Breaking down the 2021 WPIAL girls basketball playoffs

Tuesday, February 23, 2021 | 8:48 PM

Here is a breakdown of the 2020-21 WPIAL girls basketball playoffs:

Class 6A

Favorite: Defending champion North Allegheny (18-1) was cruising along on a 30-game winning streak when it was clipped by Class 5A No. 1 Trinity, 59-56. Still, the Tigers remain the cream of the crop in the WPIAL’s largest classification, with their balanced scoring punch, defensive play and extensive depth. Senior guard Lizzy Groetsch is a Penn commit, while 6-foot senior forward Paige Morningstar is a Louisville volleyball recruit. Also watch quick sophomore guard Jasmine Timmerson. Remember, the Tigers have won three of the four WPIAL titles since 6A began in 2017. They were 24-3 last year and had their PIAA run stalled in the state quarterfinals when the pandemic shut down the tournament.

Challengers: Section 2 leader Upper St. Clair has won 11 straight games and is one of four 6A teams allowing fewer than 40 points. The Panthers lost by 24 to North Allegheny but were not at full strength. … Mt. Lebanon features standout junior Ashleigh Connor (21 ppg), who has multiple Division I offers, including Kennesaw State. The Blue Devils had both section games against Upper St. Clair postponed. … Returning WPIAL runner-up Bethel Park, also from Section 2, only lost by two against Upper St. Clair. The Black Hawks scored 80 points against Moon. They did not play Mt. Lebanon. Senior guard Olivia Westphal (24 ppg), a Duquesne commit, is ranked 90th in ESPN’s Top 100 prospects for the Class of 2021.

Don’t overlook: Norwin. A sound defensive team, the guard-oriented Knights have a nice mix of young and experienced talent. They have wins over Trinity and North Catholic.

Prediction: North Allegheny over Upper St. Clair

Class 5A

Favorite: Trinity (16-1) is on a roll with 12 straight wins after its only defeat of the season, a 54-43 loss to Norwin on Jan. 16. The Hillers, behind the leadership of senior forward Courtney Dahlquist, senior guard Kaylin Venick and junior guard Alyssa Clutter, snapped Chartiers Valley’s state-record 64-game winning streak with a 49-42 triumph Jan. 23. The contest was a battle of sibling coaches as Trinity coach Kathy McConnell-Miller is the sister of Chartiers Valley coach Tim McConnell. Dahlquist scored a game-best 19 in the win and leads the team in scoring at 18.5 ppg. Trinity averages 68 points and allows just 30.5.

Challengers: Chartiers Valley (15-3), the two-time defending WPIAL Class 5A champion, hopes to claim its fourth title in five years. The Colts lost by two to North Allegheny and fell to section rival Oakland Catholic, but they routed the Eagles, 78-52, in the other meeting between the teams. … Thomas Jefferson (10-7), paced by the scoring of junior guard Graci Fairman, has only lost twice in Section 3. Both came at the hands of Trinity. … Woodland Hills (10-4), a WPIAL semifinalist last year, topped Section 4 rival Latrobe (10-2), 56-43, on Feb. 18 behind a game-best 16 points from Kayla Walter. The Wolverines have won seven of their last eight games. … Section 2 champion Hampton (13-4) has won its past five games after a three-game skid.

Don’t overlook: Latrobe averaged 51.7 points through 12 games. The Wildcats, an experienced team that returned all five starters from last year’s 12-10 squad that missed the playoffs by one game, swept section rival McKeesport. One of its two losses came at the hands of Class 6A Upper St. Clair. Anna Rafferty (14.0 ppg.) and Emma Blair (13.0 ppg.) lead the way for the Wildcats. Each averages a double-double.

Prediction: Trinity over Chartiers Valley

Class 4A

Favorite: A WPIAL Class 3A finalist last year, Beaver (15-0) survived a test Monday against Blackhawk (11-5), winning 34-32, and the Bobcats beat the Cougars by 17 on Jan. 28. It was the closest game for Beaver this season, which is outscoring opponents by 28.6 points a game. Junior guard/forward Payton List (17.3 ppg.) and senior point guard Emma Pavelek have paced the Bobcats. Pavelek, who surpassed 1,000 points last year, is a Navy recruit who averages 15.4 points. Beaver’s next victory will be the 200th for coach Greg Huston (199-82) at the helm of the Bobcats, who are seeking their first WPIAL title.

Challengers: Southmoreland finished as last year’s Class 4A runner-up to North Catholic. The Scotties (14-3) lost just once in Section 3, a one-point setback to West Mifflin (7-3) on Jan. 19. Southmoreland beat West Mifflin by 17 on Feb. 1. Its only other losses have come to Thomas Jefferson and Latrobe. … Quaker Valley (12-4), led by senior Bailey Garbee at 16 points per game, owns a win over Class 5A Hampton and lost by just three to both Beaver and Class 6A Mt. Lebanon (14-3). … Knoch, out for the past two weeks under a covid pause, hopes to revive its season with a strong WPIAL run. The Knights, led by the scoring of senior Nevaeh Ewing (17.3 ppg.), junior Madilyn Boyer (15.3) and sophomore Nina Shaw (14.8), have lost just once in eight games, falling to Class 3A Laurel (15-2) on Feb. 6.

