Class AA: Can anyone challenge Seton-LaSalle?

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SECTION 1

Team to beat

Deer Lakes: The Lancers are the two-time defending section champions and return one of the best backcourts in the classification. Senior Becca Babincak (15 ppg) was chosen as the section's Player of the Year by the coaches last season and is joined at the guard position by twins Danielle and Nichole Kearns.

Contenders

Burrell: The Bucs finished second to Deer Lakes in the section last season and return a talented backcourt with sophomore all-section guard Sydney Bordonaro (13 ppg) and junior Jaila Manga.

Others

Ford City: The Sabers made their 17th straight playoff appearance last season, and will lean on junior forward Allyson Cujas (11.3 ppg) as they try to make it 18 in a row.

Apollo Ridge: Led by junior forward Ashley Emminger (12.6 ppg), the Vikings will build on their four-game winning streak to end last season.

Leechburg: The Blue Devils will try to build on last season, when they won a section game for the first time since 2007.

West Shamokin: Winless in section play last season, the Wolves have gotten a boost from the enrollment of Jill Glover, a senior who average 15 points and 10 rebounds per game last season at Elderton, which has closed. She'll get help from promising sophomore guard Triston Cribbs (10 ppg).

SECTION 2

Team to beat

Riverside: The Panthers won the section title last season, but lose all-section forward Sam Weir. They do return one of the top guards in the WPIAL Class AA, however, in all-section performer Alex Deep (15.8 ppg) and another double-digit scorer from last season, forward Nicole Mansfield (11.8 ppg).

Contenders

Beaver Falls: The Tigers finished second to Riverside last season and return all-section guard Ayana Vaughn.

Mohawk: The Warriors won 18 games last season and return senior all-section guard Shelby Brown (11.6 ppg) and senior wing Devon Giancola.

New Brighton: The Lions made the WPIAL quarterfinals last season and return senior center Kaitlyn Hopkins (13.8 ppg, 12 rpg).

Others

Neshannock: The Lancers won just four section games last season and return junior forward Alexandra Fischer and sophomores guard/forward Tayler Grybowski and guard Erin Warvell.

Laurel: Sophomore forward Ellen Shaffer (9.4 ppg, 9.8 rpg) will lead the Spartans, who haven't made the playoffs since 2003.

Shenango: Winless in conference play the past two seasons, the Wildcats return their top two scorers from last season, Jenna Petrucci and Amanda Herb.

SECTION 3

Team to beat

Jeannette: The Jayhawks had made the WPIAL Class AA championship game two years in a row, winning the title in 2010, before bowing out in the first round last season. They are the defending section champions and return 5-7 senior guard Ciara Gregory, an all-state selection who led the district in scoring average last season (26.7 ppg).

Contender

Greensburg Central Catholic: The Centurions, who finished one game behind Jeanette in the section last season, were dealt a blow when last season's leading scorer, Karly Mellinger, transferred to Greensburg Salem. But returning starting guards Carolyn Appleby and Heather Bosco should help GCC stay in the race for the conference title.

Others

Shady Side Academy: The Indians will have to find a way to replace all-section player Kelcei Edmonds if they want to make their third WPIAL tournament appearance in a row.

Riverview: The Raiders made the WPIAL Class A semifinals last season, but they move up to Class AA this season and must replace All-WPIAL guard Mary Andrejko (22.3).

East Allegheny: Junior guard Katlyn Keenan will try to lead the Wildcats back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Springdale: The Dynamos will have an undersized squad (no player on the roster is taller than 5 feet 8) led by leading returning scorer Madeline Glamp (9.4 ppg).

South Allegheny: Senior guard Jaylee Patterson will lead the Gladiators, who will look to improve on their five wins from last season.

SECTION 4

Team to beat

Seton-LaSalle: The Rebels return all but one player from last season's 30-0 state title team. The team has great size with senior 6-1 forward Natalie Piaggessi (14.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 4.2 bpg), junior 6-0 forward Naje Gibson (16 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.2 bpg) and 5-10 senior guard Angela Heintz (14.1 ppg, 6 rpg, 5.9 apg). Gibson was a first-team all-state selection last season, while Heintz, a Duquesne recruit, was a third-team all-state selection.

Contenders

Bishop Canevin: The Crusaders, the WPIAL runner-up last season, would probably be the favorite in any other AA section. They return four starters, including 5-10 senior guard Erin Waskowiak (20.7 ppg, 9 rpg), the WPIAL Class AA Player of the Year last season and a Duquesne signee. Carly Forse, a 5-10 senior forward, is also back after averaging a double-double last season.

