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Experienced lineup returns for Penn-Trafford girls who move to Class 5A

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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Penn-Trafford’s Bella Long laughs while working on drills with her teammates on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018 during girls’ basketball practice at Penn-Trafford High School.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Penn-Trafford’s Stephanie O’Donnell grabs a rebound during a team practice drill on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018 during girls’ basketball practice at Penn-Trafford High School.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Penn-Trafford’s head coach John Giannikas laughs while coaching his team on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018 during girls’ basketball practice at Penn-Trafford High School.

Injuries upset the balance of Penn-Trafford’s season a year ago, but Warriors girls basketball coach John Giannikas isn’t dwelling on what happened in the past.

He isn’t losing sleep over what might have been. It simply wouldn’t do him any good.

Besides, if there ever was a time to stay in the present, it’s now. Penn-Trafford has dropped to Class 5A and will be greeted by an all-new section with several unfamiliar teams as part of the WPIAL’s latest two-year realignment cycle.

“We’re focused on this year, and so far the chemistry has been great,” Giannikas said. “We have looked pretty good in practice and scrimmages. We have a nice mix of kids. We’re not the only team out there that wants to avoid injuries. If we can stay healthy, I think we can do pretty well.”

While the coach is conditioned to deal with adversity, he is primed to build momentum with an experienced group that went 7-15 with a pronounced limp and a spark of grit that kept it in the playoff chase until late in the year.

The Warriors, though, missed the postseason to end a 10-year streak of appearances. They lost eight straight and 10 of 11 to close the season.

A thrilling, 38-37 win over Norwin on a buzzer-beater by Sarah Nguyen was a bright spot during the rash of setbacks. Another positive pulled from a negative: reserves logged quality minutes in fill-in spots, which can only help this season.

“We had some young freshmen get a lot of time,” Giannikas said. “They became more comfortable with the varsity game.”

Technically, five starters return, not all full-timers in the first five but battle-tested, nonetheless.

“I think we can be a strong team as we all work hard and play together,” senior 6-foot-2 forward Stephanie O’Donnell said. “We have played some tough scrimmages, and that has helped us jell. We have a lot of girls who can run the floor, shoot from the outside or score inside. We have nice balance.”

O’Donnell played a large portion of last season with a broken nose and wore a protective mask. She returns to anchor the starting rotation, along with junior guard Bella Long.

O’Donnell is a strong post presence, rebounder and shot-blocker. She appears headed for a Division III college career in basketball or volleyball.

Long has shown range as a shooter, but Giannikas said she has sharpened her get-to-the-rim approach.

“Bella had a really good offseason,” Giannikas said. “She has a nice inside-outside game.”

Senior guard Raeghan Panza missed time with a wrist injury but also returns.

One of the freshman who played a lot last year was guard Kenzie Powell, who started at point guard down the stretch. Another sophomore with experience in the backcourt is Allie Prady.

“Kenzie has improved leaps and bounds from last year,” Giannikas said.

A current freshman looking to have a fast impact is skilled guard Maura Suman.

Seniors Hannah Schneider and Danielle Ochendowski will help O’Donnell in the post, while additional reserves include sophomores Jada Czesnakowski and Brooke Cleland, and junior Morgan Hilty. The latter two are talented softball players.

Nguyen did not play basketball this year as she focuses on soccer.

The Warriors will try to find their place in Section 3-5A, which includes a wide-range of teams from three counties in Woodland Hills, Albert Gallatin, Latrobe, Laurel Highlands, Oakland Catholic, Penn Hills and Uniontown.

Giannikas said Oakland Catholic and Penn Hills are the frontrunners in the section and could be contenders for a WPIAL title.

Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at [email protected] or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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