Girls' Basketball Class AAAA preview: Char Valley loaded with experience

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SECTION 1

Team To Beat

Penn-Trafford: The two-time defending section champion brings back senior guards Taylor Cortazzo and Nicole Hyland, starters on teams that went 23-1 in section play the past two seasons. Cortazzo, a 5-4 point guard, averaged 10 points per game last season.

Contenders

Kiski Area: Senior forward Maddie Antone was the top vote-getter on the all-section team a season ago when she averaged 17 points a game. New coach Nick Ionadi won a WPIAL championship as a player at Penn Hills in 2000.

Hempfield: Former Kiski Area coach Aaron Epps is now at Hempfield. The Spartans allowed 38.3 points per game last season -- second fewest in Class AAAA -- and bring back junior guard Monica Burns.

Norwin: The Knights have made the playoffs 10 years in a row and boast a formidable frontcourt with seniors Madi Guffey and Rachel Keto.

Others

Laurel Highlands: Marisa Erminio (14 ppg) and her teammates make the move up from Class AAA, where the Mustangs made the postseason four of the past five seasons.

Latrobe: The Wildcats were extremely young last season, so a group led by junior forward Emma Kate Womack will look to improve on a sixth-place finish.

Albert Gallatin: The Colonials went from winning two games in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12. Another five-win increase would likely get them to the playoffs.

Connellsville: One of only three winless teams in the WPIAL last season, the Falcons (0-22) are seeking improvement in all areas.

SECTION 2

Team To Beat

Plum: Krista Pietropola, a 5-10 junior guard, averaged 17.5 points per game last season and is arguably the top returning player in the section. She'll team with senior Angie Borriello for a terrific guard tandem.

Contenders

Woodland Hills: The inside-outside combo of 5-9 senior forward Delrika Jones-Carey (14.9 ppg) and 5-9 senior guard Desiree Garland (16.7 ppg) will make the Wolverines a tough out. Both were named all-section last season.

Gateway: The Gators must replace first-team all-state player Destiny Brown (24.1 ppg), but plenty of talent remains, a group highlighted by 5-9 senior guard Chelsea Richardson (10 ppg).

Franklin Regional: Baylee Buleca, a 5-11 junior forward, is a three-year starter who scored 12.1 points a game a season ago. Senior forward Maggie Kimmich (14.7 ppg) led the Panthers in scoring.

Others

Fox Chapel: Significant injuries doomed the Foxes last season, but the restored health of 6-3 junior center Erin Mathias (committed to Duke as a freshman) has made for tall expectations.

McKeesport: The Tigers are hoping senior guard Kasey Dansak can help the Tigers end a two-year playoff drought.

Penn Hills: New coach John Tate helped Penn Hills win the WPIAL title as a player in 1987.

SECTION 3

Team to beat

Oakland Catholic: The Eagles graduated the core of a team that made it to the WPIAL and PIAA championship games, but there's a feeling they could bounce back quickly. The top returnee is senior point guard Mara Fitzgerald. The Eagles allowed a WPIAL-low 36.3 points a game last season.

Contenders

North Allegheny: Junior guard Taylor Brennan will be the go-to player for coach Sherri McConnell. Brennan's sister, Kelly, was a former 1,000-point scorer for the Tigers.

Butler: This could be an excellent season for the Golden Tornado, who return senior forward MacKenzie O'Donnell (12.5 ppg) and senior guard Caitlin Baxter.

Seneca Valley: A young but talented Raiders team is led by 6-0 junior forward Abby Trzeciak, who averaged 13 points a game as a sophomore.

Others

Shaler: Former Northgate coach Neal Martin takes over at Shaler, which won the WPIAL title two seasons ago and went 14-10 last season.

North Hills: Look for the Indians to be much improved after going 3-18 last season.

Pine-Richland: The Rams have a new coach in Cliff Foster, who looks to help Pine-Richland make the playoffs for the third season in a row.

SECTION 4

Team to beat

Chartiers Valley: In what is likely the deepest, most talented section in the WPIAL, it's the new kid on the block that could surge to the top. The Colts return key players from last season's WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA semifinalist. Among them are 5-9 senior guard Mariah Wells (11.7 ppg) and 5-7 senior guard Kassidy O'Keefe (9.5 ppg).

Contenders

Bethel Park: The Black Hawks boast one of the WPIAL's top underclassmen in 5-10 junior guard-forward Megan Marecic, a two-time all-section honoree who averaged 13.7 points per game last season.

Mt. Lebanon: Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Blue Devils. Instead, they won the WPIAL title. The frontcourt duo of 6-1 junior Christine Ehland and 6-1 senior Jordan Holmes gives them a chance to do it again.

Upper St. Clair: Jordan Serio, a 5-5 senior guard, will be a tough matchup for most opponents, as will the Panthers, who return the bulk of their WPIAL semifinalist team.

Others

Baldwin: It wouldn't be wise to overlook Baldwin, either. The Highlanders also made it to the WPIAL semifinals last season, but did get hit hard by graduation.

Canon-McMillan: Junior forward Olivia Lorusso (12 ppg) led the Big Macs in scoring last season.

Peters Township: The Indians hope to rebuild quickly after losing lots from last season's playoff team.

RANKINGS

Rk. School (2011-12 record)

1. Bethel Park (15-9)

2. Chartiers Valley (25-4)

3. Mt. Lebanon (25-4)

4. Upper St. Clair (15-13)

5. Penn-Trafford (18-5)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Maddie Antone, Kiski Area, 5-9, Senior, Forward

Taylor Cortazzo, Penn-Trafford, 5-4, Senior, Guard

Krista Pietropola, Plum, 5-10, Junior, Guard

Delrika Jones-Carey, Woodland Hills, 5-9, Senior, Forward

Desiree Garland, Woodland Hills, 5-9, Senior, Guard

Chelsea Richardson, Gateway, 5-9, Senior, Guard

Megan Marecic, Bethel Park, 5-10, Junior, Guard/Forward

Mariah Wells, Chartiers Valley, 5-9, Senior, Guard

Kassidy O'Keefe, Chartiers Valley, 5-7, Senior, Guard

Baylee Buleca, Franklin Regional, 6-0, Junior, Forward

Jordan Serio, Upper St. Clair, 5-5, Senior, Guard

Erin Mathias, Fox Chapel, 6-3, Junior, Center

Christine Ehland, Mt. Lebanon, 6-1, Junior, Forward

Mariah Penascino, Bethel Park, 5-9, Senior, Guard

Maggie Kimmich, Franklin Regional, 5-6, Senior, Guard

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