Freeport’s Beale, Leechburg’s Lovelace earn Valley News Dispatch Players of the Year

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Saturday, April 7, 2018 | 9:42 PM


Freeport’s Ben Beale and Leechburg’s Mikayla Lovelace have been named Valley News Dispatch Basketball Players of the Year.

Boys Player of the Year

Ben Beale

Freeport, 6-2, senior, guard

Ben Beale grew up inside the Freeport boys basketball program, with his father Mike an assistant and then the coach, and his older brother Josh the Yellowjackets’ all-time leading scorer. And the youngest Beale leaves after making his own sizable impact.

After breaking out as a first-time starter last season, Beale topped himself in 2017-18, scoring a team-high 18.8 points per game as the Yellowjackets tied for second in Section 1-4A and reached the WPIAL playoffs for the second consecutive season.

A prolific shooter who takes as many as 500 shots a day for practice, Beale made 65 3-pointers — including eight in a late-season overtime win at Deer Lakes — and last month tied the Cager Classic record with six. But he could do plenty of dirty work, too, leading the team with 8.2 rebounds per contest.

Above all, Beale proved himself in big moments, earning notoriety with a buzzer-beater last season against Indiana and getting another one this season against Armstrong. Those types of performances helped Freeport earn back-to-back playoff appearances after a four-season drought.

Beale, a Penn State Behrend recruit, is the Valley News Dispatch Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Fox Chapel’s Carson Cohen, Highlands’ Shawn Erceg and Leechburg’s Christian Hack also drew consideration.

What was your proudest achievement?

It probably would be making the playoffs for two years. It’s something that not every high school player can take advantage of. You can always brag about personal statistics and everything, but making the playoffs was a huge goal of mine. It’s always been one. Also, I felt that we have created a new culture of Freeport basketball for years to come, through our style of play.

What will you miss about Freeport basketball?

Probably just the Freeport basketball family. So many people have been involved for so long that you’re saying goodbye to everyone you’ve ever known, grown up with. All of the friendships that we’ve made through the years from travel team. We’ve had a travel team since fourth or fifth grade, and I’ve played with the same kids forever. It’ll just (stink) not playing with them again.

Before the last two years, Freeport last made the playoffs in 2012. Did that make it more meaningful?

It meant a lot. Coming from two down years, from my brother’s group, they had a decent drought. I was just trying to make sound in the WPIAL with my group. It meant a lot to put the program back on the map after getting destroyed by bigger schools for two years. It provided some motivation for my team.

Any games stick out for you?

Definitely any Indiana game. We beat them twice in the past two years. Junior year off my buzzer-beater was obviously something that sticks out as one of my favorite moments of my high school career. This year, when we played at their place, we were just dominating them the whole game. We maintained control and won by (14). That was so big. Coaches were throwing water bottles in the locker room. It was just a great time.

Was last year’s buzzer-beater against Indiana your No. 1 shot?

That’s probably No. 1. I hit that other game-winner this year against Armstrong, but that didn’t have as much significance as the Indiana one.

What was it like playing for your dad?

There was some tough times. It’s like a roller coaster ride. You’ve got some highs, you’ve got some lows, and we’ve always butted heads a couple times. But it’s good overall. We’ve bonded on the court and off the court.

Was your shooting ability your No. 1 quality as a player, or is there something else?

I’d probably take pride in my shooting ability. But I have to thank my teammates for that. I can’t create my own shots as well as they do for me.

How many shots would you take a day?

Offseason, I’d try to get to the gym four days a week, maybe more. I don’t know, I’d just try to get as most as possible, and if I shot on the gun, I’d shoot 500 shots, 100 from each spot.

Do you have a favorite shooting spot?

Probably not. I get basically any shot in our offense, wherever from the perimeter.

What was the key to your rebounding ability?

I’d say having a nose for the ball. You don’t have to be that big to get rebounds, you just have to have a nose for the ball. You realize where it’s shot from; maybe you want to go to the other side of the hoop because of long rebounds. Long shots equal long rebounds, stuff like that.

You grew up in the Freeport basketball program. What will you miss the most?

Probably just the Freeport basketball family. So many people have been involved for so long that you’re saying goodbye to everyone you’ve ever known, grown up with. All of the friendships that we’ve made through the years from travel team. We’ve had a travel team since fourth or fifth grade, and I’ve played with the same kids forever. It’ll just (stink) not playing with them again.

