Seton-La Salle girls dominate Almanac Elite Eleven
To the victors may go the spoils but the Seton-La Salle girls’ basketball team proved this season it can beat the best of the best when the Rebels defeated previously unbeaten Neumann-Goretti in the PIAA Class AA championship game, 58-50, last month at the Giant Center in Hershey. Opponents called the Saints the best AAU team in the state.
While the Rebels, too, have their share of players who competed on AAU basketball teams during the summer months, combined they could contend with an all-star squad comprised of the area’s finest hoop stars. So, it should come as no surprise that Seton-La Salle dominates the 2014 Almanac Elite Eleven list. The Rebels placed four starters on the roster and one honorable mention along with claiming Most Valuable Player and Coach of the Year recognition.
“For the first time,” said Spencer Stefko, who had coached seven seasons at Chartiers Valley before taking the position at SLS, “I honestly believe that all five [of my] starters would be worthy of all-star recognition. I’m sure a lot of coaches say that, but with how balanced the team was, and how far they went, I truly believe that.”
One certainly cannot argue with the results as the Rebels recently completed a 27-4 campaign. SLS lost only once to a team from Pennsylvania, falling to West Mifflin, 57-48, on the final day of regular season action. The Lady Rebels’ other losses came during pre-season invitational tournament play in Fairfax and in Myrtle Beach against teams from Virginia, Maryland and South Carolina.
SLS’s 2-3 start to its championship season was both a reflection of the competition as well as adjusting to a new coach for the third year in a row. Stefko replaced athletic director John Ashalou as SLS head coach. Ashalou had filled in for the 2012-13 season after Dennis Squeglia resigned. Squeglia had led the Rebels to a 31-0 record that included section, WPIAL and PIAA titles. During Ashalou’s interim season, SLS lost its district and state crowns to rival Bishop Canevin.
With Stefko, SLS hired a proven winner. For seven seasons, he compiled a 137-51 record at Chartiers Valley. He guided the Colts to four section banners in five years and three state semifinal showings in four years and a WPIAL championship appearance.
For righting the ship and steering Seton-La Salle back to the top, Stefko, who remains a social studies teacher at CV, has been named Almanac Coach of the Year.
Diop named MVP
Without top players, however, Stefko could not complete the feat. He had the luxury of coaching three Division I recruits, bound for the University of Pittsburgh, as well as another hot-shooting collegiate prospect. While all four made the Almanac’s all-star roster, Yacine Diop topped the list, nabbing MVP honors.
A Senegal native, Diop came to SLS when Oak Hill Academy dropped its girls’ basketball program. After transferring from that Virginia school, Diop was ruled ineligible to play by the WPIAL and PIAA. She had to sit out her junior season. The 5-foot-10 forward, however, returned to the courts with a vengeance.
“Her intensity became the hallmark of our team,” said Stefko. “So much of what we did, started with her.”
Diop led the Rebels in scoring with 396 points for a 13.65 average and in rebounding with 224 caroms for a 7.7 average. She also ranked first in steals with 77 and second in blocked shots with 43.
The Pitt recruit upped her game during the postseason, averaging a double-double in nine playoff games. During the WPIAL championship, a 55-34 win against Burrell, Diop tossed in 15 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. During the state final, she scored 10 points, cleaned the glass 24 times and blocked six shots.
In addition to her incredible play, Stefko pointed to her defensive skills. Diop, who earned second team, all-state honors, helped SLS limit the opposition to 40.3 points per game.
“Her defense was outstanding. Yacine always guarded the other team’s best player,” said Stefko. “She demonstrated a great deal of unselfishness.”
Three join Diop
Unselfishness ran rampant through the Lady Rebels’ line-up. Cassidy Walsh, Nicolete Newman and Naje Gibson sacrificed, too, to see SLS succeed.
Flexibility epitomized Walsh. The 5-7 junior, who is already committed to Pitt, played every position during different times of the season for the Rebels.