Steel Valley: The Ironmen, a WPIAL semifinalist last season, will be led by one of the top forwards in the section in senior C.C. Dixon (16 ppg, 14 rpg).

Others

Fort Cherry: The Rangers won 25 games last season and advanced to the WPIAL Class A semifinals, but they move up a classification this season and lost WPIAL Class A Player of the Year Beka Bellhy (19.5 ppg). Bellhy's two younger sisters, junior Rachel and sophomore Tina, will play bigger roles this season.

Chartiers-Houston: The Buccaneers finished second to Fort Cherry in Section 3-A last season, but also are moving up this season. The team does return three of its top players in Ashley and Amanda Balzer and Tori Fisher.

Wilkinsburg: Led by promising sophomore London Wade, the Tigers will be looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Brentwood: The Spartans haven't won a section game since the 2009-10 season.

SECTION 5

Team to beat

McGuffey: The Highlanders move down to Class AA after going 2-8 in Section 5-AAA last season. But the team was 9-3 outside of section play, including a 65-45 win against current conference foe Charleroi. Sammie Weiss (19.0 ppg) was an all-section guard as a freshman last season.

Contenders

Bentworth: The Spartans lost their top two scorers, all-section selections Jessica Dorazio and Darcy Bostich, from last season's section championship team. Erin Ritzer (9 ppg) and Taylor Pompei return.

Washington: The Little Prexies should be tough in the paint this season with 6-footers Shyahian Rutter and Mya Williams returning.

Beth-Center: The Bulldogs will rely on talented sophomore Anna Bartman to get them back to the playoffs for a second-straight season.

Others

Charleroi: Junior guard Mia Woytovich (10 ppg) is the leading returning scorer for the Cougars, who lost in the WPIAL preliminary round to Burrell last season.

Burgettstown: The Blue Devils will be looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 1998, but must replace all-section guard Melissa Phillips.

South Side Beaver: The Rams, who lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, will look to senior forward Stephanie Myak and junior guard Samantha Gibson to help overcome the loss of all-section performer Katie Dennis (15.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg).

SECTION 6

Team to beat:

OLSH: OLSH finished third in the section last season, but is the favorite this season with the return of its top three players, led by all-section guard Tia Sciulli (11 ppg, 9 rpg). She'll be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Jacqueline Matthews (8.2 ppg) and senior Emilee Gallagher (6.5 ppg).

Contenders

Avonworth: The Antelopes had only one senior on last season's PIAA qualifier, but that player was All-WPIAL selection Lauren Mayernik (23.3 ppg, 15.1 rpg). But talented forward Mackenzie Mayernik, Lauren's sister, returns for her junior season.

Beaver: After two seasons in Class AAA, including a playoff appearance last season, the Bobcats return to Class AA and must replace seniors Ally Dehart and Emily Kondracki.

Others

Sto-Rox: Senior guard Dinazhia Barksdale (8 ppg) and junior forward Aimee Miller (8 ppg) will try to make up for the graduation of leading scorer and all-section performer Natalya Smarra (21.5 ppg).

Carlynton: Junior guard Hannah Murray will lead the Cougars this season.

Freedom: Senior guard Maddi Lewis (12.9 ppg) will try to help the Bulldogs improve on their 3-18 record from a year ago.

Northgate: Junior forward Shatasha Reeves leads the way for the Flames, who won just one section game last season.

-- By Ryan Riordan

CLASS A
RANKINGS

Rk. School 2011-12

1. Seton-LaSalle 30-0

2. Bishop Canevin 22-6

3. Deer Lakes 17-5

4. O.L.S.H. 15-9

5. Burrell 18-5

CLASS AA
PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ciara Gregory, Jeannette, 5-7, Senior, Guard

Erin Waskowiak, Bishop Canevin, 5-11, Senior, Guard

Naje Gibson, Seton-LaSalle, 5-11, Junior, Forward

Angela Heintz, Seton-LaSalle, 5-10, Senior, Guard

Becca Babincak, Deer Lakes, 5-5, Senior, Guard

Jill Glover, West Shamokin, 6-0, Senior, Guard/Forward

Sydney Bordonaro, Burrell, 5-7, Sophomore, Guard

Alex Deep, Riveside, 5-9, Senior, Guard

Ayana Vaughn, Beaver Falls, 5-7, Senior, Guard

Tia Sciulli, O.L.S.H., 5-6, Junior, Guard

Carly Forse, Bishop Canevin, 5-10, Senior, Forward

C.C. Dixon, Steel Valley, 5-11, Senior, Forward

Sammie Weiss, McGuffey, 5-10, Sophomore, Guard

hsbasketball


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