Girls' Basketball Class AAA Preview: Blackhawk, Hopewell at top of heap


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SECTION 1

Team to beat

Mars: There isn't an overwhelming favorite in this section, but the Planets figure to be at the top after tying Hampton for the section title last year. Ali Goetz, a sophomore forward, averaged 13 points a game and made all-section as a freshman.

Contenders

Hampton: The Talbots hope to be strong defensively again after allowing only 38 points a game last season. Senior Sara Pilarski, a 6-1 forward, returns after averaging 12 points and making all-section.

Knoch: The Knights hope to continue their improvement with the return of two of their top three scorers in senior guard Sam Logan and junior guard-forward Celina Sanks. After winning only five games in the 2010-11 season, Knoch tied for third in the section a year ago and made the playoffs.

Kittanning: The Wildcats should be in the thick of the playoff race again after qualifying for the postseason in 2012. Junior point guard Emily Knepshield averaged 14 points a game and made all-section.

Others

Freeport: The Yellowjackets are new to the section. They were 10-12 in Class AA Section 1 a year ago. Senior forward Jessica Aulicino averaged 15 points.

Highlands: The Rams are looking to improve. After making the playoffs in 2010, they have won only seven games the past two seasons.

Valley: The Vikings are simply hoping to be competitive after finishing below .500 nine consecutive seasons.

SECTION 2

Team to beat

Hopewell: It's hard to pick the No. 1 team in this section between Blackhawk and Hopewell, but Hopewell is the defending WPIAL champion and features senior guard-forward Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. The Post-Gazette Player of the Year for the 2011-12 season, she averaged 25.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 3.9 steals and 1.5 blocks. Three other starters return -- junior forward Kari Steuer, and junior guards Shaniya Rivers and Desirae Ritmiller.

Contenders

Blackhawk: The Cougars knocked off Hopewell in the PIAA playoffs last season. At times last year, coach Steve Lodovico played five freshmen. Sophomore guard Chassidy Omogrosso and junior guard Halle Denman are two of the top players in Class AAA. Omogrosso averaged 19 points and Denman 13. Senior forward Alexis Graham is another top returnee.

Central Valley: The team's top two scorers from last season return -- senior guard Madi Rowan and junior forward Seairra Barrett. The Warriors also were bolstered by junior forward Kiana Law, who transferred from Beaver Falls, where she averaged 11 points a game.

New Castle: Graduation took away much of the Red Hurricanes' firepower. Senior guard Dana Perrotta is a top returnee.

Others

Ambridge: Junior guard Katie Fischer averaged 18 points last season and could help the Bridgers improve on their 5-17 record.

Ellwood City: The Wolverines did not win a section game a year ago, but senior guard Asia Borders (11 ppg) and a few other starters return.

West Allegheny: The Indians are newcomers to the section after winning only one game last season in Section 5.

SECTION 3

Team to beat

Mount Pleasant: The Vikings could climb to the top of the section after finishing second to Uniontown a year ago. Senior forward Casey Zelenak averaged 10 points and 8 rebounds while sophomore guard Alexa Szelong also averaged 10 points as a freshman.

Contenders

Uniontown: Senior guard Lydya Dennis makes the Raiders a team to watch. She averaged 11 points and was an all-section pick last season.

Greensburg Salem: The Lions finished tied for third in the section last year, but don't be surprised if they challenge for the section title this year. Senior guard Jayne Oberdorf averaged 16 points a game last season and her younger sister, Claire, a sophomore, averaged 13.

Indiana: This team will rely heavily on Audrey Stapleton, a senior guard who averaged 13 points and made all-section a year ago.

Others

Derry: Senior forward Courtney Meyer is one of the top returning players from a team that is hoping to turn the tide after three consecutive losing seasons.

Southmoreland: The Scotties won only two games last season, and things get tougher with the team moving up from Class AA to AAA.

