Most weekdays this winter around 5 p.m. at the Burrell High School gym, there was a lot of basketball talent walking around. Just as the girls' two-hour practice is ending around 5 p.m., the boys' is starting.
It is a basketball renaissance going on at the school and while the boys are getting a lot of attention for reaching the WPIAL semifinals and finals for the first time since 1979, the girls are also doing something not seen in a while.
The Buccaneers girls reached the WPIAL semifinals for the first time since 1994.
And fans are taking notice, jumping on the bandwagon or in this case a school bus.
"We didn't start with very many fans and now we have so many people we have a fan bus," coach Meghan Ziemianski said. "I think there is so much excitement because the boys are doing this too. It is kind of cool to see the school spirit, you can call it jumping on the bandwagon, but better late than never."
Burrell had its WPIAL playoff run come to an end after losing to Bishop Canevin, 55-19, in the WPIAL semifinals. By virtue of Bishop Canevin going on to win the WPIAL final against Seton-LaSalle, the Buccaneers, the No. 3 seed in the WPIAL playoffs, will also be the third-seeded team coming out of the WPIAL field.
Burrell will play District 6 runner-up Bellwood Antis on Friday at Plum High School.
The loss in the WPIAL semifinals ended a 12-game winning streak for Burrell. That winning streak included regular-season non-section wins against Indiana, North Catholic, Mount Pleasant and Knoch.
In the playoffs Burrell relied on its stifling defense in wins against Carlynton and McGuffey, limiting its opponents to 23 and 41 points, respectively.
Burrell has the best scoring defense in the WPIAL, holding opponents to 28.6 points per game.
Sophomore point guard Sydney Bordonaro led Burrell in scoring in both playoff games. She scored a game-high 16 against Carlynton and added 17 against McGuffey. Freshman guard/forward Natalie Myers scored 25 over the first two playoff games.
In the win against McGuffey, four Burrell players scored in double figures. Along with Bordonaro and Myers, junior guard Kelsey Oddis and junior guard Jaila Manga scored 15 and 10, respectively.
Other contributors include sophomore guard/forward Erika Finn and junior forward Jessica Cercone.
Ziemianski, a 2000 Burrell graduate, can appreciate how far the program has come in her two years at the school. After splitting the Class AA Section 1 title with Ford City in the 2008-09 season, Burrell missed out on the playoffs in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
Last season the Buccaneers returned to the WPIAL playoffs, going 18-5 and finishing second in the section. They won a preliminary round playoff game before losing in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.
"I am really proud of their work ethic," Ziemianski said. "We just don't play during basketball season. We are in fall leagues, most play AAU. We have open gyms. When we have to cancel an open gym the girls are already asking when are we rescheduling it, they hold us to it."
The condition and work ethic of this team is readily apparent in games. The Buccaneers play man-to-man defense primarily.
"Being able to have six to eight girls playing man, you can tell they are working," Ziemianski said.
While the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA playoffs are uncharted waters for Burrell, you could hardly tell it among the players. Some of that may have to do with their scheduling in summer and fall leagues. They have played Mt. Lebanon, Bishop Canevin, Vincentian and Hempfield before the season even started.
"I don't think the playoffs really affect them," Ziemianski said. "The coaches are definitely more nervous than they are."