Boys Basketball: WPIAL Class AAA preview -- Title race features a wide-open field


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SECTION 1

Team to beat

Indiana: The Little Indians are good enough to possibly be a top five team in Class AAA this season. All five starters return, led by Riley Stapleton, a junior guard who was an all-section pick a year ago after averaging 14 points and 6.2 rebounds. Also back are 6-5 senior forward Darrious Carter, a Temple football recruit who averaged 11.2 points and 10.3 rounds, 6-3 junior guard Blake Shields (10.9 ppg), 6-3 senior forward Derek Stapleton and 6-3 guard Kevin Jack. The Stapletons are brothers and one of the top players off the bench is another brother, 6-4 Dylan.

Contenders

Knoch: After finishing fourth in the section last year, the Knights figure to be a playoff contender again. They are solid at the guard positions with 5-10 senior Austin Miller (11.5 ppg), 5-11 senior David Gallagher (9 ppg) and 6-2 senior Chris Kier.

Mars: Mars is fresh off the best season in school history, but the Planets were hit hard by graduation. Owen Nearhoof, a 5-11 senior guard, is the top returnee.

Kittanning: The Wildcats had one of their best seasons in a long time, making it to the WPIAL semifinals. But this team will have to fill many holes created by graduation. Alex Schaffer, a 6-1 senior guard, averaged 11 points last year and is the top returnee.

Others

Freeport: The Yellowjackets missed the playoffs by two games last year and must replace all-section guard Brendan Lynch (19.8 ppg).

Valley: Mark Faulx is the Vikings' new coach and he takes over a team that was 3-16 last year.

Highlands: The Rams won only one game last season and second-year coach Tyler Sto-czynski hopes his team has a little more offensive punch after averaging only 43 points last year.

SECTION 2

Team to beat

Central Valley: The Vikings appear to have enough to challenge for a WPIAL title. Five senior starters return. Brian Kolich, a 5-10 guard, averaged 13 points and 5-10 guard Mike Sims 11. Jake St. George, a 5-10 guard, averaged 9 and 6-8 senior forward Matt Kline 8. The fifth starter is 6-3 forward Tony Gates (6 ppg). Kline is a Seton Hill recruit.

Contenders

Ambridge: A few sophomores were key players for last year's 14-9 team and those young players figure to make the Bridgers a contender in this section. Leading scorer Malik Walker graduated, but 5-8 junior Stephon McGinnis averaged 13 a game and 6-6 junior Keenan Baker 8.

West Allegheny: The Indians missed the playoffs last year but could make some noise this season. Andrew Koester, a 6-4 junior, averaged 19 points a game and was an all-section selection last season. Senior guard Mike Miara also returns.

Blackhawk: The Cougars finished third in the section last year and feature one of the section's best guards in 5-9 senior Chase Migliore, an all-section player last season.

Others

Beaver: After back-to-back appearances in the WPIAL semifinals under coach Andy Podbielski, the Bobcats might drop off a little this season, but still figure to be in the playoff hunt.

Hopewell: Only three years ago, Hopewell tied for the section title. But the Vikings have won just eight games the past two seasons.

Ellwood City: The Wolverines were only 3-19 last season and their hopes for big improvement took a hit when Nick Aloi sustained a torn ACL. Aloi, a guard, averaged 17 points a game as a freshman. Two other starters return -- 6-1 junior forward Ricie Scott and 6-3 senior forward Jeff Fallobel.

SECTION 3

Team to beat

Uniontown: With four returning starters, the Red Raiders figure they might be able to make a playoff run after losing in the WPIAL quarterfinals last season. Jordan Pratt, a 6-foot senior guard, was the section MVP last year after averaging 19.1 points a game. Also back are 6-1 senior guard Xavier Ellis (10 ppg), 6-6 junior forward Joe Campbell (8 ppg) and 6-4 junior center Jeremy Perkins (7 ppg).

Contenders

Mount Pleasant: There is optimism at Mount Pleasant. Ryan Gumbita, a 6-4 senior forward, was an all-section choice after averaging 11 points. Also back is 6-3 senior forward Marcus Malara, who averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds.

Laurel Highlands: The Mustangs tied Uniontown for the section title last season, but 6-3 senior center Shane Guthrie graduated. He averaged 15 points last year.

Yough: Although the Cougars finished 8-15 last season, they still made the WPIAL playoffs. They should be near a playoff spot again this season.

Others

Derry: After winning only six games in three previous seasons, the Trojans finished .500 a year ago. The two returning starters are 6-3 senior forward Matt Vasinko (10 ppg) and 5-10 senior guard Luke Ridilla (8 ppg, 6 apg).

Greensburg Salem: The Lions won only four games a year ago but figure to improve with the return of 6-2 junior forward Max Ponzurick, 6-5 senior forward Pat Boyer and 5-8 senior guard Simeon Stevens. All averaged 11 points a game last season.

