Despite being young, undersized, Seton LaSalle girls win 1st 4 section games

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Thursday, January 10, 2019 | 5:42 PM


Seton LaSalle’s girls basketball team just keeps plugging along.

Rebels won their first four section games this season before dropping a 46-34 decision Tuesday at Beth-Center.

The young and undersized Rebels, who opened the new year with 48-40 and 58-37 section wins against McGuffey and Charleroi, stood a game behind Washington in Section 2-3A.

Beth-Center (8-3, 4-1), Seton LaSalle (5-6, 4-1) and South Park (5-6, 4-1) were tied for second behind the Little Prexies (10-2, 5-2).

Seton LaSalle’s girls team is coached by Jordan Burkes, who is in her first season.

Burkes, 29, is a 2007 graduate of Montour, where she was a 6-foot guard/forward on the girls basketball team. She landed a scholarship to Seton Hill, enjoyed a highly productive career, and was inducted into the Seton Hill Athletic Hall of Fame in September 2018.

Burkes finished her college career with 1,451 points and 574 rebounds. She scored what was then a school-record 37 points against Shepherd in 2011.

Coaching-wise, Burkes served as an assistant at Montour for four years, followed by a three-year stint as a Chartiers Valley assistant. The Colts won the first WPIAL title in Class 5A in 2016-17.

“At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since I didn’t know much about our section coming from 5A,” Burkes said. “Starting and building a program with these girls was going to be most important. We knew with our tough schedule we were going to have to battle, and it was going to definitely be a learning experience.

“But I think it has helped build a mindset with these girls to not quit, give it everything you have, learn from it and fight together.”

Seton LaSalle’s starting lineup consists of sophomore point guard Emma Walsh, junior guard Chloe Lestitian, senior guard/forward Savanna Carr, and junior guard/forwards Vanessa Hudson and Sarah Merlina.

Carr, the team’s tallest player at 5-foot-8, is the only senior on the team.

“Seton LaSalle has a great basketball tradition, so our expectation is always to compete for a section championship and qualify for the WPIAL playoffs,” Lestitian said. “With only one senior, five new starters and many new players with important roles, we strive to improve each practice and game. We also had a rough out-of-section schedule which prepared us for section play.

“This team is like a family. Each time we step onto the court, we are working to help each other improve and represent our school to the best of our ability.”

Freshmen guards Ava Dursi and Mackenzie Canavan are top reserves, complemented by Grace Warner, Marah Tucci, Paige Prusak, Emily Lupinacci, Maggie Wilson and Rebecca Crawford also in reserve roles.

“Everyone has grasped their new roles this year,” Lestitian said. “Each game, we all work to help each other. This is an unselfish team committed to working together. We also have positive attitudes and focused practices.

“We will continue to work hard in order to learn and improve each game. Our section is filled with terrific teams that all also work hard. We hope to contend for the section championship and make an appearance in the WPIAL playoffs.”

Seton LaSalle has important games against Washington (Jan. 10) and South Park (Jan. 14) on its schedule as the first half of the section campaign winds down.

“Moving forward, we have to keep battling and learning,” Burkes said. “We only want to move up from here.”

Burkes was a three-time all-conference selection at Seton Hill, earning first team honors her junior and senior seasons.

She helped the Griffins to their first NCAA postseason appearance as a junior, and was named to the NCAA Atlantic Region all-tournament team for her performance. Seton Hill qualified for the WVIAC tournament in three of Burkes’ four seasons, and she was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team as a senior.

Burkes is assisted at Seton LaSalle by former Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and Saint Vincent basketball standout Devin McGrath. The coaching tandem believes in instilling a family attitude in a high school hoops program.

“Communication, effort and heart are key,” Burkes said. “It is about having intensity and playing the right way. We are a family.”

The Seton girls believe its been a smooth transition in getting to know the new coaches’ styles and philosophies.

“Both coach Jordan and coach Devin are new this year, and they have been great,” Lestitian said. “Although they haven’t been with us for long, they have a strong bond with each of us. There is excellent communication between the coaches and the players.

“Coach Jordan and coach Devin are wonderful role models for us, whether it’s for basketball or just life in general. We all know they have our backs both on and off the court. They have confidence in us, and we have confidence in them.”

All five of Seton LaSalle’s nonsection losses have come against higher division opponents — 6A Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park, 5A Oakland Catholic, and 4A Keystone Oaks and Ambridge.

The Rebels defeated 2A Jeannette, 39-24, in the season-opening tip-off tournament at Oakland Catholic.

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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