Don’t overlook: Blackhawk (11-5) has battled through a challenging Section 2 with Beaver and Quaker Valley. The Cougars’ only Class 4A losses have come to the Bobcats and the Quakers. Blackhawk, a WPIAL semifinalist and PIAA qualifier last year, leads all of Class 4A scoring 62.3 points a game. Senior forward Jolie Strati (14.5 ppg.) is one of the team’s top scorers.

Prediction: Beaver over Quaker Valley

Class 3A

Favorite: North Catholic won the past four WPIAL championships in Class 4A, so when the Trojanettes were realigned into Class 3A, they immediately became the favorite to win that classification’s crown. Despite graduating nine players, North Catholic continued to find success this season, rolling to a 15-2 overall record with losses to Class 6A Mt. Lebanon and Norwin. The Trojanettes are led by freshman guards Alayna Rocco (14.8 ppg) and Ava Walker (12.4 ppg) as well as sophomore point guard Dacia Lewandowski (14.1 ppg), who has scholarship offers from Akron, Marshall, Navy and Toledo. Senior guard Tara Lucot also has been a key contributor after transferring from now-closed Vincentian Academy.

Challengers: Reigning WPIAL Class 3A champion Mohawk’s only losses were to North Catholic twice in Section 1 and to District 10 power Villa Maria Academy. The Warriors, who average a Class 3A-high 62.1 points, are led by senior guards Paige Julian (20.9 ppg), Nadia Lape (15.9 ppg) and Hannah McDanel (18.2 ppg). … Laurel was a WPIAL Class 2A finalist last season and entered Tuesday with just two losses in Section 1 — to Mohawk and North Catholic. … Brentwood (12-0) defeated every team on its schedule this season but only played one nonsection game, a blowout victory over Brownsville. The Spartans rely on a stingy defense that allows a classification-best 48.3 ppg. Freshman point guard Mallory Daly averages 18.4 ppg. … South Park went 7-0 in Section 2 but hasn’t played since Feb. 11. The Eagles are led by junior Nora Ozimek (15.0 ppg).

Don’t overlook: After finishing 7-15 overall last season, Waynesburg is 9-1 in Section 3 and has talented scorers in Kaley Rohanna (16.5 ppg) and Clara Paige Miller (15.4 ppg).

Prediction: North Catholic over Mohawk

Class 2A

Favorite: While Class 2A appears to be more up for grabs than other classifications, with several teams capable of making a run, Neshannock (13-2) is Class 2A’s highest-scoring team at 59.9 ppg behind Mairan Haggerty (19.0 ppg) and Neleh Nogay (17.6 ppg). The Lancers, who won the 2019 Class 3A title, had won 12 straight before falling to Sewickley Academy on Feb. 18.

Challengers: Serra Catholic (12-0) breezed to an unbeaten mark during the regular season, defeating all Section 2 opponents by at least 17 points. The Eagles, who also were the top seed last season, reached the WPIAL semifinals in 2020 before falling to Laurel. Chloe Pordash, Grace Navarro and Nicole Pawlowski are among the top scorers for Serra. … OLSH (12-4) shared the Section 1 title with Neshannock and the two split their season series. The Chargers, led by the balanced scoring of Grace Bradley, Emily Schuck and Kaleigh Costantino, played a challenging nonsection slate that included losses to North Catholic and Mt. Lebanon and wins over Bishop Canevin and Eden Christian. … Burgettstown (14-2) rolled to the Section 3 title unbeaten and has won eight straight games, including nonsection tilts against Lincoln Park, Charleroi, South Side and Bishop Canevin. … Winchester Thurston’s talented sophomore backcourt of Nadia Moore (20 ppg) and Maya Roberts (19 ppg), plus senior forward Nya Nicholson (15.1 ppg), led the Bears to the Section 4 title and an overall mark of 9-3. They are riding a six-game winning streak.

Don’t overlook: Sewickley Academy (11-5), which moved up from Class A this season, navigated a challenging Section 1 schedule with an experienced lineup, including Bre Warner (13.6 ppg), Kamryn Lightcap (12.7 ppg) and Quigley Catholic transfer Haley Drutarosky (12.4 ppg).

Prediction: Serra Catholic over Neshannock

Class A

Favorite: If Rochester can raise the trophy, the Rams will have themselves a WPIAL three-peat. The Rams (12-3), who took a 10-game winning streak into Tuesday, average 63 points and have not lost at home this season. They played a loaded schedule: Their losses are to 6A teams Seneca Valley and Bethel Park and 3A Mohawk. Top players for Rochester are senior guard Alexis Robison (17 ppg) and junior point guard Corryne Hauser (17 ppg).

Challengers: Section 2 champ West Greene, which fell to Rochester in the finals the past two seasons, took a 13-game winning streak into Tuesday’s game at West Mifflin. It has topped 80 points twice and leads Class A with a 63.7-point average. Jersey Wise is one of the better guards in the class. … Section 3-leading Aquinas Academy lost momentum with some late-season postponements but does have a win over Class 2A Apollo-Ridge. … Eden Christian (9-6) plays in Rochester’s section, so it is battle tested, but it averages less than 50 points. … The lone losses for Clairton (10-2) this season both were against Aquinas Academy.

Don’t overlook: Bishop Canevin (5-6), which finished third in Section 1, has won five WPIAL titles since 2013, including the Class 2A crown a year ago. The Crusaders, however, have lost five of their past six games.

Prediction: Rochester over West Greene

Watch the archive of the WPIAL Basketball Playoff Pairings Show on the TribLive High School Sports Network.


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