Many fans and followers know about the teams that are serious contenders for WPIAL boys basketball titles, but they likely don't have much knowledge of one specific team making its playoff debut.
Eden Christian, located in Ohio Township, will compete in the WPIAL playoffs for the first time. The Warriors (9-12, 4-6), a WPIAL member for just three seasons, qualified for the postseason by finishing fourth in Class A Section 2.
"It's the culmination of a lot of hard work. The guys have bought into the mindset of playing basketball year-round," said Eden Christian coach Todd Aiken, who is also the school's principal. "It's just been a great opportunity for the guys. Four years ago, nobody had ever heard of Eden Christian Academy."
Eden Christian is led by 5-foot-10 junior guard Carter Ehms, a three-year starter who averages a team-high 15 points per game.
Joining Ehms in the starting lineup are 6-3 senior guard Jeff Schmidt, 6-3 senior center Drew Helon, 6-1 senior guard Carter Smith and 5-11 senior forward Paul Hidinger. Also in the nine-player rotation are 5-9 junior guard Ryan Koenig, 5-11 sophomore guard Blake Carpenter, 5-8 sophomore guard Ben Porter and 5-8 freshman guard Drew Aiken.
The Warriors are a decided underdog in their first-round game against Monessen (17-5) at 8 p.m. Friday at Chartiers Valley, but they likely won't be intimidated. They own a win against Class AA Section 6 champion Avonworth and lost by a combined nine points in their most recent meetings against section foes and playoff qualifiers Sewickley Academy and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.
In addition to the success of the boys team, the Eden Christian girls are in the playoffs for the second year in a row.
WPIAL tournament picks
When the WPIAL playoffs get underway, a total of 156 teams -- 77 boys and 79 girls -- will begin their quest for a title. Unfortunately, nearly all will fall short. Only eight teams will claim championship trophies Feb. 28-March 1 at Duquesne University's Palumbo Center.
Here are one guy's predictions on who will ultimately have gold medals placed around their necks in a couple of weeks.
Class AAAA: New Castle -- Sporting the only undefeated record among boys teams in the WPIAL and looking to win their third title in a row, the Red Hurricanes are the heaviest favorite in all classes, boys or girls. Malik Hooker has been on a tear and Anthony Richards is dynamite from 3-point range.
Class AAA: Chartiers Valley -- Several teams have a shot here, but when in doubt, give the edge to experience. The Colts are hoping to reach the final for the fourth time in five years. Matty McConnell had a quadruple-double last week and could be the best player in Class AAA.
Class AA: Seton-LaSalle -- If you parlay an excellent defense with a top-notch point guard, you've got to like your chances against just about anybody. The Rebels, who have lost only once, have one of the stingiest defenses in Class AA and are led by point guard Dale Clancy.
Class A: Lincoln Park -- It's almost assumed that Lincoln Park and Vincentian will meet in the title game. If they do, expect the Palumbo Center to be packed for a game that might see both teams score more than 100 points. Look for Lincoln Park's Maverick Rowan to have a big postseason.
Class AAAA: North Allegheny -- It's hard to pick against Mt. Lebanon, which most years is almost unbeatable in the playoffs, but North Allegheny stands above the rest in Class AAAA this season. Coach Sherri McConnell's team is fueled by a well-balanced offense filled with talent.
Class AAA: South Park -- The defending WPIAL and PIAA champs are on a roll. The Eagles have won 12 games in a row and boast the potent scoring tandem of Halie Torris and Allison McGrath. A possible showdown with Blackhawk would provide their biggest challenge.
Class AA: Seton-LaSalle -- Make it a clean sweep for Seton-LaSalle, which will have a pair of WPIAL champions. Arguably the WPIAL's most talented team, the Rebels will lean on Yacine Diop and Naje Gibson to navigate through a playoff bracket that includes unbeaten Burrell.
Class A: Serra Catholic -- Look for a rematch of last year's final, only this time Serra will down Vincentian to claim the title. Four Serra players started in the previous championship game, including the Sieg sisters -- Megan and Katie. The Eagles give up a little more than 30 points a game.