Cager Classic last hurrah for longtime high school teammates
Thursday, March 22, 2018 | 11:36 PM
Cam Davies, Mikayla Lovelace and Brittany Robilio played more than 90 games together over the past four seasons at Leechburg, breaking school records and laying a foundation for future Blue Devils teams.
That makes it difficult to recognize the finality of Saturday's Cager Classic, their final time on the floor together as teammates. Davies, Lovelace and Robilio — half of Leechburg's record-breaking group of six seniors — will play for the East girls team at the Cager, which begins at 5:45 p.m. Saturday at Highlands.
“Honestly, it doesn't even feel like we're done yet because we haven't stopped since literally fourth grade,” Davies said. “I think whenever summer hits and we're all going to separate places, it's really going to be like, wow, this is actually over.”
The Cager Classic, which includes a skill competition at 7 p.m. Friday at Highlands before the girls and boys games Saturday, will serve as one final game together for several groups of teammates: the Leechburg trio on the East girls; Valley's Dru Stokes and Alex Ward and Highlands' Shawn Erceg, Romello Freeman and Christian Tanilli on the East boys; Freeport's Asti Brestensky and Jenna Manke, St. Joseph's Alex Jones and Chloe Kurpakus and Knoch's Emily Fraser and Casey Kretzer on the West girls; and Freeport's Ben Beale and Damon Shiring on the West boys team.
“It's going to be the best because they're my best friends,” Freeman said. “(Ryan Signorella) should have been here, too. I love them. They're like my brothers. I want to do everything with them.”
Freeman and his fellow Highlands stars are coming off a run to the PIAA quarterfinals, just the most recent in a string of accomplishments for the sets of players competing one last time together Saturday.
Brestensky and Manke were part of Freeport's PIAA playoff team last season. Stokes and Ward helped lead Valley to back-to-back playoff appearances, including a PIAA tournament bid this season. Beale and Shiring helped Freeport reach the WPIAL playoffs this year, as did Fraser and Kretzer with Knoch. Jones and Kurpakus teamed up to help St. Joseph reach the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA playoffs last year and make another WPIAL run this year.
“We've all become close over the last four years and jelled really well,” Jones said. “I think we all became a family.”
Leechburg's seniors did the most heavy lifting, taking a moribund program that won 12 games combined in the eight seasons before their arrival and making three playoff appearances, winning a pair of WPIAL playoff games — the first two such victories in school history — making the state playoffs twice and getting a PIAA tournament win, which also were program firsts.
“Over the years, as a person, each one of has grown,” Robilio said. “And as a team, we've grown closer to each other.”
Davies, Lovelace and Robilio, along with fellow seniors Hannah Berry, Makenzie Fello and Daesha Knight, helped establish a tradition at Leechburg that will stand for years. Lovelace scored more than 2,000 career points, the most in school history, and Davies set a program record for 3-pointers.
“The fact that we've inspired our school, now we see a lot more girls coming out for basketball camps,” Lovelace said. “There's all these girls who come up to us after games and say, ‘We want to be just like you.' When we were growing up, it was just like the boys playing basketball. ‘We want to be just like the boys.' Now we're changing it, and girls actually are wanting to be like us. We're like mentoring the youth, and now Leechburg basketball can continue with everybody knowing the girls and the boys.”
Freeman said he and his Highlands teammates discussed on senior night the possibility of playing one final home game together at the Cager. That opportunity is here.
“It's fun. It's going to be the real deal,” Freeman said. “It's going to be sad when it's over and we're done with basketball high school stuff, so we're not going to take this for granted.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.
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