A three-year starter, Walsh averaged 10.3 points and 4.4 assists per game. Not only did she garner all-section acclaim, she earned first-team, all-state laurels.
Dubbed an “unbelievable leader” by Stefko, Walsh was the unanimous choice for captain.
“She has considerable intelligence as a player and she is our leader on the floor, even when she is not scoring 20 points. She doesn’t have to score,” Stefko emphasized and then added, “I feel very safe when the ball is in her hands.”
Walsh helped lead SLS to a state title as a freshman, when she averaged eight points per game. She managed 10.5 points as a sophomore. She scored 11 points in this year’s PIAA final. Walsh also led her grade school team to back-to-back state championships.
Newman played side-by-side Walsh on those St. Gabriel clubs. A veteran of two PIAA championships as well, the junior was SLS’s second-leading scorer with 375 points for a 12.9 average.
Newman also ranked as the team’s top 3-point shooter. She’s also a sure shot from the free throw line. Newman led all scorers with 17 points in the PIAA final.
“Nicolete is an unselfish kid. She’s what you want to have on a team. A spark plug,” Stekfo said. “She’s consistent. “She more than anyone else on the team has bought into our defense and the importance of it. As far as the game is concerned, Nicolete is light-years ahead of people.”
A four-year starter, Gibson is another player that is head-and-shoulders above the rest. In fact, she proved that by being named Player of the Year in the state at the Class AA level. Plus, she garnered first-team honors on the all-state squad.
Another Pitt recruit, Gibson averaged 10.1 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. The 6-foot senior blocked 61 shots and had 62 steals.
“Her selflessness and ability to play many different roles made her as important as anyone else,” commented Stefko. “She brought everything to the table.”
The duo of Johnie Olkosky and Gina Vallecorsa brought everything to the table for Bishop Canevin as the Crusaders battled against their rivals from Seton-La Salle. Both played on last year’s squad that upended the Rebels in the district finals and won a state title.
A four-year letterwinner, Olkosky averaged 14 points and eight rebounds a game for the Crusaders, who finished 21-7 overall, with four of those losses to the Rebels. The 5-foot-9 senior guard also led the team with five assists and four steals per game.
“Johnie was an outstanding leader on and off the court for a young and inexperienced team,” said Canevin coach Tim Joyce.
“She exhibited toughness. Johnie did all the little things on the floor that it takes to win but can’t be measured by statistics.”
While Olkosky takes her game to West Liberty State University, Vallecorsa returns for two more seasons. The 5-foot-8 sophomore forward averaged 13 points and seven rebounds for the Crusaders.
The one-two punch of Christine Ehland and Margie McCaffrey helped Mt. Lebanon claim a section title and advance to the quarterfinals of the WPIAL tournament as well as the PIAA playoffs.
A senior point guard, McCaffrey dished up 5.2 assists per game. In addition to two steals a game, the all-section performer and four-year letterwinner averaged 11.7 points per game for the Lebo ladies, who finished 16-7 overall.
“Margie is the ultimate team leader. She is as tough as nails, but plays the game with class,” said Lebo skipper Dori Oldaker. “She is one of the hardest workers in practice and backs down to no one. She has outstanding sportsmanship, but is a fierce competitor. You would want her in your foxhole.
“She leads by example and is not afraid to make mistakes. Her teammates look up to her and respect her. She is a success story and she will be successful at the next level on and off the court.”
Ehland also led the Blue Devils. An all-section performer, she averaged a team-high 15.9 points per game. In addition, the 6-foot senior forward grabbed 7.9 rebounds to go along with 1.5 assists and steals per game.
A leader since her freshman year, when she helped Lebo capture its last PIAA state title, Ehland carries herself in a manner that is respected and admired, says Oldaker.
“She isn’t a vocal leader, but when Christine speaks, everyone listens,” Oldaker added. “She is always the first one in the gym and the last one to leave. She will do anything for anyone at any given time. She has helped create a winning attitude for our program.”
