The South Fayette boys basketball team will be without its leading scorer from last season, senior Zach Challingsworth, but head coach Rich Bonnaure thinks the Lions have enough other weapons to compete.
Challingsworth, who averaged 15.2 points per game and was a first team All-District selection, suffered a sports hernia with two games left in the football season and will skip basketball to ensure he’s healthy for next year – when he starts his college football career at Pitt.
“I know what some people say about not wanting to twist an ankle or something like that, but if I was healthy, I’d be out there,” Challingsworth said. “I want to be out there with my teammates.”
Bonnaure estimates that South Fayette’s basketball team played 45 games without Challingsworth – a versatile combo guard with rare athletic skills – in the offseason and insists his players can find other sources of offense.
“They’re not going to let this spoil our season,” Bonnaure said of losing Challingsworth. “They had worked so hard. I know they feel terrible. They won’t look for any excuses.
“Once you regroup for a day or so … they put so much work into it, they’re going to do their jobs and see what happens.”
Bonnaure said that Challingsworth had been showing up to practice and even shooting some, though he was warned by the school trainer the day after South Fayette lost to Wash High in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals that Challingsworth could miss some time.
This past Friday, Bonnaure found out that Challingsworth will sit out, though the coach said he will keep a roster spot open in case anything changes.
Details of the hernia are sketchy, Challingsworth said, at least until doctors can look at results of an MRI that he will have next week. There’s a chance it could heal on its own and not require surgery, though even Challingsworth admitted that’s not very likely.
“It’s going to be weird,” said Challingsworth, an Elite 11 selection who caught 58 passes for 1,190 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. “It’s the first time I haven’t something to do after school my entire high school career.
“I’m definitely not going to be a stranger to the basketball program. I’m going to be around with the guys.”
Replacing Challingsworth won’t be easy, but senior point guard Evan Bonnaure returns after averaging 10.4 points per game a season ago. Fellow seniors C.J. Rudisic and Lucas Russell (5.5 ppg) provide South Fayette plenty of experience in the backcourt.
Brett Brumbaugh (6-3) and Justin Watson (6-2) will give the Lions even more length, with Russell at 6-2, Rudisic 6-6.
“This is the longest team that I’ve had,” said Bonnaure, who begins his 11th season at the helm.
South Fayette went 16-7 last year and finished second to Montour in Section 5-AAA. But the Lions blew a 20-point, second-half lead and lost to Beaver, 68-65, in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs.
South Fayette will be in Section 5-AAA along with Chartiers Valley, Keystone Oaks and Montour, making it essentially basketball’s version of the Class A Black Hills football conference.
McGuffey, which will also compete in Section 5-AAA, lost three starters from last year’s 13-9 team, but guard Taylor Pasquariello (8 ppg) and forwards Caleb Reihner (7 ppg, 5 rpg) and Brennan Crimm (5 ppg, 5 rpg) return. All are seniors.
Ringgold is in Section 4-AAA with top teams Steel Valley, Elizabeth Forward, Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin. The Rams have two starting guards coming back: John Maldonado (8 ppg) and Dashore Majors (6.5 ppg).
Class AAA Girls
If Bonnaure needs to vent about any of his frustration, chances are South Fayette girls basketball coach Matt Bacco would be up for it. Bacco will be without two of his top players – guards Shannon Gillespie and Min Wells – because of injury.
Gillespie has what Bacco called a lower-body injury, and Wells has been experiencing concussion-like symptoms. Wells’ return could be a month or so away, while Gillespie should be back for the early part of the season, if not the opener.
“We’re decimated by injuries right now,” Bacco said. “We’ve been fortunate in the past. At worst, in four years I think we had one starter missing. Now we have two out. But we’re hopeful that we can get one back.”
South Fayette also must address the loss of Erika Ford, who was a first team All-District pick and averaged 18.0 points per game. The Lions’ top returner is point guard Caitlin McLuckie (11.9 ppg).
“She didn’t get as much as publicity last year because of Erika, but she’s awfully good,” Bacco said of McLuckie. “She understands our system. We’re going to put the ball in her hands a lot and run a lot of stuff through her.”
South Fayette is in Section 5-AAA alongside South Park and Montour, who should be in the mix for the title, as well as Trinity, which has a new coach with a familiar name: Bob Miles.
Miles spent 15 years at Fort Cherry, winning 237 games during that span, but this offseason took the head coaching job at Trinity, where he also teaches. Since taking over, Miles has been installing his system – team-oriented, tough, lots of defense – and so far the results have been noticeable.
“It’s coming,” Miles said. “I think it’s been a slow process. Every day we walk off the floor and tell them that we have to learn something new.”
Trinity will rely on four seniors to carry the team into a new era: Lauren Simpson, Kelsy O’Connor, Kylie Victoria, Jessica Lavelle. Gone is second team All-District performer Morgan Kurtz, who averaged 16.5 points per game.
Waynesburg and Ringgold will be together in Section 4-AAA, with the Raiders returning their leading scorer and rebounder in senior Danielle Jacobs, and Ringgold bringing back senior Josie Schmidt and junior Eleni Radic.
Best of Class AAA
Five to Watch
Evan Bonnaure, Sr., PG, South Fayette
C.J. Rudisic, Sr., G, South Fayette
Taylor Pasquariello, Sr., G, McGuffey
Caitlin McLuckie, Sr., PG, South Fayette
Danielle Jacobs, Sr., PG, Waynesburg
Three to Circle
Boys: South Fayette at Keystone Oaks, Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m. – Nice way to open, right? On the road, at the reigning Section 5-AAA champion. Oh, and the Lions play at West Mifflin (second in 5-AAA) the following night.
Girls: Trinity at Fort Cherry, Jan. 26, 2:30 p.m. – Perhaps a Bob Miles Bobblehead Day? Probably still TBD. But there will be some great basketball to watch.
Girls: South Park at South Fayette, Dec. 14, 6 p.m. – Lions will hope Shannon Gillespie is back in time for this early-season Section 4-AAA showdown with the reigning WPIAL Class AAA runner-up.