Bethel Park basketball teams power through ups, downs to earn playoff berths

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Saturday, February 19, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Both teams at Bethel Park qualified for the WPIAL basketball playoffs. Here is a rundown of their 2021-22 regular seasons:

Bethel Park girls

Bethel Park’s girls team displayed significant improvement in the second half of the season. The Black Hawks won eight of their last 10 games to end up 11-9 overall and 8-4 in Section 2-6A in Samantha Loadman’s rookie season as coach.

Loadman took over for longtime coach Jonna Burke, who resigned to become a coach and physical education teacher at Shady Side Academy.

“I think my experience of being an assistant coach for 10 years prepared me for this head coaching role,” said Loadman, a Bethel Park and Mercyhurst graduate. “Being the head coach, you definitely have to adapt to a lot of different situations. The role is more varied as you have to think about tiny details that happen even before the game starts.

“As the year progressed, I definitely think I’ve grown in my role. Once you get into a rhythm and have your system in place, everything starts to come together.”

Bethel Park finished third in the section behind Mt. Lebanon (11-1) and Upper St. Clair (9-3). The Black Hawks swept the season series with USC, winning by scores of 52-47 and 53-44.

“I am proud of the team and all they accomplished during the regular season,” Loadman said. “We had a couple of tough losses early on in the season, but those games provided us with some great experience. The team continues to work hard and gets better every day. We have strong veteran leadership.

“There’s been a lot of improvement both individually and as a team as the year has progressed. Different players are stepping up each night and helping us win big games.”

Senior guard Emma Dziezgowski, a Wheeling University recruit, averaged a team-high 20 points per game to go with seven rebounds per game during the regular season.

“We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs this season,” she said, “but overall, we’ve worked through so much adversity and have really played together as a team, and it has helped us come out on top in so many games. ”

Dziezgowski indicated that one of the team’s strengths is its strong “inside to outside” ball movement. She also noted the Black Hawks have formed a strong team bond in 2021-22.

“We’ve really come together this season, whether it’s on the court or off of it,” the 5-foot-7 Dziezgowski said. “Our trust in one another has helped us overcome so many tough battles in games and has helped us get one more step closer to our goal of making it to the WPIAL championship.”

Two other leading backcourt players for the Black Hawks were junior Mary Boff and senior Riley Miller. Boff averaged nine points and three steals per game, while Miller averaged 3.3 assists and 4.5 points. Logan Burke, a 5-10 sophomore guard, also saw valuable minutes.

The top frontcourt players for BP this season were sophomore Rebecca Gillenberger, a 5-11 forward, junior Sophia Nath, a 5-10 guard/forward, and junior Olivia Willig, a 5-7 guard/forward. They were complemented on the boards by juniors Isabella Bomar, a 5-11 forward, and Carley O’Mara, a 5-10 forward, and up-and-coming freshman Ella Sabatos, a 5-11 guard/forward.

The BP girls were looking to surprise a few teams in the WPIAL playoffs after winning their final three games and four of their last five, including a season-ending 63-62 thriller Feb. 14 against North Catholic, the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs.

Boff led the Black Hawks with 25 points, while Sabatos had 12 and Dziezgowski chipped in with 11. Boff sank one of two free throws with 1.6 seconds left in the game to give her team the one-point lead.

Bethel Park received a first-round bye as the No. 5 seed in Class 6A with a quarterfinal-round game Feb. 23 against No. 4 Norwin.

“The 6A playoffs will be fun to watch,” Loadman said. “There are a lot of good teams competing. I think we can make a run during the playoff stretch and surprise a few teams.”

Loadman graduated from Bethel Park in 2007 and was a four-year starter in basketball as a 5-9 guard, amassing more than 1,000 career points and helping the Black Hawks to three section titles and one WPIAL runner-up finish.

She began her coaching career as an assistant at Bethel Park in 2011-12 and spent the following season at Chatham.

Bethel Park boys

Bethel Park’s boys team started strong in 2021-22, posting a sizzling 10-1 record in the first half of the season.

It turned out to be a year of mini-streaks for the Black Hawks. They opened the season with winning streaks of three and serven games, then lost two before winning four more in succession. After then losing three consecutive games, the Black Hawks ended the regular season with two more wins.

“After a great start in section and overall, we faced some adversity,” coach Josh Bears said. “We feel that it was a good thing in that it brought us closer together and made us all accountable as we enter the playoffs. I’m very happy with our young men have responded to the challenge.”

Bethel Park finished fourth at 5-5 in Section 2-6A and took a 16-6 record into the WPIAL playoffs. The Black Hawks landed the No. 10 seed in Class 6A with a first-round game Feb. 22 against No. 7 Pine-Richland.

“We expect to perform at our highest level,” Bears said prior to the game. “We feel as if we haven’t played our best basketball yet, but we are getting closer. Our goal is to do that and see where that takes us.”

Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon tied for first in the section with 7-3 records followed by Baldwin at 6-4 and Bethel Park. The Black Hawks defeated Peters Township and Canon-McMillan twice, split decisions with USC and lost twice to Mt. Lebanon and Baldwin.

The 48-44 win at home Jan. 11 against USC was huge, giving the Black Hawks a 3-0 record in the section.

“All the teams that we look at, they want to get out there and run and get out there and score points,” Bears said following the game. “Us being the team that plays this kind of style, we feel we have the advantage. It’s one thing to say we want to dirty the game up, but it’s hard to just do that. The credit goes to the kids.

“We said in the locker room before the game, you can’t call anything a must win in only the third section game of the season. But for us and our identity, we could have lost a close game and said, ‘OK, we’re an above-average team.’ What we talked about was, ‘Let’s put a stamp on it. Let’s get ourselves in the conversation.’”

Bethel Park’s starting lineup against USC consisted of senior Jaden Goodman, junior Ben Guffey and senior Anthony Watson at guard and two seniors, Dolan Waldo, an athletic 6-foot-6 forward and IUP basketball commit, and Max Blanc, a three-sport standout and Youngstown State football recruit, in the frontcourt.

“I’m very impressed with our regular season,” Waldo said. “We started off strong, ran into some issues offensively on the way, but we bounced back and are ready to make a run in the postseason. If we play well inside and out offensively and continue to play strong defense, we can definitely make huge run.

Waldo led the team in scoring in the regular season after recovering from a serious ankle injury suffered in the summer.

“I think I had a strong season,” he said, “and surprised everyone by coming back from my injury. I just completely blew out my ankle.”

Top reserves for the Black Hawks include junior guard Austin Caye, who also saw starting time, and senior Joe Thimons, junior guard/forward Aidan Currie, junior Tyler Stewart and sophomore Shawn Davis in the frontcourt.

The team’s leading rebounders this season were Blanc and Goodman, both 6-5 forwards, Waldo, Watson, Thimons, Stewart and Davis.

“This is a strong group of young men that have been through a lot individually and as a team,” Bears said. “Their experience makes them who they are. They have had to fight for this chance in many different ways.

“We focused on setting our own expectations around our team culture. We wanted to be unselfish, work hard and be tough. If we could consistently develop those attributes, we could put ourselves in a position to be successful. There isn’t any selfishness or jealously about scoring, minutes or roles being played. This enables us to play a unique, defensive style of basketball. We are able to capitalize on our length and athleticism because nobody cares about how many points they are scoring individually.

“I’m really proud of them and excited to see how far they can take this team.”

The defensive-minded Black Hawks gave up 45 points per game during the regular season while scoring at a 52 point-per-game clip.

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