Altavilla leaves legacy in Baldwin girls basketball program

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Sunday, March 27, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Athleticism is deeply rooted in her family.

It’s in the genes.

Senior hoopster Morgan Altavilla, 17, carried on the athletic tradition established in recent years at Baldwin by her older brothers, Doug and Nick.

Baldwin’s second-year basketball coach Jamal Woodson labeled Altavilla as one of the top female players in the WPIAL prior to the start of the season.

“Morgan was not only one of our captains but a huge contributor to our team’s success,” Woodson said. “She was one of the top scorers and players in the WPIAL. Losing her is going to be very hard. It is hard to find a player that never misses a practice, leads the team and is among the leaders in WPIAL scoring.”

A highly energetic 5-foot-6 guard, Altavilla averaged 20 points in 2021-22 and netted a career-high 32 points Feb. 7 in a 67-53 section win at Hempfield. She also peppered in 28 points several times this year.

“This was by far the most successful season I’ve had, not only with scoring, but also developing into the player and person I am today,” Altavilla said. “Scoring was the not my main focus this season. I just went out there and had fun with my teammates. And they were the ones who made me as successful as I was. I give all the credit to them.”

Altavilla was a four-year varsity player who also led the team in scoring as a junior. She has a 4.1 GPA, is vice president of the National Honor Society and is a member of the Special Olympics and Best Buddies programs at Baldwin.

“Morgan is the perfect player for a coach,” Woodson said. “She takes criticism very well and gives it to her teammates at the same time. When the team was not doing well in practice, Morgan stepped up and challenged the team to do better. The girls always listened and respected what she had to say.

“Morgan has lived and breathed Baldwin basketball since she was a toddler. She is the definition of what it means to live and breathe Baldwin basketball. Losing her will be a tremendous loss.”

Altavilla plans to continue her athletic and academic careers at the next level while majoring in engineering. She has been considering several college options, including Washington & Jefferson, Penn State Behrend, Fairmont State, Millersville, Saint Vincent, Chatham and West Virginia Wesleyan.

“I plan to make my decision very soon,” Altavilla said. “With that being said, I am still visiting a couple more schools.”

Altavilla’s brother Doug, now 24, set career passing records at quarterback at Baldwin and Mercyhurst. He was a three-sport standout (football, basketball, baseball) in a brilliant varsity career, graduated from high school in 2015 and currently is studying pharmacy as a graduate student at Pitt.

Nick Altavilla, 23, followed his older brother to Mercyhurst, where he started at wide receiver. He graduated from Baldwin in 2016 after completing a stellar three-sport career (football, basketball, track).

Nick also is in graduate school; he is in Iowa at Palmer Chiropractor School.

“My two older brothers definitely set the expectation for me,” Morgan said, “and I am forever grateful that I have such influential people in my life to look up to. Growing up with two older brothers definitely brought up my competitive edge.”

The Altavilla siblings are cousins of Dan Altavilla, who became the highest major-league draft pick in Mercyhurst baseball history when he was selected in the fifth round by Seattle in 2014.

Two other cousins, Olivia and Sophia, competed for the Baldwin girls swimming team a few years back.

And if that isn’t enough high-tier athleticism in the family, the Altavilla’s parents, Doug and Kelly, both were high school athletes. Doug ran cross country and track and swam at Baldwin. Kelly competed in softball at Keystone Oaks.

The highlight of Morgan Altavilla’s high school basketball career took place during her pandemic-marred sophomore season.

And it was a shocker.

The Highlanders defeated Central Dauphin, the No. 1 Class 6A team in the state, by a 42-35 score in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.

“My greatest memory would have to be from my sophomore year,” Altavilla said. “Right before we were hit with the pandemic, the state playoffs were getting started. At the time, we had only clinched a spot by a hair. We lost in the first round in the WPIAL playoffs to North Allegheny, and when (NA) won the championship that gave us an opportunity to go to states.

“We were to play the No. 1 team, and right when we heard that, we knew we had work to do. None of us were scared. We had a great amount of confidence, and the only people who believed in us were us. We shocked everyone, and it was a memory and accomplishment that I will never forget.”

Competing in the WPIAL’s highest classification, Altavilla competed against many elite athletes during her hoops career. One stood out.

“The best player I played against in high school was Makenna Marisa,” Altavilla said. “She played for Peters Township, and when I was a freshman she was a senior. It was tough going up against her.”

When she graduates, Altavilla will have earned nine varsity letters with four in basketball and track and one in cross country.

This season, the Baldwin hoopsters went through a rebuilding process. The Highlanders ended up 12-9 and 5-7 (fifth place) in Section 2-6A.

“I think overall our team performed well, but as always there was room to improve,” Altavilla said. “We clicked really well at the beginning of our season, then hit a wall. Towards the last few games, we got into the swing again. Unfortunately, it was too late as we were a few games short of making the playoffs.”

Woodson put a unique spin on the campaign. His proverbial glass isn’t normally half empty or half filled but rather overflows with positive enthusiasm.

“This season was great,” he said. “We didn’t make the playoffs, but our record did not dictate our success. We had a small group of players because we had a lot of seniors graduate (last year). But the players that we had were all in, which made it a joy to coach.

“Our season was filled with ups and downs when it came to wins and losses. We lost too many close games.”

Baldwin’s player rotation included the likes of Altavilla, sophomore guard Katie Lucarelli, senior forward Heidi Johnston, junior G/F Gianna Schoeb, senior G/F and Bethany recruit Liv Cox, junior guard Bri Swailes, sophomore guard Mallory Mezevich and freshman guard Mary Vargo.

“Katie was our point guard, and all the plays ran through her. She did a tremendous job being our second captain and leading us to many victories,” Woodson said. “Heidi was one of the most underrated players in the WPIAL. She can jump out of the gym, grab rebounds and was our second-leading scorer.

“Gia gave us the motivation we needed and was all in every practice and game. She was very encouraging to the players. And Bri was our best defender. When we needed to take the other team’s best scorer out of the game, Bri was ready for the task.”

Altavilla, Johnston and Cox were the seniors on the squad.

“Liv will be hard to lose and hard to replace,” Woodson said. “She works hard and was always ready to hit big shots when we needed it.

“Mallory was scrappy and made really nice passes that put our players in a position to score.”

Two other young players expected to return and make contributions in the backcourt are freshman Alayla Bivins and sophomore Ronnie Ott.

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