Quad-A Girls Basketball Playoff Preview
The Top Seeds: Winners of 19 games in a row, the North Allegheny Lady Tigers (20-1) received the top seed in the WPIAL Girls Class AAAA bracket. The Section 3 champions rolled through the regular season behind a stingy defense that creates turnovers and turns them into points. The Tigers top scorer is three-point specialist Devvin LaBarge who averages 12 points per game. With good size courtesy of 5-11 Danielle Wall and 6-2 Meg Mornigstar, the Lady Tigers are talented and deep. Their only blemish this season was a December loss to the second seed in the bracket, Mt. Lebanon.
The Blue Devils (15-5) are the champions from ultra-tough Section 4 and are perennial favorites thanks to head coach Dori Oldaker. In an interview earlier this season with pabig56.com, Bethel Park head coach Jonna Burke said that Oldaker’s middle name is “championship.” That reputation stems from winning three WPIAL titles and three consecutive PIAA titles (2009, 2010, 2011) at Mt. Lebanon and having one of the most well-schooled teams you can find. This year’s Blue Devils squad is bolstered by a pair of 6-1 forwards, Christine Ehland and Madeleine Collins. Ehland is a three-year starter and the team’s leader on the floor.
The third-seeded Fox Chapel Foxes (17-4) are the champions from Section 2 and boast Duke-recruit Erin Mathias. The 6-3 Mathias (pictured left) averages 16 points per game and has the ability to single-handedly take over a contest. On January 4 at the Don Graham Classic, Mathias tormented Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic and had almost as many blocked shots as she did points. Mathias scored 15 points, blocked 14 shots and collected 12 rebounds for a triple-double. If Mathias can assert her dominance in similar fashion in the playoffs, Fox Chapel could be a dangerous team to face.
The reigning Quad-A champion Bethel Park Black Hawks (16-5) are the fourth seed in the bracket. The Black Hawks are the second place finisher out of Section 4 and split in the regular season with section champ Mt. Lebanon. Despite a season ending injury to Drexel University-recruit Megan Marecic in the offseason, the Black Hawks have proven to be just as tenacious as in years past. Using a well-balanced attack, players like senior Harper Zimmer and junior Mia Mattes have picked up the scoring slack in Marecic’s absence. Zimmer is the emotional leader for BP and has committed to play college ball at D-III Allegheny next season.
The Sleepers: Following a road loss to Upper St. Clair on January 23, it appeared the Baldwin Highlanders’ playoff hopes had hit the wall. A game behind fourth place Canon-McMillan in the Section 4 standings, the Highlanders had only three more section games remaining. In those contests the Highlanders faced a must-win game against the Big Macs and contests against the “big two,” Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park. Baldwin (12-8) swept all three foes and is entering the playoffs flying high. Senior guard Mandi Johnston is the cog that makes this machine run smoothly. Hitting their stride at the right time, the eight-seeded Highlanders could give Shaler, and potentially North Allegheny in the quarterfinals, some problems.
Another intriguing team is the 12th-seeded Hempfield Spartans (14-8). The Spartans are paced by the leading scorer in Class AAAA, senior guard Monica Burns who averages 20.1 points per game. The IUP-recruit is the lone senior for a team that stacked its schedule with tough non-section opponents to become playoff ready. A first round upset loss to Upper St. Clair in last year’s post-season has served as great motivation for Burns and her teammates. In 2014, the shoe is on the other foot as now it’s Hempfield playing as the underdog in the playoffs. Oh, and the Spartans first round opponent just happens to be the Upper St. Clair Panthers.
Other Notables: Next to North Allegheny, the sixth-seeded Norwin Knights (16-5) are the second hottest team entering the playoffs. The Knights have slayed 10 straight opponents, winning the majority of those games in blowouts. Sophomore Alayna Gribble averages 17.6 points per game for the Knights.
The only team to defeat Norwin in Section 1-AAAA play this season was the seventh-seeded Penn-Trafford Warriors (16-6). Penn-Trafford split a co-section championship with Norwin and boasts the second-leading scorer in Quad-A, forward Maria Palarino. Averaging nearly 19 points per game, Palarino and guard Casey Aunkst create a formidable duo.
Penn-Trafford’s opponent in the first round is the 10th-seeded Plum Mustangs (15-7). Possessing good size in the paint, 5-11 senior Krista Pietropola is one of the best in the WPIAL, averaging 17 points per game. Joined by 6-3 forward Courtney Zezza, the Mustangs certainly have the size to give any team in this bracket fits.
For a look at the entire field in Quad-A, you can find the bracket by clicking here.