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North Allegheny girls set to begin WPIAL title defense

Tribune-Review
| Friday, December 1, 2017 11:00 p.m
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
North Allegheny senior guard Piper Morningstar competes during practice Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, at North Allegheny.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
North Allegheny center Madelyn Fischer competes during practice Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, at North Allegheny.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
North Allegheny guard Brynn Serbin competes during practice Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, at North Allegheny.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
North Allegheny guard Lizzy Groetsch competes during practice Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, at North Allegheny.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
North Allegheny point guard Rachel Martindale competes during practice Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, at North Allegheny.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
North Allegheny senior guard Courtney Roman competes during practice Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, at North Allegheny.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
North Allegheny coach Spencer Stefko conducts practice Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, at North Allegheny.

Piper Morningstar will have to find the right level of physicality. The senior guard for the North Allegheny girls basketball team wants to hound her opponents’ best offensive player with one important caveat.

Whatever strategy Morningstar employs will have to be aimed at keeping her on the court for four quarters.

With the graduation of Hailey Zeise, who now plays at Stony Brook, Morningstar will be asked to pick up some of that defensive responsibility.

“It’s a new challenge for me,” Morningstar said. “I had a taste of it last season, when she got in foul trouble or had to come out and get a quick breather. It will be harder for me to do throughout the game.”

Morningstar’s primary focus is on being smart. Defending is a matter of good position.

“I need to stay out of foul trouble,” said Morningstar, who committed 46 fouls in 30 appearances last season. “I think I’ll be asked to play more defense, rebound more and score more. I think I’m OK with that.”

Having a cadre of capable teammates return will take much of the pressure off of Morningstar. Coach Spencer Stefko said he felt like he had six starters last season; five of those players return this season.

Rachel Martindale, Brynn Serbin, Madelyn Fisher, Courtney Roman and Morningstar all return from a team that finished 28-2 and won the first WPIAL Class 6A title in school history. The Tigers reached the state championship game before losing 46-35 to Boyerstown.

Repeating those accomplishments isn’t weighing much on Stefko. Currently, North Allegheny is working on developing an identity.

“In competitive practices, it sort of emerges,” Stefko said. “We’re blessed with kids here who know how to win. They carry that kind of grit and nastiness with them into practice. We’re willing to get after each other in practice, and we’ll still be friends at the end of the day.”

Scoring against the Tigers was an exercise in futility for many teams last season. North Allegheny held teams to 38.5 points per game and held Hempfield to 16 points in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

That’s the kind of attitude everyone would like to see continue.

“Just trying to stick to what we did last year,” said Roman, who averaged 7.0 points and was third on the team with 56 3-pointers. “We have to do what we do best, knowing (Zeise is) not here and is hard to replace. We all have a little bit to bring to the table, and together we have to build a new identity. We can’t think too hard about what we did last year.”

Much like Morningstar, everyone is preparing to do things in a different way.

North Allegheny’s hope is that road will again lead to a deep PIAA run.

“I have no idea,” Stefko said about what to expect. “I don’t know we expect anything other than to get better every day throughout December and January and hope you are a tough out come February. We have the potential to be one if we put the puzzle together the right way.”

Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.

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