Trib Cup: Focus on defense leads North Allegheny girls to postseason
All 84 for all 32.
That is the motto that the North Allegheny girls basketball team has embraced this season, referencing the Tigers' commitment to defense for all 84 feet of the court for the entire 32 minutes of a game.
A phrase that can be found on each player's wrist during every game, the motto has served the Tigers well this season, as their full-court defense helped them earn a fourth consecutive Section 3-AAAA title.
“We all commit to the defensive end, make it tough on teams on that end of the floor,” North Allegheny coach Spencer Stefko said.
“We usually write a team motto on our right wrist and all of us every game write ‘all 84' to kind of keep us reminded that this is what we do and defense is a big part of our game,” senior guard Taylor Lake added.
Compiling a 20-3 overall record and earning the No. 2 seed in the Class AAAA bracket as the team prepares for Friday's WPIAL quarterfinal matchup against Bethel Park, North Allegheny is highlighted as this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and has played a big part in the Tigers' first-place position in the Class AAAA standings.
North Allegheny is led by a duo of senior guards in Lake and Abby Gonzales, a pair of players who have been a big part of the Tigers' WPIAL semifinalist teams from the past two seasons, when NA also advanced to the PIAA tournament.
“They're just winners,” said Stefko of his seniors. “They know when to be assertive and they know when to set up for others, and that's been a great example for them to set for our younger kids. Their imprint is all over this team.”
Averaging just over 12 points per game, Gonzales, a Delaware recruit, and Lake, a University of Chicago commit, are North Allegheny's leading scorers. But the Tigers rely on the scoring of a variety of players to win games.
For instance, in North Allegheny's opening-round win over Penn-Trafford, Gonzales registered 11 points while Lake scored 10, but it was sophomore Piper Morningstar's 12 points, freshman Rachel Martindale's 11 and junior Hailey Zeise's 10 points that paced the Tigers offensively.
Zeise — a Stony Brook recruit — and Martindale are averaging just under 10 points per game, while Morningstar and sophomore Allison Fischer have been important contributors as well for the highest scoring team in Class AAAA.
“When you have more than three or four players scoring double digits almost every game, it's definitely a positive and a plus for us, even when teams maybe try and shut down one player. We have four or five others that will step up,” Gonzales said.
The Tigers now turn their attention to Bethel Park, which, like North Allegheny, has a number of players who can score on the offensive end.
For that reason, the Tigers will look to continue living up to their defensive motto if they hope to advance to the WPIAL semifinals for the third consecutive season.
“We've all got to defend, because they're like us, they've got five, six, seven kids who can score. … We need our best defensive effort of the year just because they do bring so many scorers to the table,” Stefko said.
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.