This is ‘the year’ for C-M girls basketball
First in a series of high school basketball previews.
Canon-McMillan’s girls basketball team was decimated by a small roster. Diminished by injuries, the Big Macs spent the closing minutes of games gasping for air.
The result had the Big Macs struggling to compete late in games with teams in the toughest section in WPIAL girls basketball. Canon-McMillan led Section 4-AAAA champion Mt. Lebanon at halftime and defeated Baldwin by 15 points at home.
Despite having two of the best girls basketball players in the area, Olivia Lorusso and Danielle Parker, Big Macs head coach Frank Zebrasky had trouble fielding a deep lineup that could compete last season for an entire game. The result was a 9-13 overall record with only three section victories.
Teams such as Mt. Lebanon used as many as 14 substitutions off the bench in a game while Canon-McMillan was limited to four or five players to use in the critical minutes of games. Despite the size advantage opposing teams have over the Big Macs, Zebrasky believes the roster that did not lose a player to graduation is ready to compete in Class AAAA. Along with new additions, the Big Macs have a roster of 25 players, which includes 10 freshman.
“Often times, I was taking a timeout to rest instead of a timeout to adjust,” Zebrasky said. “We have components in place with people coming back to the program and the influx of new blood. It’s fun to be able to meld them into the mix. We present some matchup problems because we have a good guard, we have a couple of different great scoring capabilities and we play solid defense.”
Lorusso, who was selected to the Observer-Reporter’s all-district team after averaging 14.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, will pace the Big Macs’ offense in the post. Between Lorusso and Parker, who averaged 12.6 points and eight rebounds a game, Canon-McMillan will try to be the next team out of Section 4 to sneak into the playoffs and create damage in the WPIAL playoffs.
“It’s very exciting because we like to think this is our turn to do something really big, especially because the returning players – a lot of us are seniors,” Lorusso said. “Last year, we figured we had another year, so we didn’t stress over the close losses and mistakes. But this year is the year. We have to get it done.”
Lorusso, a standout in volleyball and a Robert Morris commit for softball, stands only 5-10 and compliments her post game with a scoring touch that had colleges recruiting her to play guard at the next level.
“You will come to find out that (Olivia) is probably as good of a female athlete that you are going to see throughout the area,” Zebrasky said.
Thirty of the last 40 WPIAL finalists in Class AAAA have come from Section 4, including last year’s champion, Bethel Park. The BlackHawks defeated Chartiers Valley, another Section 4 team, in that championship game. While Bethel Park does return senior point guard Harper Zimmer, they lost arguably the class’s top offensive threat when Megan Marecic tore her ACL during the summer. Baldwin has been named the favorite, while Mt. Lebanon returns 6-1 senior forward Christine Ehland and senior guard Madeleine Collins.
“We just need to minimize some of our turnovers and capitalize on some of the turnovers we do create,” Zebrasky said. “It’s tough. It’s not easy in that section. That’s the best section in the state. It’s one of those things where if you can get into the playoffs, you’ve got a chance, especially this year because it doesn’t look like there’s that big kingpin.”
The Big Macs possess a strong backcourt led by guard Brittany Hutchinson, who averaged 11.5 points per game, and added an influx of new players. Two of Lorusso’s teammates on the Big Macs’ state champion softball team will join Zebrasky’s squad this season: Abby McCartney, a Robert Morris commit with Lorusso, and Linda Rush, who hit the game-winning home run in the state final.
With a group of new talent joining a strong senior class, Lorusso and her teammates are focused on putting Canon-McMillan’s program on the map in Class AAAA.
“Mainly, we have been talking about now being the time for us,” Lorusso said. “Our attitude has really improved from last year to this year. We are more intense during practice and I think intensity is a very key rolle to winning games. I think we all just want it a little bit more and that’s definitely going to aid us.”
The expanded roster has allowed the Big Macs to hold full-court scrimmages during the preseason, something Zebrasky was not able to do last year. While C-M does not have the decorated history that others in Section 4 possess, Zebrasky believes the makeup of this season’s roster bodes well for the Big Macs.
“We may not be the best basketball players, but we are going to fight and scratch and claw and do what we can to stay in the game,” Zebrasky said.
Canon-McMillan starts the regular season Friday at Moon with a non-conference matchup against Steel Valley.
Usually a force in Section 4, the Indians will look to bounce back. Peters Township went 0-12 in the section last season and was 3-19 overall. The Indians have a new coach in Bert Kendall.
Rick Bell will look for one of two seniors and a plethora of junior talent to replace Brett Haney, who averaged 16.9 points per game last season while helping to lead the Big Macs to the postseason out of rigorous Section 4. The test will begin quickly as Canon-McMillan hosts Bugettstown and Washington this weekend before starting section play a week later against Bethel Park, which finished second behind Upper St. Clair in the section.
The Hillers missed the postseason by one game last year, despite strong seasons by Christian Koroly (15.7 ppg) and Berton Miller (10.5 ppg). Trinity did average an impressive 60.1 points per game, which was the best in the section. The Hillers have a new coach in Tim Tessmer, who replaces Stan Noszka. Tessmer was an assistant for the Hillers under former coach Joe Dunn.
Despite having the one of the area’s top post players, Gabe Pritz, the Indians finished with a 5-9 record in the section while averaging only 49.8 points per game. Pritz averaged 19.2 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks per game. The senior also eclipsed the 1,000 point mark for his career. Replacing the all-district selection will be critical for the Indians in their quest to return to the postseason.