna Allen and Lauren Gamble will return and be four-year starters, and Price will be in her second year as a starter.
“Doing this as long as I have, you learn to turn the page quickly,” Joyce said. “We are already getting the schedule ready for what we want to do over the summer.
“The kids will be having different pressure next season. (Brionna) and Lauren will now have to step up as the seniors on the team.”
Nathan Smith is a freelance writer.