Breaking down the 2019 WPIAL girls basketball playoffs
Here is a breakdown of the 2019 WPIAL girls basketball playoffs:
Favorite: Last season’s WPIAL runner-up, Peters Township made it through the regular season unscathed at 22-0, posting signature wins over Class 4A top seed North Catholic, defending PIAA Class 5A champion Mars and section rival Bethel Park, among others. The Indians, who averaged a classification-best 69.3 points and allowed 37, are led by the WPIAL’s top college prospect in senior guard Makenna Marisa. The 5-foot-10 Penn State recruit averages 22.1 points. The Indians also feature Case Western recruit Isabella Mills (14.3 ppg) and talented 6-1 freshman Journey Thompson, who averages nearly a double-double.
Challengers: North Allegheny has won the past two WPIAL titles and spent most of the season ranked No. 1 before falling to Norwin, 44-43, on Jan. 29. Akron recruit Rachel Martindale (14.3 ppg), a first-team all-state selection last season, leads the Tigers, along with sophomore guards Lizzy Groetsch and Paige Morningstar. Norwin, the 2015 and ’16 WPIAL champion, has won 12 in a row since a 55-44 loss to NA on Jan. 4. Junior guard Olivia Gribble averages 16.1 points for the Knights. Led by Maddie Dziezgowski (15.7 ppg), Bethel Park rolled through Section 2 play with a 12-2 record, with both losses to Peters Township.
Don’t overlook: Mt. Lebanon (12-10), which has captured three WPIAL titles in the past decade, has won four of its past five games. Coach Dori Oldaker has a record of 328-107 in 15 years at Mt. Lebanon.
Prediction: Peters Township over North Allegheny
Favorite: Chartiers Valley has been the consensus No. 1 team all season in Class 5A and will look to continue its winning run in the postseason. Under first-year coach Tim McConnell, the longtime Colts boys basketball coach with more than 550 career victories and six WPIAL titles, the CV girls outscored opponents 65.5-36.0 en route to a 22-0 record and Section 1 championship. The Colts are led by senior guard Mackenzie Wagner (16.7 ppg), a Loyola recruit, and junior guard Megan McConnell, as well as senior center Gabi Legister, who missed last season with an injury.
Challengers: Defending WPIAL champion Gateway claimed the Section 2 title and won nine straight games to end the regular season. Junior Lexi Jackson (16.9 ppg), a 6-3 forward and Division I recruit, led the Gators to their first section title since 2013. Rochester recruit Alexis Sestric (17.1 ppg) and Fairleigh Dickinson-bound Sierra DeAngelo (14 points, 10 rebounds) lead the way for Oakland Catholic, which has won nine of its past 10 games and captured the Section 3 title. Penn Hills lost two close games to the Eagles, but has plenty of talent to contend, including seniors Tayonna Robertson and Adia Brisker, who are headed to Longwood and Niagara, respectively.
Don’t overlook: Franklin Regional and Mars had some spirited matchups in Section 2, with the Panthers winning both games to secure second place. The Panthers feature Charlotte recruit Cali Konek (16.8 ppg) and Jordan Yaniga (17.2 ppg). Defending PIAA champion Mars is led by Bucknell recruit Tai Johnson (20.3 ppg).
Prediction: Chartiers Valley over Gateway
Favorite: Two-time defending champion North Catholic has continued to dominate Class 4A opponents, rolling to the Section 1 title at 14-0. Losses to Class 5A Penn Hills and Class 6A Peters Township and Bethel Park helped the team prepare for another postseason run. Junior guard Kylee Lewandowski (16.7 ppg) was an all-state selection last season and is a Division I recruit. Junior guard Tess Myers (16.0 ppg) and 6-1 forward Dani Short also helped the Trojanettes reach the PIAA semifinals last season.
Challengers: Central Valley and Blackhawk shared the Section 2 title after splitting their meetings this season, and both hope to challenge North Catholic for the title. Blackhawk is led by a pair of talented guards in Youngstown State recruit Mady Aulbach (16.9 ppg) and Robert Morris recruit Mackenzie Amalia (19.6 ppg), who each were second-team all-state last year. Central Valley is paced by Christiane Frye (15.6 ppg). Junior guard/forward Sidney Shemanski (15.3 ppg) helped Freeport finish second in Section 1. The Yellowjackets have held half their opponents under 40 points.
