West Xtra: Hopewell coach thinks team has 'right stuff'
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In 2010 Hopewell girls' basketball coach Jeff Homziak knew he had a state championship caliber team.
He thought the same last winter as well.
Neither time was a state championship in the cards for the Vikings. Cold-shooting nights in single-digit losses to Chartiers Valley in the 2010 PIAA quarterfinals and to Blackhawk in the 2012 PIAA second round ended any state title dreams.
"I look back and see there is no reason we couldn't have won a state title," Homziak said. "We are at that level to compete, sometimes just having that lucky break is what you need."
Lucky breaks are nice to have but so is talent and Hopewell has a boatload of it starting with senior guard-forward Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, the Post-Gazette Player of the Year for the 2011-12 season and Post-Gazette Athlete of the Year for the 2011-12 scholastic year.
She averaged 25.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per game last season.
This year she is picking up right where she left off, averaging 28.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. She needs 12 points tonight against Ambridge to reach the coveted 2,000-point career plateau.
The Vikings are 10-1 overall, 3-1 in section play and a lot of it has to do with the play of Walker-Kimbrough, a University of Maryland recruit and two-time first-team Associated Press All-State selection.
Walker-Kimbrough is most famous for her performance in the WPIAL Class AAA final a year ago. She scored 35 points, hauled in 13 rebounds and blocked five shots in a 50-34 win against South Park. Her 16 of 16 shooting from the free-throw line was a Class AAA championship-game record.
Even though this team and Walker-Kimbrough won a WPIAL championship last season, they are far from satisfied and could be considered one of the hungrier teams in the WPIAL.
To get back to the WPIAL final, Hopewell will have to rely on not just Walker-Kimbrough but her supporting cast that is both experienced and talented.
Junior forward Kari Steuer and junior point guard Shaniya Rivers are both returning starters. They average eight and seven points per game, respectively.
Hopewell received a big boost from the return of senior forward MacKenzie Biggs. She played as a freshman and sophomore before sitting out last season to focus on volleyball. She teamed with Walker-Kimbrough on the Hopewell girls' volleyball team that was ranked No. 1 in the state at a point this season.
At 6 feet 2, Biggs gives Hopewell a much-needed post presence to go along with Walker-Kimbrough, who is 5-11.
Senior forward Cassidy Rizzo, another inside threat, was battling injury issues but is working her way back into the lineup.
Hopewell has posted blowout wins against Class AAAA competition, including Penn Hills and Butler. It also dominated competition in the Mars Holiday Tournament, outscoring the host team and Sto-Rox by a combined 129-43.
Hopewell suffered its only loss of the season to undefeated Blackhawk, 56-52. It was the Cougars (11-0, 4-0) who ended Hopewell's season last year in the PIAA second round.
"[The loss to Blackhawk] was two good teams that know each other very well," Homziak said. "We had a couple kids on the floor who either didn't play last year or they were injured, that inexperience factor kicked in down the stretch, but that will be a positive for us moving forward."
Section 2-AAA has proven to be a battleground over the past few seasons with programs such as Blackhawk, Central Valley and Hopewell. Central Valley is also currently undefeated at 9-0 and 4-0 in section play.
"That has kind of been the tradition in our section going back 10 years," Homziak said. "The majority of the time we have two or three teams in the semifinals. It makes you playoff ready seeing these different styles in the section. Some teams play up tempo, some play zone, some play trap and press, it prepares you."
First Published January 10, 2013 12:00 am