District notebook: Mt. Lebanon star flourishes at W&J

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While she was a member of one of the most successful girls basketball teams in recent WPIAL history, Chelsea Apke had a role.

Playing on a star-studded Mt. Lebanon High School squad that included several future Division I players, a group highlighted by current Notre Dame guard Madison Cable, Apke took a backseat when it came to scoring. Instead, as she noted, she worked to set up players such as Cable and was a defensive pillar.

A star in her own right, Apke filled that niche well, as the Blue Devils won consecutive WPIAL and PIAA championships in her final two years (2009 and 2010).

Now, in the early stages of her senior season at Washington & Jefferson, Apke has an entirely new role, one that has found herself and her team a good deal of success.

Through the Presidents’ first five games, the past three of which they have won, Apke is among the Division III leaders in scoring and rebounding. She is averaging 20 points per game (tied for 44th), is pulling down 12.3 rebounds (tied for 26th) and has recorded a double-double in all but one game this season.

“She’s just such an athlete and she can do so many things on the floor,” Washington & Jefferson coach Jina DeRubbo said. “She’s very hard to guard, she’s a great defensive player and a really strong rebounder.

“She’s the whole package, which makes her pretty special.”

When she first arrived at Washington & Jefferson, it became clear to DeRubbo that Apke was her best player.

After years of playing a more complementary role, it was a transitional process that Apke embraced and subsequently in which she has thrived.

“I really don’t know how I transitioned into it,” Apke said. “I remember Coach telling me that my role was going to change once I got to W&J. I guess I just decided to go with it.”

Though she attended high school about 19 miles from the Washington & Jefferson campus, Apke’s route to the school was indirect.

Like a number of her Mt. Lebanon teammates, Apke began her career in the Division I ranks, at Presbyterian College in South Carolina.

But after a freshman season in which she played in 18 games for the Blue Hose, she was homesick. In a decorated athletic family — her father, Steve, played in the NFL and her younger brother, Troy, has committed to play football at Penn State — Apke began missing her parents being able to see her compete and the ability to watch her siblings play.

She eventually decided to continue her career with the Presidents, but while playing in a summer league game in 2011, her ACL was torn and she missed all of what would have been her sophomore season. Fully healthy as a junior, Apke averaged 14.9 points (a team high) and 9.3 rebounds as Washington & Jefferson went 21-9 and finished third in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.

With a promising start and a new mindset that comes with a greater level of comfort, Apke is ready to take on any role that allows the Presidents to excel in her final collegiate season.

“In the end, I wanted my team to do well and if I had to do that role for us to win, I would,” she said.

Dukes volleyball

After going 20-9 and capturing its first Atlantic 10 championship, the Duquesne women’s volleyball team will make its NCAA championship debut today with a first-round match at Kentucky. The Wildcats (21-8) are the 15th overall seed.

Grand total

In Westminster's 92-76 loss Saturday to Penn State Behrend, Titans senior Anthony Thomas, a Union graduate, scored his 1,000th career point. He is the 36th player in program history to accomplish the feat.

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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