Class 6A: There's plenty of speculation about the number of WPIAL titles North Allegheny's girls basketball team had won entering the 2017 tournament. Some say the WPIAL title won by the 1972 team should not be a part of the discussion. Regardless of sentiment, the Tigers ended all speculation by capturing a 50-39 victory over Bethel Park to win the 2017 WPIAL 6A championship on March 4 at Petersen Events Center.
That game was a frustrating experience for Bethel Park coach Jonna Burke, who used a carnival game to describe the difficulty of stopping North Allegheny, whose primary all season had been Rachel Martindale. And, she thought that Martindale would be the Tigers' go-to player in the championship game.
It certainly didn't work out that way.
"What went wrong for us was the same thing that was going wrong all night," Burke said. "If we cut [the lead], they had five guys that could come back and hurt you. We thought 'Martindale killed us in the first half,' so we tried to focus more on her in the second half. But if they needed a big bucket, here came Piper Morningstar, then came [Hailey] Zeise. It was like we were playing 'Whack-a-Mole.' You knock one down, and the next one pops up, and then the next popped up. That's what happened. We're used to getting big stops. What's gotten us through the past few games has been big stops. They just had too many weapons for us to continually get big stops."
That analysis pleased Zeise, the team's only senior. Next season, she will play for Division I Stony Brook.
"I think that's what makes us so special," she said. "You take away one of us, and four others are going to come back stronger. It's tough to play with us in practice when you are playing against each other. You look to your left or your right, and you see players just as good if not better than you. That definitely motivates you."
The victory gave the the Tigers the No. 1 seed from the WPIAL in the PIAA Class 6A tournament.
The Tigers hoped for a clean run in the PIAA tournament. But after victories over Hempfield, 50-34, Mt. Lebanon, 56-52, and Penn Hills, 50-38, the Tigers got their first opportunity against a non-WPIAL opponent in the semifinals.
The Tigers were challenged every step of the way in that game before Rachel Martindale's free throw with nine-tenths of a second remaining in the game gave the Tigers a 32-31 lead. Martindale deliberately missed the second shot to seal the victory over Souderton, the No. 11 team from District 1.
North Allegheny wasn't nearly as fortunate in the championship game against Boyertown, the No. 6 team from District 1.
After taking a 19-14 halftime lead, the Tigers' offense went into the freezer, and the Bears took full advantage to earn a 46-35 victory.
North Allegheny finished the season with a 28-2 record. Just one player -- Zeise -- graduates from the team. With four starters and the entire bench returning, prospects appear bright for coach Spencer Stefko and his team, which finished the season with a 28-2 record.
Other North-area 6A teams: Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley and Butler all qualified for the WPIAL tournament, but none of them had a very successful run. Section 1 co-champion Pine-Richland was the only team to hand North Allegheny a regular-season loss with a 50-47 triumph on Jan. 5 at the Tigers gym.
Pine-Richland entered the WPIAL tournament with a 21-1 record. The Rams' only loss was a 55-49 home-court setback to North Allegheny on Jan. 26.
The very successful season earned the Rams a first-round bye in the WPIAL tournament. But their season ended with a 52-44 quarterfinals loss to Bethel Park, the event WPIAL Class 6A tournament runner-up.
Coach Tom Reighard could face some challenges heading into next season. There were just three seniors on this team, but two of them were Duquesne recruit Amanda Kalin and talented defensive specialist and outside threat Caitlyn Byerly.
The other seniors were guard/forward Makenzie Jenkins and guard Gianna DeTemple. Everyone else -- including rising sophomore Anna Jurkovec -- returns.
Seneca Valley fell to Peters Township, 55-41, in the first round. Butler suffered a similar fate to Norwin, 52-26, also in the first round.
Class 5A: When it came to girls basketball in the North region on the Class 5A bracket, two schools were at the top of the list: section rivals Hampton and Mars.
The Talbots ruled the section with an 11-1 record. But Mars was right behind at 10-2, and the Planets handed the Talbots their only section loss with a 58-41 home-court victory on Feb. 9.
Both teams found some success in the postseason, but both likely would have preferred to have had a longer appearance in both the WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A tournaments.