Yough: The Cougars are trying to rebound from two rough seasons. After making the playoffs in 2010, Yough has won only one section game the past two seasons.

SECTION 4

Team to beat

Elizabeth Forward: The Warriors finished second in the section to South Park last year. With South Park moving to Section 5, it could be time for Elizabeth Forward to win a section title. The three top players from last year return -- senior forward Dana Buck (12 ppg, 7 rpg), junior forward Natalie Fekula and junior forward Kylie Owoc.

Contenders

Belle Vernon: Senior forward Jessica Slagus is one of the top players in the section. She averaged 17 points a game and 13 rebounds last season. Also returning is senior guard Natalie Bashada.

West Mifflin: Ciara Patterson averaged 21 points a game last season as a sophomore, but is not playing this year. Still, the Titans will be a playoff contender.

Thomas Jefferson: The Jaguars are hoping to rebound. After making the WPIAL playoffs seven consecutive seasons, Thomas Jefferson finished 3-19 and in last place in the section a year ago.

Others

Ringgold: Senior forward Josie Schmidt (9 ppg) and junior guard Eleni Radic (6 ppg, 4 apg) are the top returnees.

Brownsville: The Falcons move up from Class AA Section 4, where they won only two games last year after finishing 13-8 the previous season.

Waynesburg: This is another team that moved up from Class AA Section 4. Waynesburg has struggled, going winless in section play five of the past six seasons.

SECTION 5

Team to beat

South Park: The Eagles made it to the WPIAL championship game a year ago before losing to Hopewell. South Park moves over from Section 4 and has a strong one-two punch in senior guard Shelby Lindsay (15. ppg) and junior forward Halie Torris (14 ppg).

Contenders

Montour: The Spartans finished in third place in the section last year and should be near the top of the section again. They should have a strong backcourt with junior Sophia Esposito and senior Emily Mastroianni. Esposito made all-section last year.

South Fayette: All-section player Erika Ford graduated, but senior point guard Cait McLockie averaged 12 points last season.

Keystone Oaks: The Eagles won 20 games a year ago, but that was in Class AA Section 5. Despite the move up in class, Keystone Oaks is still a team to watch. Maryssa Agurs, a junior forward, averaged 12 points and 8 rebounds last season.

Others

Moon: The Tigers won only four games a year ago, but could be helped by a move down from Class AAAA.

Quaker Valley: The Quakers won the Class AA Section 6 championship last season, but now move up to Class AAA. Senior guard Sierra Perlik averaged 13 points and made all-section last season.

Trinity: The Hillers have to replace all-section guard Morgan Kurtz. Senior point guard Lauren Simpson will be one of the team leaders.

RANKINGS

Rk. School (2011-12 record)

1. Hopewell (25-3)

2. Blackhawk (24-5)

3. South Park (24-4)

4. Central Valley (15-8)

5. Elizabeth Fwd. (18-6)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Hopewell, 5-11, Senior, Guard/Forward

Sara Pilarski, Hampton, 6-1, Senior, Forward

Chassidy Omogrosso, Blackhawk, 5-5, Sophomore, Guard

Halle Denman, Blackhawk, 5-7, Junior, Guard

Jayne Oberdorf, Greensburg Salem, 5-5, Senior, Guard

Lydia Dennis, Uniontown, 5-4, Senior, Guard

Shelby Lindsay, South Park, 5-11, Senior, Guard

Halie Torris, South Park, 6-1, Junior, Forward

Jessica Slagus, Belle Vernon, 6-0, Senior, Forward

Sophia Esposito, Montour, 6-1, Junior, Guard

Katie Fischer, Ambridge, 5-7, Senior, Guard

Alexis Graham, Blackhawk, 5-11, Senior, Forward

Madi Rowan, Central Valley, 5-8, Senior, Guard

Dana Buck, Elizabeth Forward, 5-11, Senior, Forward

Kiana Law, Central Valley, 5-11, Junior, Forward

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Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com


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