Elizabeth Forward reached the WPIAL championship game last season for the first time in 23 years. The returning players are using that experience as motivation to make a return trip to Palumbo Center.
"We want to try to do it again," third-year coach Sam Kosanovich said. "The experience of being at the Palumbo Center for the championship game, it was great for our team. They enjoyed it. They want to try to get back and I definitely think they have that incentive now."
The Warriors lost, 50-32, to South Park in the WPIAL final but it was still a memorable postseason run highlighted by an upset of previously unbeaten Blackhawk.
With three starters back from a 24-4 team, there is obvious momentum surrounding the program.
"I think it is a natural feed into this season," Kosanovich said.
Elizabeth Forward (8-1, 3-0) picked up right where it left off last season. The Warriors won the Southmoreland tipoff tournament with wins against Derry Area and the host team. They won road games at Class AAAA Connellsville and Class AAA South Fayette and they swept their first three section games against Waynesburg Central, West Mifflin Area and Thomas Jefferson.
At the Betsy Invitational hosted by Elizabeth Forward, the Warriors defeated McKeesport before falling to Baldwin.
"We are playing teams that we should be playing," Kosanovich said of the tough early season competition. "Our goal is to win a WPIAL championship but we are just taking it one game at a time. We don't look past the next game. These players' expectations are to go as far as we can."
The Warriors graduated two starters from last season, center Dana Buck and guard Macy Pekala, but with a starting five of three seniors and two juniors, there is no shortage of experience.
The returning starters are 6-foot senior forward Natalie Fekula, 5-6 senior guard Alison Pastore and 5-8 senior guard Kylie Owoc. Owoc and Fekula are the top two scorers on the team. Owoc had one of the biggest shots of the young season in Elizabeth Forward's marquee win, a double-overtime, 69-65 triumph at West Mifflin. Owoc hit a 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining in the first overtime to tie the score and force a second overtime.
Olivia Barkley, a 5-9 junior forward, and 5-7 junior point guard Abigail Sporio round out the starting lineup.
A major change this year for Elizabeth Forward is the rotation Kosanovich is using. After having a different lineup nearly every game last season, Kosanovich is sticking with a consistent starting five.
"We felt we were pretty deep last year," Kosanovich said. "So far, we have started five and that is not to take anything away from the rest of the team because we have contributions from our six, seven, eight and nine, too. Everybody who gets in the game has an opportunity to contribute. It is just a different year. We are starting the same five so far, that doesn't mean it isn't going to change."
Off the bench, Elizabeth Forward has relied on 5-9 senior forward Andrea Paterra, 5-8 junior guard Jessica Palady, 5-9 junior forward Breaonna Brinson and 5-10 junior forward Sarah LaVelle.
Elizabeth Forward went 12-0 in the section last season. This year, the Warriors got a jump on section play with three December section contests. Last season, they traveled to Orlando, Fla., to compete in the KSA Classic and did not play their third section game until Jan. 5.
"It is good to get an early start, as long as you win them," Kosanovich said. "Last year, we had to delay our section games and it worked to our benefit and so far it is working to our benefit this year. You have to play someone sooner or later."