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Class AAAA girls basketball preview: Penn-Trafford welcomes doubters as it begins WPIAL title defense

| Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014, 6:54 p.m.
Penn-Trafford senior Maria Palarino is a St. Francis (N.Y.) recruit.
Tony Pinneri | For Trib Total Media
Penn-Trafford senior Maria Palarino is a St. Francis (N.Y.) recruit.
Penn-Trafford senior Maria Palarino is a St. Francis (N.Y.) recruit.
Tony Pinneri | For Trib Total Media
Penn-Trafford senior Maria Palarino is a St. Francis (N.Y.) recruit.
Penn-Trafford senior Maria Palarino is a St. Francis (N.Y.) recruit.
Tony Pinneri | For Trib Total Media
Penn-Trafford senior Maria Palarino is a St. Francis (N.Y.) recruit.

Of all the basketball-oriented questions she hears from her peers in the hallways at Penn-Trafford, senior Maria Palarino considers the ones about championship aspirations particularly confounding.

The star of the defending WPIAL Class AAAA champions appreciates that classmates believe another title is so attainable.

She just struggles to fit it with the perception that persists among the Warriors, who went 20-7 and won their first WPIAL crown as a No. 7 seed.

“It's a lot different than last year because last year we came in as underdogs, and now we do have that target on our backs,” Palarino said. “But we still look at ourselves as underdogs because that's what we do best.

“There's definitely a little pressure because a lot of people are like, ‘Are you going to win a championship?' And I'm like, ‘Hopefully. But it's not as easy as it looks.' ”

Palarino, a 5-foot-11 second-team all-state guard/forward who has signed with St. Francis (Brooklyn), averaged 17.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game as a junior. And that's about what the Warriors will need from her again — with all but one player back, they're not desperate to demand even more of their star.

“I think everyone on our team knows their role, and they all do a great job playing them,” Palarino said. “Everyone knows who does what the best.”

If Palarino starts on the front line — her position shifts from game to game based on matchups — she will stand alongside 5-foot-8 senior Katy Abreu (9.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

And if she's in the backcourt, she will share the ball with senior Casey Aunkst (9.9 ppg, 4.9 apg, 4.3 rpg) and sophomore Athena Biondi (4.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.5 apg).

“We have a lot of speed this year, and we have a lot more depth than we did last year,” Aunkst said. “I think we might throw in some more things that could help us out in the end, whether it's more presses or different kinds of offenses.”

Penn-Trafford's performance in Section 1 will provide a fair indication of where it stands in the WPIAL. Hempfield, which made a surprise run to the WPIAL finals as a No. 12 seed, also graduated just one senior. And chatter among coaches indicated Norwin, a Section 1 co-champ and WPIAL quarterfinalist, might possess the most collective talent and athleticism of any team in Class AAAA.

“We expect a dogfight with them and Norwin,” Hempfield coach Aaron Epps said. ”Penn-Trafford doesn't beat themselves, and that's what makes them good.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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