Senegal native driving force in Class AA girls basketball

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A few years ago, Seton-LaSalle’s Yacine Diop was learning how to play basketball in her native Senegal. Tonight, she will try to lead her team to the WPIAL championship game.

One of the most intriguing matchups of the WPIAL semifinals can be found in Class AA, where rivals Seton-LaSalle (20-4) and Bishop Canevin (19-5) will square off at Chartiers Valley.

This had been a one-sided rivalry for several years, but that changed in March when Canevin stunned heavily favored Seton-LaSalle in the WPIAL championship game and the PIAA semifinals. Canevin went on to win the PIAA title.

Some of the key figures are different on both sides. Spencer Stefko, who guided Chartiers Valley to the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game last year, is now the coach at Seton-LaSalle. The Rebels graduated two starters.

Canevin lost its top three scorers, including all-state performer Erin Waskowiak, who is sitting out the season at Duquesne with a medical redshirt after a non-basketball injury in the offseason.

Another big change has been the addition of Diop to Seton-LaSalle’s lineup. Diop, a senior, is playing her first season with the Rebels after sitting out last season when the WPIAL and PIAA ruled her ineligible, claiming her transfer from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia was for athletic intent.

Diop is ranked among the top 100 seniors in the nation by ESPN HoopGurlz and is one of three Seton-LaSalle players who have committed to Pitt. Diop and Naje Gibson have signed letters of intent, while junior Cassidy Walsh gave a verbal commitment over the summer.

“[Diop] really is the tone-setter for us,” Stefko said. “She makes everybody else better. She plays so hard on the defensive end. And she changes our offense because she’s so versatile.”

Diop, who is 5 feet 10, has played everywhere from point guard to center, but projects as a shooting guard or small forward in college.

Seton-LaSalle defeated Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 69-46, in a quarterfinal Friday. Diop finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds and earned high praise from OLSH coach Don Eckerle.

“Honestly, she’s one of the better players I’ve seen in my 11 years of coaching, especially in Class AA,” Eckerle said. “She’s extremely athletic.

“We were really impressed with her drives to the basket. Her offensive skills were truly superb for this level. The other thing was the defensive side. She has extremely good instincts.”

Diop’s statistics aren’t jaw-dropping. She’s averaging 11.5 points and 12 rebounds per game. She might score 25 points a game for some teams, but she’s not asked to do that at Seton-LaSalle. The Rebels have four players averaging between 9 and 12 points per game and several others who often score in double digits.

“She could make it all about her, but she chooses not to,” Stefko said. “We know what we’re looking to get going, and we know what we want from who we want. Her ability to sacrifice has really influenced the rest of the team.”

Diop is a star player who doesn’t like receiving star treatment. When the Rebels played in an out-of-state tournament, she asked to do the laundry. When the team travels to games, she’s the one carrying the bags full of balls from the bus to the gym.

Now a player who speaks three languages fluently — Wolof, a language spoken in Senegal; French; and English — will attempt to get Seton-LaSalle its third win against Canevin this season. The Rebels won the previous meetings by 17 and 12 points.

“I think they’re looking forward to it because it’s the Final Four and it’s a special game anytime you play Canevin,” Stefko said. “Those [two previous] games [this season] mean zero compared to the one coming up.”

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