Did you look up to any players growing up?

Probably my brother, honestly. He had his fair share of points through his career, and I guess it gets looked over a little bit because of the record. But he was an exemplary leader off the court and on the court, just by leading by example and being vocal. We didn’t have a lot of wins, but people looked up to him because he was our main scorer and was vocal. That’s the way I wanted to be when I got up there.

Any favorite players?

NBA, probably LeBron James. He’s the GOAT, greatest of all time.

You probably never saw Michael Jordan play, did you?

No, but I’ve seen some highlights, and it doesn’t look like the competition was up to par with LeBron’s competition.

College?

It would probably be (Duke’s) Marvin Bagley. He’s just a beast. He’s probably going to be a force in the NBA.

If you could play in one arena, what would it be?

If I played for Duke, I’d probably want to play in Cameron (Indoor Stadium). If I played for another team, I probably wouldn’t. Petersen Events Center, definitely, I’ve been there multiple times. Madison Square Garden would be crazy.

How’d you do on your NCAA bracket?

Not very good. I filled out a couple. I don’t think I’ve gotten any of my Final Fours right. I had Michigan State in one, I had Virginia in one — that went out pretty quick — I had North Carolina in one.

Who wins a Freeport team game of HORSE?

It would probably be between me and Isiah Bauman because he pulls shots out of nowhere and he makes them. But I’d say I’d win, probably.

Do you have any superstitions?

We’ve always have little stuff through the years. When we’d get our winning streaks going, we’d have different little cliché things. But nothing really stands out. I’ve always gotten to the gym an hour-plus before the JV game and just shot on my own. But nothing really superstitious.

Who was your toughest opponent?

Probably (Indiana’s) Carlos Carter. My sophomore year, I didn’t really get a chance to play against (Mars’ Robby) Carmody or anyone in the same section. I didn’t really play. But as a player, it’s so hard to stop Carlos.

Who’s your dream one-on-one opponent?

I bet I could probably beat Steph Curry. (Laughs) I’m just kidding. I’d like to play LeBron, just so I could see how big of a force he is. Maybe Michael Jordan. I’ve never given it any thought.

What are you looking to the most about Behrend?

Probably just the fact that I get four more years of my basketball career. I feel I’ve made strides over my years, but I feel I have more left in the tank and can expand upon my game. I would like more people to help me expand on top of my game. I feel I have more left.

What are you going to study?

The major is called interdisciplinary business with engineering studies. It sounds like a lot, but it’s basically business with engineering. You get four years, and you get both aspects.

Valley News Dispatch all-stars

First team

Carson Cohen

Fox Chapel

6-2, Sr., Guard

Tufts recruit averaged 19 ppg to lead Foxes to WPIAL and PIAA playoffs. Point guard could score inside and outside and distribute (5 apg).

Shawn Erceg

Highlands

6-6, SR, Center

Scored 12.8 ppg as part of a balanced attack for the WPIAL semifinalists and PIAA quarterfinalists. Pulled down 7.2 rpg and could switch onto point guards.

Christian Hack

Leechburg

5-11, SR., Guard

Carlow recruit made the Blue Devils’ offense go, averaging a team-high 17.6 points while leading them to the PIAA postseason. He surpassed 1,000 career points.

Dru Stokes

Valley

5-10, SR., Guard

Cool-headed point guard averaged 15.7 ppg for PIAA playoff qualifier. Also stayed calm in tense moments as a big shot taker and maker by hitting four game-winners.

Mike Zolnierczyk

Springdale

6-4, JR., Guard

Averaged a team-high 14.8 ppg for PIAA playoff qualifier. His two free throws with 14 seconds remaining against California in the WPIAL first round gave Dynamos their first playoff win since 2008.

Second team

Nyjewel Carter

Valley, 6-0, jr., G

Prolific shooter could hit from anywhere, averaging 15.5 ppg.

Kyle Fitzroy

Apollo-Ridge, 6-5, Sr., F

Despite double and triple teams, averaged 14 ppg and 13.6 rpg.

Dom McGriff

Fox Chapel, 6-1, Sr., F

First-year player made up for lost time, averaging 16 points.

Donovan Russell

Burrell, 6-5, Sr., C

Versatile big man averaged 12.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.3 blocks.

