In his fourth season at Seneca Valley, Rob Lombardo is starting to see the benefits of a developed feeder program on the varsity level.
Those benefits have not translated into playoff appearances yet, but the Seneca Valley girls basketball program continues to knock on the WPIAL postseason door that has been closed to them since 2008.
The benefits this season have come in many forms.
The most obvious is the play of the freshmen, including guards Lexus Lambert and Paige Montrose and forward Melissa Carter.
The trio was in sixth grade when Lombardo took over the program.
After three years in a program with consistent coaching techniques and systems the players were "varsity ready" by the time they arrived to the high school.
After going a combined 6-30 in section play from 2008-2011, the Raiders began to make some noise last season. They went 5-7 in Class AAAA Section 3 and missed qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs by one game.
Once again this season, Seneca Valley remains in playoff contention late into January. Sitting at 7-9 overall and 4-6 in Section 3, the Raiders are very much alive with remaining section contests against Oakland Catholic at home next Tuesday and at Butler on Feb. 8.
Seneca Valley is chasing Shaler (10-9, 4-5) for the fourth and final playoff spot. It was Shaler that edged Seneca Valley by one game last season for fourth place.
"It has really been amazing, two years in a row we are coming down to the last one or two section games that decide if we get in or not," Lombardo said. "We are just waiting for our break."
Lombardo welcomed two starters back from last season, junior forwards Abbie Trzeciak and Katie Brown.
Trzeciak was averaging 13 points and 9 rebounds per game last season before suffering a concussion in the seventh game of the season and missed the remainder of the season.
This season Trzeciak is picking up where she left off. She is leading the team in scoring, averaging 14 points per game. Standing 6 feet tall, Trzeciak is one of the tallest starters. Collectively the Raiders are one of the biggest teams in the section with Brown (5-11), Lambert (5-10) and Montrose (5-10).
Opponents have responded by playing mostly zone defenses against the Raiders.
"We are seeing a lot of zone and teams trying to pack it in on Abbie," Lombardo said. "We are trying to teach her to play with her back to the basket."
With more than 200 career points coming into the season, Trzeciak is the most experienced player on the team. That experience is invaluable for a team as young as Seneca Valley that relies on those three freshmen and a sophomore in starting guard Megan Hess.
"With the inexperience, sometimes you get the good with the bad and the ugly," Lombardo said.
Lombardo is utilizing seven girls on varsity who had no prior varsity action before this year.
"I am a big believer in running a program," Lombardo said. "What we are experiencing now, this is truly the first group that has played in our system all four years. We have driven our program to the grade school level and it is nice to see girls get up to us and know our presses and know our offense."
Despite not starting, Montrose is second on the team in scoring, averaging around nine points per game. Other key contributors include senior guard Kaitlyn Eagle, junior guard Hanna Parey, sophomore guard Alixis Roccia and junior forward Jane Vandrak.
"This group is the tightest as far as camaraderie," Lombardo said. "We really have 19 girls [varsity and JV] who love to play together and be in the gym.
"This is very exciting, when you dream of being a head coach you don't want to be a one-year-and-done guy. Even though it has taken us four years, we are enjoying the run and we are doing it the right way."
First Published January 31, 2013 5:00 AM