Southmoreland: Improvement is what the Scotties are looking for after going winless last year and giving up 71 points a game.

SECTION 4

Team to beat

Elizabeth Forward: The Warriors already had 6-4 senior guard JaQuan Davidson (22 ppg, 8 apg), 6-3 senior forward Austin Matta (10 ppg) and 6-1 senior guard Matt Bernadowski (10 ppg). Then they added two notable transfers -- 6-10 junior George Prota of Serra and 6-5 senior Jasano Brooks from Gateway. Prota averaged 15 points a game last season.

Contenders

Thomas Jefferson: Three starters return from last year's section champion. Chase Winovich, a 6-4 senior forward and a University of Michigan football recruit, averaged 13.5 points and 10 rebounds. Jason Horan (9 ppg), a 6-1 senior forward, and Zach Talley (6 ppg, 8 apg), also are back.

West Mifflin: The Titans finished 16-6 and in second place in the section last year and will be fueled by Ryan Maha, an all-section guard who averaged 17 points a game. Maha, son of coach Lance Maha, has decided to play next season at Carnegie Mellon.

Steel Valley: After finishing tied for third last year, the Ironmen figure to be in the playoff hunt again. Ajan Smith was an all-section guard and averaged 18 points.

Others

Belle Vernon: New coach Kyle DeGregorio takes over a team that has won seven games the past three seasons. But there is hope for improvement with senior guard Jason Capco and senior forward Jake Sweitzer.

Ringgold: Phil Pergola is back for his second stint as the Rams' coach. He won WPIAL and PIAA titles as Ringgold's coach from 1986-2004. Dayshore Majors, a 6-foot guard who averaged 9.3 points, is the only returning starter. George Martin, a 6-4 freshman, will likely start.

East Allegheny: The Wildcats made the playoffs last year for the first time since 1996. But with the graduation of the team's top three players, including leading scorer Jordan Williams, it will be tough to duplicate the feat.

SECTION 5

Team to beat

Chartiers Valley: The Colts are starting the season this weekend with a tournament in the Bahamas. They could end the WPIAL season with a trip to the Palumbo Center for the WPIAL championship. Matt McConnell, a 6-1 junior, is one of the top guards in Class AAA. A key to the Colts will be senior point guard Jarred Tuite and how well he has recovered from a knee injury that forced him to miss most of last season.

Contenders

Montour: The Spartans will sorely miss point guard Devin Wilson, who is now starting at Virginia Tech, as well as other top players from last year's WPIAL championship team. But coach Adam Kaufman should still have this team near the top of the section. Dustin Sleva, a 6-4 senior forward, is a top returnee.

South Fayette: For now, the Lions are without a few players who are still playing football, including Justin Watson and Brett Brumbaugh. But this team still has the makings of being one of the tops in the section.

Others

South Park: The Eagles finished 13-10 last year and are hoping for a fourth consecutive WPIAL playoff appearance.

Keystone Oaks: The Eagles missed the playoffs by a game last year and must replace guard Cory Sevacko, who averaged 20 points a game.

McGuffey: Chris Laick, a 5-11 senior guard, is the only returning starter from a 9-13 team.

Waynesburg: This team hopes to be more competitive after not winning a section game the past three seasons.

Preseason Rankings

Team (Last season)

1. Central Valley 16-7

2. Chartiers Valley 24-5

3. Elizabeth Forward 12-11

4. Uniontown 17-4

5. Thomas Jefferson 17-8

Players to Watch

Darrious Carter, Indiana, 6-4, Sr., Forward

JaQuan Davidson, Elizabeth Forward, 6-4, Sr., Guard

Ryan Gumbita, Mount Pleasant, 6-4, Sr., Forward

Andrew Koester, West Allegheny, 6-4, Jr., Guard-forward

Ryan Maha, West Mifflin, 6-1, Sr., Guard

Marcus Malara, Mount Pleasant, 6-3, Sr., Forward

Matt McConnell, Chartiers Valley, 6-1, Jr., Guard

Stephon McGinnis, Ambridge, 5-7, Jr., Guard

Mike Miara, West Allegheny, 6-0, Sr., Guard

Chase Migliore, Blackhawk, 5-9, Sr., Guard

Austin Miller, Knoch, 5-10, Sr., Guard

Owen Nearhoof, Mars, 5-11, Sr., Guard

Jordan Pratt, Uniontown, 6-2, Sr., Guard

George Prota, Elizabeth Forward, 6-10, Jr., Center

Mike Sims, Central Valley, 5-10, Sr., Guard

Ajan Smith, Steel Valley, 6-2, Sr., Guard

Riley Stapleton, Indiana, 6-2, Jr., Guard

Jarred Tuite, Chartiers Valley, 5-10, Sr., Guard


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