When Shatori Walker-Kimbrough graduated from Hopewell last year, marking the official end to one of the most decorated athletic careers in WPIAL history, conventional wisdom didn't present an appealing picture for the Vikings girls basketball team.
After all, whenever a team loses its top player, there is expected to be a period of transition and adjustment to life without that star. When that person happens to be a Division I basketball recruit and one of the greatest all-around female WPIAL athletes in recent memory? Well, it becomes a different story entirely.
But even though Walker-Kimbrough's absence is noticeable, the Vikings, at least thus far, have been succeeding.
Through their first 12 games, more than halfway through the regular season, they are 10-2 overall and 5-1 in Class AAA Section 2 play. For the sake of comparison, at the same point last season, Hopewell was just one game better at 11-1.
What exactly has contributed to this strong start?
The answer is a multi-faceted one, but it begins on the defensive end, where the Vikings have established themselves as one of the stingier teams in the WPIAL. In their first 12 games, they are allowing an average of just 34.3 points per game, the best mark of any team in Class AAA. Only twice have they given up more than 40 points in a game, both of which happened to be losses. Most recently, they limited a high-powered Central Valley team led by Kiana Law and Seairra Barrett to a season-low 32 points in a victory Monday night.
Offensive balance, too, has played a critical role, particularly from some of the team's more experienced players. Five different players have posted team highs in scoring in games this season, a group that includes senior guard Shaniya Rivers, senior forward Kari Steuer, senior guard Desirae Ritmiller, junior guard Jazmyne Boyd and junior guard Chelsea Sundy. Rivers leads the team in scoring, averaging about 13 points per game.
Turnaround at Moon
Not even three full years ago, the Moon Area girls' basketball team was finishing off a winless season, one in which it lost 22 games by an average of 30.3 points. The program finds itself in a drastically different situation this season.
The Tigers have won eight of their first 12 games, including four of their past six. A strong defense has held opponents below 50 points in seven of those 12 games while senior point guard Amirah Moore has averaged a team-best 18.6 points per game, a total which included a 30-point outburst in a 53-50 victory last Thursday against Keystone Oaks.
While a move from Class AAAA to Class AAA in 2012 has played some role in the improvement, Moon coach Doug Saklad has gone 21-34 since taking over prior to the 2011-12 season, including a 17-17 mark the past 34 games.
The Tigers' next victory would allow them to match their win total from the 2012-13 season, one in which they finished 9-13.
Warriors on a roll
Albeit a brief one, Central Valley has put together a solid boys' basketball tradition in its three-plus years of existence. In that time, the Warriors have gone 47-27 and have advanced to the WPIAL playoffs three times.
This season, however, they may be primed for their best campaign yet.
Central Valley is 12-1 through its first 13 games this season and has done so in relatively dominant fashion, having defeated its past four opponents by an average of 24 points. Balance has been the key lately for the Warriors as they have had four different players -- Tony Gates, Jacob St. George, Michael Sims and John George -- lead the team in scoring the past four games.
Western Beaver (11-2, 3-1 Class A Section 1 at Lincoln Park (11-1, 4-0), 7:30 p.m., Friday -- To call this game a hotly anticipated one would be a massive understatement. Not only is it a matchup of the top two teams in the section, but it also pits two of the top three teams in Class A against one another -- the Leopards are No. 1 and the Golden Beavers are No. 3 in the Post-Gazette's most recent rankings. The game figures to be a high-scoring one as both teams average more than 70 points per game.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG