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Brentwood girls basketball wins 1st section title in 25 years

Ray Fisher
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Jeff Healy | For the Tribune-Review
Members of the 2018-19 Brentwood girls basketball include, in front, from left, Rebecca Dirling (23), Abby Wolf (1), Natalie Murrio (21), coach Rachel Thomas, Anna Betz (4), Brooke McQuillan (11), Sydney Gilchrist (31); and in back Taylor Davis (12), Cecilia Foley (2), Maddi Travis (14), Jaelynn Lindahl (10), Paige Miller (33), Maura Daly (24), Hannah Fornear (22), Isabella Grimm (32).
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Jeff Healy | For the Tribune-Review
Brentwood coach Rachel Thomas cuts down the net after the Spartans won the section title Feb. 4, 2019.
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Jeff Healy | For the Tribune-Review
Brentwood senior guard Brooke McQuillan competes agiainst Ellis School on Feb. 4, 2019, at Brentwood.
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Jeff Healy | For the Tribune-Review
Brentwood senior guard Natalie Murrio competes against Ellis School on Feb. 4, 2019, at Brentwood.
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Jeff Healy | For the Tribune-Review
Brentwood’s Anna Betz cuts down the net after the Spartans won the section title Feb. 4, 2019.
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Jeff Healy | For the Tribune-Review
Brentwood girls basketball players celebrate after the Spartans won the section title Feb. 4, 2019.
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Jeff Healy | For the Tribune-Review
Brentwood senior forward Rebecca Dirling competes against Ellis School on Feb. 4, 2019, at Brentwood.

The Brentwood girls basketball team celebrated like it’s 1994.

For the first time since that year, a span of 25 years, the Spartans zeroed in on a section championship.

Brentwood (16-3) wrapped up its section schedule at 11-1 thanks to a hard-fought 43-37 win Feb. 4 at home against Ellis School, giving the Spartans at least a share for first place with Serra Catholic (14-4, 9-1) in Section 2-2A.

Looking back at school history, the Brentwood girls won nine consecutive section titles from 1976-84, then tacked on three more championships in 1986, ‘90 and ‘94.

The victory against Ellis School (14-6, 6-5) was Brentwood’s 10th in a row, and 10th consecutive section win.

Six girls — all seniors — have been instrumental in this year’s success: 5-foot-4 guard Abby Wolf, 5-8 guard Anna Betz, 5-5 guard Brooke McQuillan, 5-7 guard Natalie Murrio, 5-10 forward Rebecca Dirling and 5-8 forward Sydney Gilchrist.

“I really feel this team has come together under the leadership of the seniors,” coach Rachel Thomas said. “We had a tough nonsection schedule and with our veteran leadership were able to be very successful against bigger schools. The girls really play well as a team.”

During their four-year varsity careers, the talented senior athletes have logged a 64-26 record, including a 39-13 section mark. The past two seasons, Brentwood was 34-11 overall and 21-5 in section play.

The Spartans have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs in each of the last four years and advanced to the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA second round last season. The senior group also captured the championship of the Brentwood High Athletic Boosters Association tip-off tournament four times.

“I am truly proud of this team and its accomplishments. The girls truly deserve them,” Thomas said. “We have more goals we are trying to reach, and I believe if we continue playing the way we have been, we can meet those goals.”

Key reserves on this year’s team include freshmen guards Maura Daly and Bella Grimm and junior guard Maddi Travis.

“We have a few key players coming off the bench that have really made a big difference,” Thomas said. “Two freshmen have been playing well. Maura Daly has been a key reserve the entire year, and Bella Grimm has recently showed her defensive strength in big games.”

Rounding out the squad are sophomores Taylor Davis (G) and Paige Miller (F) and freshmen Jaelynn Lindahl (F), Cecilia Foley (G) and Hannah Fornear (G).

Travis is the lone junior on the team. Davis and Miller are the only sophomores.

“Maddi Travis has complemented the seniors very well,” Thomas said.

While the Spartans’ 62-33 victory Jan. 22 at home against Serra was one of their most impressive all-around performances this season, it was a 65-58 loss Dec. 17 to the same Serra squad that proved to be a turning point.

“The girls really took that (loss) hard, and it strengthened their determination and focus,” Thomas said. “They were determined to win the section.”

Thomas is a 1986 Brentwood graduate and was a four-year varsity basketball player. The Spartans won three section titles during her high school career.

Brentwood’s veteran coach has maintained a steadfast approach in building the girls basketball program at her alma mater into a regular WPIAL playoff contender.

The Spartans have qualified for the postseason every year since Thomas took over in 2013-14. Her career coaching record is 90-43 with one game remaining this season.

“I’m very optimistic our girls will have a successful WPIAL playoff run,” Thomas said. “I believe our tough nonsection schedule, along with some tough section play, will help us in tight games. We gained a lot of experience in tight games.

“We are hoping to remain a top seed and work our way to the championship game this year.”

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.