John Giannikas wasn’t entirely sure what to think of his Penn-Trafford girls basketball team entering this season.
He had seen success at the school before, most recently with a 2012-13 team that finished 20-6 and made it to the second round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. But this season, with just one senior on the roster, a certain sense of uncertainty lingered.
Now, 15 games into the 2013-14 season, things have come together quicker than perhaps even Giannikas expected.
Despite their relative inexperience, the Warriors have an 11-4 record more than halfway through the regular season. After losing to Canon-McMillan on Dec. 28, a setback that dropped its record to 4-4, Penn-Trafford has won its past seven games and taken over first-place in Class AAAA Section 1.
“The kids are definitely playing with a lot more confidence than they were earlier in the year,” Giannikas said. “With experience has come confidence and the kids have started to jell together.
“Everyone knows their role and is playing it well. We’re getting better each day.”
Things weren’t always this good for the Warriors, as a two-game losing streak in late December made them 4-4. But where some might worry, Penn-Trafford saw signs of hope. Three of its four losses came by five points or fewer.
Against Hempfield Area, one of the other top teams in Section 1, the Warriors were able to get over the proverbial hump and win a close game, defeating the Spartans, 63-62.
That win was the first in their current streak, one that has been fueled by a number of key players. Paramount among those has been junior guard/forward Maria Palarino, who is averaging a team-high 18.1 points per game.
Giannikas was also quick to point out the contributions made by junior point guard Casey Aunkst and junior forward Katy Abreau.
In all, it has added up to a team that’s managed to come along quicker than many expected.
“I’m not surprised that we’re competing but I’m a little surprised at how early they jelled together,” Giannikas said. “It finally started to click in the game where we lost to Canon-Mac and we carried that over to the Hempfield game.
“Ever since then, we’ve been clicking together as a team. We’ve got really great character kids who play hard together and who really buy into our system.”
Fordham still going strong
At 5-8, the Allderdice girls basketball team isn’t quite in the same position that it was last season, when it advanced to the City League championship. Still, one of the team’s top players, Sierra Fordham, is enjoying the same kind of success.
Going into tonight’s non-league game at Indiana, Fordham, a senior guard, is averaging 20.8 points per game, making her the highest-scoring player in the City League and the ninth highest-scoring player in the area. With Fordham leading the way, perhaps there is still time for the team’s fortunes to change.
After a 1-6 start, the Dragons have won four of their past six, a stretch that includes a 3-1 record in their past four games as well as in City League play.
Section 1-AAA scramble
There is a four-way tie for fourth place — which happens to be the final spot for a WPIAL playoff berth — in Section 1-AAA.
Freeport, Valley, Highlands and Kittanning are tied with 2-6 section records. Stay tuned.
Obama Academy (13-0, 4-0 City League) vs. Vincentian (15-0, 5-0 Class A Section 2) at Montour, 2 p.m. Sunday — Obama Academy may be one of the best City League teams in some time, at least given its current body of work. Not only have the Eagles won their first 13 games of the season, but that run has included wins against four WPIAL Class AAAA teams and a top-five Class AAA team in Central Valley. Now comes probably their toughest challenge for the rest of the regular season, against the Class A No. 2 Royals, the highest-scoring team in the WPIAL.
Lincoln Park (12-1, 5-0 Class A Section 1) vs. Hempfield Area (13-1, 7-0 Class AAAA Section 1) at Montour, 5 p.m. Sunday — Lincoln Park has been one of the most dominant teams in the WPIAL this season, winning games by an average of 35 points. The Leopards’ lone loss this season came to Class AAAA No. 1 New Castle and now, they will get another chance at taking down a team from the top level of the WPIAL against the Spartans, who have won 12 in a row as of Jan. 20.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG