All A-K Valley girls basketball teams intend to compete in playoffs

Wednesday, February 17, 2021 | 5:15 PM

The WPIAL Board of Directors in December, fearing covid cancellations and other interruptions to team schedules would create unbalanced section standings, voted to have the basketball playoffs decided with open-tournament formats.

As of Wednesday, all 14 Alle-Kiski Valley girls teams plan to participate.

“We’re young, and our numbers aren’t the greatest, but the girls keep playing hard every time,” said Valley coach Ernie Sipolino, whose team has played just six games.

The Vikings fell to 1-5 overall and 0-4 in Section 1-4A with Tuesday’s loss at Springdale.

“We’re going, and I don’t care if we play the No. 1 team in the state or the country,” Sipolino said.

“We’re going to do it, even if it’s just for the experience. The girls will not back down from any challenge. We’ve had some tough experiences this year, but they keep fighting. The kids deserve the opportunity.”

First-year Springdale coach Jerry Clark echoes those sentiments. Tuesday’s win over Valley was its fourth in 14 games this year. Springdale is 1-5 in Section 4-2A.

“I decided (to enter the playoffs) when I saw how this team practiced and how hard they worked. They deserved an opportunity,” Clark said.

“I am a first-year coach rebuilding the girls program here at Springdale, so I thought this was a great opportunity to get our team a little extra exposure.

“I really feel we made some strides this season as we snapped long home and section losing streaks. I have a hard-working group of really awesome young athletes, so while I hoped our record could get us in organically, I put them in based on how well they have performed thus far.”

The window opened Feb. 1 for teams to inform the WPIAL if they will take part in the playoffs. It closes Thursday at 3 p.m.

The WPIAL basketball steering committee is expected to meet Tuesday to seed each of the 12 tournaments with the brackets to be released later in the day. The first round will start Feb. 27.

Deer Lakes will make its area-best seventh straight trip to the WPIAL playoffs. Freeport and Plum will be in the postseason for the fifth year in a row, and Riverview and Knoch will be in the mix for the fourth time in as many seasons.

Fox Chapel, at 7-4 in Section 2-5A and 8-6 overall, is scheduled to close section play Thursday at home against Indiana. Barring any postponements, the section is scheduled to have every game played by Feb. 25.

“We always assumed that whether it was the open or normal format we would be in the conversation,” said Fox Chapel coach Marty Matvey. “The girls having been playing well and are looking forward to what they can do (in the playoffs).”

Under the normal format, the Foxes would have clinched a playoff spot with last Friday’s home win over Plum.

In Section 4-A, which includes Valley, Freeport, Burrell and Deer Lakes, only Highlands has a chance to finish its section schedule. The Golden Rams are set to meet Valley on Monday and Deer Lakes on Wednesday. Some teams could leave up to four section games on the table by the last day of the regular season Feb. 26.

Knoch, which won all seven of its section games before entering into a covid pause Feb. 8, returns to the court next week and hopes to play a game Feb. 25 in advance of the playoffs.

A pair of games between rivals Deer Lakes and Freeport were nixed this week. The Yellowjackets, 7-1 in the section, are slated to play nonsection games at Gateway on Thursday and at home against Kiski Area on Saturday before the section finale Feb. 24 against Valley.

“Our section is the epitome of what they thought might happen,” said Burrell coach Joel Ceraso, whose team was 5-8 overall and 2-5 heading into its section matchup Wednesday with Highlands.

“Teams are going to be slotted in the standings without the chance to move up. It would prevent a clear outcome for the WPIALs to work with.”

Burrell will be in a playoff tournament for the first time since the 2016-17 season.

“It will be a different experience from the normal playoffs,” Ceraso said. “There’s not going to be the same playoff atmosphere with other games going on that you normally see. But the girls are excited just the same to have the opportunity. Hopefully, we can go in, compete pick up a victory and see what happens after that.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .

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