After starting the season with five consecutive victories, Carmichaels boys basketball coach Don Williams is not satisfied.
Despite the Mikes (5-0) averaging 55 points per game and senior Brandon Lawless playing at a high level, Williams knows Carmichaels needs to prepare for a tough schedule in Section 3-A. The Mikes are using a combination of size and speed to dominate the opposition while Lawless has picked up where he left off last season.
“We are still not satisfied with what we are doing,” Williams said. “We still need to work on defense and sometimes our offense does struggle. We are trying to sharpen things up and get better with the more games we play. We don’t start section until after the first of the year. Hopefully, we will be clicking on all cylinders by then.”
Lawless scored 48 points Monday in a rout of Bentworth. The senior averaged 21 points per game last season as Carmichaels finished second in Section 3-A with a 7-3 record and 17-5 overall mark.
The key to success for the Mikes has been chemistry. The roster boasts seven seniors who have seen regular playing time since they were sophomores. Among the group are Lawless, Ty Aeschbacher, Cory Fuller, Brennan McMinn and Justin Newman – all starters for Williams’ squad.
As Carmichaels prepares for section play to begin Jan. 3 with a road contest at Avella, Lawless sees the Mikes’ repoire being a factor in again emerging from the section to make the WPIAL playoffs.
“You can tell we are getting better as the year goes along,” Lawless said. “We have great chemistry. We started off slowly and we are working at getting used to it. I think we have a great chance to win the section. If we play as a team like we did (against Bentworth), we’ll be fine.”
The Mikes ended last season with a first-round exit in the WPIAL playoffs against Wilkinsburg (63-42). Competition in Section 3-A will not be hard to find.
“I think rebounding is our strength and we like to run with the ball,” Williams said. “They like to have fun, and I told them to have fun. Get better rebounds, play better defense and let’s get out and run with it. That makes it fun.”
Section 3 rival Clairton made it to the WPIAL title game last season, losing to Vincentian (86-74) and Monessen advanced to the quarterfinals in the Class A bracket. While Clairton will not open the season until tonight, Monessen, like Carmichaels, returns the bulk of its starting five from a year ago.
Led by senior guard Clintell Gillaspie’s 15 points per game, Monessen has overcome a slow start. Greyhounds head coach Joe Salvino attributes three-straight loses to start the season to his team transitioning from football season to basketball season.
While Salvino is pleased with how his team is progressing, he knows how tough the competition is in Section 3-A. While Clairton remains a mystery, Salvino is impressed with the play of Lawless and Carmichaels.
“Carmichaels does a good job down there,” Salvino said. “They have Lawless and that will make them a good team. One of the things about him is he can go inside or outside. If you put a forward on him, he’s going to take it outside; if you put a guard on him, he’ll take it inside. If you don’t have an athletic forward who can watch him, you can be in for a rough time.”
Avella: The Eagles (1-4) return a bulk of the players who finished at the bottom of Section 3-A last season with a 3-18 record.
With Brandon Miller, Walt Eopeo, Bill McKee, Joe Gaglioni and Ryan Cooper back, Avella will look to make its first playoff appearance in two years. The Eagles lost only one starter.
Mapletown: The Maples (1-4) will have the advantage of playing its section opener against a Clairton team that will have a late start to the season.
Mapletown finished 7-17 last year but defeated Leechburg for its first postseason victory since 1972. The Maples can be dangerous because of high-scoring Dereck Riggleman, who averages 26.3 points per game and had a 37-point game against Frazier.
Monessen: Greyhounds head coach Joe Salvino is pleased with his team’s start but knows that having a bulk of your lineup playing three months of football can be a disadvantage.
Led by Gillaspie, Justice Rawlins, Javon Brown and Noah Rullo, the Greyhounds (1-3) are starting to show the athleticism that had many projecting them to come out of the section as a top seed in the postseason.
Avella: The Eagles (4-0) finished with a Section 3-A title last season going 9-1 in league play.
Returning for Avella is Kenna Drazich, who averaged 10.1 points and five rebounds per game. The Eagles will miss the play of Olivia English and her 15.6 points and 10.7 rebounds.
California: Rarely does a team lose a strong senior class and barely skip a beat. California (3-2) is the exception. The Trojans are led by two freshmen who have made an instant impact – Kylie Huffman and Jenna Miller.
Huffman is averaging 18 points, 13.8 rebounds and six blocks per game for a California team that is looking to make the playoffs for the second-straight season under coach Chris Minerd.
Carmichaels: Carmichaels (2-4) has the advantage of having one of Section 3-A’s best players in Amanda Brown. The senior forward averaged 14.1 points, eight rebounds and two blocks last season. Junior guard Caroline Cree averaged 11.5 points as a sophomore.
Jefferson-Morgan: The Rockets (3-2) made the playoffs last season return Kayla Yorko, who averaged points per game. The Rockets will try to make just their second playoff appearance in 12 years.
Mapletown: Things are already looking better for Mapletown (1-5). The Maples were 0-18 last season and snapped a 34-game losing streak by defeating Western Beaver earlier this week.
West Greene: West Greene (3-0), the only area girls team to win a playoff game in each fo the last two seasons, is off to a strong start. Madison Raber (18.5 points per game last season) is less than 300 points away from 1,000 for her career.