When South Park moved out of Class AAA Section 4, some were quick to anoint Elizabeth Forward as the new section favorite.
The Warriors finished second to the Eagles last season and appeared ready to adopt the role of "the team to beat" in the section.
Elizabeth Forward coach Sam Kosanovich wanted to hear none of it, he wanted to see it. Kosanovich wanted his team to earn the distinction of section favorite by its play on the floor.
"Section titles have to be earned," Kosanovich said back in January. "We don't take anything for granted. A section title is a wish, our goal ... but you have to earn it."
After a 12-0 run through the section, it is safe to say Elizabeth Forward earned the section title this season.
"They had to earn it and they did," Kosanovich said. "It is a nice accomplishment to be 12-0."
It was hardly a cakewalk. Elizabeth Forward was pushed to overtime by section rivals Ringgold and West Mifflin. Five of its section wins were by single digits, including a one-point win against Ringgold and a four-point win at West Mifflin.
"We played good competition," Kosanovich said. "Ringgold has a pair of tall girls, they took us to overtime. We had to go through West Mifflin twice."
The Warriors were nearly as strong outside of section play. They finished with a 20-2 overall record with non-section victories against Class AAAA schools such as Connellsville, McKeesport and Norwin.
Their only two losses were against a team from South Miami, Fla., in the KSA Classic Tournament at Orlando and to their old nemesis, South Park, Monday in the regular-season finale.
"I think we played well during the season," Kosanovich said. "We did what we had to do and we were successful but the playoffs are a whole other level."
The Warriors know that firsthand. Last season in the WPIAL first round they upset Section 1 champion Hampton.
They will play Mars in a first-round game Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.
Kosanovich points to teams such as South Park, Blackhawk, Central Valley, Hopewell and Uniontown as the favorites in Class AAA. With an experienced group, a top scorer such as senior forward Dana Buck and a deep nine-player rotation, the Warriors can certainly be in that mix.
Buck has scored more than 1,000 points during her career. She had 13 in a win against Belle Vernon last week, right around her season average. A 6-foot senior captain, she is also one of the top rebounders on the team.
It is not easy to average double figures on a team such as Elizabeth Forward where playing time is at a premium considering the deep bench Kosanovich utilizes. A number of players average around six or seven points per game.
"We don't have a player averaging 20-plus points a game," Kosanovich said. "Dana has had a good year within our team concept. We have six other players who may score seven or eight a night."
Junior forward Natalie Fekula led all scorers with 14 in a win against West Mifflin earlier this month.
Sophomore guard/forward Olivia Barkley scored a game-high 11 against Brownsville and added 11 against West Mifflin.
Junior forward Kylie Owoc, senior point guard Macy Pekala, junior guard Alison Pastore, junior center Andrea Paterra, sophomore guard Jessica Palady and freshman Justice Mitchell all see significant playing time.hsbasketball