Bethel Park girls battling adversity early on
The Bethel Park girls basketball team was dealt two major setbacks from last season.
Shannon Conely, a first-team all-section selection, graduated and now is a freshman guard at Canisius College.
Justina Mascaro, a 5-foot-10 senior forward who also was named first-team all-section, suffered an ACL injury this summer and still is recuperating.
Mascaro averaged 17.5 points and almost 10 rebounds in 2015-16, and is a 1,000-point scorer in her varsity career.
Despite those setbacks — along with other graduation losses — the Black Hawks have prevailed.
“I am pleased with the team’s performance so far this season,” Bethel Park coach Jonna Burke said. “We are playing as a team, and realize that in order to win everyone has to contribute and work very hard.
“Shannon was a great player for us and definitely left a void both offensively and defensively. Just like when any senior player graduates, it’s up to the returning kids to pick up the slack and fill in the gaps. And this group has worked hard to not only replace Conely’s play, but unfortunately we have been forced to try to find ways to make up for the loss of Mascaro, as well.”
Bethel Park, which finished 18-7 last year and was a WPIAL and PIAA qualifier, opened the 2016-17 season by winning twice in its own tip-off tournament, defeating Beaver, 60-55, and Hempfield, 53-46.
Following a 52-41 loss at Norwin, the Black Hawks cruised by West Allegheny, 49-30; edged Trinity, 59-58; and lost a low-scoring 33-28 decision last week at Shaler.
“The goal for our team is always the same: to make the playoffs,” Burke said. “Beyond that, it is to improve each game and learn from our setbacks. We are hoping to get (Mascaro) back in time for the playoffs, but we can’t put the cart before the horse.”
Rebecca Rodriguez, a 5-9 senior guard, is the only returning starter currently in the Bethel Park lineup.
“Becca’s main strength that we count on is her defensive ability,” Burke said. “She always guards the other team’s best player (unless they are too big for her to guard). She is also a great teammate and leader.”
Rodriguez has been joined by 5-5 junior guard Kamryn Lach, 5-5 sophomore guard Maria Cerro, 5-10 freshman forward Maddie Dziezgowski and 5-9 junior forward Ashley Spence.
Through five games, Dziezgowski and Lach led the team in scoring with 12.4 and 12 ppg averages, respectively. Dziezgowski (9.4 rpg) and Spence (6.4 rpg) were the team’s leading rebounders.
“What Maddie is doing for us is a bit of a surprise,” Burke said. “I knew she had potential to contribute as a freshman, and after Mascaro got hurt she suddenly was needed to do more, and she has stepped up big for us.”
Cerro leads the team in assists, averaging 3.8, and is averaging near double digits in the scoring department.
Top reserves for the Black Hawks include 5-6 junior forward Jill Acker, 5-6 junior guard Emma Papalia and 5-7 freshman guard Lauren Mullen.
“This is a special group of kids,” Burke said. “They are driven to get better and put extra time in because they know that success doesn’t come easy. They are willing to work for it, and I love that about them.”
The hope in the Bethel Park program is that Mascaro will return to the lineup later in the season, as the Black Hawks make their push toward the WPIAL playoffs.
Mascaro is undecided on college at this time, but has several Division II offers, including from West Liberty and Fairmont State.
“She has some D-I schools interested and waiting to see how she comes through the injury,” Burke said. “Whether or not Justina plays again for Bethel Park, her legacy is intact. She is one of the best to ever come through the Bethel Park program.
“She is one of the toughest kids I have ever coached. She’s a great competitor, and always leaves it all on the court.”
Bethel Park opens section play Monday at Peters Township.
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.