South Xtra: Seton-LaSalle puts an exclamation point on its perfect season with a state title

PIAA GIRLS BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS


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Clichés run abundant in the sports world, many of them relayed to the media from athletes and coaches who just can't help but utter the familiar lines.

Seton-LaSalle coach Dennis Squeglia used one last Saturday, but the words could not have been more appropriate for what he had just witnessed.

"There's that old saying, 'Defense wins championships,'" Squeglia said. "Again, tonight was more proof of that."

Seton-LaSalle displayed a dominant defensive effort in rolling to a convincing 71-47 win against York Catholic in the PIAA Class AA championship game at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center.

In that game, Squeglia's cliché held true, but there was at least one other statement proved that day -- the 2011-12 Seton-LaSalle Rebels will be remembered as one of the best teams in WPIAL history.

Seton-LaSalle's season mirrored the name of the documentary series broadcast on ESPN -- 30 for 30. The Rebels finished the season a perfect 30-0, becoming just the third girls team from the WPIAL to win a PIAA championship with an undefeated record.

A mix of joy, relief and maybe even a bit of exhaustion seemed to envelope Squeglia's face when he stood outside his team's locker room trying his best to describe his team's accomplishments.

"It's been a long, but a really good season," he said. "These kids have really stepped up to the challenge every day and done everything we've asked them to. It's been awesome."

Awesome, as in the way Seton-LaSalle had York Catholic rattled and off-balance for the better part of 32 minutes.

The Rebels were potent on offense, scoring the most points by a WPIAL girls team in a PIAA championship game since 1999. But it was their defensive performance that might have played the biggest part in the Rebels winning their first state title since Suzie McConnell-Serio was wowing crowds in 1984.

York Catholic (29-4) had averaged 62 points in its four previous PIAA playoff games, but against Seton-LaSalle, the Fighting Irish didn't have much luck putting the ball through the hoop. York Catholic shot just 25 percent (16 of 62) and was held to only three field goals the final 11 minutes of the first half.

"I think they made us shoot a little bit quicker than we're used to," York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos said. "They were good in the full court and half court. Every time we touched the ball, they were right on us."

The excellent play on the defensive end was nothing new for the Rebels, who came into the game having allowed an average of 38 points in the PIAA playoffs. The Rebels gave up an average of 39 points per game for the season.

Among the defensive standouts for Seton-LaSalle was the team's lone senior, guard Emily Wahl.

"Losing Emily is going to be a big defensive loss" said junior guard Angela Heintz.

The fact that every other player was an underclassman made Seton-LaSalle's success even more impressive. The Rebels roster included five juniors, two sophomores and eight freshmen.

"For a team that goes this far, usually you have a lot of seniors," Squeglia said. "I have one senior and eight freshmen, so it's almost upside down."

But to Squeglia, having a young group didn't mean he couldn't set the expectations extremely high.

"To me it doesn't matter if you're a senior, a junior, freshman or sophomore. If you can play, you can play," he said.

Next season, the goals will be just as high. As great as the Rebels were the past four months, that dominance could increase next season.

Heintz and sophomore forward Naje Gibson project to be among the top players in the WPIAL. Gibson and junior forward Natalie Piaggesi will once again form a formidable frontcourt. The starting point guard, freshman Cassidy Walsh, will return, as will freshman guard Nicolette Newman, who came off the bench to score 16 points in the PIAA final.

Defense helped lead Seton-LaSalle to a perfect season, and the amount of talent returning could help the Rebels successfully defend their WPIAL and PIAA titles.

"The future of this program is bright," Heintz said, "so I'm excited to see what the future holds."



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