North Xtra: Seniors led North Allegheny on a notable journey

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There may be only three of them, but the seniors on the North Allegheny girls basketball team have put together quite a resume in their high school careers.

Taylor Brennan has been a member of the varsity squad for three years where she has become a starter and help lead the Tigers to back-to-back Class AAAA Section 3 championships. During her three years on the varsity, the Tigers have compiled an impressive 62-13 record.

Danielle Wall and Sarah Clogen have been a part of the Tigers squad the past two years to witness all the excitement. Wall joins Brennan as the only seniors in the starting five.

They led their teammates to the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals against defending state champion Spring-Ford Tuesday night in Chambersburg. Playing without injured starter Abby Gonzales, the Tigers (25-3) lost to Spring-Ford, 47-32. The Rams (26-5) advance to Friday night's championship game at the Giant Center in Hershey to play Cumberland Valley.

"They have done a fantastic job of leading us," NA coach Sherri McConnell said. "They are unselfish kids and that is where the rest of the personalities on the team come from. They have respected the other kids on the team and everyone is on this team to be successful."

"Danielle has improved tremendously from last year. Taylor has really matured this year to become a great all-around player and has been a big difference for us. Sarah doesn't always get minutes in the game but she is always doing the right thing. She isn't worried about playing time. She is unselfish and has led by example no matter what."

This year's group made it back to the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 2004 and did so with a complete team effort.

"We have stuck together and have been unselfish," McConnell said. "They don't care who gets the credit. They just want to win. We focus on the defensive end and that leads us to our success."

"We have been balanced scoring-wise all year. They really understand their role. Defensively, we have been able to keep teams off balance."

This was evident when the Tigers rattled off a 21-game winning streak this season. The Tigers entered the season as the No. 1-ranked team in Class AAAA but quickly experienced defeat in their second game of the season against perennial power Mt. Lebanon. The winning streak began right after that loss.

"I am very pleased with how things have gone," McConnell said. "We came into the season with a target on our back with our ranking and I thought the girls did a nice job all season long handling that. We lost to Mt. Lebanon, which is a strong program."

After that loss, the Tigers didn't feel the sting of defeat until the WPIAL semifinals, when they ran into Hempfield Area. The Spartans made it look easy, beating the Tigers 60-44.

"They were devastated and it took some time to get rid of the pain," McConnell said. "We got a second chance and we did enough to put ourselves in a position to play in the state tournament. We wanted to show everyone we are one of the top teams in the state."

The Tigers proved their case as they won their first three games in the PIAA tournament, including exacting some payback against Hempfield in the quarterfinals last Friday, beating them, 73-47. Even though it was nice to get revenge, the Tigers couldn't care less who they played.

"It was nice to be able to get them, but we didn't care who it was," McConnell said. "We just wanted to make a run and to prove that we belonged as one of the top teams in the state. It was nice to knock off the WPIAL champ [Penn-Trafford in the first round] and District 6 champ [State College]. I think we sent a message."

The seniors have sent a message for this young squad that North Allegheny is back on the map, and that the Tigers are a program to be reckoned with now and in future seasons.

"We always set goals coming into the season and that was one of the goals," McConnell said. "They are obviously happy and they are the first group in a long time that got this opportunity."

Unfortunately for the Tigers, they couldn't quite finish.

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