Hampton, which finished with an overall record of 23-4, earned victories over Greensburg Salem, 75-34, and McKeesport, 61-43 in first-round and quarterfinal-rounds of the WPIAL tournament. But the quest for a trip to the Petersen Events Center ended with a 44-37 loss to eventual 5A WPIAL runner-up Oakland Catholic. The Talbots moved on to the PIAA tournament. That's where they defeated Slippery Rock in a first-round game, but fell to South Fayette, 68-65, in the second round.
Mars had a similar journey in the postseason. The 18-8 Planets defeated Montour, 72-57, in a first-round game, but were bounced by eventual WPIAL runner-up Oakland Catholic, 54-41, in the quarterfinals. Their PIAA journey also lasted two games. That's where they rolled to a 51-31 victory over Erie Central, but fell to familiar rival Oakland Catholic, 47-37, in the second round.
Class 4A: It was a monumental year for the Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High girls basketball team. A big reason was that the team didn't lose a beat after moving from Class 1A all the way up to Class 4A. While doing that, the Trojanettes won 25 games while earning a WPIAL Class 4A championship and advancing to the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class 4A tournament. They finished with an overall record of 25-3, and raced through WPIAL Class 4A, Section 1 with a 12-0 record.
North averaged 63.5 points per game against all competition, and the Trojanettes yielded just 38.4 points per contest. Against section rivals, they averaged just under 70 points a game, and they yielded 30.67 points per contest.
The Trojanettes won their first three games before falling to Liberty High of Nevada in the first round of the round-robin Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas.
They then won 12 games in a row before losing to Penn Hills, a solid Class 6A team that advanced to the semifinals of the WPIAL Class 6A tournament and the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class 6A tournament.
One game that gave folks a taste of how dominant this team could be was a 71-27 victory over Seneca Valley, a team which qualified for the WPIAL 6A tournament.
In that game, North outscored Seneca Valley 33-4 in the second half. All four of the Raiders' points in the third and fourth quarters came from the free-throw line.
"I scouted the heck of out of them because of my respect for [Seneca Valley coach Rob Lombardo], and the way he does things," said Trojanettes coach Molly Rottmann. "I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was happy with our girls' defense. The girls did a great job, and our defensive effort was strong."
En route to the PIAA semifinals, North won its first WPIAL championship as a Class 4A team with a 65-36 victory over Blackhawk in the championship game. As strong as that defensive effort was in the victory over Seneca Valley, it was just as strong in the victory over Blackhawk, a team well accustomed to success in Class 3A.
Rottmann was one of the most surprised persons at the Petersen Events Center in the wake of North Catholic's one-sided victory.
"I thought it would be a close game," she said. "If we didn't contain the dribble-drive and play the defense that we did, we possibly could have been on the other end of that with the way they shoot."
Rottmann credited Sam Breen and Kylie Huffman with the team's quick start.
"Just the way they came out with confidence, and the team follows them," she said. "We started out with a 7-0 run and everyone settled down after that. We weren't necessarily looking for [3-point goals], but we wanted to take advantage of our height. Our girls did a great job inside when they were open, and they did an excellent job on both ends of the floor."
That title coupled with the 16 other district titles the Trojanettes have won in Class 3A, 2A and 1A. North also has distinguished itself with eight PIAA titles in Class 3A, 2A and 1A.
Following that loss to Penn Hills, North then won 12 more games before a 57-41 PIAA quarterfinal loss to Villa Maria, the District 10 champion that also was in its first year as a Class 4A team.
North loses two solid talents from this team: bookend forwards Breen and Huffman. Both had solid inside games, could hit perimeter shots and rebounded very well. But, on the plus side, the 11 other players who competed for the Trojanettes this past winter all return.
One other North-area team, Deer Lakes, also qualified for the WPIAL tournament by finishing third in Class 4A, Section 1 with a 7-5 record. The Lancers were 9-13 overall. Their trip to the postseason, unfortunately, was a short one as they lost a first-round game to Beaver, 47-28, who eventually finished third in the WPIAL tournament.
Prospects for the 2017-18 season appear to be bright as the Lancers lost just three players from the 14-player roster.
Class 3A: Avonworth had its share of highs and lows on a season that yielded an appearance in the WPIAL Class 3A basketball tournament.
The Antelopes finished third in Class 3A, Section 3 with a record of 7-5 and an overall standard of 15-9.
Bishop Canevin won the section, and the Crusaders eventually won the WPIAL championship and advanced to the PIAA Class 3A championship game, where they fell to Neumann-Goretti.
As for the Antelopes, they completed two rounds of the WPIAL tournament. They defeated Beaver Falls, 54-32, in a first-round game, and then fell to East Allegheny, 68-59, in the quarterfinals.
The future is a bright one for Avonworth. Of the 17 players listed on Avonworth's 2016-17 roster, just three graduated.
Class 2A: As there were plenty of accomplishments for the Vincentian girls basketball teams in the 2016-17 season, there likely will be a sense of unfinished business when the Royals get ready for the 2017-18 season.
The Royals displayed the form that's been evident in previous seasons as they ran through section play in Class 2A, Section 2 with a 14-0 record. Overall, Vincentian finished with a 21-6 record.
But the part about the unfinished business is easy to see. Going into the WPIAL tournament, the Royals had won district titles in six of the previous seven seasons. This past season, though, was different as the WPIAL and PIAA reconfigured the four classifications from previous seasons into six classes. And, the Royals were placed in Class 2A. Longtime rival Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic was no longer on the schedule as the Trojanettes were placed in Class 4A, and the two schools chose not to renew a decade-long rivalry.
But that didn't stop the Royals from advancing to the WPIAL championship game, a familiar scenario. What was different, though, was the outcome. A very solid Chartiers-Houston team jumped off to an early start and earned a 47-35 victory over the Royals. Still, Vincentian found itself in yet another familiar position with a berth in the PIAA Class 2A tournament. This time, though, the journey was a short one as Vincentian defeated Cambridge Springs, 54-37, in the first round before falling to eventual PIAA 2A runner-up Bishop McCort, 57-45, in the second round.
Coach Ron Moncrief always has had plenty of players on his roster. And, he'll see plenty of familiar players returning when practice begins later this year. Of the 20 players listed on the roster, just one player graduated. That means Moncrief won't have to explain plays to a roster that is deep on talent and experience.
Class 1A: The teams that might well have been the most pleased with the PIAA's decision to divide girls basketball into six classifications might well have been the schools that compete in 1A, the smallest of the classifications.
That's because the two teams that had ruled 1A basketball in recent seasons, Vincentian and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, were reclassified to Class 2A and Class 4A, respectively. A team from either Vincentian or North had won the WPIAL title had won nine of the previous 10 titles with the Royals winning six titles and the Trojanettes winning three. The other title was won by Mount Alvernia, a school that closed in 2011. And, both Vincentian and North Catholic displayed their abilities as both advanced to the WPIAL championship games in their respective classifications.
With those schools now out of the way, opportunities abounded for smaller schools. And, both St. Joseph and Sewickley Academy made the most of their chances.
Competing in Class 1A, Section 3, St. Joseph finished a solid second to Winchester Thurston with a 6-2 section record an overall standard of 17-9. The Spartans advanced to the semifinals of the WPIAL tournament, where they fell to Cornell, 51-42. Hopes for a long run in the PIAA tournament were dashed as the Spartans fell to Berlin Brothersvalley, 55-46, in a first-round game.
Sewickley's Panthers competes in Class 1A, Section 1, and the section has featured two of the top teams in the WPIAL, Cornell and Quigley Catholic. It was no different this season as those two teams tied for section honors with matching 9-1 records.
Sewickley placed fourth with a 4-6 mark, and the Panthers were 11-14 overall. In the WPIAL's configuration, fourth place is good enough to qualify for the postseason. The Panthers won a first-round game against Jefferson-Morgan, 43-29, and then fell to eventual WPIAL 1A champion Winchester Thurston, 52-32, in the quarterfinals. The fact the Bears won the title, though, allowed Sewickley to advance to the PIAA tournament, where they lost to North Clarion, 57-38.
The good news for Sewickley is that every player returns for the 2017-18 season. The news isn't as encouraging for St. Joseph as the Spartans lost four seniors from an 11-player roster.