PIAA Basketball Championships: Rebels take shot at girl/boy sweep



If the PIAA basketball championships are the "Big Dance," then the Seton-LaSalle boys players all have dates -- and they didn't even have to ask anyone.

The Seton-LaSalle girls invited themselves, thank you.

Seton-LaSalle will have a boy-girl party this weekend in Hershey. The boys and girls teams from the Mt. Lebanon-based school can walk arm and arm into the Class AA championships at the Giant Center.

The Seton-LaSalle girls play Neumann-Goretti of Philadelphia today at noon. The Seton-LaSalle boys play Constitution of Philadelphia, Saturday at 2 p.m.

As a couple, Seton-LaSalle's teams could be called unusual. At least history says so. The PIAA has been staging both boys and girls title games since 1973. Since then, only four previous times has a WPIAL school had both their boys and girls teams make the championships. Aliquippa did it in 1989, Blackhawk in 1999 and 2000 and Mt. Lebanon in 2011.

Only twice has a WPIAL school won both the boys and girls titles. Aliquippa did it in 1989 and Blackhawk in 1999.

Needless to say, it is a magical time at Seton-LaSalle.

"If at the beginning of the year, one of my teachers would've asked me what would be a big dream, this would be it," said Levi Masua, a senior forward for the Seton-LaSalle boys team. "I would've said just going to the WPIAL championship for us. Now that we're going to the state championship, too, with the girls? That's more than a dream come true."

When told that a WPIAL school has sent boys and girls to the finals only four times, Seton-LaSalle girls coach Spencer Stefko said, "Holy heck, only four? That's shocking. I would've guessed more.

"Well, one of my assistants [Whitney Jones] and myself had to ride the cheerleader bus home after the [semifinal] game and the cheerleaders were asking us how many times a school from around here has had their boys and girls teams in it. I told them that I bet it had to happen a number of times. Knowing this, I think that just makes you feel more special about what has happened."

Seton-LaSalle boys coach Mark "Knobby" Walsh said, "Kids today live for the next 24 hours. They're not looking two or three weeks in advance. They want to know what time is practice tomorrow and what are we doing tonight. This generation of kids I don't know if they realize or understand what it means to have your boys and girls teams make it to the finals."

A school has swept the PIAA titles only seven times before. Besides the 1989 Aliquippa and 1999 Blackhawk teams, the other boy-girl winners were York Catholic in 1979, Mercyhurst Prep in 1991, Camp Hill Trinity in 2001, Kennedy Christian in 2001 and Archbishop Carroll in 2009.

"We couldn't let the girls go and not us," Masua said. "They're all my friends. The two teams really get along. There is kind of like a special bond we have."

There is a tie between the two teams. Walsh's niece, Cassidy, is a standout guard for the girls team. Their two families live next door to each other in Whitehall.

Knobby Walsh is in his third year as the boys coach while Stefko is in his first year with the girls after coming over from Chartiers Valley.

"Knobby and I met for the first time last spring and we went to Wendy's," Stefko said. "I will never forget he said to me that the neatest thing about Seton-LaSalle was there was such a great 'affect' between the kids, and the boys and girls teams.

"I have never heard a coach in my life, outside of maybe a forensics coach, use the word 'affect' with that definition. But it was about the girls respecting the boys, and the boys respecting the girls. The teams really, really do like each other."

But can both teams win PIAA titles? They both have supreme challenges. Neumann-Goretti, the Rebel girls' opponent, is undefeated and has plenty of talent. Constitution, the Rebel boys' opponent, is extremely strong also.

"There is such a good feel at the school right now," Stefko said. "And when you throw in the historical perspective, it makes it even more special."

They had invitations to boy-girl party

In the history of the PIAA basketball championships, only two schools from the WPIAL have won boys and girls titles in the same year:

1989 ALIQUIPPA

Boys: This Aliquippa team had a future NFL player in Sean Gilbert. The strange thing about this team was that it won a PIAA title, but not a WPIAL championship. The two-time defending WPIAL champion Quips were actually crushed by Steel Valley, 82-51, in a WPIAL quarterfinal game that shocked many. But Aliquippa, coached by Red McNie, came back strong in the PIAA playoffs, knocking off Perry, New Brighton, North Catholic and Blackhawk to make it to the title game against Allentown Central Catholic. The PIAA championship contest was memorable as Aliquippa came back from a 15-point third-quarter deficit. Star guard Myron Walker scored 34 points and the Quips overcame a 37-point performance from Allentown Central's Bill McCaffrey, who would go on to play at Duke and Vanderbilt.

Girls: Aliquippa's Carrie Bordas and Mona Gaffney were one of the greatest one-two punches in WPIAL history and they led the Quips to the title, beating Camp Hill Trinity, 57-47, in the championship game. Bordas and Gaffney each scored 22 points. Gaffney grabbed 15 rebounds and Bordas 12 for the Quips, who were coached by Donna Richey. Aliquippa won a PIAA title again the next season and Bordas and Gaffney both finished their careers with more than 2,000 points.

1999 BLACKHAWK

Boys: This was the fourth PIAA title in eight years for legendary Blackhawk coach John Miller, who joined Farrell's Ed McCluskey and Midland's Ed Olkowski as the only WPIAL coaches to win four championships. Two of the titles came with his son, Archie (now the head coach at the University of Dayton), starting at point guard. This team had another talented point guard in Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, who was only a sophomore and would go on to play at Ohio State. But Blackhawk played great defense and had a balanced scoring attack, evidenced in the PIAA title game when five players scored in double figures -- Dane Helsing and Daren Tielsch 12 each, Matt Moye 11 and Mark Franitti and Mitch Garrett 10 each.

Girls: One night after her father won his fourth PIAA title as Blackhawk's boys coach, Lisa Miller won a state championship as the Blackhawk girls team's starting point guard. Lisa Miller, a 5-foot-3 senior, had 15 points, eight assists and nine steals to lead Blackhawk to a 71-54 victory against previously undefeated Montoursville. Becky Davison also was a key for Blackhawk, coached by Dori Anderson (now Dori Oldaker, the Mt. Lebanon coach). Davison had 19 points and six rebounds in the title game. Terra Guandolo, Jodie Knotts and Carey Snyder were the other starters.


For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh

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