North Xtra: New-look Fox Chapel is a section contender
January 10, 2013 10:00 AM
Fox Chapel's Alexa Yaksich goes up for a shot as North Catholic's Brooke Zangaro defends during a game Saturday.
By Nicholas Tolomeo Tri-State Sports & News Service
There were more knee surgeries (four) and as many concussions suffered (three) as there were wins for the Fox Chapel Area girls basketball team last season during a rough 3-19 campaign.
The Foxes dealt with numerous injuries to starters, including not having Duke University-bound center Erin Mathias at all during the regular season.
They finished 2-10 in Section 2-AAAA and in sixth place out of seven teams, only a season after going to the WPIAL playoffs. In short the 2011-12 season was a forgettable one.
So far, the 2012-13 season is a memorable one.
A lot of it has to do with Mathias, a 6-foot-3 junior center, and a lot of it has to do with a few other players who weren't around last season.
Starting guards Kayla Slovenec and Taylor Cohen and forward Anna Kelly, the first player off the bench, were not around last season either, not because they were injured but rather because they were in eighth grade. The freshman guard tandem and top reserve Kelly have helped propel Fox Chapel from a potential playoff team to a potential section champion.
Fox Chapel (9-3, 4-1) is in second place in Section 2-AAAA, just behind Gateway (8-2, 5-0), to which it lost, 47-26, Tuesday night.
Slovenec is the designated point guard but Cohen also runs the point. The two players are so similar in looks and style that Fox Chapel coach Meghan Meabon sometimes has a hard time telling the duo apart.
Meabon had not coached them in a feeder program in middle school but she was well aware of the freshmen after having seen them play in AAU basketball games.
"I knew what was coming our way," Meabon said. "I am very pleased. There are not too many freshmen who can come in and take on these responsibilities. It is exciting. They are very similar players.
"We call them sisters. They have some weird telepathic way of thinking -- that has kind of been the joke of the team. They look alike, they play alike, they are very quick, they are like having twins on the team."
Mathias leads the team with 17.4 points and 11 rebounds per game. She is also averaging more than three blocks per game. Cohen is second on the team in scoring with 7.8 points per game.
Meabon has no problem starting freshmen, she has done so in the past at previous schools and she did so with Mathias, an obvious collegiate prospect the first time she played a high school game.
"I have had no problem starting freshmen," Meabon said. "I put the best ballplayers out there. You always have that question with freshmen. You know they have that ability but you always have the question of how they are going to handle the pressure. I am very pleased with how they have handled it."
When Mathias was a freshman, Fox Chapel went 11-11 in the regular season and reached the WPIAL playoffs. This team looks much more like that group than the injury riddled group from a year ago.
The resurgent Foxes have achieved their 9-3 record by being able to win close games. It opened the season by winning the Seneca Valley tipoff tournament title with single-digit wins against Riverside and Hampton. In non-section play it got past Baldwin and Moon by a combined five points.
In section play Fox Chapel has had a little more breathing room, beating Mc-Keesport, 60-38, Franklin Regional, 60-43, Woodland Hills, 60-42, and Penn Hills, 48-28.
Mathias missed her sophomore season after developing patellar tendinitis in her right knee. She averaged 10.7 points as a freshman and was offered a scholarship by Duke the same year.
Mathias and the two freshman guards are joined in the starting lineup by senior forward Alexa Yaksich and senior guard/forward Rachel Ranii. Yaksich averages 7.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
Sophomore guard Alanna Palumbo is one of the first players off the bench for a Fox Chapel team that goes about eight players deep.
"Overall we are pleased," Meabon said. "We are very young and very raw in a lot of areas but we are happy with where we are with our record. We are just trying to work on the little things to become more consistent."