Nobody needs to remind the Bishop Canevin High School girls basketball team that regular-season results are no guarantee of what is to be expected in the postseason.
After losing to Seton-LaSalle twice during the regular season last year, the Crusaders marched to WPIAL and PIAA championships by going through their section rivals, beating the Rebels in the WPIAL final and PIAA semifinals.
Bishop Canevin (17-5, 10-2) will once again enter the WPIAL playoffs as the second-place team from Class AA Section 4, the fifth consecutive year the team has finished second behind Seton-LaSalle. Bishop Canevin's only two section losses came at the hands of Seton-LaSalle.
"We really don't compare much to last year, it is a new season," Crusaders coach Tim Joyce said. "We did mention to the girls to kind of remember how it worked out last year but on the other side, Seton-LaSalle is doing the same thing."
The teams met in the WPIAL finals for the second consecutive season. Bishop Canevin sprung the upset, winning, 56-47, at the Palumbo Center and snapping an eight-game losing streak against Seton-LaSalle who had eliminated the Crusaders from the postseason the prior two years.
The competition among the two parochial schools is a big reason why the Crusaders are so dangerous in the playoffs. The program has had the opportunity to drop to Class A in the past, but Joyce prefers to stay in Class AA and the Seton-LaSalle rivalry is a big reason for that.
"You don't see anyone better [than the Rebels]," Joyce said. "Until you play them again."
Bishop Canevin had to replace its top three leading scorers from last season. Gina Vallecorsa, a 5-8 sophomore guard, and 5-9 senior guard Johnie Olkosky are the lone returning starters.
Olkosky, a West Liberty University recruit, leads the team averaging 14 points per game. Olkosky, a Sheraden resident, is a four-year starter. She attended St. Margaret Grade School in Green Tree prior to Bishop Canevin.
Vallecorsa, a Shaler resident who attended St. Bonaventure Grade School, is second on the team, averaging 13 points per game.
"Last year they were our fourth- and fifth-leading scorers and this year they are leading us," Joyce said. "They have both picked that part of their game up. Johnnie is a terrific leader -- we knew that coming in."
The other starters in Bishop Canevin's five-guard lineup are 5-6 senior Caroline DeFrank, 5-6 sophomore Erin Joyce (5-6) and 5-7 freshman Sarah Green. Erin Joyce is the daughter of coach Tim Joyce. DeFrank and Green average around 5 points per game while Erin Joyce scores about 9 points per game.
Tim Joyce was well aware of Green as an incoming freshman. She attended St. Phillip School in Crafton, the same school his daughter, Erin, attended prior to Canevin.
Natashia Rajakovich, a 5-4 junior guard, and 5-6 sophomore Riana Conway are the first two players off the bench.
Bishop Canevin has posted impressive non-section wins against Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, South Fayette, Chartiers Valley and Shaler Area.
"It is always a work in progress," Tim Joyce said. "We had to go through some adjustments early on, our two returning starters kind of led the way."
There are plenty of obstacles standing in the way of a third consecutive Bishop Canevin/Seton-LaSalle WPIAL championship game.
"There are a number of teams," Tim Joyce said. "Burrell is undefeated, Greensburg Central Catholic always has a strong team, Carlynton has a good team and then Neshannock is 21-1."
The Crusaders will play the winner of Friday's Beaver Area/Jeannette game next Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
"We always hope there is another game against [Seton-LaSalle]," Tim Joyce said. "We want to see them again. You can sense the kids almost believe things a little more after last season. We lost to Seton twice again this year -- it is eerily similar how the games were as compared to last year. You kind of build on that."