Don’t overlook: Belle Vernon finished third in Section 3 but came on strong in the final week. The Leopards defeated second-place Southmoreland and section champion Elizabeth Forward. Senior guard Lindsay Steeber (18.9 ppg) is one of the WPIAL’s leading scorers.
Prediction: North Catholic over Blackhawk
Favorite: After reaching the WPIAL semifinals a year ago, Neshannock has aspirations of taking the next step toward its first WPIAL championship. Led by senior forward Bella Burrelli (17.6 ppg), the Lancers won the Section 1 title for the sixth straight season and outscored opponents 61.4-35.6. They won 15 straight games before falling to Class 4A Blackhawk on Monday. Freshman Neleh Nogay and senior Brie Dean also have been key contributors.
Challengers: Shady Side Academy captured the Section 3 title and held opponents under 30 points per game. Senior guard Arianna Goitz (18.1 ppg) has paced the Indians, though senior guard Catherine Jewart (15.8) and sophomore guard/forward Nyla Rozier (14.0) have also been key contributors. SSA was on a nine-game winning streak before a loss to Carlynton on Feb. 5. Junior guard Jada Lee (18.4 ppg) leads the Cougars into the playoffs. After a 4-6 start, South Park caught fire down the stretch en route to claiming the Section 2 title. Senior forward Maura Huwalt (17.4 ppg), an Auburn track and field recruit, and senior point guard Cassidy Zandier (16.4 ppg) lead the way for the Eagles.
Don’t overlook: East Allegheny was the WPIAL runner-up last season and has the scoring to return to the Petersen Events Center. Amani Johnson graduated and headed to Kennesaw State, but her sister, Amaia, averaged 22.2 points this season for the Wildcats.
Prediction: Shady Side Academy over Neshannock
Favorite: After winning three straight championships, Bishop Canevin is a favorite to return to the Pete. The Crusaders, who dropped down from Class 3A this season, went 12-0 to win Section 3. Senior guard Shamyjha Price, a UMass Lowell recruit and a second-team all-state pick last season, averages 18.4 points for the Crusaders, who also feature talented freshman guard/forward Emma Theodorsson.
Challengers: Brentwood and Serra Catholic shared the Section 2 title with 11-1 records, and they split their meetings. The Spartans, led by six seniors, won their first section title since 1994. Serra Catholic leans on junior guard Rayna Andrews, who set a school record recently with 26 rebounds in a game, and senior guard Gigi Mele-Madigan. Laurel and OLSH shared the Section 1 title at 13-1, and both have the talent to reach the finals. Senior guard Caroline Gibson, a two-time all-section selection, averages 21.7 points for Laurel, which has won 12 straight games. Senior guard/forwards Ashley Norling (21.4 ppg) and Maddie Hoff (15.8) lead the way for OLSH.
Don’t overlook: Led by one of the WPIAL’s leading scorers in senior point guard Brooke Poling (20.4 ppg), Frazier finished second in Section 3 and won its final three games.
Prediction: Bishop Canevin over Laurel
Favorite: West Greene had the best season in program history last year, reaching the WPIAL title game before falling to Winchester Thurston. The Pioneers are hoping to have an even better result this season, outscoring opponents 65.7-32.8 en route to earning the No. 1 seed. Their only losses were to Class 4A Southmoreland and Class 2A No. 1 Bishop Canevin. West Greene is led by the Lampe twins, McKenna (15.1 ppg) and Madison (14.6), who have combined for nearly 3,000 career points.
Challengers: Greensburg Central Catholic won the Section 3 title with a 10-0 record and features a talented trio of scorers in senior guards Anna Eisaman (14.2 ppg) and Bella Skatell (16.1 ppg) and junior guard/forward Melina Maietta (19.5 ppg). Led by freshman point guard Coryanne Hauser (14.3 ppg) and sophomore guard Alexis Robison (18.1 ppg), Rochester rolled to the Section 1 championship, outscoring opponents 60.2-42.0. Avella finished second in Section 2 and put together a strong finish, winning seven of its final eight games.
Don’t overlook: Vincentian Academy, which won five straight Class A titles from 2012-16, got off to a rough start. The Royals were 3-8 before winning seven of their final 10 games. They finished 8-4 and tied for second in Section 1.
Prediction: West Greene over GCC
Bill Hartlep is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at [email protected] or via Twitter @TribHSInsider.