Lamar Whiting

Plum, 6-0, Jr., G

Inside-outside threat was top A-K Valley boys scorer (20.3 ppg).

Third team

Grant Bendi s St. Joseph

6-1, Jr., G/F

Logan Bitar

Burrell

5-11, Jr., G

Jalen Br own Freeport

5-10, JR., G

Luke Cochran

Highlands

6-2, So., G

Jake Kelly

Deer Lakes

6-0, SR., G

Girls Player of the Year

Mikayla Lovelace

Leechburg, 5-11, Senior, Guard/Forward

The Leechburg girls basketball tradition didn’t look like much when Mikayla Lovelace arrived. The near-decade preceding that time was even worse.

Perhaps Rome wasn’t built in a day, but four years proved enough at Leechburg.

Lovelace and the rest of Leechburg’s seniors — Hannah Berry, Cameron Davies, Makenzie Fello, Daesha Knight and Brittany Robilio — leave as the winningest class in school history with 58 wins, three WPIAL playoff appearances — including the first two WPIAL playoff wins in school history — and the first two PIAA tournament berths in school history, including one win. Not bad, considering Leechburg won 12 combined games from 2006-14.

Although all five of her classmates held significant roles, Lovelace was the catalyst to Leechburg’s success. The IUP recruit scored 2,047 career points, smashing both the school boys and girls records and becoming just the third Alle-Kiski Valley girls basketball player to reach that milestone. This season she averaged 23.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4 assists and 3.2 steals while playing every position on the court as Leechburg reached the WPIAL quarterfinals and PIAA playoffs.

The Valley News Dispatch’s 2017 Girls Basketball Player of the Year is a no-brainer choice for a repeat.

What was most memorable about the last four years?

Just us impacting all the younger girls and all the people at our school. When we were younger, we didn’t have that. We just knew coach (Damian) Davies winning the WPIAL (with the boys team in 2007). We never heard about girls basketball. (We were) impacting others and seeing our community support us, and now we get to help younger girls who were supporting us throughout.

If I had told you as a freshman everything you would accomplish, what would your reaction have been?

I probably wouldn’t have believed you. When we were freshmen, just seeing the section we had, we never would have thought we’d make it this far. But I think throughout the years, we meshed well with each other because we played well with each other and we trusted each other. Luckily we had the success we had.

What was it like playing with the same group of six girls?

I think it was amazing. It was great to have familiar faces every year. At most schools, someone will make the team and some won’t, but here we had consistency for four years. We knew what everyone’s strong suit was, so we just played well with each other. We knew Cam (Davies) and Brittany (Robilio) were shooters, we knew that Daesha (Knight) was going to get all the rebounds and was our post player, Makenzie (Fello) was our hustler and when Hannah (Berry) was going to play, she was a big presence; she was our tough person. We were lucky we got to know everyone’s strong suits. We knew when they were hot and we could get them the ball.

Is there a game that sticks out the most for you?

Mine would be our senior night when we beat Brentwood this year, just because I think we all played really well. Last year we had tough games against Brentwood, and this year the first game was a hard game and only won by a little bit. We came out on senior night and won by a lot, and everyone played well. I think that was a strong game. That was our last time playing on our home court and we got such an amazing win, it was us all coming together and we got to see all of us play well in front of our entire community.

You scored 2,047 career points. When you hear that, what comes to mind?

I was kind of reaching for 1,000, so I think that’s awesome. I never thought I could get 2,000. When I got 2,000, I didn’t really know I hit it until after; the girls on the bench were telling me during a timeout. I just think it’s amazing because you see people who hit it before like (East Allegheny’s Amani Johnson) and (Chartiers-Houston’s Alexa Williamson), who I played with, and even before me, I thought (Vincentian’s) Brenna Wise was an amazing player. To say I got the same accomplishment as her is amazing.

What do you think is your best attribute as a player?

I guess it’s how all-around I am. I can get to the hoop and stuff, but I think one of my main things was being able to see the entire court. Just knowing our players and knowing, “You can make this cut, and then I’ll get it to you,” I just think I can see the court, know what’s going to happen and get people the ball. I think all around, the ability to pass is the main thing because you have to know when to get other people the ball. I think that’s one of my strong suits, the ability to see the court and seeing, should I go to the hoop now, or is someone open for a pass? I think it’s my basketball IQ.

