Quigley Catholic girls basketball coach Bill DelTondo did not have to remind his team about the importance of getting out to a fast start in the playoffs.
The past two seasons, in WPIAL first-round playoff exits, the Spartans saw firsthand how tough it can be to bounce back from a slow start.
This year Quigley turned the tables on the opposition, jumping on California early in the first round on its way to an 81-38 win and getting ahead of St. Joseph early and cruising to a 60-31 win to reach the WPIAL semifinals for the first time since 2010.
Quigley, the No. 4 seed in the 17-team Class A field, lost, 57-38, to No. 1 seed Vincentian Academy last week in the WPIAL Class A semifinals.
By reaching the semifinals, the Spartans qualified for the PIAA playoffs. The Spartans will play Conemaugh Township at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Pitt-Johnstown in the first round of the state tournament.
"Our last couple of years we didn't get that fast start," DelTondo said. "These fast starts we got in our first two playoff games, they meant a lot to us. Once you get that momentum it makes things a lot easier."
Quigley led California, 47-16, at halftime in the first round and it led St. Joseph, 27-16, at halftime in the quarterfinals.
"Those first-round losses [the previous two seasons] were one of the things that motivated us throughout the year," DelTondo said. "From the first practice and on that is something we talked about. We made it to the playoffs the first two years but lost in the first round and had to go home."
Quigley (18-6) went 12-0 in section play to capture the Class A Section 1 title.
The Spartans have been led by junior captain Kristin Jackson. She is the leading scorer on the team, averaging about 13 points per game. Jackson has upped her scoring in the playoffs. She scored a game-high 24 against St. Joseph and 15 against California.
"It was difficult, my first two years losing in the first round," Jackson said. "We definitely had a lot of motivation and more team spirit this year. We had more motivation and determination to get beyond the first round. We were more of a team this year and it was less about individuals."
Along with Jackson the other starters are sophomore point guard Kaitlyn Smith, her sister, freshman guard Gabrielle Smith, senior guard Amber Powell and senior forward Morgan Dillon.
Gabrielle Smith has made an immediate impact on the Spartans as a freshman.
"She has been a little bit of a surprise," DelTondo said. "She didn't start at the beginning of the year but she has come on stronger. Another surprise has been Amber Powell. She has changed her game a good bit this year. Last year she played sparingly, this year she came out and won a starting role."
Kaitlyn Smith scored 18 points in the win against California and Dillon and Gabrielle Smith added 14 and 12, respectively. The Smith sisters combined to score 21 in the win against St. Joseph.
Some of the things that plagued Quigley in its early playoff exits the previous two seasons were foul trouble and a short bench. This year the Spartans have plenty of talent coming off the bench.
Senior forward Liz Duer, sophomore guard Jaylen Young, junior guard Brittany Jackson and senior guard/forward Molly Patsch all see significant playing time. Brittany Jackson is the twin sister of Kristin Jackson.
With a deep bench and talented starters, DelTondo knew pretty quickly his team had a chance to repeat as section champions and make the WPIAL postseason.
"At the beginning of the year, I thought we had some girls who really stepped up and improved over the summer," DelTondo said. "We knew we had some talent at the beginning of the year. When we started playing as a team, I knew we had a real good chance of making a run."