North Xtra: Supporting cast boosts Fox Chapel girls basketball

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Fox Chapel has had one of the strongest inside games in WPIAL girls basketball the past four years.

That is what happens when 6-foot-3 senior forward Erin Mathias, one of the most dominant post players in the area, suits up for your team.

This season the Foxes have an outside game to complement Mathias, a Duke recruit.

“Teams try to be physical with her and double down, but what is nice this year, we have more of an outside shooting game,” coach Meghan Meabon said.

“That allows us to read the defense and play that inside-outside game much better this year. We struggled from the outside last year, now we are hitting outside shots.”

The well-balanced Foxes have started the season 7-2. They bounced back from a season-opening loss to Burrell, a WPIAL Class AA semifinalist last season, in the Seneca Valley tournament to win three in a row including a section-opening 72-28 blowout win against McKeesport.

Fox Chapel rolled over Olentangy, Ohio, 53-34, in the third-place consolation game at the KSA tournament Monday night in Orlando, Fla.

Fox Chapel shared the Class AAAA Section 2 title last season with Gateway, winning 18 games and reaching the WPIAL quarterfinals. With one of the top talents in the state in Mathias, expectations are high this year.

“She is the rock for everyone to lean on,” Meabon said. “That is not to say it is all on Erin’s shoulders, it is just good to have that go-to person on and off the court for the girls to be comfortable with, especially the girls who are young and learning.”

Mathias has gotten off to a hot start, averaging 18.8 points per game after four games. She scored a season-high 29 against Baldwin, a game in which she also had 15 rebounds. Mathias also scored 22 against McKeesport.

“She has a guard mentality and we do pull her out [from under the basket],” Meabon said. “She is able to shoot the ball outside.”

The other two returning starters are sophomore guards Kayla Slovenec and Taylor Cohen.

“We are definitely climbing and improving with each game,” Meabon said. “We want to build from last season. We are still young and have some inexperience, but our sophomores have a year under their belts.”

Slovenec mainly runs the point while Cohen plays shooting guard. Meabon said the experience playing last season as freshmen has paid dividends for Slovenec and Cohen.

“It is huge because you can see the difference with their confidence growing,” Meabon said. “Last season it took us until January before we really believed in ourselves.”

Junior forward Vanessa Blazer and freshman guard Gabby Badway also start for Fox Chapel.

“We are a little bit young, but not afraid,” Meabon said. “We have talked a lot about roles and responsibilities and putting a complete team together. There is not one person who is thinking, ‘I have to do the scoring.’ Everybody is really understanding what their role is, if they are a distributor or crashing the boards.”

Meabon anticipates going eight or nine deep in most games. The first two players off the bench are junior guard Alanna Palumbo and sophomore forward Anna Kelly.

Fox Chapel will resume section play tonight with a challenging game at Penn Hills. Then in the span of four days, the Foxes will host Gateway Tuesday and play at Plum Jan. 10, two section-title contenders.

“Plum is definitely a strong contender,” Meabon said. “We always have great games with them. They are returning most of their starting lineup, and Gateway and Penn Hills are strong.”

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