Bethel Park senior makes impact during inaugural Western Pa. girls high school hockey season

Saturday, May 21, 2022 | 2:30 PM

Bethel Park’s Cameran Evans is making the most of her chances in the inaugural season of the PIHL girls division.

Evans, a senior forward, was the leading scorer for the Southwest team in games played through mid-May with seven goals and three assists.

“Cam is a very skilled hockey player,” Southwest coach Alli Paratore said. “Her main strengths are her speed and stick skills. She’s the type of player who makes hockey look easy.”

Evans is one of four Bethel Park students on the Southwest squad, along with sophomore forward Lidia Lorenzi and sophomore defenders Nina Romary and Samantha Kern.

“I think it’s a great boost for girls hockey in Pittsburgh, a growing community for sure. It’s definitely a great opportunity for girls,” Evans said. “High school hockey isn’t the safest game for girls, especially with the guys being so much taller and stronger. This is a nice way to give us our own season.

“It’s nice to meet new girls from other schools and even my own school. I’ve played on an all-girls team the last six years, so nothing new here for me.”

There are 16 girls on the Southwest team — three seniors, three juniors, six sophomores and four freshmen.

“I have high expectations for Southwest this season,” Evans said, “especially with us growing as a team the last few games. Every game, we’ve become better than the last. Expectations are high for the playoffs.

“There are beatable teams that we’ve fallen just short to, but I think we’ll be ready to go when the puck drops next time.”

Evans started skating when she was about 3 or 4, then competed with the Little Penguins.

“My dad (Jason) coached the RMU men’s club the first several years of my life, then shifted over to women’s hockey at Chatham University and that was a huge impact on my decision to play,” Evans said. “Always being at the rink and having continuous games to watch, I fell in love.

“I’ve always seen the game on a different level. After my first Pens game at six days old, it was just in my blood. I played four years on the all-girls team at Steel City Selects and then made my move to the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite last season. This season, I am packing my bags and heading to Florida to play for the Florida Alliance 19U Tier 1 team. I’m extremely excited.”

Evans plans to attend a four-year college to play NCAA ice hockey.

“I am looking forward to it,” she said.

Team Southwest is made up of players from Bethel Park, Brooke, Canon-McMillan, Carrick, Chartiers Valley, John Marshall, Morgantown, Mt. Lebanon and Wheeling Park high schools.

Other Southwest team members this year include sophomore defender Madelin Bank, freshman defender Athena Renton, junior forward Kelcie Stack and freshman forward Alina Donahue from Mt. Lebanon, and Abby Daffner, a freshman, and Chloe Downey, a junior, from Chartiers Valley.

Renton netted the game-winning goal in overtime May 10 to lift the Southwest team to a 4-3 win over the Southeast. Renton scored her second goal in league play at the 1:49 mark in OT.

Morgantown’s Robin Anderson, a junior forward, Wheeling Park’s Alexa Carney, a sophomore forward, Brooke’s Kirsten Lallone, a sophomore goaltender, John Marshall’s Gretchen Rine, a senior defender, Carrick’s Alexandra Chappell, a freshman forward, and Canon-McMillan’s Svetlana Yarosh, a senior forward, round out the squad.

More than 100 players signed up to participate in the inaugural season of the PIHL girls division, which has the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation as a financial backer. Along with the Southwest, there are five other teams: Central, East, North, Southeast and West.

“Girls hockey has definitely been in the spotlight recently. I think the PIHL getting more involved has been great,” Paratore, 30, said. “A majority of these girls have never been given the opportunity to represent their school within their sport, and it means a lot to them. I’ve noticed this is huge for these girls, especially within the Pittsburgh area.

“This inaugural season is (being held) to get more girls involved. The league is supposed to be a chance for all girls to share a common space where they don’t have to prove themselves to play the game we all love.”

The history-making PIHL season was supposed to start in 2020; however, those plans were put on hold in the early days of the pandemic.

Games are held at Alpha Ice in Harmar, Ice Castle in Castle Shannon and the RMU Ice Complex on Neville Island.

As of May 16, the Southwest was tied for fourth place with the East with a 2-4 record. The top three in the standings were the West (6-0), Central (5-2) and North (3-2-0-1).

Paratore, who is assisted by Nick Battista, Mike Dale and Caitlin Dee, believes high school coaches should be role models for the players.

“I like to believe my coaching staff and myself are a bit different when it comes to coaching,” Paratore said. “I like to say we aren’t your average coaches. We’ve always been about developing our players, being competitive, yet still having fun. But we aren’t going to run the girls through a practice and then not talk until the next practice or game. We want to be the coaches that we wanted when we were their age, role models who these girls can look up to.

“Coach Caitlin and myself can definitely relate as we were once in their shoes. There’s more to the game than just the on-ice portion. Respect is my No. 1 rule for all the teams I coach, the way my girls carry themselves both on and off the ice. We hope these girls remember they are the pioneers of the PIHL girls division. They are playing for more than just themselves within this league.”

Paratore has an extensive hockey background. She grew up in Johnstown and played co-ed hockey for the Warriors for five years.

“After being hit from behind in a middle school game, I transitioned to only playing on all-girls teams throughout the Pittsburgh area,” she said.

Paratore eventually developed into a two-time All-American while playing for the ACHA D2 club team at Cal (Pa.).

“I’ve coached different developmental clinics on and off since college, but have really found my niche with the South Hills Panthers girls program,” Paratore said. “I’ve been involved with SHAHA since 2018, helping with numerous programs and teams.

“As a female coach, I still get the stares and sometimes have to prove I deserve to be there. Girls, however, are a different breed. They have more finesse to their game. I always say, girls are people pleasers. In girls hockey, you can’t hit; it’s still very physical, but it’s all about angling.”


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