Kerr helps PT
The future of Peters Township girls’ basketball is positive because of the winning attitude and ways of Madison Kerr. Last year’s top newcomer, she ranked among the top players in Quad-A. The sophomore led the section in scoring with 20 points per game. She also ranked in the Top 20 for scoring in the WPIAL.
A first-team all-section selection, Kerr averaged 10 rebounds per game and led the Indians in blocked shots with 26.
“Madison had a tremendous season,” said Bert Kendall. “Her double-double average was quite an accomplishment, rarely seen in Section 4.”
Lorusso a rarity
Olivia Lorusso achieved that rarity, too. The senior averaged 15.3 points and 11 rebounds a game. For her career, she scored 1,033 points and pulled down nearly that many rebounds.
The Robert Morris University softball recruit earned first-team, all-Section 4, Quad-A honors. A standout in volleyball as well, Lorusso is a two-time WPIAL and PIAA champion in softball.
“Olivia is a gifted athlete,” said CM head coach Frank Zebrasky. “She possesses the ability to create her own scoring opportunities as well as scoring within a structured offensive attack. She rebounds, attacks and looks to find an open teammate usually first before trying to score herself.”
Coming off its first WPIAL championship title in the program’s history, Bethel Park entered the season full of promise. But the Hawks’ hopes were dashed when they learned they would be without leading scorer and Drexel recruit, Megan Marecic, but Justina Mascaro emerged as a bright spot. The freshman helped fill a void by scoring 7.1 points and averaging five rebounds a game for her efforts in pacing the Hawks to a playoff slot and a second-place finish behind Lebo in Section 4, the 5-8 guard gained Rookie of the Year honors.
Players earning honorable mention status on The Almanac Elite Eleven list include:
Harper Zimmer, Samie Simpson, Shannon Conely from Bethel Park. A 5-7 senior,
• Zimmer averaged nine points and three assists. A 6-1 senior, Simpson managed 7.8 points per game while pulling down 5.3 rebounds. A 5-9 sophomore, Conely provided 9.3 points per game.
• Erin Joyce from Bishop Canevin. This sophomore averaged nine points per game. She buried 54, 3-point field goals on the year.
• Danielle Parker and Brittany Hutchison from Canon-McMillan. While Parker fired in 15.3 points per game and pulled in 9.7 rebounds, Hutchinson pumped in 9.7 points and averaged 3.4 assists.
• Addy Knetzer from Chartiers-Houston. This senior led the team in scoring with a 15.3 average.
• Maryssa Agurs from Keystone Oaks. This senior averaged 14.1 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Golden Eagles. The all-section performer will continue her career at Mercyhurst College.
• Madeleine Collins and Anna Miller from Mt. Lebanon. A two-year starter, Collins averaged 10 points and 4.7 rebounds for the Lebo ladies. A defensive specialist, Miller managed 4.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game.
• Shaunay Edmonds from Seton-La Salle. This sophomore averaged 9.5 points, 3.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game. She was a key to all the Rebels did a defense and a floor general on offense said Spencer Stefko.
• Lauren Crites from South Fayette. She averaged 12.4 points per game for the Lions.
• Elayna Kaylor, Diandra Conwell, Rachel Mazzie and Madison Serio from Upper St. CLair. The foursome helped the Panthers to a playoff berth in Section 4 but they met an early exit, falling to Hempfield in the tournament opener. A senior, Kaylor finished her career ranked 16th on the all-time USC girls’ 3-point list and 19th on the rebounding list. Conwell averaged 12.8 points and the junior earned all-section honors.
Players to watch
Among the future players to watch are:
• Cheyenne Trest. This Canon-McMillan freshman averaged 6.2 points per game.
• Cameron Morgan. This Peters Township sophomore ranked second on the team in scoring and rebounding with nine a game. She led the team with 39 blocked shots.
• Alyssa Konopka. This Peters Township freshman averaged eight points per game and led the team in steals with 53. Noted for her defensive quickness, she also had 59 rebounds and 19 blocked shots.
• Carlee Kilgus. This South Fayette freshman averaged 15 points per game.