Well before the 2012-13 girls high school basketball season began, Mt. Lebanon coach Dori Oldaker had plenty of concerns about the "new neighbors."
Chartiers Valley had been a formidable force in Class AAA under coach Spencer Stefko, reaching the semifinals of the 2012 PIAA Class AAA tournament after placing third in the WPIAL Class AAA tournament. But a larger female enrollment meant new challenges for Chartiers Valley.
Oldaker has been quite impressed with the run the Colts have made in their inaugural season in Pennsylvania's largest basketball classification as a member of WPIAL Section 4.
"They made our section even stronger than it was before," said Oldaker, a couple days before her Blue Devils would meet the Colts for the fourth time this season. Game time is 8 p.m. today at North Hills, and the stakes are higher than in the first three meetings -- two of them won by Mt. Lebanon -- as the winner of this game advances to Tuesday's PIAA Class AAAA semifinals against the winner of another quarterfinal featuring Eastern Pennsylvania schools North Penn and Cumberland Valley.
Mt. Lebanon enters the game with an overall record of 24-3, and the Blue Devils were 11-1 in sectional play. Chartiers Valley had a successful debut in Section 4 with an 8-4 mark en route to an overall record of 23-4.
Both regular-season games were close with Mt. Lebanon winning by margins of 48-45 and 49-40. But a big reason for a fourth meeting between the two schools is due to the 31-27 setback the Colts handed the Blue Devils in the WPIAL semifinals on Feb. 26 at North Allegheny.
The Colts then lost to Bethel Park, 48-34, in the WPIAL championship game. But that victory against Mt. Lebanon made Chartiers Valley the WPIAL's No. 2 team in the PIAA playoff bracket. The Colts have made the most of their opportunity with first- and second-round victories against Allderdice, 70-41, and Gateway, 53-42.
The Blue Devils, too, have been solid as they performed well against an opponent, Bethel Park, that previously had defeated them. The Blue Devils' 37-34 victory against the Black Hawks in the first round of the PIAA tournament avenged the lone section loss the Blue Devils suffered this season. Mt. Lebanon reached the PIAA quarterfinals with a 59-36 victory against Penn-Trafford Tuesday at Baldwin. The Blue Devils hope to avenge another loss tonight against the Colts. Christine Ehland, a 6-foot-1 junior forward, and Alex Ventrone, a 5-9 senior guard, both average about 11 points a game.
A Colts victory tonight might be a tall order as they are missing two starters.
Mariah Wells, a 5-9 senior guard who is averaging about 13 points a game, will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury. Jenna Devinney, a 5-7 junior guard, who averages 11 points a game, also will miss tonight's game with an undisclosed injury. Both players have been absent from the Colts' lineup since the PIAA tournament began.
Oldaker knows about Chartiers Valley's injury woes, but believes the Colts present a big challenge.
"They've done fine without [Wells]," she said. "What [players] they have really doesn't affect our game plan, but they've had kids step up and do a great job."
Stefko said the injuries have forced some of his players to grow up a little more quickly than they might have anticipated.
"The kids have taken care of [two missing starters]," he said. "We haven't put in any new schemes because we want the kids to be comfortable [with our offense and defense]."
Kassidy O'Keefe, a 5-8 senior guard, and Alexa Golden, a 5-9 sophomore guard, are averaging 9 points a game. Kristina Coyne, a 6-0 senior forward, Kristin McGeough, a 6-3 junior forward, and Amanda Mazzarini, a 5-8 junior guard, all are averaging about 7 points a game. Golden has averaged more than 4 steals a game.
Tough work also has been a hallmark of Mt. Lebanon in recent years. Oldaker is pleased that constant has held to form this season.
"This team has been the most improved of any of the teams I've coached here," she said. "We try to teach mental and physical toughness, and the players have bought into it. This is a team that never gives up."