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South Fayette girls rely on defense in injury-riddled season

Nathan Smith
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The injury bug bit the South Fayette girls basketball team.

And its effects have lasted most of the season. In fact, the team’s 34-33 loss to Trinity on Jan. 21 was the first time every player on the roster was healthy.

“It has been a unique season,” South Fayette coach Bryan Bennett said. “We would start with one lineup. They would start to jell, and we would get one player back. We would then have to get back into rhythm.”

Despite the lack of continuity, the Lions have put themselves in playoff contention.

The team is led on offense by Clare Relihan. The junior guard has been lethal with her shooting and is averaging nearly 15 points.

“I think she is one of the best shooters in our section,” Bennett said. “When she gets her feet set, we have little doubt that it isn’t going into the basket. She helps us stretch the floor, and that allows us to do different things.”

Maura Castelluci was the team’s top returning scorer from last season. She has made a major impact on the team’s scoring this season: Castelluci scored 28 in a 56-38 win over USC on Dec. 8 and 19 points in a 64-53 2in over West Allegheny on Jan. 10.

Karyssa Larson also has become an important part.

“She is a senior that has been doing all the little things,” Bennett said. “Teams sometimes focus on Clare and Maura and lose sight of Karyssa. But she has had her big moments. She scored 20 against Lincoln Park the first time we played them.”

South Fayette has been a force on defense, holding opponents to 46.9 points per game. It has held several teams well below their season average: Trinity (12 points), Upper St Clair (seven) and Montour (six).

“We play a strong man-to-man defense,” Bennett said. “We switch a lot on screens and take teams out of their sets. Teams are not used to the switching. When we scout teams, we take away their main offensive sets.”

Describing his first season with the team, Bennett said the players were hungry when he first got into the gym with them last June. He credited the team’s four seniors — Jordan Head, Skylar Aitken, Castelluci and Larson — with setting the tone in workouts and practices.

“The seniors have been outstanding,” Bennett said. “They pulled the group together and motivated them. The seniors are some of the hardest-working players we have.”

Entering the final weeks of the season, South Fayette is in the playoff chase in Section 1-5A. With only the top five teams moving on to the WPIAL playoffs, the race is heating up. While undefeated Chartiers Valley has breathing room, the other seven teams are all in contention for the postseason.

But Bennett doesn’t want his team to look ahead. He said his goal is to finish each game remaining on the schedule 1-0.

“We cannot look ahead,” Bennett said. “We have no room for error. The section is unbelievably tough from the top to bottom. We need to take one game at a time.”

Nathan Smith is a freelance writer.