Is there a position where you feel you fit best?

Probably the wing because it’s kind of like all of them, I guess. I know most of the time I’d play the wing because I’m a taller guard, but I’m not a huge post player. It’s just the combination of both. I feel I fit the best at the wing because I can showcase all my skills.

Are there any players you looked up to?

Brenna Wise from Vincentian. She was amazing. She ended up going to Pitt, and now she’s at Indiana. I definitely looked up to her when I was younger.

Any favorite players?

I’m a huge Derrick Rose fan, and any Duke player, I’m a huge Duke fan. And everyone hates him, but I love LeBron.

Who’s the greatest of all time: LeBron or Michael Jordan?

I never watched Jordan that much; I just watched a couple things. So I can’t really talk much about him. But as of now, LeBron is the greatest player. But if I call LeBron the greatest ever, my dad will have a fit because he’s a huge Jordan fan.

How did Duke become your favorite team?

I don’t know, I just always liked them. I know when they won the national championship in 2010, I was a huge fan. I watched them before, but after that I just loved them.

Who’s your favorite Duke player?

I really liked Tyus Jones when he played, and this year I liked Trevon Duval. I kind of like all of Duke’s point guards, mainly.

If you could play in any arena, which one would you pick?

It was Cameron Indoor (Stadium), but then I went there for a camp, so I kind of already did that. But I guess it would be Madison Square Garden since everyone’s been there and it’s been like a huge thing.

Who wins a Leechburg game of HORSE?

It’s definitely Brittany (Robilio). She’ll shoot from half court and it will go in, she’ll shoot from out of bounds and it will go in. Anything she throws up, it normally goes in.

How’d your NCAA bracket do?

Oh, it’s awful. I had Duke and Arizona in the finals, so mine was really messed up in the first round.

What are you looking forward to the most about IUP?

I think just being part of such a great program. They made the Final Four. Everyone knows what a good coach (Tom) McConnell is, so I think it’s just playing for him. I’m hoping to be able to play freshman year and make an impact. I know I’ll have to work for it, but I just can’t wait to be a part of such a great program.

What are you going to study?

I’m going to do chemistry. I’m looking into become a pharmacist, and I’m also thinking about engineering.

Valley News Dispatch all-stars

First team

Harley Holloway

Kiski Area

5-5, SO., Guard

First-team all-section player led still-young Kiski Area to its most wins since 2011. She averaged 17.6 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists and shot 42 percent from 3.

Alex Jones

St. Joseph

5-9, SR., Guard

After coming off the bench last season, Jones thrived as a starter, averaging 17 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 4.7 steals for WPIAL quarterfinalists. She also reached 1,000 career points.

Chloe Kurpakus

St. Joseph

5-8, SR., Guard

The lefty was a consistent threat from outside, hitting 55 3-pointers while leading the WPIAL quarterfinalist Spartans in scoring at 19.1 ppg, second-best in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

Jenna Manke

Freeport

5-9, JR., Forward

The Allegheny recruit showed she could dominate taller post players, averaging a team-high 12.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

Megan Ost

Apollo-Ridge

6-1, SR., Center

A force down low, the Carlow recruit averaged 16.1 points and 10.4 rebounds to lead the Vikings to a WPIAL playoff berth and first-round win. She surpassed 1,000 points.

Second team

Renee Cebula

Highlands, 5-7, SR., G

Chatham recruit averaged 16 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Cameron Davies

Leechburg, 5-4, SR., G

Top 3-point shooter in school history (241 career) averaged 10 ppg.

Brittany Dunn

Burrell, 5-10, SR., G/F

The Bucs’ most experienced player averaged 11.8 points and 10.7 rebounds.

Kennedie Montue

Plum, 5-9, FR., G/F

Scored 12.7 ppg and led Mustangs to playoff berth.

B rittany Robilio

Leechburg, 5-3, SR., G

Could hit from outside (46 3s) or drive, scoring 13 ppg.

Third te am

Sydne y McDonough

Riverview

5-6, So., G

Maddy Moore

Apollo-Ridge

5-9, JR ., G/F

Kaylen Sharrow

Burrell

5- 11, JR., F

Sidney Shemanski

Freeport

5-8, So., G

Anna Solomon

Deer Lakes

5-3, JR., G

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