Basketball preview: Opportunity abounds in Class A
Plenty of shuffling could define the WPIAL Class A boys and girls basketball scenes.
With the Fort Cherry and Chartiers-Houston girls, as well as the Bentworth boys – arguably three of the area’s top four Class A teams last winter – bumping up to Class AA, more playoff spots should be available for those who are left.
Though one of those is almost certain to go to the Monessen boys team, which went 25-4, won Section 3-AA and reached the Class AA championship game. It was the 31st consecutive season Monessen has made the playoffs, the longest streak in WPIAL history.
But with Monessen losing four starters from that team, including a first team and two second team All-District team picks in guard Jaisen Irwin (17.1 points per game), guard Jalen Madison (13.1 ppg) and guard/forward Earl Pinkney (12.6 ppg), the move couldn’t have come at a better time for head coach Joe Salvino.
“I think it was a good time to move down,” Salvino said. “I don’t mind competing, but I don’t want the team to be in a situation where they would lose confidence.”
Replacing those three, who accounted for 68 percent of the Greyhounds’ offense, will be a three sophomores, guard Luke Doptis, forward Tyler Yuille and point guard Javon Brown.
Clintell Gillaspie and Justice Rawlins, a pair of junior football players with size, will also play basketball; Gillaspie chose not to play last year, and Rawlins was recovering from a knee injury.
Monessen, which will play in the Upper St. Clair tournament along with Gateway and Franklin Regional, faces a tough early schedule that also features a game at Chartiers Valley.
“In the beginning, we may be a little bit rough because we don’t have that game experience,” Salvino said. “But through the course of the year, we’ll be battle-tested.”
Avella, which finished second in Section 3-A last year and lost to Clairton in the first round of the playoffs, must replace second team All-District pick Joe Yamber (19.2 ppg) and two other starters.
Junior guard Brandon Miller (8 ppg) will step into a larger role. The same goes for senior guard Drew Keenan, who averaged six points per game last fall.
Class A Girls
Vincentian and North Catholic, who met for the WPIAL Class A title a year ago at Duquesne’s Palumbo Center, are two of the classification’s strongest programs, though Fort Cherry and Monessen weren’t far behind.
With the Rangers moving up to Class AA, the Greyhounds should have plenty of the spotlight to themselves.
Guard Mariah Ward returns after averaging 20.9 points, 3.7 steals and 3.3 assists per game last season, though head coach Gina Naccarato will have to replace four senior starters: Geena Shrader, Passion Harrison, Lauren Johnson and Natawsja Sosnak.
“We always look to run and push the ball up the floor, which we’re going to continue to do,” Naccarato said. “The main thing is getting the kids who haven’t had a lot of experience some experience in the beginning.
“We’re not going to change what we’ve done in the past. If you can’t run, you can’t play.”
Senior guard Chelsea Szakal averaged 12.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last winter before tearing her ACL, and Naccarato expects to be without Szakal for the first couple of games until she receives a fitted knee brace.
Carmichaels will feature two of the area’s top players in senior guards Morgan Berardi and Anna Cree. Both are four-year starters and will more than likely reach 1,000 points this year – perhaps in the same game, with 863 and 824 points, respectively.
Berardi and Cree are two of four returning starters for the Mikes, who went 17-6, finished third in Section 3-A – behind Fort Cherry and Chartiers-Houston – and lost to St. Joseph in the first round of the playoffs.
“We’ve been a young team for the last two or three years,” Carmichaels coach Jim Lane said. “Now all of a sudden we have a wealth of experience back.”
Besides Berardi and Cree, who averaged 17 and 15.2 points per game, respectively, junior center Amanda Brown returns after putting up eight points and eight rebounds per game last winter.
Sophomore forward Caroline Cree and senior forward Mallory Stajnrajh round out the five lettermen that return, and senior Rachel Rankin should push for playing time after missing last year with a knee injury.
With Fort Cherry and Chartiers-Houston in Class AA, it’s not a stretch to think that Carmichaels could benefit the most.
“We were all playing for third [in Section 3-A]. Now, with the way it is, it’s wide open,” Lane said. “Playing those two teams the past two years made us all better. With them in Class AA, it can be an open race.”
Carmichaels’ top challengers figure to be California and West Greene. The Trojans, who went 5-17 last year, return four starters, a group that includes double-digit scorers Tristen Conoway and Courtnee McMasters.
West Greene and Avella both made the playoffs a season ago and figure to compete for spots again behind Cheyenne Miller (10 ppg) and Olivia English (12 ppg), respectively. Mapletown has a new coach in Michael Holloway Jr. Jefferson-Morgan loses only two seniors and brings back senior guard Ashley Faddis.
Five to Watch
Javon Brown, Jr. G, Monessen
Brandon Miller, Jr. G, Avella
Mariah Ward, Sr., G, Monessen
Morgan Berardi, Sr., G, Carmichaels
Anna Cree, Sr., G, Carmichaels
Three to Circle
Monessen at Serra Catholic, Jan. 7, 7:30 p.m. - First regular season meeting between these two Section 4-A powers.
Clairton at Monessen, Feb. 9, 2:30 p.m. - Clairton has a history of peaking late due to its football success. Perfect time for a classic.
Carmichaels at California, Jan. 28, 7:30 p.m. - If the Trojans can fulfill expectations, this could determine the Section 3-A title.