who 2 watch
preseason player of the year
5-5, Sr., G
players to watch
5-10, Jr., F, 17.5 ppg.
5-7, Sr., G, 13.5 ppg.
5-6, Sr., G, 21.8 ppg.
6-2, Sr., C, 22.9 ppg.
5-11, Sr., G, 23.4 ppg.
1. Blackhawk (28-2)
The defending WPIAL and PIAA champs stay atop Class AAA until proven otherwise.
2. South Park (22-6)
The Eagles and standout junior Allison McGrath were WPIAL runners-up.
3. Mars (15-7)
The Planets are in alignment with five returning starters.
4. Belle Vernon (16-7)
A Kaitlyn Slagus double-double each time out is about as close to a guarantee as there is.
5. Indiana (18-5)
The Little Indians have four starters back and a deep bench.
6. Ringgold (13-10)
Scorer Bailey Cooper and 6-6 WVU recruit Marlena Schmidt are dangerous combination.
7. Elizabeth Forward (22-5)
Semifinalists last season, the Warriors have a knack for staying in the hunt.
8. Ambridge (13-10)
The Bridgers return four starters who hope to avenge two close losses to Blackhawk.
9. South Fayette (12-11)
The entire team returns, including 6-3 post player Emily Anderson.
10. Mt. Pleasant (16-10)
Alexa Szelong is closing in on 1,000 career points.
The Planets return all five starters, including all-section guards Sara Getsy (12.6 ppg) and Ali Goetz (12 ppg).Hampton, which tied Mars with an 11-1 section record, lost leading scorer Lexi Griggs, who transferred to Vincentian.
Led by Duquesne recruit Chassidy Omogrosso, the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Cougars return four starters. Forward Courtney Vannoy is committed to D-I Loyola (Md.). Ambridge hung tough with the Cougars in two losses last season. Central Valley, the only Class AAA squad to defeat Blackhawk last season, will miss grads Seairra Barrett and Kiana Law, who combined for 44.4 ppg.
The Little Indians will feature a nine-player rotation, including four returning starters. Mt. Pleasant should stay in the mix thanks to senior Alexa Szelong, who averaged 18.6 points last season. She is 50 away from scoring 1,000 for her career. Claire Oberdorf (13.5 ppg) sparks Greensburg Salem, while Khai Harris (16 ppg) does the same for Uniontown.
Newcomers South Park and junior Allison McGrath should make their presence known immediately. McGrath averaged 17.5 points as a sophomore and will be the focus of the offense after the graduation of Halie Torris (Seton Hill). Quality teams like Belle Vernon, Ringgold and Elizabeth Forward will be in the section title mix.
The Lions are a darkhorse pick due to the return of 6-3 junior Emily Anderson, who showed talent as a freshman before a knee injury set her back as a sophomore. All five starters return and each has lettered since their freshman season. With South Park moving to Section 4, the Lions' path to the top is less obstructed. Trinity and Sierra Kotchman, who was named all-section as a freshman, will also be in the running, although the Hillers were swept by South Fayette last season.
To claim WPIAL and PIAA titles last season, the Blackhawk girls basketball team needed to play in two championship games.
If the Cougars are going to repeat this season, it will feel like many more.
“Our coaches have said it already: Every team, when they play against us, they’re going to play us like it’s their championship,” senior guard Bridgette Shaffer said.
Her response? Bring it on.
“We’re ready to go,” she said. “We want to do it again.”
With four starters returning, the Cougars (28-2 last season) are looking to pick up where they left off in Class AAA. Joining Shaffer, who averaged 12 points per game last season, are fellow seniors Danielle Levato, Courtney Vannoy and point guard Chassidy Omogrosso, a Duquesne recruit who averaged 22 points last season.
“She’s one of those girls that never stops working,” Blackhawk coach Steve Lodovico said of Omogrosso. “She’s gotten even faster and stronger.”
The only starter lost to graduation was guard Halle Denman (IUP), who will be tough to replace. Not only did she average 12 points, but she also was a shutdown defender.
Looking to take the crowns from Blackhawk will be Mars, which boasts two all-section players among its five returning starters; Ringgold and 6-foot-6 West Virginia recruit Marlena Schmidt; perennial contender Elizabeth Forward, a semifinalist last season; Belle Vernon and 6-2 Bucknell recruit Kaitlyn Slagus, who averaged 23 points and 19 rebounds; and Ambridge, which returns a wealth of talent and pushed Blackhawk to the limit in both Section 2 matchups last season.
“We know from our success last year we’re going to have a bull’s-eye on our back,” Lodovico said.
In the offseason, celebrating and talking about its championships were fair game for Blackhawk players. But now, there is no more chatter allowed.
“Experience-wise, we know what we can do, but we can’t get big heads,” Shaffer said. “We have to stay focused on this year because it’s a new year.”
The Cougars don’t need to talk themselves up. The opposition already knows what they are up against.
“Blackhawk is the top of the top,” Mars coach Tony Howard said. “Usually you have four or so teams that are about the same level. I don’t see that being the case. You have Blackhawk up there and then everyone else.”
Ringgold coach Laura Grimm added: “They won states last year, so they start at the top with everyone looking up at them.”
Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.