A-K Valley basketball notebook: Section shake-up rekindles rivalries

Friday, February 23, 2018 | 12:21 AM

If coaches anywhere can count on one constant, it's change.

That oxymoron aside, WPIAL basketball will undergo a shake-up over the next two seasons as a result of new sections released this week. The PIAA's every-two-year realignment, which classifies schools based on enrollment size, necessitated the changes.

In the Alle-Kiski Valley, six boys basketball teams and three girls teams dropped classifications under the PIAA's new numbers. Deer Lakes and Valley (Class 4A to 3A) and Leechburg (2A to A) dropped in boys and girls basketball, while the Plum boys dropped from 6A to 5A. The Highlands boys dropped from 5A to 4A, and the Apollo-Ridge boys dropped from 3A to 2A.

Meanwhile, the Apollo-Ridge girls elected to “play up” in Class 4A rather than remain in 3A.

As a result of the move, several local rivalries will be rekindled or started:

• The Burrell and Valley section rivalry will resume in boys basketball, as the Vikings dropped to the Bucs' Section 3-3A along with Deer Lakes.

• Apollo-Ridge, formerly of boys Section 3-3A, will join Riverview and Springdale in Section 1-2A.

St. Joseph's boys and girls teams regained a local rival in Leechburg, which dropped to the Spartans' Section 3-A.

• Although Freeport lost local rivals in Deer Lakes and Valley in boys Section 1-4A, those were offset by the addition of Highlands and Knoch from 5A.

• Girls Section 1-4A lost Deer Lakes and Valley but gained Apollo-Ridge, Greensburg Salem and Indiana and kept Burrell, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, Freeport and Knoch. Deer Lakes and Valley will stay together in Section 3-3A.

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Highlands engineered one of the more significant turnarounds in WPIAL boys basketball in recent seasons, and the Golden Rams will face a team that can relate in their postseason opener.

No. 7 West Allegheny, Highlands' opponent in Friday's WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals, won just one game in 2016-17, but the Indians improved by 10 victories this season, finishing third in Section 2-5A behind Moon and Mars.

Highlands' own resurgence began after a 1-21 season in 2012-13, Tyler Stoczynski's first as coach. The Golden Rams made the playoffs by Stoczynski's third season and haven't missed since, advancing to the WPIAL championship game in 2016. This season, Highlands (17-4) claimed a share of the Section 3-5A championship and received the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

West Allegheny beat Laurel Highlands, 63-54, in the first round, holding down Mustangs star Bryce Laskey — the second-leading scorer in the WPIAL — for much of the game. Laskey scored 32 points, but much of it came late in the fourth quarter.

Highlands brings a different offensive approach, with four players averaging double figures in scoring and a fifth putting up 8.2 points per game. The Golden Rams won 15 of their final 16 regular-season games.

Milestone marker

A few girls basketball players went into the WPIAL quarterfinals on the cusp of 1,000 career points.

St. Joseph senior Chloe Kurpakus enters the Spartans' Class A quarterfinal against Quigley Catholic with 949 points, with a chance to join classmate Alex Jones in the 1,000-point club. Kurpakus, who averages 19.1 points, scored 27 in a first-round win over Geibel.

Leechburg's senior tandem of Cameron Davies and Brittany Robilio have 973 and 926 career points, respectively. Another classmate, Mikayla Lovelace, reached 2,000 points last week. Davies ranks first all-time at Leechburg with 238 3-pointers.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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