Excitement builds for St. Joseph girls after playoff stunner

Sunday, November 27, 2022 | 5:03 PM

The St. Joseph girls basketball team pulled off one of the most stunning upsets across all sports in the WPIAL last season when it knocked off three-time defending Class A champion Rochester in the quarterfinals.

It did so with a really young team and returns four starters, so there’s excitement within the program as a new season approaches.

“We aren’t going to surprise anybody anymore after last year,” Spartans coach Dennis Jones said. “It was an exciting win against Rochester. We’re hoping that it can springboard us to a good season, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

The Spartans were 10-15 overall last year but hit their stride late playing with a lineup consisting mainly of freshmen and sophomores. They lost to Aquinas Academy in the WPIAL semifinals but earned a state playoff berth, falling to Shanksville-Stonycreek in the first round.

Trinity Lockwood-Morris was the lone graduate, and the four returning starters are underclassmen.

Julie Spinelli, Anna Kreinbrook and Emma Swierczewski are juniors, and Gia Richter is a sophomore.

Jones said what helped them pull the upset over Rochester was that everybody contributed. Each starter scored eight to 12 points.

“We played well as a team,” Jones said. “We weren’t worried about anybody being the leading scorer or the star player. They all just wanted to win and contribute. As long as we don’t need one person as the star, I think we’ll have a lot of success. I know that’s cliché, but it’s really important with this team. Because each of the five girls could be the leading scorer any night.

“It’s important that they understand that and don’t try to do too much themselves,” he said. “Sometimes, they might look to Julie to score in big moments, but she doesn’t have to be the leading scorer every night.”

The Spartans will feature a tall lineup. Kreinbrook is 6-foot-2. Spinelli is 5-11, while Swierczewski and Maggie Bernat are 5-10. They’ll look to use that size to create matchup problems offensively and defensively.

“We have four girls that are 5-10 or taller and a freshman (Kasie Cienik) that is pretty close to 5-10, if not there,” Jones said. “Two of them can play guard or forward. It’s a big advantage in Class A, no doubt.”

Kalyda O’Conner, Montana Geibel and Amelia Wygonik are juniors who will see varsity minutes.

Freshmen Cienik and Ava Roxberry and sophomore Trinity Ingram could make an impact.

There are changes to Section 1-3A. Aquinas Academy and Clairton, the two teams that finished ahead of St. Joseph last year, moved on. Aquinas Academy is in Section 1, and Clairton is now in Class 2A.

A-K Valley rivals Riverview and Leechburg return, and the newcomers are Hillel Academy and Jeannette.

Jeannette was in Class 2A the last cycle, and Hillel Academy is making its WPIAL debut.

St. Joseph begins its season Dec. 2 at the Play 4 Mae Tournament at Woodland Hills. The Spartans will host a tournament Dec. 9-10. They play Ellwood City on Dec. 9. North Hills and Winchester Thurston are in the other game. The winners will play a championship game Dec. 10, and the losers will meet in a consolation game.

St. Joseph girls at a glance

Last year’s record: 10-15 (4-4 Section 3-A)

Returning starters: Julie Spinelli (Jr., G/F), Emma Swierczewski (Jr., F), Gia Richter (So., G), Anna Kreinbrook (Jr., C)

Top newcomers: Kasie Cienik (Fr./F), Ava Roxberry (Fr./G) Trinity Ingram (So./G)

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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