Chassidy Omogrosso is a returning starter for Blackhawk.
By Brad Everett / Tri-State Sports & News Service
Team to beat
Mars: Forward Ali Goetz and guard Sara Getsy form what might be the best tandem of juniors in Class AAA. Goetz averaged 13.4 points per game last season and Getsy averaged 13. Both were all-section picks. Goetz also earned that honor her freshman season.
Hampton: Defense should once again be the strength for the defending section champion Talbots, who allowed a Class AAA-low 31.2 points per game last season. Sophomore guard-forward Lexi Griggs was excellent as a freshman.
Freeport: The Yellowjackets will lean on junior guard-forward Macy Smolic and sophomore guard-forward Zoe Sollis to get them back to the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Kittanning: Senior guard Emily Knepshield averaged 12.1 points and was an all-section choice last season. The Wildcats have reached the postseason five years in a row.
Knoch: To contend for a playoff spot, the Knights must shore up a defense that gave up 48.2 points per game last season. Senior forward Savanna Steffen led the team in rebounds.
Valley: The Vikings hope to climb up the section ladder after finishing below .500 the past 10 seasons.
Highlands: Winning just one section game will be an improvement for the Rams, who went 0-12 in the section and 1-17 overall a season ago.
Team to beat
Blackhawk: The Cougars (27-2 last season) open the season as the No. 1 team in Class AAA. Junior guard Chassidy Omogrosso (22.1 ppg), a Duquesne recruit, is one of the premier scorers in the WPIAL. Her supporting cast includes senior guard Halle Denman and junior forward Courtney Vannoy. The Cougars averaged a WPIAL-best 70.9 points per game last season.
Central Valley: A terrific frontcourt led by senior forward Seairra Barrett and senior center Kiana Law will be tough for opponents to stop. Barrett, an all-section pick, averaged 17.4 points per game last season and Law chipped in 15.1.
Hopewell: With Post-Gazette Player of the Year Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (27.8 ppg) gone, the Vikings will need several players to take on bigger roles. Among them is senior guard Shaniya Rivers.
Ambridge: A year after finishing 5-17, the Bridgers went 15-9 a season ago. They should be solid again with the return of junior forward Kelly Haslett, who averaged 10 points and 13 rebounds per game.
New Castle: Graduation took its toll on the Red Hurricanes. They finished in fifth place last season and are a good bet to finish right around there again this season.
West Allegheny: After winning just one section game over the past two seasons, the Indians could see some improvement as two of their top players last season were freshmen.
Ellwood City: The Wolverines must replace 10 seniors from a team whose only section wins came against West Allegheny.
Team to beat
Greensburg Salem: When at full strength, the Golden Lions have the talent to win the section title. Junior guard Claire Oberdorf (16.3 ppg) is out indefinitely with an injury, so in her absence the Golden Lions will rely on senior guard Karly Mellinger to lead the way.
Indiana: The Little Indians can attack opponents from the outside with senior guard Kaitlyn Hoff or inside with junior forward Lucy Bujdos. The Little Indians have advanced to the postseason nine years in a row.
Uniontown: Having graduated a pair of all-section performers, the two-time defending section champions might take a step back this season. Defense is typically a strength of the Red Raiders, and it will need to be again this season.
Mount Pleasant: Junior guard Alexa Szelong averaged in double figures each of her first two seasons. She'll try to help the Vikings reach the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
Derry: The Trojans will look to turn the corner after four losing seasons in a row. They finished in fifth place last season.
Yough: The Cougars have won only three section games over the past three seasons, but there's reason for optimism with the return of senior forward Natalie Peebles.
Southmoreland: The Scotties went winless in the section last season. Their roster, however, consisted entirely of underclassmen.
Team to beat
Elizabeth Forward: Section champions last season, the Warriors went on to make a surprising run to the WPIAL title game. It won't be a surprise if they do it again this season. Senior forward Natalie Fekula (11 ppg) was named all-section. She's surrounded by a talented group that includes senior guards Alison Pastore and Kylie Owoc.
West Mifflin: This team has the talent to be very good. Senior forward Taylor Thomas averaged 15.2 points per game and was an all-section choice last season. Senior forward Ciara Patterson is a Wright State recruit.
Belle Vernon: The Leopards graduated their top scorer, Jessica Slagus, but her sister, Kaitlyn, should keep them near the top of the section. Kaitlyn Slagus, a 6-foot-2 senior forward, averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds last season.
Thomas Jefferson: Phil Shar, who had a very successful career at West Mifflin, takes over as coach of the rival Jaguars. Shar will guide a lineup led by senior guard and all-section pick Alexis Yanief (15 ppg).
Ringgold: A backcourt led by senior Eleni Radic will attempt to get the Rams to the playoffs for the second year in row.
Brownsville: Sophomore guards Maris Seto and Celina Smith were two of the Falcons' top players as freshmen.
Waynesburg: The Raiders have one of the top post players in the section in 6-3 junior center Lyndsey Huhn.
Team to beat
South Park: How can the Eagles top last year's success? Well, unless they go undefeated, they can't. The reigning WPIAL and PIAA champions will be an elite team once again with a pair of all-section picks -- senior forward Halie Torris (15.7 ppg) and sophomore forward Allison McGrath (15 ppg) -- leading the way. The Eagles must replace Post-Gazette Fabulous Five honoree Shelby Lindsay.
Keystone Oaks: Headed by senior guard Maryssa Agurs (15.1 ppg), the Golden Eagles bring back all but one player from last season's playoff team. Junior guards Lexy Mercuri and Kayla Brownlee are two other top returnees.
South Fayette: The Lions were stung badly by the injury bug last season, but still finished in third place. A healthier squad that includes 6-2 sophomore center Emily Anderson could make a push for second this season.
Moon: The Tigers missed the postseason after struggling down the stretch a season ago, but the return of senior guard Amirah Moore and junior center Abby Unis make this a team that could be playoff bound.
Quaker Valley: New coach Jill Brumbaugh played for UConn in the late 1980s. She takes over a team that must replace their top two scorers.
Trinity: The Hillers look to improve on last season's 10-12 record and finish above .500 for the first time since 2005.
Montour: The Spartans struggled last season, going 2-20. They need to improve on defense (61.5 points per game).
(Team, last season record)
1. Blackhawk 27-2
2. South Park 28-2
3. Central Valley 18-6
4. Elizabeth Forward 24-4
5. West Mifflin 10-13
Players to Watch
Maryssa Agurs, Keystone Oaks, 5-9, Sr., Guard
Seairra Barrett, Central Valley, 5-11, Sr., Forward
Halle Denman, Blackhawk, 5-6, Sr., Guard
Natalie Fekula, Elizabeth Forward, 6-0, Sr., Forward
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