For much of the 2012-13 season, little went wrong for the girls' basketball team at Central Valley High.
Playing in what was likely the toughest section in the WPIAL, the Warriors won the most games in the history of the three-year-old school, going 17-4 to finish third in Section 2 of Class AAA. With high-volume scorers such as guard Madi Rowan (18.3 points per game in the regular season) and forward Seairra Barrett (17.3 points per game), Central Valley opened the season by winning its first 10 games and 14 of its first 15.
For all intents and purposes, the team was running efficiently with few signs of trouble, aside from tough losses to some of the top teams in the area (namely, Blackhawk and Hopewell).
But, with one key absence, it all came apart in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Playing without standout center Kiara Law, who was suspended because of two technical fouls she acquired in the team's previous game, the Warriors saw their season likely come to an end with a relatively one-sided 66-45 loss to Elizabeth Forward last Saturday.
Though Law may not get the attention that scorers such as Rowan and Barrett receive, she was a crucial low-post presence for Central Valley.
Exactly how crucial was the void that Law left?
"It was huge," Central Valley coach Chris Wagner said. "Without her, our game plan totally changes, our defense totally changes. It disrupts everything we try to do."
One such disruption came in rebounding, where Law was averaging double figures. Without her, Wagner said his team "got beat pretty bad on the boards." In the loss, Central Valley, the No. 3 seed in Class AAA, also allowed a season-high 66 points to sixth-seeded Elizabeth Forward.
Furthermore, missing out on a key player predictably had a negative impact on a thin team that generally doesn't go with more than a seven-player rotation.
Law's absence was not only felt on the court -- there was a psychological aspect to it, too.
"It also just messed with the girls' confidence a little bit," Wagner said. "It changes their whole mental outlook to the game."
Even for a team that returns key players such as Law and Barrett, it was a particularly difficult loss.
"For our seniors, it was very emotional," Wagner said. "It was a depressing time for all of them. A lot of people thought it was our chance to make some noise this year. It really put a damper on everything we were doing."
The Warriors' season, however, might not be over yet. In Class AAA, the WPIAL gets six teams in the PIAA playoffs, a group that includes the four semifinalists and the teams that lost in the quarterfinals to the WPIAL finalists.
"We're hopeful is the best way we can put it," Wagner said.
On the up and up
Though it lost in the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs, the boys' basketball team at Bishop Canevin took a significant step forward this season. After finishing last season 6-16, the Crusaders went 11-13 in their 2012-13 campaign. Senior forward/center Jake Seligman played a large factor in the five-win difference, averaging a team-best 15.6 points per game in the regular season.
A sharp turnaround
If what the Bishop Canevin boys' team did this year is considered rapid improvement, what the Ambridge girls' basketball team accomplished this season was something else entirely. By finishing 15-9 after a loss to Hopewell in the Class AAA quarterfinals, the Bridgers tripled their win total from a year ago when they went 5-17 and lost 10 of their final 11 games. Defense had a big role in the team's progression, as Ambridge gave up nearly 10 fewer points per game this season. On the offensive end, senior guard Katie Fischer led the team in scoring in the regular season, averaging 16.7 points per game.
Though Sto-Rox saw a nine-win difference this season, going 14-9 after finishing 23-4 last season, the Vikings were able to win 10 or more games for the seventh consecutive season. In the regular season, center Makil Allen averaged a team-high 14 rebounds and 10 points per game, while guard Lenny Williams, who is a star quarterback for the school's football team, added 12 points per game. Fortunately for the Vikings, both players are juniors and will be back next season. Senior guard Tonyea Curry, a transfer from Carrick, led the team in scoring with 14 points per game. Sto-Rox's season ended with a 56-52 loss to Apollo-Ridge in the Class A first round Feb. 20.
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