With experience and talent returning for his team this season, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart girls basketball coach Don Eckerle thought this would be a good year to challenge his team.
With that in mind, he went about assembling as challenging of a schedule as one will find for a Class AA team.
The Chargers non-section schedule features Burrell, a WPIAL semifinalist and 24-game winner last season. They will also play another defending Class AA section champion in McGuffey, a team that won 20 games last season and reached the PIAA playoffs.
OLSH opened its season in the Oakland Catholic tournament playing the Class AAAA hosts and Bishop Canevin, the defending WPIAL and PIAA Class AA champions. The ambitious scheduling yielded a pair of losses, however.
The Chargers lost their opener to Oakland Catholic, 45-39, last Friday, then dropped a 46-34 decision to Bishop Canevin the next night.
On Monday, OLSH (0-3) took on another tough customer in Class AAAA McKeesport and lost, 51-43. The Chargers will try to notch their first victory tonight against Carlynton.
"Our game plan was intentional, we wanted to challenge our players more this year," Eckerle said. "Our section is going to be tough as well, we are very excited about the challenge we have ahead of us. Last year we didn't get an opportunity to play teams of that caliber, the schedule wasn't there for them. They are pretty darned excited for this season."
With more work, the Chargers might be up to the challenge with four starters returning -- junior shooting guard Jacqueline Mathews, junior forward Heidi Langhorst, sophomore guard Bri Van Volkenburg and senior forward Tia Scuilli. Langhorst, a Green Tree resident, is one of the top post players in the section.
Van Volkenburg and Scuilli were both all-section players last season. Van Volkenburg averaged 11.4 points per game as a freshman and Scuilli added nine per game.
"Bri is pretty versatile; she can play any position I want to put her," Eckerle said of Van Volkenburg, a Bellevue resident. "She can play a little bit at the 'one' and at the 'four.' She is making a lot of progress, she is coming off a very nice freshman year."
Scuilli is a three-year starter.
"Tia is not nearly our tallest player on the team but she has the ability to score inside," Eckerle said. "She is a very good rebounder for her size."
Mathews is one of the top perimeter shooters on the team. She will be starting in a backcourt that features new starting point guard, sophomore Courtney Alexander.
"She will fill that role very well," Eckerle said.
Alexander, a Coraopolis resident, replaces three-year starting point guard Emilee Gallagher, who graduated.
Senior forward Becca Porter saw playing time last season and she will spell Langhorst at times in the post.
"We have a significant amount of experience and we are looking to play a little higher level than we did last year," Eckerle said.
OLSH finished 19-5 last season. It went 10-2 in Class AA Section 6 to finish in second place behind 11-1 Beaver Area. The Chargers won a preliminary-round playoff game against Riverview before falling, 52-43, to Deer Lakes in the WPIAL first round.
Class AA Section 6 will likely come down to Beaver Area, Carlynton and OLSH this season.
"Beaver is a formidable team," Eckerle said. "Carlynton, we know they are a force this year, they are going to make a little noise, probably more than just a little noise."
Eckerle believes a pair of freshman guards, Amber Falletta and Tara Richardson, can both contribute to OLSH's success and handle the ball when necessary.
"Amber and Tara, we are going to look for them to get a few minutes as the season goes on," said Eckerle, who is in his 11th season as head coach at OLSH. "From that standpoint, it is the most bench strength we have had."
Sophomore twins Monica and Anna Lohman are two of the top defenders off the bench and both will see playing time in the backcourt as will sophomore guard Bella Marra, who can also play forward.
"We like to play defense, we don't try to outscore teams," Eckerle said. "We are going to try to beat you a couple different ways."