Preview: Wright Automotive Tip-Off Tournament
The 2017-2018 basketball season tips off on Friday night and one of the top tip-off tournaments in the area will be the Wright Automotive Tournament at North Allegheny. The Wright Automotive Tip-Off Tournament is a four-day hoops spectacular that features six of the most prominent programs in girls’ basketball in Western Pennsylvania, including the reigning WPIAL champions in Class 6A and 5A. Here is a preview of this weekend’s varsity action.
Friday, December 8
Chartiers Valley vs. Altoona – 3:45 p.m.
The Chartiers Valley Colts gallop into the 2017-2018 season as the defending WPIAL champions in Class 5A following a 20-8 season and is currently the No. 1-ranked team in the classification. The Colts trotted past Oakland Catholic in the WPIAL title game, 52-36, before falling to Trinity in the PIAA second round. A wealth of talent returns from last year’s championship team, including PA Big 56 Conference first-team selections Mackenzie Wagner, Megan McConnell and Gabi Legister. Wagner and McConnell make up one of the most exciting guard tandems in the WPIAL. Wagner averaged 15 points per game last season and McConnell averaged 11 points per game as a freshman. McConnell’s older brothers are T.J. (Philadelphia 76ers) and Matty (Robert Morris) who had storied high school careers and are continuing their lore in the pros and college, respectively. Legister is a 6-foot-2 forward who has committed to Division I Kennesaw State where she will play for former Pitt women’s basketball coach Agnus Berenato who is in her second season of a rebuild at Kennesaw.
The Altoona Mountain Lions are returning to the Wright Automotive Tip-Off Tournament for the second straight season and were one of the few teams that defeated Chartiers Valley a year ago with a 60-53 victory at last year’s tournament. The Mountain Lions clawed their way to a 15-9 record last season and won the Class 6A District 6 title with a 54-42 triumph over State College in the championship game. Altoona rolled through the District 6 playoffs with an average margin of victory of 24.8 points before losing to Cedar Cliff in the first round of the state playoffs. The Mountain Lions were hit hard by graduation, losing all five starters and their sixth-man off the bench from last year’s squad.
Mt. Lebanon vs. Norwin – 5:30 p.m.
Like Chartiers Valley and Altoona, the Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils reached the state playoffs last season and are coming off a 19-7 season and a Section 3 title in arguably the toughest section in Class 6A. The Blue Devils lost their top two scorers from last year but still have one of the best coaches in the WPIAL in head coach Dori Oldaker. Mt. Lebanon won three consecutive PIAA titles under Oldaker from 2009-2011. Junior forward Jamey Napoleon, who averaged eight points and five rebounds per game last year, and guards Alyssa Hyland and Jess Wilhelm are expected to be top contributors this season.
The Norwin Knights saw their bid for a WPIAL three-peat come to an end last season at the hands of the Blue Devils in the WPIAL quarterfinals, 47-44. Two years ago, it was Norwin who bounced Mt. Lebanon in the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs during their march to a second straight WPIAL title and appearance in the PIAA quarterfinals. In a series that has developed into an exciting, competitive rivalry, Norwin and Mt. Lebanon will hook up again in day one at the Wright Automotive Tip-Off Tournament. Despite their loss in the WPIAL quarterfinals, the Knights had another successful season with a 17-6 record and second-place finish in Section 2-6A under seventh-year head coach Brian Brozeski. Norwin suffered significant losses due to graduation and return only two players with varsity experience, senior Megan Polcynski and junior Jessica Kolesar.
North Allegheny vs. Penn Hills – 7:15 p.m.
The night cap of Friday’s tripleheader pits the North Allegheny Tigers against the Penn Hills Indians. The Tigers enter the season as the top-ranked team in the state in Class 6A and the Indians are ranked fifth in the state, setting the stage for an epic season opener. The expectations are high for North Allegheny after reaching the PIAA title game last season and capturing its first WPIAL crown in program history. The Tigers surrendered only one senior from last year’s team and return leading scorer Rachel Martindale, senior guard Piper Morningstar (Radford University) and senior forward Madelyn Fischer (Seton Hill University).
The Penn Hills Indians have been one of the top teams in the largest classification over the past few years and have reached the state tournament three consecutive seasons. Their opening night opponent has been a thorn in their side, however, knocking them out of the PIAA playoffs two of the last three seasons. North Allegheny owns a 14-game winning streak over Penn Hills. The Indians will try to snap that losing skid but will have to do so without Desiree Oliver and Jade Ely who are now playing Division I college basketball, and Diamond Jay-Whittington who is out for the season with a knee injury. Despite those losses, coach Robert Cash has a deep and talented roster that is headlined by Tayonna Robertson. Receiving Division I interest, Robertson is a 6-1 junior who averaged over 12 points per game as a sophomore. Juniors Ariana Dunson and Adia Brisker should be major players for a Penn Hills team coming off a 23-4 season and undefeated Section 2-6A title.