Total team effort has BP girls succeeding

Published Dec 28, 2013 at 7:44 pm (Updated Dec 28, 2013 at 7:44 pm)

When Bethel Park lost Megan Marecic to an ACL injury, the Lady Hawks did not resign their hopes for successfully defending their WPIAL title in girls’ basketball this season. On the contrary, the adversity has made the Lady Hawks more determined.

“It was difficult to learn that we would be without Megan,” said head coach Jonna Burke of the Drexel recruit and 1,000-point scorer. “But the girls have all stepped up.”

Indeed. By the time the Lady Hawks reached their holiday break, they were 6-0. After success in their recent tournament, BP heads into a 7:30 p.m. showdown at Mt. Lebanon this Thursday, Jan. 2. Not only is it a battle between two of the top-ranked teams in Quad-A, it is a rematch of last year’s PIAA first round playoff game. After winning the district title, BP relinquished its bid for a state title when Lebo scored a 37-34 victory. In section play last season, the squads split decisions.

“It seems our games with Lebo often turn into defensive struggles,” Burke said. “We have to find ways to score against their pressure.”

Though the Lady Hawks lost an average of 18 points per game due to Marecic’s absence from the lineup, scoring has not been the issue this season. BP is averaging 60 points per game. The Lady Hawks though are giving up 46.5 points an outing.

“Our strength has been our offensive balance. We have a handful of kids who are capable of scoring and they are sharing the ball,” said Burke. “But, we need to get better defensively. While we are scoring more points than we have in recent years, we are also giving up more, and that needs to change for long-term success.”

Thanks to a mix of experienced players and new blood, the Lady Hawks are on equal footing with Lebo, which was also undefeated in league play and overall before participating in the Junior Orange Bowl Tournament in Miami over the holidays.

Harper Zimmer leads a core of returning starters with a near 11-point scoring average. Sami Simspon and Paige Kochka-Puskar, both returning starters from last year’s 23-4 club provide scoring punch as well as a strong presence inside to rank among the top rebounders.

Sophomore Shannon Conely and freshman forward Justina Mascaro have been welcome additions to the club, as has been junior point guard Mia Mattes. Before the holiday break, Conely was averaging nine points per game, while Mascaro has been supplying 9.2 markers to go along with a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game. Mattes leads the club in assists 4.3 and steals 2.5 per game.

“I have been pleased with everyone’s effort,” Burke said. “We have a nice mix of experience along with new contributors.”

Together with Liz Neal, Laura Page, Monica Locke, Lexi Lutheran, Cailey Klink, Christina Diddiano and Kaitlin Chess, the Lady Hawks have one mission in mind. However, they expect a challenge as they battle for one of the four playoff spots available in Section 4.

“Our goal each year is always the same, get into the playoffs,” Burke said.

“I can’t say that there is one particular team to beat this year. Once again our section is tough, top to bottom. I think there will be some upsets before the season ends, and it’s going to be a real battle for the playoff spots, coming out of our section.”

Then, as Burke says, the Lady Hawks will take it from there. However, they do not bear the weight of being the defending champions.

“I really don’t think we have felt like we have any pressure to deal with from anyone other than what we put on ourselves. We expect certain things, a certain effort, and the kids know that.”

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