Heading into this season, South Park coach Reggie Wells knew his team was capable of something special.
The Eagles had come up achingly short the year before, falling to Hopewell in the 2012 WPIAL Class AAA championship game, but had high expectations heading into 2013.
The Eagles realized those lofty goals, finishing 28-2 and claiming both the WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA championships. For those accomplishments, Wells has been selected as the Post-Gazette's high school girls coach of the year.
Five players graduated from the team that went 24-4 and claimed the Section 4 title last year, but the Eagles, led by senior guard Shelby Lindsay, who averaged 17.9 points per game, and junior forward Halie Torris (15.7 points per game), didn't skip a beat this season.
Once again, South Park cruised through section play, going 12-0 in Section 5 games. They stumbled Jan. 19 in a 49-34 loss against Hopewell, the same team that had ended their WPIAL dreams the previous year.
The Eagles got another crack at Hopewell in this year's WPIAL semifinal game and got their revenge with a 75-55 win. Two weeks later, the teams faced off again in the second round of the PIAA tournament, and South Park once again came away victorious, 50-46.
What made you believe this team was special heading into the season? "Based on last year, how we finished up and the teams that we played, we knew that we had a chance to be right in the mix. So why not be the team who could do the special things? We really thought going into the season that's what our goal was. Every year, your goal is to go in and win your conference title and all that stuff. We legitimately thought we were going to be in the mix there."
How did the midseason loss to Hopewell serve as a turning point for your team? "We knew we had to change something up as far as our level of competing against everybody. I think that really helped us. We had to re-evaluate ourselves and understand we have to get through them if we're going to do what we need to do. ... No question about it. We had to deal with ourselves and we had to go back to the drawing board. Not change what we did, but we had to do it better and we had to believe in it."
What was the most impressive part about this team? "The best thing was they really got along with each other so well. It made it so easy because they legitimately cared about and liked each other. It made everything worthwhile. Even if we would have lost, it would have been worth it because it made it so enjoyable to come to practice. ... I think [it helped], because it made them stronger and you could see that out on the court. I had other teams that were talented, successful and they did really well. They were able to overcome that stuff. They went in a different direction and they were really good kids and a great team, but these kids, for some reason the chemistry with them was really off the charts. It made it so easy, to be honest with you."
How did it feel to claim South Park's first-ever PIAA girls basketball championship? "For me, I'm really just honored that it puts our community out there. This is a great school district, it's a great community. That's where my kids were raised, my wife's from there. For them to have a sense of pride of how we go about doing things. And I think we did it the right way, where the kids are really just great kids. Their academics are great. Our team [grade-point] average is like a 3.85 or something, so many of them are on the distinguished honor roll, some are first in their class. It's just really good for them to be on the national stage. I'm really happy, more for that than myself. It's nice, don't get me wrong, but they have a lot of pride in their community."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org First Published March 29, 2013 4:00 AM